We woke up the next morning to see that we were in a great anchorage with plenty of room for all of us. True to his word, Mohammed our agent, was waiting on the dock to be picked up and he duly arrived with all our paperwork and cleared us in in about 30 mins. He had SIM cards, money for exchange and organised our diesel. We were then free to go off and explore this small town so Donazita, Mike and us headed into town. We passed many buildings in ruins but this time it was due to neglect not war which seemed very sad. It was seriously hot and most people were inside but when we got to the market we saw stall holders braving the midday heat – along with the various goats, chickens and cats.
We found a cafe to have lunch, the obligatory beans and pancake type affair eaten with your fingers – which was delicious. Total cost for 5 was $3! We found a coffee shop, a blue walled hut which served their local coffee served in a Jebanna. They half fill the cup with sugar and then pour in the very strong cinnamon or ginger flavoured coffee using the Jebanna which has dried grass in the spout filtering the coffee. We loved it and spent a lovely hour chatting to the locals – well communicating in sign language would be a better description.
The only tourist site was the Ruins of Suakin which only cost 40 cents to enter so we all wandered in. It seems that they are re-building parts of this area using the beautiful local limestone so hopefully this regeneration will benefit these people. Everyone we met was so friendly and wanted to talk. We met about 10 ladies from Port Sudan on a day trip, brewing their tea behind a half built house. They invited us girls to have a cuppa with them and giggled as they all wanted our photos with them.
The next day 5 of us caught the local bus to Port Sudan. It was only an hour trip which gave us most of the day there. Port Sudan is the largest town except for Khartoum but we found it surprisingly easy to get around. As usual we were the only westerners here and everyone wanted their pictures taken. They grinned and gave a thumbs up. One guy even saluted while I took his photo. There was a large market selling everything and we even found rock melons- a real treat. It reminded me of Penang with these long archways with everyone using the footpath as their office. Pedicures, sewing, cooking, woodworking, metalworking, coffee making etc. it was busy, hot and crowded but we managed to find a cafe with a table and ordered what we thought was a large plate of fish but when it arrived it was bread with hummus melted on it. Again we got plates of various bean concoctions with their pancakes but it was very filling and again it cost half the price of a beer to feed 5. We have found that all up this coast there is little or no alcohol – we found beer in Eritrea but in Sudan we found none. Our stocks are seriously depleted so we may become teetotallers over the next few weeks – YIKES.
When we find a hardware shop, the guys all traipse in and rummage through hoping to find that elusive nut, bolt or item that they have been hunting for, sometimes for years… Port Sudan had the first hardware shops since Kenya so we made a bee line for them. Problem was some of them were so small only one of them fitted at a time! They are wonderful places with lots of ‘stuff’ that the boys find useful but Bunnings they are not….
We eventually had to find the bus back home – not as easy as we thought but everyone wanted to help us – they are very kind and honest here, which we were pleasantly surprised to find. Port Sudan was an interesting place but there was little to see for the visitor.
We spent our precious Internet checking out the weather and it seemed the best day to start heading north was only a day away so on our return, we all got our diesel from Mohammed who had charged us 50c a litre which we thought was really good, until we discovered that it was 8.5c at the bowser. He was making 600% profit!! We were then torn between our original feeling of ‘what a bargain’ to ‘what a rip-off’ …either way it was the cheapest diesel we had ever seen so we were happy.
Check out was another doddle, with Mohammed meeting us all at the dock to give us our port clearances. We have cleared out but we are allowed to stop all the way up the Sudanese coast until we get to Egypt. We decided to go to a reef that was reported to have excellent snorkelling and arrived about an hour before dusk. It was very hair-raising getting the boat into this small atoll as we could see quite clearly the coral beneath us and it was a tight squeeze but we were glad we did as the next morning we snorkelled and found it really good. Most of the reef system in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean has suffered from coral bleaching and is dead but here in the Red Sea it is healthy and there is an abundance of marine life. We snorkelled two or three of the reefs and then upped anchor to get to take advantage of the favourable winds. On our way Proud Cat called and said they were only 10 miles away at the dive site where Jacques Cousteau had built his underwater house, so we sailed over to them, entered another extremely tight atoll, only about a 10 metre wide gap and we are 6.5m wide, and dropped anchor near Proud Cat. Because of the heat during the day and the temperatures dropping at night we both had sniffles so we didn’t dare dive the site, especially as we were in our own. There was a dive boat on the reef and they offered to take us out on their boat to dive from, so Mike and Proud dived, and Ian and I snorkelled it. This house is only 10 metres deep so Ian free dived down and had a look around. In 1962 Jacques Cousteau built an underwater house called Precontinent 11. People lived down there over a 2-4 week period. Only part of the house still remains along with the tool shed and the fish cages and they are now covered in coral but it was fascinating to thing to see.
After an incredible lunch on board Proud Cat we set off for our next anchorage. It was forecast that there would be winds of up to 35 knots over the next few days so we decided to go up one of the many inlets that are dotted up the coast. We went to one of the biggest, called Mahsa Sin’ab. We were not sure what to expect but what we found was like something out of a movie. It was about 3 miles long with sun dunes either side and then it forked into three. We went up the longest and anchored at the end. Paseafique came in about 4pm and that’s where we ended up having our sundowners. Up early before the heat, we dinghied over to the shore and decided to climb up the highest peak to see the view. This was not particularly hard as it had a shallow gradient and the view at the top was spectacular. You could see for miles, no houses, no roads except for the dusty truck along the shore, rockfaces, hills sand dunes and water. It was truly one of the most magnificent places I have ever seen and the pictures cannot do it justice. We stayed there for ages and even found a few fossils.
We could see Indian Summer and Paseafique in the creek below and camels sitting on the beach. This was definitely the highlight of the Red Sea, but time was pushing on, so after drinks on Indian Summer and an early night, we set off in the morning to try and reach another inlet before this dreaded bad weather arrived.
We went up one inlet but were turned back by the military, not too aggressively but definitely a no-go zone, so we checked our AIS and saw our friends Donazita were up the inlet 5 miles back so we went and joined them. This was not nearly as pretty as the last one but interestingly there was a small village here and an even smaller military presence, 3 guys in a hut to be precise. Later in Vamonos came in so there were 3 of us sheltering from the winds. The next morning we went over to the military guys to introduce ourselves and they offered to take us in the back of their ute to the village. It was really hot and dusty so I grabbed the opportunity when offered to sit in the cab but the guys sat in the tray. This little village is so quiet you can hear the sand blowing along. It had a couple of tiny shops, a bakery, a butcher and no cars at all. We saw a homemade pressure cooker using a rock, amazed the shopkeeper by buying lots of tinned goods and had all the kids come out to check us out. It was the sweetest place but so barren, and to think only a hundred miles away is one of the richest countries on earth (Saudi Arabia)
The next day we arranged to get some fuel. First we had to change our money and so the driver looked at me and said “landing, landing” while waving his arm up and down. I was completely mystified until I realised he wanted me to open the window – land the window like a plane! I just loved these guys… so the military guy met his friend and the deal was done through the car window – we got a good deal and then headed off to his mates backyard to fill out Jerry cans as there was no petrol station here. We were thrilled to get the diesel at 8.5cents a LITRE – incredible. It was getting very windy and the dust and sand were getting everywhere, it was stifling and with two inch gaps under their doors, I don’t know how they cope. It must get into all their food, their bedding, their clothes…. we didn’t last one day before we all headed back to our sandfree boats!
The next day I turned 60. A milestone birthday and I never expected to be in a place like this but I had a lovely day. We went ashore to buy some goat meat, which I had to boil to 2 hours to tenderise it. I had two homemade birthday cakes, homemade wine and had a great birthday party on Indian Summer. We drank lots, ate lots and laughed all night. I even managed to talk to the kids which was amazing considering where we were.
As promised the wind came and the next day we were all boat bound. It sat around 30 knots for most of the day and calmed down in the evening. We were heading to Jordan next which took us north East and Vamanos were heading to Port Suez in Egypt heading due north so we took the weather window a couple of days later and left the delightful village we had become so fond of. The military guys gave us a USB stick and asked us for some action movies, which we did and we hope that after they have watched them other boats can give them different ones. It was the least we could do after all their friendliness and generosity. We were sad to leave Sudan, it had been such a surprise destination but Jordan here we come….
The the big red arrow is Aqaba in Jordan where we are at present. The bottom blue pin is Mahsa Sin’ab (where we climbed the rock face) and the pin above it is Mahsa Oseif ( where I celebrated my birthday) The anchor beside the word Cairo is Port Suez where we check out of Egypt and start our transit through the Suez Canal into the Med. The left finger at the top is The Gulf of Suez, the smaller finger on the right is the Gulf of Aqaba and the larger body of water running from the bottom of the page to the fingers is the Red Sea. Iraq is above Saudi Arabia, Israel is next to Jordan and Sudan is below Egypt so there are six countries in this picture.