Our small ferry of Bandar Abbas “lands” in the harbour of the small emirate Sharjah. Since the ship was already several hours late and needed 12 instead of 10 hours for the crossing due to the continuing thunderstorms, we will arrive in Sharjah only in the late morning of November 10th, 2011. A police car drives ahead of us to the immigration. Here the passports of all travellers are collected and those who were unlucky and whose passport came at the bottom simply had to wait longer.
We were lucky and the running of the gauntlet in Sharjah harbour could begin. First I go through a back exit over to the customs building to change money, but then I have a lot of trouble to be let in again. But we need cash for the following process. First we go back to the port where we have to pay the bill of unloading at the shipping agency and then get the ship’s papers handed over. After that we have to stamp the Carnet de Passage, pay the road tax, etc… at the end back to the port, where in a barrack all papers and payments are checked and we get the exit ticket with which we can leave the port. Shortly before sunset we reach the small parking lot of Al-Khan Beach, where we stay for the next two days.
The next two days are for “self-organisation”. First we drive – once again due to truck bans – to the Mega Mall, where we buy food and get a SIM card from ETISALAT, which also works wonderfully. In the afternoon we go to the truck wash to do the MAN a favour once again and rinse off the sea salt. The truck wash is also done thoroughly, the chassis is even sprayed with oil at the end.
Today we drive to “United Motors & heavy Equipment”, a company that also represents MAN in the Emirates. Here we change the wheels on the axle, i.e. the running direction of the tyres, and have the oil levels on the front axle filled up. I am usually present at the work to prevent accidents. I want to make sure that the work is done, that the propshaft is really lubricated etc.
Dubai Down Town
Today we drive to Dubai Down Town. Trucks aren’t allowed there until 9am. First we head for the Sudanese Consulate General, because we want to extend our Sudan visa, so that we can still make time for Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately we get the information that only visas for people with residence in the Emirates are issued here. O.K. – then we stop in Abu Dhabi at the Sudanese Embassy.
The highway through Dubai is 10 to 12 lanes, in each direction 5 to 6 lanes. The traffic is fluent and actually very orderly, however, every now and then with runaways a la Iran. So we can’t drive quite relaxed. An additional question is always the right lane, so that you don’t end up in the wrong direction or drive out into an area where you don’t want to go. We made best experiences with the second lane from the right and in addition: Keep your eyes open.
We recorded the impressive drive between the skyscrapers. Have fun!
In the evening we take a taxi to the Dubai Mall and the Dubai Fountain. In the Dubai Mall a total of 1200 shops, stalls, snack bars and restaurants try to do business. For uninformed people like us it is not easy to orientate, especially to find out again. The Dubai Mall also has a huge aquarium, which of course is a tourist magnet and should animate buyers.
Behind the Dubai Mall there is a pedestrian zone around the gigantic Dubai Spring Fountain with water features. Of course we want to see the spectacle, which is why we stay until around 9 pm. Admittedly, there is a grandiose atmosphere that infects us. This gigantism has to inspire in itself, especially as a change from Iran.
The elegant needle of the Burj Khalifa is 828m high. First called Burj Dubai, its name had to be changed to Birj Khalifa when it was completed. Why? The Emir of Dubai has thoroughly run out of money and the President of the United Arab Emirates – Khalifa bin Zayid – had to step in. It is only logical that the tower now bears his name.
Around the Dubai Creek there is still something of the old Dubai. First we stroll through the faithfully restored Al Fahidi Neighbourhood and then to the Creek in Bur Dubai. Only briefly we have to cross the souq but the pushiness of the sellers causes us to “escape”. On the Dubai Creek the wooden “Abras” have always been driving on certain shorter lines. The water taxis are a bit bigger and are used for longer distances.
With the waterbus we drive along Dubai Creek to the port of the Dhaus, the time-honoured wooden ships that still carry cargo in the Gulf of Persia and the Indian Ocean. The ships we take a closer look at are all loaded with all kinds of cargo for Iran. Tolerated smuggling under ancient vested interests. Fortunately, because somehow the people of Iran must be able to live, despite sanctions.
We search the coast of Dubai, but the places shown in iOverlander for overnight stays are now overbuilt or are not suitable for overnight stays for other reasons. We come across Al Sufouh Beach 1 – and we are happy. We manage to get a nice and relatively quiet seat in the first row. It is still hot, around 30°, but a constant breeze makes the climate more than bearable. Here we stand for 11 days. We enjoy the beach and being here. Especially in the evening it is beautiful when the skyscrapers nearby are illuminated. An unreal atmosphere. We also see the Burj Al Arab, the only 7* hotel in the world.
Many locals drive large full-size 4x4s and pickups. Here in Dubai the windows of the driver and passenger are also darkened, so that you can’t see into the car. This is very uncomfortable in traffic, as you cannot make eye contact. It is even more unpleasant at the Al Sufouh Beach. The dear locals drive with their cars in front of us, stare at us and our vehicle for the longest time without us being able to see them. After a while they drive away. So unfortunately no contact is possible. Generally we feel the local population here as rather distant and unapproachable. A Swedish woman who has worked here for several years and comes to us for coffee, casually says that we (the westerners) are only 2nd class for the locals here – consequently the Indians and other working foreigners are then only 3rd and 4th class.
In between we need water and have to go shopping. Nearby there are some supermarkets where we can cover our needs. For the fresh water we need a tap with enough pressure. In a somewhat better residential area we find a mosque and ask the Indian staff. They allow us to take water from the drinking water supply system and are very happy to be able to chat a little with “strangers” – they live far away from home and usually it is too expensive to bring the families to the Emirates.
Of course we are interested in what it looks like behind the skyscrapers that we see every evening. So we set off and visit the Dubai Marina. On both sides of the marina there are footpaths, so that it is pleasant to stroll around. Restaurants with the largest selection offer their menus. We choose an Indian restaurant and get a wonderful meal. At the end a trip with the water taxi.
We have to go to Abu Dhabi to receive our new Carnet de Passage at the Swiss Embassy there. The deputy of the consul also takes time for a chat and tells us in which supermarket we can get the products we want to refill.
Abu Dhabi is not our favourite place. Unfortunately we have some unpleasant and arrogant encounters with locals. The “serving” Indians here are again very friendly and help us to get a parking space for our truck camper nevertheless. Instead of being allowed to park on the big bus parking lot directly behind the embassy – the parking lot is 4/5 empty – a taxi takes us to a parking lot which is explicitly marked as a parking lot. And again a white dressed guy drives up to us to tell us that we are not allowed to park here. It’s none of their business, we think and take a taxi to the Swiss embassy.
The drive through the embassy quarter with many security men, also past the US embassy, is no problem with our MAN and finally we can park directly in front of the Sudanese embassy. After a certain waiting time we are received by the consul personally. He doesn’t want to give us a new visa either, because we still have a valid visa in our passports – and because he wants us to visit his country extensively. He starts raving about Sudan and enumerates all the places we should definitely visit and infects us with his enthusiasm. Finally, he lets us serve drinks and gives us his Whatsapp number so that we can contact him at any time. We have to enter the country until December 10, 2019 and can then stay for 6 months. The die is cast for us. Africa is our real destination. We decide to postpone an extensive visit from Saudi Arabia until later and focus our attention on the shipment to Sudan.
Last purchase in a supermarket with western offers, a lot of money goes over the counter, because the price level is the same as in Europe. Afterwards we drive to Mira, where we spend the night at the beach. The last overnight stay before the Saudi border we spend at the public beach pick nick place in Al-Silah, which is only 30 km before the border.
What a magic word! After about two or three weeks, the electronic tourist visa is available and can be applied for online. Within about 40 minutes we have the visa and can print it out. Yes, we have a small printer on board. With a nevertheless queasy feeling we drive to the border.
The exit from the Emirates is easy. We take – by truck – consequently the lane for passenger cars and busses. Are stopped at the first gate. A border patrol comes specially and gives the OK to continue the journey. They drive in front of us, accompany us to immigration, take our Carnet de Passage and drive it to the place that stamps it, come back and everything is done. After 3/4 hours we drive over to the Saudi customs.
Our fear was the medication we were carrying. We didn’t bring anything with us which would be a crime in Europe, but we know that the regulations in Islamic countries are much more restrictive and it was not possible for me to find out exactly which medicines are now forbidden and which are not. As a precaution we asked our brilliant family doctor at home for a confirmation for the medicines, which he also delivered immediately.
But our concern is in vain. The check-in is very friendly, welcome and correct. First of all, our data is collected at the immigration. We have to give the fingerprints of all 10 fingers – digital, as it is done today – and afterwards we are photographed. It all happens very quickly. Then our vehicle is digitally recorded. The first vehicle inspection was more about interest in the vehicle. Now we drive to the scanner and the MAN is scanned. Afterwards the second control follows and we can enter – haaaalt, who stamps our carnet? They don’t want to stamp the carnet, doesn’t seem to be necessary here. We talk to the manager and get a stamp – but we really didn’t need it, because we didn’t get stamped on our departure?
After the customs check a first time to change money and refuel. After that we drive about 280 km to our first resting place. 280 km with nothing – only desert. The road in good condition, hardly any traffic, everything wonderful. We get into the mood…
For the overnight stay we choose a Sasco Palm gas station along the highway-like main road. We find a niche where we feel good. The sun is just setting as a fire red ball. More and more truck trains drive up to the rest area to spend the night here, also next to us two semi-trailer trucks are parked. The air is filled with the roar of diesel engines. We like to stand together with truck drivers and love this athmosphere, even if there is not such a quiet night. The next morning before sunrise we check the air pressure in the tyres again and have to refill them.
Today we will drive a total of 450 km. The drive through the suburbs of Riyadh and the drive along the periphery of Riyadh are time consuming. But finally it is done. Since the planned rest area is closed due to construction work, we drive into Al Quwayiyah and there to the parking lot at the new shopping mall. A muezzin greets us and wants to help us to find a parking space. But wait, no, we do not need a hotel. He drives with us back to the parking lot of the shopping mall and talks to the security, he accompanies us to the supermarket and then he has to hurry up because the evening prayer has to be said right away.
Except for his hooded woman sitting in the car, we have not seen a single woman today. At 9 pm we discuss about our vehicle. I get out of the car. The head of security introduces himself to me and confirms that we are allowed to stand here until morning. Good night.
We leave at dawn. Verena doesn’t know what I’m up to. I want to cut the 600 km daily limit – and we can do it, but with all our strength. With the overnight stay we have difficulties. My plan: In the parking lot of the Al Taif airport. In my thoughts I imagine a well-tended parking lot with trees. But it does not come so far. The entrance is controlled by the military. Nevertheless I drive up – well, it took me some time to get out of there, because the dear soldiers and officers – yes, they were and remained very friendly – because they wanted to know what this military vehicle is actually supposed to do. They look briefly into the vehicle, but the airport boss must come here to give us our freedom again. We drive to the next gas station and spend the night there. Loud night.
Before Jeddah we want to fill up with water. We drive to the gas stations at the place, but find no tap. We drive to the new park on the opposite side of the main road. But the toilets are still under construction. So we ask two local men in the park. Short small talk. They want to know exactly what we need, so we show them the water connection of our vehicle. OK. – No problem – follow me in the back, you can fill up at my place. So we get direct water connection to the villa of a retired officer of the Saudi army. During the refueling process he serves us with dates, pastries and tea. Wonderful, this hospitality. Unfortunately communication is minimal, more with hands and feet, as he speaks only a few words of English.
To get to Jeddah, we have to drive around Mecca in a wide westerly direction. So after a failed attempt to find a more direct way – the police send us back – we take the truck route under the wheels. We spend the night again on a small parking lot at the edge of a big gas station, at the entrance of Jeddah.
Today we drive into Jeddah to book the shipment across the Red Sea. We have no address, just a name. That’s why we’re going to the passenger terminal at the port. Here someone can give us an address. Finally we find the company “Namma International Shipping”, not far from the port. The company Namma is a Saudi Arabian company, but with headquarters in Cairo. Therefore it is not surprising that the booking is made by an Egyptian, while the friendly elderly gentleman in white dress, who translates, is an employee from Sudan. Every day except Friday ships leave from Jeddah to Suakin in Sudan and vice versa. The booking is done quickly and we spend the rest of the day at Middle Corniche Park in a parking bay, where we also stand for the night.
At 11 o’clock we are at the port, ready for the “clearance” But there is no “clearance” in that sense. Our vehicle is not checked, only the papers are collected. While the parking lot in front of the port fills up and empties again – only the empty vehicles are left there – they want us to wait until the driver who is supposed to drive our truck to the ship arrives. This drags on. From about 11 am to 4 pm we stand around, not knowing exactly what is going on or “if it’s going on”. But the SUDANESE workers keep calming us down. Finally we want to get over to the passenger terminal. But the Sudanese spread out a blanket and invite us to eat. In the evening we “lie down on the blanket” and eat with them. Another Sudanese comes along and eats a few bites. Then he disappears again with the remark that he would bring us a chicken meal for the ship after the evening prayer. So we have to wait again out of politeness … and lo and behold, he shows up with three plastic bags from which it smells wonderfully of chicken. We take the meals with us to the ship, where we realize that there is no restaurant where we could have eaten as planned. Now we like the chicken with chips and sauce all the more and get full.
At approximately 7 p.m. we are taken to the ship by buses. But our MAN is not in front of our ship, nor in a completely different corner of the harbour. I go down and talk to the loading officer, who calms me down. At some point, our MAN also arrives (you are not allowed to drive onto the ship yourself here) and stands unharmed in the hold. Thank God.
As a rain front moves over the Red Sea, the crossing takes several hours longer than announced. But we know that already. In any case we arrive safe and sound in Suakin, Sudan.
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