Visiting the Gaoui Village

My impression of Chad before getting here proved to be completely wrong. It is relatively cheap, it is very safe and clean and it is easy to organize travels from the capital. I had thought the opposite.

Me and my German travel companion rented a car with a driver for 20 000CFA (approx 30$) to take us to Gaoui Village, about 20km outside the capital N’Djamena. The drive halfway out was on tarmac and the rest on dirt roads. About 5km before we reached the village we drove past a huge camp with Central African refugees. We stopped the car and asked to pay a little for a tour, but the police guards told us no so we just drove on.

Arriving at Gaoui it was all very organized. There was a museum/visitors center where you paid 3000CFA for a guided tour in French. The guy also took us around to show us every part of the village famous for its decorated walls and the clay pots that they are making there.

The kids followed us around everywhere we went, and were a bit dissapointed when we told them that we didn’t have any “bonbons” for them at the end. Everyone were quite friendly and didn’t mind us taking pictures or sit down and ask them about their life there.

One part I found really interesting in the museum was the clay marbles that were used as money there in the Sao Sultanate in the 1700s. Also they masks that were used for rituals, that reminded me a lot of the animist/voodoo masks used in West Africa which was interesting to see so far east.

Chad has been generally been very interesting culturally. It’s like a mix of East African, Arab and West African-the place where they all meet.

This Trip’s Top Visa Nightmares

I’ve had my fair share of frustrating visa experiences, but the last ones here in Africa deserves to be on the top of my list.

Sudan visa was surprisingly quick and easy after expecting the worst. They didn’t even bother including my last name!

Equatorial Guinea: is famous for being the World’s hardest visa to get. I’ve tried my luck at the Embassy in Yaounde, in Douala and lastly in Addis Ababa. Every time I have brought all the formally required documents, and every time they have just asked for more. In Douala I was asked for bank statements translated into Spanish and signed by the bank. Cholera vaccination was also the first time I heard an country require. And in Addis they kept my documents for two weeks before they finally said “sorry, we handle applications for citizens only. They could have just told me that in the first place..

The only way to get the visa in Africa that I have heard of is to pay a 3-800$ “unofficial fee” to the ambassador in Libreville and she will give it to you in one day. But in order to do that you first need a visa to Gabon, which is also not easy to get!

Gabon: has implemented an e-visa system, advertised with 72hour processing time, which practically is a joke. I have tried several times, with different passports and after weeks of checking the status in their systems every day I would get either the message”on progress” or it would say “no request found”.

I have tried emailing the address listed on the page and the ministry of tourism, but got no response whatsoever. Gabon is rich in resources and apparently don’t need tourism. On my six month Trans Africa trip I remember the government officials as the least friendly of all the countries we went through. Another traveler told me that you will meet the same careless attitude in all of their embassies too.

Eritrea: *cracking my knuckles* is my latest and maybe my most frustrating experince. It is by some called the North Korea of Africa, as you need government permits even to step your food outside the capital Asmara. I was told that all nationalities that don’t have an embassy can contact an agent in advance to get a visa on arrival. I knew it couldn’t be that easy and started the process early. The correspondence went as follows:

April 3st: Unfortunately we cannot arrange a visa for Norwegians as this has to go through the Eritrean Embassy in Oslo. Visa on arrival confirmations can only be arranged for nationalities without embassies.

April 5th: It seems that you are right that there is no embassy in Norway. Please send us the following documents so that we can arrange a visa on arrival

April 25th: We are expecting the visa to be in order by friday and will send it to you immediately afterwards

May 3rd: We are sorry to inform you that a new procedure has taken place. You have to send all your particulars to the Eritrean Embassy in Sweden so that they can give us a confirmation needed for you to get your visa on arrival

May 14th: We hope to get the confirmation for your visa on arrival tomorrow

May 22th and onwards: No more answer

I was calling the embassy in Sweden several times (which of course didn’t answer) and sent over fifty emails to the agent, every time thinking that I was close to getting the visa, but no. My Sudan visa expires today on May 25th and I will have to leave the country empty handed.

When chasing every country there will always be some that will make it extra hard for you. Then you should try to keep your chin up and remember Churchill’s famous quote:

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

One month in Khartoum

With my visa expiring in just two days I ask myself; how did I manage to spend 30 days in Khartoum, which is way too hot (46°), has not really any tourist sights and hardly any open restaurants during Ramadan? The answer is by hanging out with the local people, which are the friendliest I have met during my travels.

My couchsurfing host was an English teacher and let me have daily lectures for his students. People from all ages were listening to my improvisations about geography, history and culture of my country and the World and some students even wanted to invite me to their home.

Teaching English every morning was a great way of passing time

This generally reflect the way of the Sudanese people. Most people are extremely friendly and curious about foreigners. When walking outside after iftar which started at 6.15 it was practically impossible to walk around without being asked to join people eating in the streets. One time even my bus was stopped by people who insisted on giving us food nicely packed up in bags. Ramadan is like Christmas here where everyone tries to be nice to each other.

Nubian wrestling in Bari (Northern Khartoum)

Fridays were the best here, except for prayer times when everything was closes. My first Friday I went to see a traditional Nubian wrestling match in Bahri. It was quite exciting and reminded me a lot about the traditional wrestling of the Serer people in Senegal!

The next Friday I went to a traditional Sufi ceremony at the Hamad Alnil cemetery in the Omdoumran district. Here there were dervishes spinning around and everyone watching were very engaged by rocking back and fourth while chanting in a rythm. From what I understand a Sufi is a kind of Muslim who believes that humans should have a direct, personal connection with God, relative to protestants in Christianity. Sufis are usually a supressed minority but here they could roam around and do their prayer rituals freely, which was beautiful to see.

Khartoum is the place where the Blue Nile and the White Nile meet

One of the days I also got to borrow some kayaks from a Norwegian living here. Me and Teresie, a Norwegian who cycles from cape to cape got to enjoy drifting around on the Nile as the sun was setting, which probably was my favorite moment of my month in Khartoum.

The Temples and Pyramids around Karima

There are some less known, but just as impressive pyramids around the city of Karima. To get there I took a five hour 5$ (70SGD) bus and checked into Hotel Al Nasser, which offered outdoor beds with Wi-Fi, chargers and clean showers and bathrooms for less than a dollar.

Hiking to the top of the mountain I found some caves full of bats

Just like everywhere in Sudan you need to register with the local authorities every place you stay and in Karima it was particularly difficult finding the security office as they call it. After walking nearly an hour in soaring heat I found it next to the city’s football stadium.

From the city center I took a rackshaw to the museum costing 60cents, where it was walking distance to the rest of the sites.

The temple of Amun and Mut temple were quite destroyed but were witnesses that there once had been a rich city next to the mountain Jebel Barka.

There were six-seven more or less intact pyramids at the site. Many more which were just piles of rocks, as locals most likely had taken bricks to use for their own houses.

At the site I met a group of agricultural students who invited me for dinner in the evening. They all had lots of questions and wanted to take pictures with me. They also told me that there is a burial site 30 kilometers south of the city called El Kurru. Unfortunately with the current gasoline crisis in the country there was only one bus to Khartoum a day so I had to leave the next morning without checking it out.

A Hitchhikers Guide to Meroe

Meroe is a group of pyramids located about 250 kilometers from Khartoum. Some travelers report to have visited the pyramids as a day trip from Khartoum, but I would highly recommend having one night on the way or in the nearest city called Atbara, about 100kilometers away.

To get there we took two 5cent buses to get out of the city and then just stuck our thumbs out. It didn’t take long before someone picked us up, even just for a few kilometers. It took in total five rides to get to a village called Shendi and then another two rides to the pyramids themselves. We were never standing long before someone picked us up and every stop we got to drink water for free from car repair shops, stores or women selling tea.

From the main road it is impossible to miss the pyramids. Coming from the South you will see a few (free ones) on the left side and then lots of pyramids within a large fenced area on the right.

The official entrance fee is 20$ but how much you actually pay depends on your negotiation skills. Locals with camels will approach you to offer a ride as well, first asking for 10$, moving the price downwards and then turning around when we declined their last offer of paying 10 cents.

Apparently there are small sfinxes and pyramids a couple of kilometers south from the ticket office too, but the main gated area was enough for us. After an hour or two of walking through the desert you will be roasted and only want to find an air-conditioned car to take you back to Khartoum.

The Meroe Pyramids is a place I have wanted to visit for years and it has absolutely lived up to its expectations. You can walk inside the pyramids, stay as long as you want and you will be there completely alone, free from other tourists. Just don’t climb on them like locals do, so that people can enjoy these architectural treasures thousands of years from now as well.