By Alison Bate

I went to look at the striking Taka Mountains yesterday, but as is the way in Sudan, never quite made it, sidetracked by friendly people at the street cafes.

I’m in a cute little town called Kassala, a long, eight-hour bus ride east of Khartoum. The bare mountains rise up suddenly out of the desert and pulled me toward them. I was heading there when I wandered by a store selling all kinds of luscious desserts. I bought a Sudanese baklava, which you order by weight (so I couldn’t just get one), and sat down to eat them.

This town is very close to the border with Eritrea and Ethiopia, and there are many people from those countries living here, bringing their coffee customs. Many fled to Kassala as a safe haven during war in their countries.

The coffee comes in a tiny individual Turkish-style coffee pot with what looks like dried grass coming out the top. I was chatting happily with a couple of the local men drinking the coffee when a lone tourist joined me. Victor, a young Swiss guy backpacking around Sudan, had come down south through Egypt and was now on his way to Ethiopia.

“You want coffee?” the men asked Victor, bringing out just one coffee cup and ignoring me. I was seething. Now a man had joined me, I ceased to exist. I understand it is the culture – not polite to talk to a woman when there’s a man with her – but it was still annoying. Victor must have picked up on my vibes, as after drinking two cups, he offered me some.

It was dynamite: very strong and tasting almost like Irish whisky. I learned later they added ginger, which gives a strong, smooth taste. And the grass is used to filter the coffee.

Victor and I were then invited for supper by a Sudanese guy who lived in the U.S. some of the time and had a very posh villa in Kassala. We learned about when the region was occupied by the Italians, and more recently, about the fighting just over the border in Eritrea.

I’ve also eaten at a local restaurant, but must admit I wasn’t brave enough to try the “Lamb Fright” or “Barbecue Problem” in the English menu. However, I did have some really neat shish kebab and fresh orange juice.

Now I’m in a hot little internet cafĂ© at the top of some very narrow stairs, so thin that I had to squeeze sideways to get up, helped marginally by a wobbly rail.

The internet in Sudan is sometimes very good and sometimes very slow. The connection keeps dropping, and I’ve just managed to switch out of Arabic into English and change the direction of type. Now the Eritrean owner has very kindly lent me his portable, with an mDSL internet stick…much faster.

And maybe I’ll make it to the mountains tomorrow.

Posted Tuesday Nov. 29, 2011 by Alison Bate/revised Nov. 2020