08.08.2011 - 18.08.2011 48 °C
Our hotel in Gondar, Ethiopia had a friendly vulture in the garden.
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.
Lots of waterfalls.
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.
Flat and fairly fertile.
Lots of goats.
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.
Matt was the first to buy a jalaba (man dress)…
Lee practising his archery.
Dung beetles are awesome!
That night, thinking it wouldn’t rain, I got drenched in my mosquito net and Michael’s tent nearly blew away.
In the morning there was water everywhere. (Who said Sudan was dry?)
Al Bashir, the dictator.
Driving into Khartoum, the capital.
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.
Bridge over the Blue Nile.
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.
Oh, and I also bought one of those man dresses. They’re really practical when it’s hot; very cooling.
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.
Camel at a pee stop.
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.
A dust storm on the way…
Jono, trying to inhale as little of the stuff as possible.
Nothing but sand, everywhere, blocking out the sun.
Looks like something out of a movie.
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.
Dan, not looking too happy. I like the dirt mono-brow.
Chef Jono at that night’s bush camp.
Dan, digging a hole – for no reason whatsoever.
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.
Osama bin Michael and me (note his bow and arrow).
Sand blowing in the wind – looks like shooting stars.
It was incredibly hot inside the pyramid. A pretty cool experience though. Again, who’s ever slept inside one of these things?
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.
Then, we visited the pyramids, the conventional way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This didn’t happen too often, but often enough for everybody to dread the next time the wheels started spinning in the sand.
A desert fox visited our camp that night.
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.
Absolute middle of nowhere. Notice the shadow is just underneath me - the sun's directly overhead.
Gary, looking like something out of Star Wars.
Big mirage on the horizon.
At times we met up with the train tracks from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum. It all looked pretty deserted.
Dust-preventing outfits. Regardless, it got everywhere. Eyes, nose, ears, mouth – the lot.
Station Six, where we filled up our jerrycans with foul-tasting, murky water. Talk about desolate…
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.
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.
Driving along the railroad tracks.
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).
Wadi Halfa port.
Barge for the truck.
A few of us grabbed this space – some of the only shade available.
Coming into Aswan, you sail past the famous dam, responsible for the flooding of Lake Nasser (Sudan still hates Egypt for that).
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.