There I was, perched on one of the sloping rocks of Kassala, with my legs dangling down when I noticed a sound. It was a massive bird flying and swooping over me. I gawked at the sight of it and it gawked back at me. Another bird joined in, and they both started swirling in unison, flying higher and higher. I laid back to enjoy the show they were putting on, thinking, how lucky am I? This was until they started descending lower and lower… and lower.
When they were close enough for me to fully realise their enormous size, I realised, $#!@. They are not putting on a show for me – they want to EAT me. I jumped up, clapped my hands and shouted some profanities to made it clear I was NOT a dead animal. First, they got scared off but then decided to monitor the situation by perching on the vertical rock face opposite me. Another bird arrived and there I was, starring down three scary looking birds.
We had left our bikes in Qadarif and took a bus to Kassala. It was a dream of ours to visit this place. Its grand rock faces jutting out of the ground lead some people to dub it The Yosemite of Africa. Now, that just sounds like our kind of thing! Unfortunately, we left our climbing gear back in Europe. Though the quality of the rock didn’t seem that great, still, what an amazing place this would be to climb. The adventure alone of trad climbing here and the epic views below would definitely make the effort worthwhile.
The bus ride to Kassala was not as enjoyable. It was stifling hot. I had to switch between keeping the curtain closed from the unforgivably strong sunlight and taking a peak out the window to avoid a puking episode. I watched the white headscarves of the Sudanese men violently sway from left to right as we flew over potholes. It’s a miracle I didn’t get motion sickness.
After a torturous couple of hours, we arrived at the famous holiday destination of the Sudanese – Kassala. From our hotel room, we could see the massive rocks of Kassala – the Taka Mountains – coming out from the lush green ground below. It was the first time we had seen trees and the colour green in a long time and you know what? We actually craved the sight of it. We hungered for the colour green like we would fruit.
That afternoon, when the heat had subsided we visited the quirky and colourful cafes in the Totiel district, located at the bottom of the rock faces of the Taka Mountains. This place is definitely unique. Cafes are built on top of massive boulders leading up to the cliffs. We enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere and the good Jabana coffee (served with popcorn – yessss). At sunset, we jumping between the boulders, taking in the enormity of the walls before us.
We spoke to many students from Kassala University who use this as a regular hangout spot. One group of students invited us for a drink. Another group of students also tried talking to us but the first group quickly came over to claim us.
Not far from the cafe, at the base of the Taka Mountains, is the Khatmiyah Mosque. The ruins of this 18th century mosque are not deserted, though. Women and children were enjoying their Friday afternoon here, picnicking with food and coffee and of course, we were invited.
The next day, we set out for a hike: the goal – to get to the top of one of the rock walls without dying from the heat. We set off at 4pm, but soon realised that there was no such thing as hiking up to the top. No, if we wanted to get up there, we would have to work much harder for it. We had to jump and climb our way over boulders.
The hike turned into quite an adventure. The boulders grew larger and larger and after two hours, we found ourselves at a crossroads. We would have to face a steep traverse with, lets say, not such a healthy landing, if we fell. It was also getting dark and if I went on, we wouldn’t make the top before nightfall. I told Simon to continue while I waited on a massive boulder… It was at this point that I met my bird friends. Alone, lying still on the rock, not far from some old dried bones no doubt from their last meal.
So there I was, staring at them with a determined look. Every now and then I jumped around, clapped and shouted again – just to let them know I was not an ailing animal about to die but still alive and well, thank you very much. Eventually, they got the message and the three of them flew off, one after the other, looking for another poor soul to harass.
Simon came back just before dark, running down the steep slopes with the grace of a mountain leopard. He had run up the even more massive boulders until he reached a tricky, steep section just before the top. Somehow he went steadily up it, all the while thinking, this is borderline. He managed to not slip and got rewarded with a magnificent view from the top, overlooking the city and the desert beyond. He could even see the mountains in Eritrea.
The next days we cycled in the unbearable heat to the point where we were actually looking forward to going into Ethiopia, purely because the mountains will lead us away from this heat. We would see rain again, we would see green again, the temperature would drop… oh and there was also beer.
But we could also not help to feel sad at leaving Sudan. We had never experienced hospitality like this before and we felt privileged to meet many wonderful people on the way. They welcomed us into their homes, treated us like family, fed us, laughed with us and taught us so much by just being their open, caring selves. We physically might leave Sudan, but a part of our heart will always be here.