The Sudan

breaking fast in Dongola
For anybody spending the muslim holy month of Ramadan in the Sudan, this has to be the iconic image: being invited by strangers on the street to break the fast at sunset with them.  It became a travelling art as Zac (sitting in lower left) and I trolled the streets of Sudanese towns and villages a quarter hour before sunset and accepted invitations to join neighbourhood fasters for delicious outdoor spreads like this one in northern Sudan.  Each of the last 9 dinners we had after leaving the capital Khartoum were as invited guests.   As the nearest mosque sings out the cue for sunset, expectant fasters launch into the food like vultures, typically beginning with dates like the Prophet Muhammad did.  And though I'm not a date eater, Sudanese dates were by far the best I've tasted anywhere, topping other famous date producers like Iran or Syria.  Groups of more affluent friends may have meats and tasty desserts in their spread.  Immediately following the fast breaking, the fasters stand up in a row for their sunset prayer, led by the most religiously respected man in the group.  Following islamic tradition, women break fast and pray separately inside the house.  Following prayer, dinner continued, followed by tea or coffee service and some cordial discussion.  The fast breaking ceremony wraps up as the group prepares to go to the mosque for their evening prayer.  Revitalized with energy, the Sudanese hit the streets and shops, which open up in the evening and stay open until past midnight.  A large midnight meal is eaten before sleeping in order to fill the belly as much as possible until the next day's sunset.  Without question, what travellers cherish the most about Sudan is not the sights or cuisine or landscapes or the hardships of transportation, but the simple decent hospitality of  common Sudanese people in every village along the way.

Omdurman market
Omdurman market near Khartoum.  Not as colourful as Sahelian markets in West Africa, Sudanese markets serve perfunctory utilitarian functions and the oil export windfall of recent years has vastly improved infrastructure and overall wealth dramatically.  It is no longer the bargain it once used to be.  As a capital Khartoum is hot and dusty and crowded and not as clean as it should be.  But it is a great place to find kebab restaurants open in the daytime during ramadan.  And the twenty or so that have secured permits (at great cost) to operate during Ramadan are packed with (mostly) South Sudanese Christians, frail elderly muslims, and heathens like me. 



Jebel Barkal
The main tourist attractions of the Sudan are the pyramid tombs built by the Nubians.  They can hardly compare to Egyptian masterpieces but they're worth a quick visit.  Meroe (above and middle) is the most accessible and best preserved (partly restored) site.  The Jebel Barkal pyramids in Karima (below) sit at the base of a holy mountain.  When the thermometer is licking 45°C in the Sahara desert, you don't hang around too long appreciating these sites.  An almost complete lack of air conditioning in the country forces travellers to adapt to the murderous heat, day and night.  It's almost unfathomable how local muslims can survive all day in these conditions without drinking a drop of water.  I had to sneak in Coke and other soft drinks to replenish fluids and maintain sugar levels prior to the evening bonanza.  Even Khartoum's modern Afra Mall doesn't turn on its AC, placing feeble fans in the aisles of the sweltering clientless interior.

Desert bus
Long hours in the Sahara are spent in these Bedford desert buses, which power over dunes and rough trails to the next isolated village on the Nile River.  This one shown has arrived in the northern port town of Wadi Halfa, from where the weekly ferry across Lake Aswan is the only legal means of crossing overland to Egypt.  This desert bus is loading cargo for the two or three day return journey to Dongola, where the tarmacked road from Khartoum first appears.

desert bus
Some Sudanese can even sleep laying down in the aisle of a desert bus while we bumpily grind over rough offroad tracks.

Kerma spice market
A vendor at the lively spice market in Kerma in the north of the Sudan.  I never understood what the deal was with calling the country THE Sudan.  They are joined by illustrious company such as THE Gambia.