“We must go and see for ourselves.”— Jacques Cousteau.
Yes this area of the Red Sea off Port Sudan was where Jacques Cousteau lived in his underwater world.
Visiting the Red Sea and snorkeling a reef there has always been on my bucket list so this part of our trip was a mega-tick. When combined with visiting the Kushitic ruins and wild camping in the desert, this 1,200km round trip from Khartoum was definitely worth it. Others, going on to Egypt, may not want to add the Red Sea in Sudan as they would be able to visit it later. The other special element for us was seeing the sea again after no marine contact for 7 months. Amazing when one considers that I have lived at the coast for the last 45-odd years and have seen the sea almost on a daily basis. However neither Anne nor I had ever visited the Red Sea.
Many of the heavy trucks we passed were decorated in the weirdest ways. A plume of ostrich feathers, almost like a feather duster, on the front radiator grill, tassels hanging from the bumpers. Also attached to the outside of the wheel hubs are rotating blade-like structures similar to those used by war chariots in Roman times.
The road surface remained excellent, amongst the best since leaving South Africa and we made good time at just below the 100km/hr speed limit. The desert countryside, although flat, bleak, dry, dusty and forbidding, was very spectacular. Further east rocky, dry hills and then picturesque mountains appear, breaking the monotony. There are many wild camping options here as the land is very sparsely populated. At N18 18,085 E36 01,194 we finally linked up with the road and route as suggested on T4A. Hopefully this anomaly will be corrected when I submit my GPS tracks. Along the way we began spotting our first Egyptian vultures.
At N18 19,290 E36 22,183, 368km from the Meroe pyramids, one reaches Haiya Junction. This is where the main road along the east of the country from Gedaref joins. This road runs along the Eritrean border and we were uncertain how safe it was or if its condition remained good all the way. I would be interested to know as we seriously considered this route for our route south, rather than re-driving this same route back via Khartoum. (Later enquiries revealed that this road is excellent and secure and an excellent alternative route south in the unlikely event Khartoum needed to be bypassed). Good sense prevailed in the absence of information. The towns and villages were all mudbrick, flat-roofed buildings, each with their own mud wall enclosing the property. All very Old Testament in appearance confirmed by the presence of donkeys, camels, goats, men in their white robes, woman in blues and reds with scarves.
After about 5hr on the road we get our first sighting of the sea for many a month. We bypass the ancient port of Suakin and travel north parallel to the coast reaching Port Sudan about 45min and 50km later. The countryside is flat, dry, salty and inhospitable. A hot dusty wind blows along the coast, apparently most often in November. Port Sudan is a fairly clean and well organized city but certainly no tourist mecca. We continued to head north on the good tarred road reaching the signpost for The Sudan Red Sea Resort 24km later.
This resort was not quite the seaside and beach paradise we were secretly hoping for. The surroundings are bleak, dry and very hot. The resort is on a salt marsh and has 2 large earthen piers forming a large muddy lagoon and just offshore is a small island. Just another 100m seaward is the shallow home reef. The wind had rendered the waters in the lagoon and on the reef rather muddy and the mud was deep in the lagoon making swimming not a viable proposition. There were many interesting waders and seagulls foreign to me in the lagoon shallows, I was particularly thrilled at identifying a western reef egret, very common along the Red Sea. Camping at this resort is in a rather makeshift area to the south of the day visitor’s thatched shelters. Toilets and showers are those used by the day visitors but were satisfactory enough. We parked our vehicles to shield from the wind and used a nearby shelter for shade. Flies were a problem as is the case throughout Sudan. The resort have quite pleasant looking chalets and a restaurant which we did not utilize. Nearby was a place where we could buy cold drinks (no alcohol in Sudan) and delicious traditional Sudanese coffee with cardamom. We met the owner a Sudanese lady who had been married to a Hollander. The staff were reasonably hospitable. This, now faded resort, had almost certainly been developed with Euros. It is always disappointing to see such a development, someone’s dream, deteriorate due to lack of utilization and the resultant lack of funds for upkeep. The diving aspect seemed to mainly be on hold. Wayne was keen to organize a scuba dive. Although there is a suitable motor boat, there is no resident dive master and dives have to be booked well in advance. The prices appeared rather steep as well. We arranged to join an Italian group the following day who had booked the boat for a snorkeling trip to an outlying reef. Wayne established that there are live-aboard boats based in Port Sudan and these go out for trips of between 1 to 2 weeks. Apparently the vessel run by an Italian offers services comparing favourably with those offered in Egypt and one dives in very uncrowded conditions in areas to the south and north, apparently as spectacular as the better known sites off Egypt.
It was initially very quiet here but on the Friday, the Moslem religious day, there were plenty of day visitors. No matter as we were otherwise marvelously entertained for much of the day with a great snorkeling trip. The boat is a large motor boat with twin 220HP engines and comfortably carried the 10 people booked. We set course northwards and out to sea, reaching the lovely Arias reef after about 30min. This shallow reef rises from the sea bed over an area of about 150 X 200m and is comfortable diving in sea temperatures of about 26C. The numbers and variety of coral dwelling fish are exactly what one would expect of the Red Sea and we spent almost 2 hours in the water. No large gamefish, turtles or sharks can be expected over such a shallow reef. We thoroughly enjoyed this dive in magnificent surroundings and visibility of 18-20m. The only disappointing aspect is that about 50% of the coral is dead, attributed to global warming. This was a very different and rewarding experience, but not cheap at Sudan Pounds 300 (US$30) each.
CAMPING COSTS. US$10 pppn. Despite the resort being completely empty they were not willing to offer us a discount on their cottages.
Main. The Arais reef of the Sudanese part of the Red Sea.
1 and 2. The scenery en route to the Red Sea.
3. A camel in a Red sea setting, the salt marshes with the Red Sea in the background.
4 ,5 and 6. The Sudan Red Sea Resort.
7. Preparing to snorkel.
8, 9, 10, 11. Photos from Wayne underwater GoPro camera.