Updated: Mar 9
After a long and painful decision process we had made up our minds about Boggy. We had inquired shipping costs which were hard to pin down in the first place, not even taking into consideration whether we would be able to book a vessel at all or, for that matter, said vessel would ever leave on time due to strikes at the harbor of Port Sudan.
All these vague factors plus the estimated horrendous price led to the decision that we were going to leave our beloved Boggy in Khartoum until the borders would re-open. Either we were gonna get lucky and that would happen pretty soon or it would take a while and we would have to come back in the summer to get him out of Sudan. In the meantime, we planned on renting a camper van to explore South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. But before that journey could start, paperwork had to be done in order for Boggy to become a temporary resident of Sudan. It didn’t make sense for us to both pay for a visa, a COVID test and a flight ticket, so - you guessed right - the honor to take care of that business fell upon Bjoern.
So, dear readers, I hereby invite you to take part in Bjoerns dreadful journey, inviting you to live through his pain, witnessing the sacrifices he made and the burdens he took upon him. Let us begin…
After dropping Katharina at her upscale downtown loft in Cape Town, I was headed straight to the airport. This was actually the first time since June that we were separated for more than a couple of hours - it sounded promising; little did I know how much more I preferred being locked in with the little maniac over a trip to Khartoum.
"...this trip felt like a very bad version of a nightmare business trip."
Usually, you would be excited to travel to a foreign country, especially one that sounded as adventurous as Sudan. But from the beginning this trip felt like a very bad version of a nightmare business trip.
So, there I was, on my own, no one to hold my hand and put raisins in my granola and complain about my farts. Of course, I already knew that Khartoum is a tough place for a gringo, or how they call me there: Khawaja. My main goal was to get Bogdan a nice spot to stay for as long as the border to Ethiopia stayed closed. I also needed to come up with a backup solution in case we needed to get the car shipped to Kenya, plus I needed to find out how to extend the Carnet de Passage. Sounds simple if you take one step at a time - well, not in Khartoum. Let the games begin!
Entering the country you never wanted to go in the first place.
Yes, you need a visa to get into Sudan, we know that. A guy I had met at Abdu’s garage helped me out on this meaning I received a WhatsApp photo of a visa that should get me in upon arrival at the airport. Well, that didn’t go very smooth. It took the officials 2 hours to get the photo printed somewhere and 100 USD out of my pocket to enter the country at 3.30am.
A change of underwear would be nice.
You probably already figured this one out: my luggage got lost. Don’t be naïve and expect a lost-and-found-office at the Khartoum airport. I left my details with a nice lady at the airport exit (god knows who she was working for or, for that matter, if she was an airport employee at all), not expecting to see my luggage ever again.
Apparently, I did Ethiopian Airlines wrong. After having lived for 2 days without a spare underwear, any change of clothes or toiletry, I got the note that I could collect my bag at the airport. SICK!!! So, I went there and was guided into the shadiest retrieved-baggage-area ever. The guy at the door of a massive storage room greeted me with the words: ‘Here luggage Ethiopian’ – seems like a common issue. I soon realized that this designated area also served as the customs office, so a lot of loud chattering, wild gestures and luggage scanning was going on. But on the upside, the Sudanese people are just awesome with foreigners and I received help from everyone, had some nice conversations and after a couple of scans got my luggage out of the airport.
(Net-) Work work work work work
First stop was the Sudanese Automotive Club, accompanied by Hassan whom I met through Carla. Wait, what, who? No worries, you’ll learn about Carla in Challenge #4.
Hassan helped me out chatting and playing his charm with the president of the Club. This was necessary, since in Sudan that’s the way how you get things done. It’s not all law and order and waiting lines like in Germany - official offices are located in back alleys and shady buildings, inside they’re bustling with people who are strolling in and out, interrupting an on-going conversation. A bit weird for a German guy that is used to pull a number and wait silently till that number pops up on a big screen.
However, after 30min of chatting with Hassan, the president turns to me and says in perfect English ‘I think I know you!’. Damn, this was embarrassing. I had actually met the guy at… guess where … Abdu’s garage. He offered me to help wherever he can, extending my carnet, signing papers in case I want to ship and gave me his mobile number. It’s all about the contacts in Sudan.
I had decided to use the time and bond again with Boggy. Just him and me – like in the good old times, refreshing the bromance. Before returning to Khartoum, I had been in touch with Carla, a nice Italian lady working for a travel agency in Khartoum. She had offered me to camp close to their office (thanks again Giraffe13 for the contact). As it turned out, the camp ground was an unfinished hotel building, perfect for my needs with an awesome rooftop terrace. Carla also turned out to be my life saver in general.
Besides some fruits and nuts I was pretty much stuck with the classic beans and bread for 1USD most of the time. Of course, in the dark, because the only thing I could rely on was the nightly power out.
As during our first visit to Sudan, my body was struggling to adapt to the heat and dusty air. Waking up on Day 2, my stomach was revolting, I was throwing up like I was nearing my end and was hoping that somebody would ship my body back to Germany, so I wouldn’t have to spend my afterlife in this godforsaken city. Okay, fine, maybe I was being a little pussy - 2 hours later I was fine again J
Finding a temporary home for Boggy.
Carla had offered me to park Boggy for a small fee in front of their office building (fenced and with a 24h guard). To my positive surprise the spot came with a roof and the guard offered to rinse the car from time to time to fight the dust. Perfecto!!
While I was working my way through the challenges, there was also time to enjoy the city and explore. I went to my favorite coffee spot right on the Nile, enjoying a great Sudanese coffee, thinking back to the times with Katharina here. On the way I spotted a driving school. Having been driving on the streets of Khartoum for some time by then, I wasn’t expecting that a driving license or for that matter traffic rules are a thing, but after a nice chat with the instructor I knew better.
And then, even though at times it had seemed as if that day would never come, after about 65 hours and another COVID test at the local hospital, it was time to leave Khartoum again and fly back to Cape Town.
BUT WAIT… before heading back there was one more challenge, which I wasn’t expecting but turned out to be the hardest. Imagine you’ve played through all levels of Mario Land and now it’s time to fight Browser one last time:
Leaving the freaking country.
As a foreigner in Sudan, you need to do the so called ‘Alien registration’ at any police station which is pretty much an additional approval on your visa. It has to be done within 3 days, so I decided to do it at the airport before my flight and I had 3 hours to do so. I expected to see a police officer, pay the fee and get a stamp in my passport, 15min, done. Well, it wouldn’t be Khartoum if it were that easy, right?! The first words from the police officer at 0.30am were exactly those: ‘No, you not going to leave the country!’ Apparently, there was something about my VISA that he didn’t like at all and he asked me to call my ‘Sponsor’ (who is written on the visa). Damn, I had no idea who that was, so I tried to call guess who … Abd Asalam aka Mr. Lifesaver. I was sure he wouldn’t answer the phone at 0.30am, but he did. But as he was not my sponsor, he could not help me but managed to give me the number of the guy who was my sponsor. Alright, let’s try it again. 1.00am and I need to get a guy on the phone in order to catch my flight and leave the country. It took me 30min and some WhatsApp messages, but hell yeah - I got him on the phone and let him talk to the police officer. The guy didn’t look too happy but stamped my passport anyway and sent me off.
That was so close and 100% the most uncomfortable situation I have ever been in. If people say ‘Go out and leave your comfort zone’,fuck, this was way out there.
TRAVEL TIME: November 21 - 24, 2020