"The world is more malleable than you think and it's just waiting for you to hammer it into shape". Bono.
We will be leaving Sudan with mixed feelings after the very kind hospitality we received there. However in the words of expats in Khartoum, politically it is a tinderbox, needing just a spark to set it aflame. Bashir the president has been found guilty by the International Court of crimes against humanity. Apparently there are still almost daily air force bombings of civilian villages in the Darfur area, where rebels are seeking independence. There was a mass boycott at the last election and there is plenty of simmering discontent with the present regime. Like the Zimbabwians, the Sudanese seem too easy going to be easily pushed into violent solutions. It is felt it would not need too much further to tip the balance. One would not want to be in Sudan when this boils over. The three aspects we did not enjoy were the inability to draw money from ATMs because of the international sanctions against Bashir and then the severe security around taking photos. As a tourist one does not feel free to wander about with a camera. Finally we will not miss the very bothersome flies in the Sudan, the worst so far on the trip. Make no mistake we enjoyed Sudan thoroughly and for us it was a unique and stimulating country to visit. We agree with previous reports that these people were amongst the best hosts of the countries we visited. Many of the people keen to discuss our adventure with us have expressed express trepidation when Sudan comes up. The adverse publicity generated by the problems in the seperate state of South Sudan has rubbed off on the very safe northern state. At no stage did we feel in any way at risk here and in fact the hospitality of the Sudanese was seldom equalled elsewhere.
We had an excellent and undisturbed night in our wild camp. For a heart-stopping moment on start-up that morning the crank battery failed. The auxiliary battery had been working hard in the heat running the fridge and freezer and I was not confident it still held enough charge for a jump start. Thank goodness jumper leads did the trick. It would have been difficult to obtain help hidden off the main road in the bush as we were. I am not sure what is going on with the main battery, perhaps the inverter in use drained it. Later during the day’s journey it started the engine well, it will need watching. Later, in Nairobi some of the cells were found to be dead and a simple relacement did the trick. One has an inherent fear in seeking help. We had complex electronic modifications to enable us to have a fridge for drinks and perishables and a freezer for meat, including a solar panel. I was fearful of letting less sophisticated "experts" loose on our auto electrics, worrying about the domino effect of bad work. Make no mistake the luxury of having good food and drink wherever we were made this long trip more pleasant, but the case for keeping everything as simple as possible has much to commend, especially considering my technical deficiencies. In general we were very lucky in this regard.
Border formalities went smoothly that early in the morning and we were through both sides in 1hr 20min. We used a fixer on either side to direct us to parking and to watch the vehicle. We did not need to change money as we still had plenty of Birr. I will detail the border formalities in the Geeks section.
Once again there was the same customs barrier 37km from the border, 4km after the town of Genda Wuha. This was not the same official as we had encountered heading north. The same officious attitude prevailed and I think that if they can find anything amiss one may be in for a tough time. Before he started unpacking our stuff and searching I assured him that customs had been thorough at the border and showed him my pre-typed list with serial nos etc, all officially stamped at the border. This took the wind out of his sails and seemed to lose interest. I was concerned that he was going to make an issue about our 4 full jerry cans and impose an import tax or suchlike.
We were quite soon through Gondar and finally for the first time in 1540km, we were travelling a new road and not just backtracking. It is a lovely tarred road to Debark, and we reached there by 16H00, thank goodness. We headed for the Simian Park Hotel and it seemed ideal and was full of tourists but unfortunately too full and they did not have a vacant bed. They directed us to the Sona Hotel, which did not look quite as good, but they too were full. In turn they suggested we try Walya Lodge on the right on the very outskirts of town. Thankfully they did have room for us. This is on the outskirts of Debark on the Axum road and is run by a fairly young Italian/Ethiopian couple that took it over about 4 months ago, previously it had been onder construction by others for a number of years. The new owners are slowly getting it into shape and it is a reasonable enough stay, but not so cheap at Birr700 per night for a double room, this included breakfast. A fairly good dinner of 3 courses was Birr150pp, they are trying hard. If they can make a go of it, I am sure that it will improve with time. There are en-suite hot showers and flush toilets and probably the strongest point at this stage is the view from where they are perched on a hill. There is no wi-fi and they do serve meals. There is a signboard at the entrance but it is quite easy to drive past. The turnoff up the hill is at N13 09,879 E37 53,971. We would have preferred the Simian Park Hotel with its busy vibe full of hikers and the like. They do offer camping but this is a work in progress with the ablutions as yet incomplete. In the interim the ablutions of a nearby room are offered. When and if fully functional this camping facility may prove to be a godsend in a country with precious few decent campsites.
Be warned it is very cold in Debark and we had to ask for more blankets. The supper that night was OK except for exceptionally tough chicken, the other 3 courses were fine.