Day 30: 13h July 2009

Nile River Transportation Company's finest 1st class cabin somewhere in Egyptian waters: ? miles

 

Q: I woke up this morning with thumping headache as I did not drink nearly enough water before going to bed - perhaps the couple of glasses of champagne on the felucca last night also have a small part to play. Now that we are leaving Egypt, I have decided that we need to add some variety to breakfast time. Not that I don't enjoy it but a white boiled egg, flat bread, a processed cheese triangle and a scorching hot cup of tea every morning is getting somewhat tiresome. Fruit is what I am lacking.

 

We drove down to the ferry terminal which goes along the dam wall and arrived to a scene that made me think that we were in for another morning of border crossing shambles. It was just past 10am when we arrived and it was already beginning to get very hot. After a few confusing converstations with numerous officials and customs officers we found Mr Salah who got the ball rolling and soon we were ready to board the ferry. Thanks you Mr Salah once again for all your help.

 

I was expecting the customs in Aswan to be a repeat of the Aqaba/ Nuweba ferry shocker, but it has ended up being pretty easy going. I am really glad that I made that phone call a week ago to reserve a first class cabin as having the privacy and the luxury of airconditioning because today it was hot. The ships log has 570 souls making the voyage from Awsan to Wadi Halfa which given the size of the vessel is more than a handful.

 

I have always been impressed by how the common garden ant can carry over 10x its body weight. Today I watched a few Egyptians porters who have been equally blessed with this admirable quality, but this time they can do it in about 45 degrees. The passenger ferry sails through the night to arrive in Wadi Halfa sometime tomorrow while all bulky luggage and cargo (including donkey) is packed on a slow moving barge that arrives a day later. The cargo barge was filled with everything you can imagine from wheel barrows, huge bags of powdered milk, toilets, doors and door frames a few hundred TVs (I cannot remember the name but they were all made in Japan). It was quite amazing to see a single man carry a number of fridges on his back and into the cargo hold of this barge.   

 

A: Once Andrew had braved loading Donkey on to the miniscule platform on the cargo barge, we were pointed in the direction of our 1st Class cabin!!! After we had cooled down we made our way up on deck to visit the Russian family and a young couple we have met Joel and Hannah from the UK. Everyone was huddled under one of the lifeboats for shade while others draped sarongs and old sheets from poles and bags to keep out of the blistering sun. I can safely say it was the hottest day we have experienced so far 47-50 depending on where you sat. It was quite unbearable.

 

Just before sunset we ventured back up to see the others, the temperature had dropped and the cool breeze from the Nile was welcomed with open arms. We sat talking to Hannah and Joel, exchanging funny stories about our experiences so far. Their chosen mode of transport, an old Honda motorbike. They plan to get as far as Ethiopia then head back to the UK to earn some more money to then continue travelling to India and Australia.

 

Our 1st Class cabin is just as you would expect on a 50 year old boat. It is fairly grimy, needs a good paint job and is patched up in some way wherever you look. The bunk beds have had additional wood panels added to their fronts to stop them from collapsing, the AC leaks, the pipes are wrapped in duct tape,and there is a smell in here which I just can't put my finger on. It's a cross between sour milk and Andrew's damp underpants!! Even so, we were very lucky to have some where to retreat to on the far too overloaded boat.

 

Day 31: 14h July 2009

 

Wadi Halfa, 280 Miles by ferry and about 4km by Land Rover taxi

 

Q: I slept really well last night, but I did wake up very cold with the air conditioner on all night. I thawed in no time as the sun started to rise and I got the feeling that this will be some time before I felt cold again. We did not know what time the ferry would go past Abu Simbel before entering Sudanese waters, so we missed it (I think someone mentioned 5am). Abu Simbel would have been the final relic of our Egyptian trip but after seeing over a thousand in last week it would have been a big ask to get up for.

 

Arriving at the port in Wadi Halfa is a unique experience. From the distance, it looks as though the ferry will stop what seems to be just another bank on the riverside. As you get closer you notice a barge has been moored on the bank of the river which is the docking position (for summer months as apparently there is another for winter when the water level is much higher). I am not sure how we are going to get the cars off the barge tomorrow, but we will deal with that later. Mr Salah had mentioned that he had read that someone else had written in their blog a few weeks ago that you need courage to get a car off the barge in the summer months.

 

On the ferry we went through we were processed by immigration and where we were also introduced to Magdy Roshaza (nubatia51@yahoo.com) who was going to assist us in the preparation of all the documents for our registration on Sudan as well as get Donkey through customs tomorrow plus book us into Wadi Halfa's finest hotel establishment (professional fixer). Once we had finally managed to get off of the boat we literally had to fight our way onto a bus to take all of us through to the customs building. Being polite and waiting for woman and children gets you nowhere but somehow we all got onto the bus and nobody was left behind to bake in the blazing sun. It had become the hottest day I think we have experienced so far.

 

A: We all piled into a small truck after customs that took us to our hotel where we would remain for the next 24 hours ... We were shown to our rooms and they bared little resemblance to any hotel I've ever stayed in that's for sure.....I'd say they were more along the lines of what Id imagine a prison cell to look like. The room was a concrete cube with little more than a fan on the ceiling and two iron framed beds with bits of foam on them. The pillows were stained as were the sheets and and we had a resident cockroach who would scurry up and down the wall to make his presence known to us every few minutes!

 

We all laughed in a kind of nervous manner at the thought of having to endure the sentence of 24 hours in this place. We covered the beds in our sarongs and the pillows we cleverly stuffed into t-shirts and once we got over the initial shock we were just fine. With the rooms being made of concrete, they retained the heat and by 4 in the morning it was unbearable. To make matters worse, the power went off so our only source of breeze from the fan was gone. The best way to deal with the extreme temperatures we have found is to soak our clothes in water and put them on wet. They dry in no time at all so the process is repeated several times during the course of the day.

 

Supper was fresh fish, rice, bread and tahina at a small shack just down the road from prison. Back at base we lay very still after throwing yet another bottle of water over ourselves and attempted to go to sleep. In the middle of the night the power went off again and I woke up in a panic from the heat, I touched Andrew on the back and he was soaked through as well but I think he's dealing with it better than me as he didn't even stir., For the next hour I just lay dousing myself in water and thinking cool thoughts!!!

 

Day 32: 15th July 2009

 

Abri, 125 miles

 

A:Its 11:30 am and there is still no sign of Donkey! We have been assured he will arrive within the next half hour. Hannah our friend from the boat has bad heat exhaustion and is struggling to keep anything down so the boys have been sent to make up a few bottles of re-hydration solution (water, salt and sugar) to see if we can get her feeling a little better....it worked wonders and she is now feeling 100%. Breakfast was bread and cheese.

 

We waited and waited to hear if Donkey had arrived, we stayed in the confines of our room as there were several Egyptian men lurking. Hannah was alone in her room when a man walked in on her and began taking photos of her with their mobile phone!! It took her by surprise and the poor thing didn't know what to do!

 

Q: Our fixer told us that Donkey was due to arrive in Halfa at 11am this morning. I now know what it must be like being told that your life prison sentence was now over and you were free to leave. However, it was not until 3pm that we actually saw the barge arriving at the dockside. The captain of our barge felt it necessary to take a 4 hour detour to go and rescue another barge that had left Aswan a few days ahead of us but had beached itself somewhere close by? 4 hours close by. We waited patiently in the departures hall as passengers who were on the return ferry journey to Aswan started to arrive. Other than to possibly escape the heat in an air conditioned cabin I did not envy them at all.

 

When we were finally allowed to unload it was quite easy to get Donkey onto solid land. The drop from the barge to the level of the pier was just over a meter. There was complete confusion on the pier as trucks started arriving to unload the rest of the barge but we managed to fight through and head for customs so that we could get back onto the road and out of the Wadi Halfa hotel we were staying at where you pay to experience Sudanese prison life. Fixer Magdy fixed everything for us at customs. Magdy has a pretty decent trade going on in Wadi Halfa. His family are all connected to the customs office which makes getting through Sudanese customs an absolute breeze. I told Madgy that he should open up an office in Nieweba providing the same service in Egypt as he would certainly become a multi millionaire. I still can see the look of desperation on many people's faces as we left Nieweba that first night we entered into Egypt.

 

The convoy of Alexander and his family, Joel and Hannah on their bike and ourselves left Wadi Halfa just after 5pm eager to get as far away from this place as possible.

 

I have read the diaries of many travellers about the poor road to Dongola, but taking this route to Khartoum along the Nile is worth the pain as you will meet the most incredible people whilst passing through the small villages that run alongside this track. From the first village that we went through, I could tell that our journey through Sudan was going to be something that we would never forget. In that one stretch of road from Halfa to Abri I cannot remember the number of times we were warmly greeted by people with both hands waving and with big happy smiles. 

 

Abri does not have hotels but we managed to find a lokanda (10 beds in an open air courtyard with somewhere to wash etc). After the experience of paying for the prison the previous night and also not being that keen on sleeping out in the open with the mosquitoes, Angel and I decided to spend the night in our roof tent about 10 meters from the door of the lokanda. Abri may not have the best places to sleep but it has very delicious sweet tea which went well with bread and tuna dinner picked up from the local shop. I am not sure how much vodka our Russian friends had managed to smuggle into Sudan, but we had the pineapple juice to go with it so we all shared a few pinacoladas (without the colada part) before going to sleep.

 

It is so good to be on the move again.

 

Day 33: 16th July 2009

 

Dongola, 137 miles

 

Q: We headed out of Abri quite early this morning after another bread and egg breakfast sandwich. The road between Abri and Dongola was not as good as the previous day as we spent much of the day moving between the service road that is being used by road construction vehicles and the new asphalt road. There were some places with deep soft sand but Donkey with Angel at the wheel managed to get through it without a hitch. Joel and Hannah had a tougher time of it on their 1980s 125 Honda that was clearly not designed for desert driving.

 

Covering the 137 miles took us over 6 hours as our average speed slowed, but we finally arrived at the Dongola ferry which was to take us over to the West bank. As we were a large group now travelling together (10 people strong), it was going to be hard to find a place for all of us to stay for the night together. The first place we found was (Lord Hotel) looked pretty much like a remake of the Wadi Halfa experience so we looked for somewhere else - hopefully this time with air conditioning. There is only one hotel in the whole of Dongola with aircon and it is silly expensive. Alexander and his family decided to push for Khartoum and Joel, Hannah and ourselves decided to drive a little further along the highway towards Khartoum to find a nice camping spot in amongst the palm trees with a view of the Nile. About 10km out of town we turned off onto a track and followed it all the way onto a farm and parked up close to the river.

 

After asking the farmer if it was ok for us to stay the night (which in typical Sudanese fashion ended up in being invited to stay in their home with tea and food), we snooped about to see if we could find a place to have a swim. I wanted to swim with the infamous Nile crocodile. Preferably one smaller than me so that I can have a chance at surviving a one on one. A local fisherman convinced us that there was nothing to worry about so somewhat apprehensively we jumped in. We all survived.

 

A:It was such a great way to spend the afternoon, and after the long dusty drive we also need a good wash! We set up camp under an enormous palm tree and while doing so two local farmers came and introduced themselves to us. Joel our travelling partner can speak fluent Arabic so he has been our translator for the past week. The two farmers were just lovely and we invited them to have Chai (tea) with us. We spoke to them about our travels so far and the distances and countries we have covered. Just as they were about to leave one farmer told us of his large herd of cows and offered us some fresh milk. He disappeared for 10 minutes and came back with a huge jug and a BED! He knew Hannah and Joel were going to sleep in a tent on the floor and he was concerned they were going to be uncomfortable or worse, get stung by a scorpion.

 

Supper was a large bowl of pasta with heaps of vegetables and a juicy sweet melon followed by Egyptian tea.

 

We had a fantastic evening and soon decided that Sudan was going to be a great part of our travels. Hannah and Joel set up the bed at the back of Donkey and we supplied the mosquito net for them. We all fell asleep in a flash. Zzzzzzzz.

 

Day 34: 17th July 2009

 

Abu Dom, 125 miles

 

Q: Today was planned as an easy day driving only a few miles closer towards Khartoum, finding another wonderful place to camp on the Nile, swim with crocodiles and of course meet the wonderful Sudanese people (plus drink lots of tea and talk about where we are going). Just outside Abu Dom we found a palm grove to spend the afternoon where we once again braved the Nile for a quick swim with some of the local fishermen and farmers (after Joel swore that he saw a crocodile).

 

To make the early start to Khartoum before the sun gets really hot (usually about 7am) we decided to camp the night just outside a small village about 5km away from the point at which the road leaves the Nile and heads due South towards Khartoum through the desert. Here we met the head master of the local school who was fluent in English.

 

A:Upon arriving we immediately made friends and soon had this wonderful man join us foe tea at our chosen camp spot. He told us of how he was studying an open university course and about the books he had read. He was the Chief of his Village and insisted that the young boys passing by went and picked us some fresh dates from the nearby trees for his new English friends.

 

He stayed and had supper with us until it got dark then as with everyone we have met so far, he invited us to stay in his home and have breakfast tomorrow with him. We were leaving very early the following day so we had to decline.

 

We swapped details and gave him an old book Hannah and Joel had finished with to read to his students The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway. (While doing my duties of washing the dishes I managed to stub my toe on a large rock and took a considerable amount of flesh off the top of my toe. Ouch!!!)

 

Day 35: 18th July 2009

 

Khartoum, 288 miles

 

Q: Sleeping in a tent in the desert of Sudan can be quite exciting. If your tent is not being rattled violently by the howling desert winds and battered by the sand, it is so hot that wake up feeling as though you have been swimming in your own perspiration all night. Last night we experienced all the above so I woke up this morning a little sleepy.

 

With Joel and Hannah slip-streaming Donkey the whole way to Khartoum we arrived at about 2pm and made our way for the Nile River Sailing Club for a coke. After the 5 nights sleeping rough, we decided to treat ourselves to an aircon and a hot shower. Now I would have thought that Khartoum would have a good variety of mid range cheapish and clean hotel rooms, however I was very wrong. The range is prison cell with communal prison cell toilet for about 30 USD or you can get aircon + hot water for 50 USD. If you could have seen the colour of our shower water you would agree that it was money well spent if only for the sake of having some hot water. 

 

A: I wasn't sure if the water started out that colour as it came out of the tap but once we'd swapped cleaning stories with the other two, we soon realised it was in fact us turning it brown! Earlier on in the day while waiting for the boys to come back to us after circling the city for accommodation, Hannah and I in boredom wiped our faces with baby wipes and to our complete astonishment they were black with dirt. This was the moment Hannah insisted on a decent room with a shower as apposed to a dip in the Nile.

 

The room that we they found for us was in the Dubai Hotel. Large rooms, AC, clean sheets, towels, soap, TV, breakfast and most importantly, hot water.

 

We spent a few hours in the room then ventured out to get some supper. Around the corner from the hotel we found an interesting looking chicken place. It seemed very popular with the locals and it smelt totally delicious. We took a seat outside and just as we were finishing off sucking the chicken bones clean, the heavens opened. This is the first rain we have seen since Europe, he roads were flooded within minutes and not having thought to bring wellies, we waded back to the Hotel.

 

Day 39, 19th July 2009

Meroe: 147 miles

A: Yawn......what a great night sleep....and we've not woken up in sweat !! The boys have gone to look for a cash point and I have downloaded the pics onto a dongle for Joel and Hannah. We think that we will have to split today as Andrew and I want to head north to see the Pyramids in Meroe and the other guys want to stay here in Khartoum for another few days. We will possibly meet them a little later in the week nearer he Ethiopian border.

Q: Khartoum is not the place to need an ATM. It was a good thing that we changed some of our travellers cheques in Cairo into USD so we should easily be able to get to Ethiopia and onto Addis Abbaba without money issues. Joel and I walked around for about an hour trying to find a bank of money changer that was remotely competitive to the rate that we changed at in Wadi Halfa. Finally we found one and I changed USD at 1/ 2.50 Sdp. Not great considering we previously changed in Halfa at 2.65 but we were quoted as low as 2.30.   

I am happy to say that Khartoum has the fastest internet that we have come across in since we started travelling plus the PCs in the internet shop close to the hotel we were staying in were all brand new. Perhaps the guy that invested in the internet shop should manage the Khartoum road maintenance authority. The roads in town are pretty poor especially once it has rained. Pools of thick deep mud accumulate at every intersection making it an adventure on its own just to get across. Muddy feet in the summer time is something you have to live with here methinks.

After updating the website and buying what now feels like our emergency staple food - bread with dairylea cheese (I'm getting slightly sick of it), we said goodbye to Hannah and Joel and made our way out of the city. It has been great travelling with them and hopefully we will see them in a few weeks as we move through Ethiopia. Gridlock … it took us over an hour to get out of Khartoum and onto the road that heads North (backwards) towards the pyramids in Meroe. This road should be renamed "the road that eats truck retreads". All the way to Meroe there are bits tyre rubber littering the roadside. Its not surprising as it is a very busy road with all of Sudan's freight arriving in Port Sudan further North.

We arrived at Meroe just before it started to get dark. Unfortunately there was not much of a sunset to enjoy as it was completely overcast and the air was full of fine dust as the wind was howling. We found a sheltered camping spot close to the pyramids and after a quick dinner of tuna and cucumber with bread (sitting on the food boxes with the back door open) we quickly unfolded the tent and hopped in.

I spoke to mom and dad in Cape Town this evening. It was great to hear their voices whilst standing in the dark in the middle of the Sudanese desert. Quite amazing when you think about it.

Day 40, 20th July 2009

Gedaref, 465 miles

Q: I'm sure that the spirits of the pyramids were not happy having us for a sleep over last night. We both had a terrible night. It was very windy and very hot and for some reason every time the tent fluttered in the wind it woke us up .. this went on all night. We watched the sun rise from the dune … it was not much of a sunrise as the sun was still hidden by thick cloud and red dust.

I had seen on the satnav a waypoint for the 6th catarac of the Nile that was on our way back to Khartoum so we decided to go and see what it was all about. It took a little longer than we had hoped to get to, but we finally arrived after putting Donk through a couple interesting situations (Sudanese call a donkey just donk …). There were a few motor boat touts at the catarac who were selling their services for 150SDp for a boat ride. It was a little steep for us and I figured that there was not that much more to see than the ripple that was flowing. We quickly made friends with Mubarak and his uncle A-something (forgotten). We gave them a lift back into town with them holding onto the running boards where they invited us for some tea at Mubarak's home.

A: We were invited into the man quarter where his 90 year old father was taking a nap. All the women live and sleep in one area while all the men are in another. We had tea and got out our maps to show them where we have been and where we are going. His father sat up and gave me the biggest toothless smile in the world, and gave my hand a big squeeze. (I wanted to pack him up and take him home)

We stayed and chatted with Mubarak for almost an hour, he was in the army when he was in his 20's which is why he spoke such wonderful English. He later introduced us to his 'Madam" (wife), he has just one but explained his religion allowed him to have as many as four. He had five beautiful children, three boys and two teenaged girls who were toiling away making lunch and feeding the little ones.

Back in the road we headed toward Khartoum and got there during a lull in the traffic so it didn't take us long to pass through and get well on our way to Gaderef.

We travelled over 450 miles today and the change in scenery has been beautiful. From the arid desert with parched looking animals to now lush green vegetation with free roaming happy donkeys. There are enormous herds of cattle being herded by tiny little children and farmers are busy working their land. The temperature has dropped a few degrees and there are looming rain clouds above. When we left Meroe this morning we both admitted that we had had enough of the desert now, so this really is a welcomed sight. I never thought I be so happy to see a cloud.

On arrived in Gaderef we parked up in the very bustling town center. We needed a place to stay as camping in these parts is not advisable. We took a look at the three places that had been programmed into the Satnav and the only one that looked cleanish turned out to be the most expensive. It was more than the hotel we stayed at in Khartoum and not as nice either. The beds were clean but we had several resident cockroaches and suspicious looking hairs in the bathroom!

Having had just an apple and banana for lunch we were both in need of a good supper. On the hunt for BBQ chicken we came across a spit and sawdust roadside setup that smelt delicious so we ordered one whole chicken to share. I took a seat in the restaurant ( in a very loose term) while Andrew went to get a soft drink from across the road. When he got back he found me in complete darkness after a power cut.   The problem was quickly solved and we were soon tucking into the largest portion of chicken, hot sauce, tahina and bread. There was even enough left over to make a spicy chicken sandwich for lunch tomorrow!!

 Some misc facts about Sudan

1] It is not cheap to sleep under a roof anywhere in Sudan. Best bet is to drive into the middle of the desert and camp up but try avoid sleeping on a camel track as someone may rattle your tent in the night to see who you are.

2] The Nubian people of Northern Sudan are wonderfully friendly and incredibly kind. They are vying for 1st place award for the "best bunch of people we've met" category of our trip

3] Diesel (called gaz) is 1SDp per litre

4] A beer is priceless … if you can find one

5] If you are Sudanese, you dispose of your unwanted goat, donkey or camel by leading them any main highway where you leave them to die and rot in full view of any passing traffic.