Khartoum

I set off before dawn to finish my crossing of the Sahara, cycling into Khartoum. I did not then know that the military would overthrow the government, flights would be cancelled and I would end up trapped in Khartoum!

As has been something of a norm the last few days, a headwind developed and so the last kilometres to Khartoum passed by slowly. I passed a police/military checkpoint – it’s not the first I’ve seen in Sudan, but the first I stopped for. They checked my passport then one soldier said “Welcome to our country – please enjoy your time here.”

Traffic picked up as I approached the capital. I stopped at a market a short distance away and bought a bag each of falafels and bread and ate most of them.

It was approaching midday as I reached Omdurman, suburb/sister city to Khartoum. The main road on the way in seemed to also serve as a market and was crowded with people.

At one point the road became exceptionally dirty, even by local standards. The road wasn’t actually visible under a layer of litter. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of this as the heat was also reaching it’s peak, causing my phone to crash.

I knew how it felt – I was starting to feel a bit of a nausea, an early sign of heat exhaustion. I stopped and bought cold drinks at a shop, and rested in the shade for a while.

I managed to ride along for a few more kilometres before having to rest again in the shade. I decided to stay in a hotel in Omdurman, a few dollars more expensive but a few kilometres closer. There was one 4km away but I only managed 1km before having to stop again – I’m pretty sure it was heat exhaustion at this point.

I wouldn’t even be able to make the 3km to the hotel, so I just laid down in the shade and spent several hours there waiting for it to cool down. Once it did, and I could ride again, I decided to just continue on to the centre of Khartoum.

Khartoum seems to be a somewhat better off area than Omdurman, and there were clear, wide roads and interesting buildings.

What came first, the chicken or this weird egg building?

Riding through Khartoum in the afternoon, almost every building was closed. It was Friday, the holy day of the Islamic week. I hoped that was the only reason – there have been protests here recently and I hoped things weren’t bad enough to have closed so many businesses.

The next morning, Saturday, lots of places were open as I rode across town to pick up a bike box. I managed to ride 4km with it, after folding it up and then strapping it on to my handlebars.

On Sunday I got my PCR test in the morning, and collected the results in the evening. Negative! This was a lot cheaper than the last one I took – about a fifth of the price. Returning to the hotel, I packed my bike into the box.

On Monday, the phone network went down around dawn. That’s not particularly unusual in poorer countries but more unusual was the fact it stayed down.

Later in the morning I went out to get some food. I found a grocery shop open but almost every other business was closed and the streets were empty of traffic. To the southwest I could see some black smoke, which I hoped it was just pollution.

It wasn’t. Back in the hotel they translated the TV news for me: the military had executed a coup d’etat, arresting the civilian government.

There was a Sudanese man at the hotel who’d lived in England for a long time, and spoke English with a London accent. Ahmed had some contacts at the airport who confirmed that flights had been cancelled.

The hotel staff gave me some food that evening. Unfortunately it made me a bit unwell the next morning, though I felt better after a few hours.

In the late afternoon the internet came back. Unfortunately since I was planning on leaving Sudan soon, I’d used almost all the data on my SIM card. It ran out shortly after the internet came back.

Another of the men at the hotel, Awad, was heading out somewhere that evening by car. He very kindly topped up my phone for me. However before I could use my new credit, the power went out – for the whole city. The phone network stayed up, but the mobile internet did not.

Power returned late that evening, and I was glad for the resumption of the AC. Unfortunately the internet stayed down.

I spoke for a while with an Iraqi man, Ahmed. He was in Sudan for a couple months, doing research for his PHD. Later that evening, there was a knock at the door as he and a member of the hotel staff had brought me a dinner of chicken and rice.

On Wednesday morning, I took a walk to a small kiosk to get some food. The streets were certainly not back up to their pre-coup levels, but there had been a noticeable uptick in people, vehicles and open businesses.

The internet stayed down the whole day, so it was another day spent laying in bed, reading or watching TV series on my tablet.

Thursday morning the hotel staff told me that the airport was open and flights to Ethiopia had resumed. The hotel owner very kindly drove me to the airport, dropping me off at about 9.30.

I asked around about Ethiopian Airlines and was told their agents wouldn’t be there until 12.30. I wasn’t optimistic, even if they showed up I didn’t think I’d be able to pay by card, and I didn’t have anywhere near enough cash. I settled in to wait though and was surprised to find an open wifi network, which actually worked.

Another tourist was waiting and I spoke to her. Tracy is a Malay-Australian, also going to Addis Ababa. She was flying with Badr airlines.

The wifi wasn’t fast enough to actually book a ticket but I was able to use Messenger. I contacted my travel agent (also known as Mum) and she found that Ethiopian Airlines had no flights today, but Badr airlines did. She managed to book me a ticket and so it looked like I was actually going to be able to escape!

Next step was check in. I was unsurprised that I had to pay extra for the bike – if anything I was surprised how little it was: $40 instead of the $100 it would have been with Ethiopian. The issue was, the only money I had was a $100 note. I managed to find a money changer and split that into $50 and $50 worth of Sudanese Pounds. I’d already had the box checked in and got my boarding pass so I may not have even needed to pay, but I went back and did so anyway.

I needed a PCR test to board the flight. I’d been very lucky with that. I went to the testing facility on Saturday, intending to have the test that day. If I’d done so, it would have just expired (Ethiopia requires that the test be done in the last 5 days). At the lab, they wanted me to have the test done on Monday. If I’d waited until then, they would have been closed due to the coup. Instead, I’d had it done on Sunday, the one day that would work.

I met up with Tracy again and hung out with her while we waited for our flight. We were both very relieved to board a couple hours later, and even more relieved when the flight took off: we were escaping!

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