Sudan side trip
Oct 19, 2012 1:59 AM
Sudan side tripOn the way to my winter feeding grounds I managed to squeeze in a brief family sisit to Sudan.
Egyptair continue the downhill slide that began some 3 years ago. The service by the cabin crew is cheerfully slapdash as ever but the food is in freefall. A salad consisting of a single shred of lettuce, surmounted by a dollop of coleslaw, the whole topped by a miniscule slice of black olive; the main was a trio of lumps of overboiled beef, a single slice from a can of mushroom slices all on, not so much a bed but a well-used mattress of rice; the pud was a sponge concoction with a brown centre and an anaemic custard topping. My neighbour, a Basque, was most put out when his request for wine was rebuffed.
Midway through the flight the computer screen (the one giving all manner of mindboggling facts about the aircraft performance) began adding time instead of subtracting it, thus we were informed, 30 mins from scheduled touchdown, that our enjoyment was apparently to continue for a further 2 hours 50 mins. I briefly wondered whether we had been hijacked to Tehran but the happy-go-lucky crew showed no alarm and so I accepted this as a maintenance failing.
I was pleased as we arrived at Cairo bang on time, though my efforts to disguise the whiff of travel perspeiration were dashed – they appear to have stopped providing lemon-scented eau de cologne in the loo!
I whiled away the intervening 3 hrs before my journey to Khartoum visiting the Hippo bar and chilling in the lounge. At the former the staff are as surly and off the boil as ever but it remains a good corner for people-watching. In the lounge one coffee machine was u/s and the available food was crap. The toilets dotted around the airport are home to many fewer cleaning staff than of yore and the standards of hygeine reflect it. Toilet paper also appears to be at a premium.
My final leg went smoothly (at 3 in the morning and after travelling for 20+ hours I tend to notice little beyond full-blown emergencies) and I was soon in the arms of my family once more, though not before I briefly noticed the revamped Arrivals Hall, complete with Duty Free shopping. I wondered if they had any stock worth buying?
Khartoum has changed little in the 9 months since I left. A few derelict buildings have been demolished, a couple of new ones have gone up and the airport road now boasts coloured lights for part of the way downtown (well, it did yesterday....., anything could have happened since) but the place is still a perfect example of a city attempting to lower its standards to those of an unflushed toilet. I remarked to my friend who had graciously come out at such an unearthly hour to meet me that:
“The road looks clean, it must have recently rained!” He roared with laughter:
“Oh! Mr Dave, you always notice everything!”
Within 24 hours I was sneezing from a dust allergy and from then onwards my throat tightened and dried ever more until I was on Amoxicillin to combat the bugs – and this was but a 4-day visit!
Afra, the nation's first Mall and site of the only escalator (which really did work, once) has succumbed to faulty electrics. The ensuing conflagration easily overcame the abilities of the fire brigade and the place is now a complete derelict. The downtown Khartoum Mall has filled the gap, though I understand there is no escalator – shame, it used to be mildly diverting to watch kids attempt tp run up when it was moving downwards.
Bus travel remains dirt cheap at 1 SDG per journey but rising fuel prices mean the buses are ever more popular and unable to cope. A journey of 30 mins or more, packed like sardines with hordes of the unwashed, is not to be taken lightly.
Shopping has gone from the ludicrously expensive to..........., well............, the more ludicrously expensive. A standard shopping basket of a year ago now costs twice as much, not that the shoppers have the funds to contemplate such. The life for hoi polloi is becoming harsher by the month and mutterings in the marketplace are becoming more vocal. All but the rabid, die-hard, supporters of the mad Bashir are demanding change yet everywhere new, often crazily modernistic, Government buildings are going up, in a country where the Government insists there is no money to subsidise essentials.
For peace and uninterrupted togetherness we took a room at the Acropole Hotel. It was not cheap (though for the crazy prices/standards of Khartoum it has to be the best value for money) but it was a perfect refuge for the 3 of us to enjoy each other's company to the fullest. I thoroughly recommend this friendly, family-run hotel for its comfort, facilities, and the wealth of help they offer to travellers/NGOs/tourists and even locals.
On the return journey another chum drove me through silent streets and I entered the airport lounge only 25 mins after bidding my wife farewell. Having negotiated the suspicious security staff (chucking my pack through the 3rd x-ray machine in 25 metres I was finally ordered to open my bag as a torch looked a bit dodgy) I boarded the aircraft to find it half-empty and therefor more comfortable. We commenced the take off roll as the emergency briefing began, not a problem for nobody paid any heed as seats were in the reclining position, bags lay on seats and at least one child was wandering the aisle, no doubt wondering why most people were strapped in?
This time the computer countdown worked with unbelievable verve and, after just 10 mins aloft, we were already half an hour ahead of schedule. They turned it off within the hour, possibly as the moving map continued to show our aircraft symbol somewhere in Omdurman souk.
At Cairo I found a secluded seat in the lounge and dozed the three hours until my chariot for the Barcelona leg was ready, but I fell foul of Egyptair's hygeine standards when a glass of orange juice sent me running, knees together, for the gents!
I was awoken over the Med for a purported beef brunch, I wished they hadn't bothered. The flight was largely uneventful (unfastened children, punters ignoring the seatbelt rules and mobiles emitting ominous beeps and rings seem de rigeur for these flights) and 20 minutes after touchdown, thanks to Spanish efficiency, I was on the bus to my Barcelona city centre hostel. Tomorrow I fly to Bangkok.
(3 star Hotel)
From US$64.98 per night
(4 star Hotel)
From US$99.42 per night
(5 star Hotel)
From US$331.43 per night