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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
The Train from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa, Sudan
November 29, 2007

We Have NO Money!

With only 20 Sudanese Pounds left to our name, we negotiated with a taxi driver to take us into the Central Hotel in Khartoum's city centre for only 14SP. On arrival he had the tenacity to ask for more money - when we explained we had no more, hotel security came out and had words with him, with only a little hassle they managed to get our bags inside and get us checked in.

Unable to pay for the room up front, hotel reception were kind enough to give us a good rate for the room, on the proviso we would pay up the following day. We rummaged through our gear and came up with US$20 hidden away in a pair of socks. After 10 months on the road we were down to a pile of Ethiopian Birr we couldn't get rid of, 6 Sudanese Pounds and US$20 - things were not looking great.

We had it on good advice that there were two ATM's in Khartoum which we could use with our foreign Visa cards, one at the Hilton Hotel, the other at the Rotana Hotel. After half an hour of sign language in the hotel lobby we deduced that they were both at opposite ends of the city, approximately half and hours walk away. With no choice but to walk we headed off into the heat of the day. After an hour and a half, and some helpful assistance from the staff at the US Embassy we stumbled into the lobby of the Hilton parched and exhausted. The bell hop walked us straight to the ATM where - joy of joys, we found it to be out of service....

Now an hour and a half stumbling around Khartoum in the heat of the day was not fun, nor indeed was finding out that not a single person actually knew where the Hilton was. To actually make it in one piece only to find the ATM not working was heart breaking. Donna broke down - crumbling into a chair in the corner of the lobby.

I approached the Hilton staff who, to their credit, did everything they could to help us out. They made numerous phone calls to the ATM's servicing company to try and get the machine working again, they even rang around trying to find alternative machines, they tried even further to get their own machine working - all to no avail.

An hour later we were cooler in temperature, but no better off. I used the Hilton's phone to speak to the Manager of the Bank, I was assured that the ATM at the Rotana was in fact working - however they were not sure if our card would work thanks to restrictions placed on the United States by the Sudanese Government - all we could do was try.

We had no choice but to try - the bellhop called a taxi for us, and after some furious negotiations he managed to convey to the driver that we essentially had no money, but were trying to get some from the ATM at the Rotana. We agreed on a fair that left us with some back up funds, and he ran us 45 minutes across Khartoum to the hotel. Stepping inside we were somewhat nervous to say the least. We were pointed by hotel staff to a secluded area down a wide corridor. Tentatively we made our way up to the lone machine only to find that... the machine was working. This was good, real good. Immediately our spirits were up, yet only 5 minutes later after a half dozen failed attempts at getting cash we were reduced to paupers again. Cashless and stranded in a city with absolutely no way of getting funds.

Seeing us looking dejected, hotel management approached us and were quick to inform us that visa cards did not work in this machine - only mastercards would work. Well why didn't you just say so, we have mastercard back in our hotel room. We spent 5 minutes going through our options, we could wait till the next day and hope for a bank or some other option, or spend the majority of our remaining pounds on a taxi back to our room.

Back in the cab we renegotiated with the driver to take us back into the city centre to pick up our mastercard, then run us back to the Rotana, then finally back to our hotel to eat.

An hour later we were standing in the Rotana lobby - mastercard in hand, ATM working, and no money coming out - a different hotel manager was consulted who kindly informed us that only Arab issued cards would work... F@*k.

Back at the Central hotel that night we tallied our savings. All our pounds were gone, we had 5 US dollars left to our name and a useless pile of Ethiopians. We were stuck in a foreign country with no money, no food and feeling somewhat depressed. We spent a few hours going through our notes and contacting friends to try and arrange some money to be wired to us the following day. Thankfully, the hotel was kind enough to allow us to eat and drink on the room tab - generous considering they now knew we had no money...

Our journey through Sudan was not going to plan, at least it wouldn't have been if we had had a plan to begin with. Bright and early we rose the next morning, changed our US dollars into pounds and spent the pounds on a taxi to the Byblos Bank head office out in the suburbs of Khartoum. During the previous evening we had decided to throw everything we had into a last ditch attempt at getting cash from the bank itself. If that failed we would have to walk for several hours through the heat to a shopping mall where we hoped we could use Western Union.

On arrival at the bank, security were confident in our success - the bank was closed but after a short wait we were ushered inside, then shown into the bank managers plush wood lined office where - for a US$75 fee we were allowed to get a cash advance on our visa card - at long last we were cashed up...

To celebrate we took a cab to the nearest air conditioned mall and splurged on coffee and croissants and unlimited internet access - yippee....

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