You probably wouldn’t have chosen Sudan. Especially not Northern Sudan where, under Sharia Law, the penalty for possession of alcohol is 40 lashings. 40 lashings!! Shit! No, Northern Sudan is not a party destination.
But that’s where I was for New Year’s Eve. Needless to say, I didn’t get wasted or party like a rock star. But, I still had fun. Through some good luck I hooked up with some great people that took me camping on the sandy banks of the Nile River, which was very cool. Definitely a NYE to remember. We ate, danced and had a good time, just like I hope you did that night, just minus the intoxication.
Half the fun of Sudan was getting there. I had a very memorable an overnight ferry ride from Egypt. I slept right on the steel top deck, which was a mass of humanity. Every piece of real-estate up there was crammed with foreigners, Sudanese and luggage. It sounds hellish, but for a traveller, it was a great experience, sleeping on deck with a whole bunch of people I had never met before, under the stars, swapping war stories with well-travelled people. Ya, all the travellers on this ferry were veterans, no first-timers here. The story-telling was awesome.
My accomodation for the night: crammed on a cold steel deck, under the stars, with other travellers and Sudanese.
The big tourist highlight in Sudan are the Meroe Pyramids. Although not as grand as their famous Egyptian counterparts, these pyramids were just as memorable when I realized that I was the only guy there. Actually, the way the winds covered up the tracks in the sand, it looked like I had been the first guy there in 100 years. Add to this the sand dunes that envelope the pyramids, it makes them look very cool (much cooler than, say, the parking lot of tourist buses that envelope the pyramids in Cairo.)
A few random Sudanese thoughts:
– The amount of buracracy to enter this country is ridiculous. Upon landing in Sudan, I had to make about 10 stops in different offices to get all the required signatures, stamps, fingerprints taken, etc. It took about 2 hours; there was no line-up whatsoever, that is just how long the administrative baloney required. This is after we had already been stamped into the country on the ferry. I’ve never seen anything like it.
– A fellow traveller opinioned that the less tourists that visit a country, the nicer their people are. Sudan fits that theory — almost nobody travels there and the people are wonderful.
– Something unexpected for me was how eye-catching some of the Sudanese women were, especially those that were seemingly mixed Black/Arab. In Muslim tradtion, their bodies and hair were covered, but their facial features were striking.
– Sudan has surprisingly good travel infrastructure. The buses in the North are fast and comfortable, although they constantly play Arabic music videos at ear-shattering volumes.
– Celine Dion’s #1 fan is Sudanese. I met a guy outside the pyramids who, after hearing I was Canadian, shouted, “I love Celine Dion! Songs about love and emotion! Very good, VERY GOOD!!” He couldn’t contain his joy.
– You might have seen Sudan in the news these days. The southern part of the country is having a referendum right now about whether or not to separate from the north. I think it would have been VERY interesting to stick around Sudan to see what happens, but unfortunately I left soon after the New Year. (I have other fish to fry here in Ethiopia.)
An observation on long-term travel: a few months ago in Lebanon I bumped into a Czech couple who were half-way through a 2-month trip. They actually wanted to cut the trip short and go home as soon as possible. They really missed their house. They missed their bed. They asked why, after more than 2 years of travel, I wasn’t affected by the same feelings? My answer: “I don’t have a home. I don’t have a bed.” It occurred to me that my lack of a home or any other significant possessions had become a great advantage in the travel world. My life of shirking responsibilities and obligations is finally paying of :)
I zipped through Sudan a little bit faster than I liked, but it was for a good reason – I am very excited about a few Ethiopian adventures I have planned. Anyway, you already know what you will find at the other end of this link.
I hope your NYE was stellar and your 2011 is off to a great start! Maybe we will see each other this year…