We arrange our paperwork at the Ethiopian side of the border at customs and the visa section. We are now officially outside of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian customs guy is very nice. The troubles start when we head to the Sudanese side of the border. Willem goes out to meet the Sudanese customs and I stay with the bikes to deter potential thieves. The sun is almost down when Willem comes back with a desperate look in his eyes. We can’t get into Sudan is the verdict.
We don’t have a carnet de passage (some sort of car passport). Until now this never was a problem but Sudan and especially Egypt don’t like vehicles who cross their territory without a guarantee from some kind of automobile federation who assures the exit of the vehicle (that is what a carnet assures). In Rwanda it’s impossible to get such a carnet so we’re obliged to travel without one. We expected a lot of trouble to get into Egypt but not necessarily to enter Sudan. All online information is rather vague. All we get from the customs officer is the number of the Sudanese automobile federation from the customs officer.
We spend 24 hours in between borders, no mans land. The Ethiopian customs guys are nice, one of them even helps us at the Sudanese Customs. His name is Frazer. When we fail to enter Sudan he invites us to pitch our tent next to their custom offices. We have dinner with Frazer and his mate, Solomon. They both studied law and have been working at the border for two years. We eat, hopefully, for the last time injera.
The border town of Metema counts 7000 souls. A lot of them are depending on the border activity for a living. The most notable ones are the big amount of prostitutes that serve the needs of many Sudanese men that cross the border just to have a brief encounter with them. The very strict sharia law bans prostitution in Sudan. Ethiopia is not that strict about those matters. Both customs guys have studied in Gondar and Bahir Dar. They’re happy with their fixed jobs. But they’re also 28 and they’re starting to doubt if they ever will find a suiting partner in this dusty and hot border town.
The next day we make the necessary calls and we wait. We wait a lot. The custom offices are four old containers. Just next to them a crew of only women is building a new office. It’s not the first time that I’ve seen this in Africa. The sexist in me feels sorry for them, dragging those heavy stones, the feminist is cheering for this amazing form of emancipation (leaving out of the equation what their man is doing or not doing at the same time)
Frazer explains us that the new building will even have a scanner to check trucks and luggage. Something I think they could use now already. Hundreds of passengers arrive from the Sudanese border, most of them Ethiopian temporary workers. They’re all flocking back to their home country to be home just in time for their Christmas. They all have heavy blankets in plastic bags. Those very ugly Arabian type of blankets that one would only use to put out a fire if they were not so highly flammable.
I ask Frazer if he ever encounters some contraband. He says it very seldom happens. Still Willem and I can’t believe that those blankets are empty. Why would one buy blankets in Sudan, one of the hottest places on earth? How much profit can you make with selling one blanket?
Most passengers get off the bus in Gallabat (the Sudanese side of the border). Load their luggage on one of the many donkey carts and walk towards their connecting bus in Ethiopia. The only vehicles that cross the border are these donkey carts and petrol trucks. The empty trucks go from Ethiopia to Sudan and the full ones go the other way round. After a long hot day of waiting we are allowed to cross the border. Our guy, Abu Waida, in Khartoum has sent some guarantee documents to the Sudanese border customs office. Things seem to run quite smoothly we are even invited to have lunch with the customs officers. But then it takes more than 1,5 hour to sign our papers but the food and the fact that we can cross the border make us very patient.
We meet some old overlander friends, the Dutch couple, Martine en Andrew, with their old Volvo truck, Billy. We decide to wild camp together a few miles past the border. They provide us with some cold sodas and tasty mushroom soup. While we sit around a small campfire a funny character pops up out of nowhere. It’s an old guy with a bucket. The bucket is filled with fresh honey. He greets us and we invite him to sit down by the fire and give him a soda. He accepts and gives us all a fresh piece of honeycomb. With a lot of gestures he explains how he gets the honey from the bees. It’s a whole show. Than, just as sudden as he arrived he bids us farewell and disappears into the night. Happy with this good start in Sudan and tired off all the border arrangements we go to bed. We’re camping in the middle of nowhere so no imams or orthodox priest to wake us up. It’s the best night sleep we had in weeks.