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Posted by AlTiffany2 18:21 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged travel new blog Comments (0)

Last leg of the trip - all the way to Cairo

sunny 35 °C

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From Luxor, the plan was to head out into the Eastern Desert and follow the Red Sea coast, bush camp before we got to Cairo, and roll into the city the following morning.

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However, all was not well. After a few hours, there was a loud, metallic grinding sound so Grant pulled over to see what was wrong. After jacking up one of the back wheels and taking it off, we discovered that the bearings had got so hot they'd melted into the walls of the casing. This made the truck totally undrivable. Grant built this truck himself so, if anything is fixable, he can fix it.

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Using ice from the eskies to cool it down.

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The bearings just wouldn't come off. No matter how hard we bashed, chiselled and levered it, the damn thing wouldn't budge. Grant has half a workshop full of tools in the truck, and usually improvises and makes do with what he has, but the one tool he desperately needed was very specialised and would have been difficult to find in a small town, let alone in the middle of the Eastern Desert. With no foreseeable way of getting the truck - and us - to Cairo, Andi started making phone calls enquiring about buses and trains to take us the last leg. This would've been such a shame - the truck had made it 40,000 kilometres, from London to Egypt, via Cape Town, just to fail a few hundred kms from Cairo. Everyone was a little downhearted at the thought of not rolling into Cairo on the truck, as well as the final bush camp we would have missed.

So, not a great situation. You can imagine then the lack of belief when we saw a pickup driving past with the exact tool we needed lying in the back. Total coincidence; nobody had known where to get this part from and, after everyone had given up hope, some guy shows up who just happened to have one in his truck.

Grant, utterly amazed, got the guy to lend us the tool and they set about trying to remove the bearing hub.

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Finally, it was off. Hooray!

In no time, new bearings were put in and the wheel reassembled. The chances of what happened must have been one in a million. The man with the tool, as well as a bunch of other locals who'd gathered to help, wouldn't accept any money and seemed genuinely happy to have been able to help get us underway again.

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Great to get going again.

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Final bush camp, in an empty quarry.

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Oil rigs in the Red Sea.

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Almost there.

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Most people noticed this AFTER they'd been down there to pee...

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Motorway tool booth on the edge of Cairo.

As we got closer to the centre of the city, the traffic became gridlocked and there was a thick cloud of black smoke rising from the road up ahead.

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Those of us on the roof of the truck had a good view of what was going on. A car had turned over, burst into flames and was blocking a couple of lanes. Cars around us were turning and driving the wrong way back up the highway...

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After passing the burning wreck, the road cleared up and we were on our way to the workshop. Here, we would say goodbye to the truck.

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Crossing the Nile.

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First view of the Pyramids.

At the workshop, we got everything off the truck and onto a bus which took us to our hotel, in the Mohandessin district of Giza, on the west side of the city. Because Andi and Grant are driving the truck back to the UK, most of us Brits left sacks of stuff in the truck to collect at the reunion BBQ. There's no way all of my stuff would have fitted in my rucksack for the flight home!

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Mohandessin is an attractive part of Cairo, with wide streets, green areas, lots of modern shops and endless places to eat great Middle Eastern food.

That evening, we had a group farewell dinner.
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In the morning, we had our last group activity - visiting the Egyptian Museum and the Giza Pyramids.

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Cameras are not allowed into the museum, so unfortunately no photos. The place was incredible, though - huge, and crammed full of artefacts, carvings and treasures. So much is almost perfectly preserved; mind boggling, considering how many thousands of years old everything is. They even had a room of mummified animals, including an enormous crocodile, cats, snakes, birds and a Pharaoh's dog, which looked just like a stuffed animal you'd see today.

After the museum, we went to the Pyramids.
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Usually, the place is swarming with tourists, however, due to the summer heat making it low season, and the current political unrest scaring people off, we had the place almost to ourselves. Perfect time to visit really.

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There was the odd tout, but nowhere near as bad as I'd been expecting.

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The Pyramids are just on the edge of the city, so one way you see the urban sprawl, and the other way, endless desert.

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The Great Sphinx; carved over 3500 years ago, with a lion's body and a human's head.

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Lee, showing his appreciation.

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From behind.

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That was it - the trip finished! In the following few days, everyone gradually filtered out and slipped away. Predictably, there were many emotional goodbyes, and promises to meet up again in the future. We'd all only known each other for a few months, but being together constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sharing the great times and all the hardships, meant that we'd all bonded and become incredibly close. It really accelerated the rate we'd got to know each other and, by the end, we all felt like lifelong friends. I have no doubt I'll stay in touch with most people for a long time.

I thought I'd make the most of my last few days in Cairo and went out exploring the city.

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Large market - so many things to see, touch, hear and smell.

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Mosque, in the market area.

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Tahrir Square, the heart of the January revolution which deposed the dictator Hosni Mubarak.

This is what it looked like then (Google):
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Jono, me and a jolly taxi driver.

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Dan had plotted his African travels on these large Michelin road maps; Cape to Cairo (my trip), his West African trip the year before, and various other trips. I'm thinking of doing the same thing - makes a nice display.

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This was our 17,000km route, from the south of Africa to the north.

Michael, who did the whole Trans Africa trip (London - Cape Town - Cairo) calculated on his iPad the exact distance they'd travelled: large_image_png_scaled_1000.jpg

Before I knew it, it was time to go home (via Abu Dhabi - a geographic nonsense!).

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First glimpse of England, after 8 months of being away.

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Parents seemed quite pleased to see me.

I was sad to be leaving Africa and ending an superlatively incredible adventure, but at the same time ready to come home and begin the next phase of my life. I'll definitely come back to Africa, as well as many of the other places I visited, but, in the mean time I've got to finish my formal education and start earning money. I've well and truly got the travel bug, and look forward to the next time I can go away again!

Posted by AlTiffany2 05:28 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

Feluccas and Luxor

sunny 38 °C

On our last morning in Aswan, we all got on two feluccas which would take us down the Nile, for three days, towards Luxor.
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These wooden sailing boats have been traditional modes of transport in Egypt for thousands of years. No engine on board, just the breeze and a canvas sail. The slow pace and rocking motion of the boat was so relaxing, I spent quite some time dozing in the warmth of the lazy Egyptian summer. We played cards, drank beer and enjoyed having absolutely nothing in the world to do.
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Horse getting a wash.

Every so often, we’d go for a swim in the river. In the heat of the day, the water was wonderfully refreshing.

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The mast had to be lowered to get under this bridge.

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At night, we moored up on the river bank, chilled out some more and enjoyed fantastic food, cooked on the boat. It was warm through the night; not quite 35 degrees at 2am (as in Sudan), however sleeping bags weren't needed at all. On the second night, the boat guys set up their shisha pipe (“hubbly-bubbly”) and we sat around chatting – very mellow.

On the third day, we got off the boats and onto a coach which would take us the rest of the way to Luxor.
We visited the Temple of Horus as Edfu on the way.

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Every inch of this huge temple is covered in intricate carvings and hyrogliphics. It’s unbelievable how this was built over 2000 years ago and yet is so well preserved. As with historical remains all across North Africa, the extremely dry climate prevents weathering. Most of the damage on these sites was done by Coptic Christians, defacing what they saw as heretical, blasphemous images of ancient gods they did not believe in. It’s tragic how these monumental feats of ancient engineering, which have stood the test of time for so long, have been vandalised in the name of religion.

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The sanctuary, in the very heart of the temple.

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Bats nesting inside one of the rooms.

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In Luxor we stayed at a hotel, in the centre of the city, within walking distance of many of the sights.
Oasis had a deal with another company, meaning that we were able to do a balloon flight over the West Bank very cheaply. It was a sunrise flight, meaning that we had to get up at 4am :(...

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I’d never been up in a balloon before and was rather excited.

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Queen Hatshepsut’s temple. The Valley of the Kings is just the other side of the mountain behind.

It’s silent and very peaceful in the air, when the pilot isn’t firing the burner – then it’s incredibly hot and loud.

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Workers’ caves.

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Sunrise over the West Bank.

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From the air you can clearly see the extent of irrigation, as green fields give way to dry, dusty desert beyond the limit of the Nile-drawn irrigation ditches.

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On the way down, our basket brushed the top of a palm tree and just missed a power pylon (less than a metre below – all planned I’m sure…). The landing itself, in some random field, was surprisingly gentle.
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From here, we went to the Valley of the Kings. In the visitor centre there is a brilliant 3D model of the valley, showing the location of all the tombs and how far they go down. No photos, unfortunately. We went inside Rameses IV, III and IX’s tombs. I was utterly blown away with these, especially the first one. I’d expected them to be dark, hot and claustrophobic with not much to see but was very wrong. The interiors are wide, spacious and extremely colourful.

Again, thanks Google Images:
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Every wall is painted and carved; it’s a real sensory overload – simply too much to take it all in. Over 3000 years old, some of the paintings are so well preserved they look almost new. Being sealed underground meant that many of the tombs are in a similar state to how they must have been when the Pharaoh died. Without the treasure, of course. Most of that is in the Cairo and British Museums.
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Unfortunately though, here too, many of the paintings have been vandalised by religious fanatics, mainly in the form of faces being meticulously chiselled away (above). Again, these things have stood the test of time, only to be smashed up by a bunch of religious nutjobs.

Later on we visited the nearby Valley of the Workers. Contrary to what I’d assumed, the workers who built the Pharaohs’ tombs were not slaves, but highly respected master craftsmen. The Pharaohs were so concerned about having their tombs made as perfectly as possible, to allow passage to the next life, that they showered the builders with riches to ensure they did the best job. One wrong hieroglyphic and the Pharaoh couldn’t make it to the next life, apparently. As such, the workers lived a rather lavish lifestyle and even built tombs for their families and themselves.
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Queen Hatshepsut’s temple.

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It’s incredible how so much colour and detail is still clear today.

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Egyptian McDonalds has some mega burgers.

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Luxor Temple, and the Avenue of Sphinxes (‘/Sphincters’).

The last place I visited in Luxor was Karnak, part of the once-capital of ancient Egypt – Thebes. With my International Student Card, I get into most sites in Egypt for around half price. First time in Africa (exc. South Africa) that’s worked!
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The temple complex is enormous – the largest ancient religious site in the world. Built around 1400BC, several Pharaohs added to it, further expanding the site.

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Pillars of the main hall.

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The complex is so huge, there’s no way you can see it all properly in one visit.

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I saw so many amazing things that day, but, by the end was rather templed-out. The pool at our hotel was so good after being out in the sun all day since sunrise.

With all of our stuff packed up, the following day we set off on the truck. Heading north, this would be the final leg of our mammoth trans-continental African journey. Next stop: Cairo.

Posted by AlTiffany2 03:36 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

Abu Simbel and Aswan

sunny 40 °C
View Round the World Gap Year 2010-11 on AlTiffany2's travel map.

After the heat of Sudan and the Nubian desert, a hotel with aircon was just what everybody needed. Aswan is a lovely city with a friendly, laidback feel. Our hotel has a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool overlooking the Nile and large sand dunes on the far bank. Because it's Ramadan, in the evening there are colourful lights everywhere and minarets from the many mosques are lit up.

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Yesterday evening we visited a Nubian village, on the banks of the river, and had dinner in a traditional house. To get there, we took a boat up the Nile, stopping off on the way at a beach. Here we had a chance to swim and enjoy the sunset, casting shadows on the towering dunes.

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In the village we walked past the market, encountered a few camels and were shown to a house, made to feel welcome and offered hibiscus tea.

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View from the rooftop, where the family sleeps when it is hot in the summer. The row of lights on the horizon is the old Aswan low dam (not the high one - the other one).

Dinner was excellent and we stayed for a while afterwards, talking with the locals.

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There were also a few pet crocs. Matt said he'd buy me a beer if I touched one of their tails... As I was looking at them, one lunged out of the water and snapped with such alarming speed, there was no way I was going anywhere near it!

On the boat back to the city, we sat on the roof watching the stars - a great end to a great evening.

This morning we got up extremely early and left (at 4am) to visit Abu Simbel. There is a compulsory police escort to get down here as the area is politically very sensitive - disputed border territory with Sudan and, of course, Lake Nasser itself: formed by the building of the dam in Aswan, to the anger of the Sudanese.

Abu Simbel is only 50ks from Wadi Halfa, where we caught the ferry from in Sudan. It seemed rather ridiculous for us to have to double back on ourselves so far. There is a perfect tar sealed road between the two places, but the border is closed, so we had to go up to come back down. Still, the ferry was good fun - plus we got to see Abu Simbel from the water, lit up at night, when the ferry sailed past, which was impressive and something not many tourists get to see.

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The temple is stunning. Built by Pharaoh Rameses II over 3400 years ago, the scale is mind blowing. It was all carved, by hand, out of one enormous lump of rock, with statues and many different rooms all encorporated inside. What's equally as impressive is that the entire temple was taken apart, moved up the mountain and reassembled in 1968 because the creation of Lake Nasser would have submerged it.

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You're not allowed to take photos inside, but in the entrance hallway there are eight giant carvings of Rameses, showing him in the form of different gods, hyrogliphics and floor-to-ceiling carvings showing the Pharaoh's great accomplishments. It's so well preserved, and so intricately detailed - simply incredible. The elaborate interior was almost too much to take in; one of the most extraordinary places I've ever been. Rameses wanted to make himself into a god; from the way this place was constructed, his people must have been convinced.

The following (interior) photos are from Google Images - they don't really do it justice, but are just to give a bit of an idea:

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Very nearby there is a smaller temple, dedicated to the Pharaoh's wife, Nefertari.

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Lake Nasser, across which we sailed only a few days ago.

The truck arrived today, after a couple of days in customs. Tomorrow we will pack all of our stuff up and take a three day sailing felucca trip down the Nile to Luxor. Should be great fun.

Posted by AlTiffany2 01:50 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Sandy, dusty Sudan

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View Round the World Gap Year 2010-11 on AlTiffany2's travel map.

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Our hotel in Gondar, Ethiopia had a friendly vulture in the garden.

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The drive down to the Sudanese border was stunning. We descended over 2000 metres in a morning; the temperature went up over 10 degrees as we left the cool highlands and got closer to the flat plains and desert of Sudan.

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Lots of waterfalls.

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The border took a while to get through; we ended up having to camp just over the other side. It rained, of course.

It felt strange to be in Sudan, the country of Darfur, a country which gets so much bad press for its humanitarian crisis and an autocratic, dictatorial government. Nonetheless, it ended up being one of my favourite countries. The landscape is vast and the people disarmingly friendly and hospitable. You can never rely on the Western media when determining what a country would be like to visit. They only ever focus on the bad things and, in a country as huge as Sudan, these usually only affect a portion on the country. There’s something I really love about being in a place with so few tourists.

In June, Christian South Sudan split from the Islamic north, creating a new country and significantly reducing the size of the former one (no longer the largest country in Africa). We didn’t get to go to the South – a few guys were talking about going there for independence day, to witness the country’s birth, but this didn’t happen in the end.

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Flat and fairly fertile.

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Lots of goats.

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The town of Al Qadarif. It’s currently Ramadan so, being a fairly strict Islamic country, eating and drinking (even water) is frowned upon in public. Great bread and falafels in the market though – we bought them in the market and ate on the truck. Lee decided to observe the fasting this day and didn't eat or drink anything between daylight hours. I think he regretted it afterwards. Very few tourists pass through here; we were the focus of considerable curiosity. Everybody was friendly, wanting to know where we were going and where we’d come from.

Sudan is also a dry country (literally, as well as the fact that alcohol is illegal…) Of course, we all snuck it in, hidden in our lockers.

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Matt was the first to buy a jalaba (man dress)…

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Bush camp.

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Lee practising his archery.

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Dung beetles are awesome!

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That night, thinking it wouldn’t rain, I got drenched in my mosquito net and Michael’s tent nearly blew away.

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In the morning there was water everywhere. (Who said Sudan was dry?)

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Praying mantis.

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Al Bashir, the dictator.

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Driving into Khartoum, the capital.

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We camped at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, which contained the remains of Kitchener’s gunboat. This historical thing was just lying there, rusting. That’s the problem with so many African countries; there’s so much potential, but it’s wasted because thing are so inefficient.

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Bridge over the Blue Nile.

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Catholic Cathedral.

I’d expected Khartoum to be pretty grotty, but was surprised to find it a clean, safe, modern city. Everyone’s very welcoming, from market traders to security guards. There are ultra-modern skyscrapers springing up all over the city, earning its reputation as the up and coming ‘Dubai’ of Africa.

Because it’s Ramadan, in the day time it’s dead, but at night everybody comes out to celebrate the breaking of their fasts. The markets are thronging with people and there are countless places to eat great food and drink spiced tea. I had the best barbecued chicken ever, with a rocket salad and fresh bread, outside in a square near the central mosque. After, Laura, Falcon and I found a shisha café and stayed up socialising, soaking up the atmosphere. Later on we went for a chai, made by a woman over a fire on the pavement outside the sailing club. We got chatting to a local guy who was thrilled that we were visiting Sudan and insisted that he paid for our drinks. It’s little moments like that that I really love about travelling in countries like this. The warmth and hospitality that people show to complete strangers is incredible.

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Oh, and I also bought one of those man dresses. They’re really practical when it’s hot; very cooling.

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Michael pretending to be an Arab.

From Khartoum we drove north into the desert. As soon as we left the Nile behind, the debilitating humidity went too. It got hotter though, but a dry heat is more pleasant than a humid one any day.

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Camel at a pee stop.

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Michael was asked many times whether he was related to Osama bin Laden. Before being expelled and moving to Afghanistan, bin Laden spent a lot of time in Sudan, training his al-Qaida cronies.

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A dust storm on the way…

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Jono, trying to inhale as little of the stuff as possible.

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Nothing but sand, everywhere, blocking out the sun.

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Looks like something out of a movie.

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Getting blasted by an 80kph wall of sand and dust hurts! It got absolutely everywhere. We couldn’t close the sides either, as it was already about 40 degrees; we would’ve cooked.

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Dan, not looking too happy. I like the dirt mono-brow.

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Chef Jono at that night’s bush camp.

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Dan, digging a hole – for no reason whatsoever.

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Zoe’s sandcastle.

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We camped near the Meroe Pyramids, with the intention of seeing them in the morning. However, Dan, Mike and I thought it would be cool to explore them in the dark. This somehow evolved into the idea that we could sleep in one. “Come on man, when’s the next time you’ll get to sleep in a pyramid?!”

So, with several weapons (tomb monsters… just in case), the three of us set off over the dunes (to avoid the fence around the entrance!), by moonlight.

We finally found a pyramid that took our fancy.

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Osama bin Michael and me (note his bow and arrow).

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Sand blowing in the wind – looks like shooting stars.

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It was incredibly hot inside the pyramid. A pretty cool experience though. Again, who’s ever slept inside one of these things?

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In the morning we headed back to the rest of the group at the truck for breakfast and were visited by a bunch of nomads with their donkeys and camels. A novelty for them and us.

One of them let me ride his camel.
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Then, we visited the pyramids, the conventional way.

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They’re stunning. Some of them are close to 3000 years old. And they really are out in the middle of nowhere; no other tourists around to spoil it – just you, the pyramids and the vast desert.

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The first time it reached 40 degrees. It got closer to 50 at times, like being in an oven. I was drinking seven litres of water a day and still feeling dehydrated. And the water we were able to get was from a well – pretty gross; cloudy, hot and tasted of soil.

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After Meroe, we drove north on a tar sealed road. Grant noticed there was something wrong with the drive shaft and, after spending some time tinkering with it, decided it needed to be fixed properly if we were going to attempt to take the ‘back road’ to Wadi Halfa (ie. Drive offroad straight through the desert). Needless to say, it would’ve been seriously bad news if the truck had broken down beyond repair in the middle of the Sudanese desert, well off any road, days’ drive from anywhere.

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The grubby mining town we stopped at to get the repair done. The once-weekly ferry from Wadi Halfa across Lake Nasser to Egypt was due to leave on the 18th and, having already booked tickets, as well as a barge for the truck, we had to make it up to there on time. So, having to get critical work done on the truck in a town in the middle of absolutely nowhere was a bit of a concern, to say the least. However, all was well; Grant was able to find a mechanic to help him sort it and we were away.

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The first time we got stuck in the sand. Shovels and sand mats came out and, in the blistering heat, with no shade, we had to inch the truck forward on the mats. ‘Slow going’ would be a huge understatement.

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This didn’t happen too often, but often enough for everybody to dread the next time the wheels started spinning in the sand.

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A desert fox visited our camp that night.

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Having to set up lunch in 45 degree heat is not fun! That afternoon it got even hotter; the hottest part of the day here is between two and five as the ground heats up and radiates it all back at you.

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Absolute middle of nowhere. Notice the shadow is just underneath me - the sun's directly overhead.

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Gary, looking like something out of Star Wars.

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Big mirage on the horizon.

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At times we met up with the train tracks from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum. It all looked pretty deserted.

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Dust-preventing outfits. Regardless, it got everywhere. Eyes, nose, ears, mouth – the lot.

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Station Six, where we filled up our jerrycans with foul-tasting, murky water. Talk about desolate…

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Railroad tracks.

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Desert pee.

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A gold mining camp. Looked more like a refugee camp to me. The rewards must be worth it for these people to choose to live out here, so far away from anything or anyone.

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Someone saw this hand cart lying on the side of the tracks. Most of us had always wanted to have a go on one of these, so we hauled it onto the tracks and had a bit of fun.

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Driving along the railroad tracks.

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Full moon in the desert. Before the moon rose, star gazing was excellent too – no light pollution for hundreds of kilometres.

Finally, we made it to Wadi Halfa, with a day to spare. There’s not much there really; just a dusty little town with dirt roads in the desert, on the shores of Lake Nasser (or “the Nubian Lake,” as the Sudanese call it).

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Wadi Halfa port.

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Barge for the truck.

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A few of us grabbed this space – some of the only shade available.

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Coming into Aswan, you sail past the famous dam, responsible for the flooding of Lake Nasser (Sudan still hates Egypt for that).

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Our grand old vessel. Getting off the boat was an absolute nightmare, and getting through customs etc. was even worse; pushing, shoving, punching, shouting, swearing – utter chaos. After the calmness of Sudan, welcome to Egypt.

Posted by AlTiffany2 06:34 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

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