BootsnAll Travel Network

Sudan: Khartoum to Wadi Halfa

Sergio was gone, the pyramids were done, it was raining every night at 3am and it was starting to get kind of old as it went to cool and breezy in the dark to ripping hot and muggy by 7am. These Muslim guys are up early so there is a lot of commotion going on from 5am on. Not too conducive to good Steve sleep. Khartoum wasn’t all that bad once your body got acclimatized and you got a feel for the city. I had my restaurant all set up where I would go for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and juice breaks. The little shop around the corner supplied me with water and the internet cafe at the top of the building across from the restaurant was fast, cheap, and cool. After a few rough starts, even the mini-bus system which was spread out amongst the Souq had gotten easy enough that I could feel comfortable enough to venture out to other parts of the city. I visited the National Museum to get my permission to see the pyramids (no longer necessary as you can now purchase tickets at the site), bought my ticket for the bus to Karima my next destination, of course the adventure out to the pyramids, and even a ride out to see the confluence of the Nile (the two different colored water of the two Niles run next to each other creating a line down the middle (same as in the Amazon). So after getting juiced up, blogged up, and Khartoum maxed out, I was ready to go.

The plan was to follow the Nile up North hopping from village to village. My guide that I was using was over five years old so some of the times were really scary 8-10-12-14 hours across the desert in the back of a truck, did nothing for me. Adventure travel is just plain inconvenient these days. Luckily, the Egyptian guy loaned Sergio his Sudan guidebook which was much more current. The road to Karima in my book was just a trail, but now there is tarred road the whole way. It went from a undetermined amount of time to just 6 hours. With a ticket in hand, I was on my way the next morning at the still way too early time of 6am. The difference between Sudan and Ethiopia is that I bought the ticket the day before which pre-set a seat so when I got there, I just dropped off my bags and hopped in my very own special seat. We stopped at a couple of other outlying bus stops picking up other passengers and then we were off. A few music cd’s, a Jackie Chan movie, a sandwich, cookies, and juice later we were at the Nile across the river from Karima.

Getting off the bus was a little worrisome as I wasn’t sure where we were at. There was a ferry that went across as well as a bunch of small people boats, but I wasn’t clear if we were going to meet up on the other side with the bus and keep going or if we had to find other transport or …? A few other passengers noticed my confusion and explained that we were basically there but we had to cross the river to where Karima actually was. It was nice getting back on the Nile. On the other side a few of us grabbed a mini-bus and it took us to the Lokanda where I was to spend the night.

Since we got there fairly early enough, I decided to do some more adventuring and walk out into the good old desert and visit the local pyramids and sacred grounds of Jebel Barkal. Basically, there is this monolith just jetting up out of the sand like a mini Ayers Rock (Australia Outback). Supposedly it was a very religious symbol for some time and still is. Just below the mountain are a few pyramids that really stand out in the flat desert. Photos later.

Since I did not have a lot of free time and I wanted to save a few days for chilling at the supposedly cool town of Dongola, I decided to try and make the five hour desert crossing the next day even though it was a Friday and usually all transportation is closed. The Lokanda that I stayed at was not too bad with the same layout of 20-30 beds spread out half in the open air building and half out in the common area. Most of the people were street vendors that sold stuff in the market. Others were business men in transit. I met quite a few that spoke English. A couple worked in the North East at a concrete plant, another was coming back from Egypt, and luckily I met a guy who lived in South Sudan by the borders of Congo and Uganda. He was also heading to Dongola and spent the whole morning arranging transport for the two of us. The problem of being a Friday did make it tough, but he found one truck that was making the run. We ended up waiting until noon before it was ready to leave, but we were both happy to be leaving. He was on his way to visit his brother which he had not seen in a long time. The two of us and a local kid hopped up on the back of the little Toyota and sat on a padded bench that they strapped to the top of a rack that covered a bunch of boxes of Mangoes.

The ride was just as you might suspect, freaking hot. If you would like to get an idea of what it feels like, preheat your oven to about 350F degrees, throw in a couple of hair dryers, hop in with your laptop and target those hairdryers at your face for the next five hours. It was crazy hot and it got worse because we would hit these thermals where it felt just like someone was pointing a hair dryer two inches from your face. The only life saving was that there is a lot of road crews spotted along the way as they are currently tarring the whole route. They were like man built oasis’ with a Mosque, water pump and storage, and a bunch of shanty town buildings. We would stop at these to let the truck cool down, grab some iced water (yea-they had ice, amazing), and a quick bit of tea. It definitely made the trip liveable. Finally, the palm trees appeared in the distance and soon the area was popping with greenery.

Dongola is the capital of the Northern Province and is known for its palm groves. It is a central agricultural area so there are plenty of fruits and vegetables growing there (that means juice!!!!) They had slightly better accommodations and I was able to get a single room with bathroom for $5US. It was a bit stuffy as I was used to sleeping outdoors, but it had a great fan. I learned the best way to keep cool was to take a shower with my boxers and a t-shirt on. Instead of toweling off I would just jump in bed in front of the fan. I would stay cool for about a half hour before I dried off and it got warm again. I ended up staying two nights like I had planned as it was a decent place to chill out and recover from the desert travel.

Dongola also had a ancient site to check out, but when I asked the manager about it, he said that I should wait until 5pm when the sun was going down and it was a bit cooler. No problem, I just hung around town, relaxed and had juice for the day. Around 5pm, I got my adventure stuff together, water and a biscuit, and got ready to go. I asked him the directions and he shocked me by saying that it was too late to go now as there was no transportation to the village. I was a little bit confused especially when I clarified that he had told me to wait until 5pm. He wasn’t fazed at all when he repeated it would be too hot during the day to go. I didn’t get it, but it was pure and simple to him. I was off the next day, so there is one adventure that will have to go in the books as a failed attempt.

The next day, the same guy arranged my transport to my next stop of Abri. I was a bit hesitent as the prior days confusion was still in my mind. I had built in one flex day so I wasn’t too worried, but I still wanted to keep that free day just in case. We ended up leaving an hour later than planned at noon, why these guys like to travel at the hottest part of the day I have no clue. We crossed back over the river on a Ferry and then were hauling ass along the road that follows the Nile. It is surprising how populated the area is as it was one village after another along the river. Wherever there is a bend in the river however, the road veered off into the desert to cut down the time. There was some long stretches where we were just out driving in the sand with really no road but other sand tracks. After quite a few stops, a prayer break, and some truck cooling, we pulled into Abri just after dark. Luckily, we stopped right in front of the only hotel in town. When I tried to go and register there was no one in the office so I ended up just getting a bed in the common area and having dinner at the street side restaurant out front. Fuul never tasted so good (stewed farva beans, crushed up with a coke bottle, topped with a little bit of yogurt, spices, onions, and a good dousing of oil.) Bread is used as a sort of eating utensil. Basically, Fuul is refried beans if you know Mexican food.

The next morning I made arrangements for another truck to make the last run up to Wadi Halfa. Same basic deal, get up early, wait and wait until the temperatures reaches optimum heat, and then we leave. Not too much too offer except that the water we were drinking from the communal pots was now a deep coffee color as it was straight from the river versus the fairly clean stuff that they were pumping out of wells from the desert. Happily, they are tarring the road from Wadi Halfa south and are about twenty-five percent done so we spent a good amount of time ripping it down some brand new road, other times the road wasn’t finished, but it was still smoothed out so we could really haul it. I would say we saved about 25% off the normal time as the road is much better. We ended up reaching Wadi Halfa in about six hours.

Wadi Halfa is really a pretty crappy place for a main transportation hub. The reason is that it actually was a fairly nice town before they ended up flooding the valley when they made the Lake Nasser dam. Now the nice city is under water and what is now Wadi Halfa is just a hot and dusty stop off point for the railway, boat, trucks, and airplanes. Since it is the only crossing point to Egypt from the North, it is booming on the boat days, when it arrives and the next day when it leaves. Beyond that it is a ghost town.

I arrived a day early so that I was assured of a bed as I heard that every place gets booked the night of the boats arrival as people are just getting there and others are waiting to leave. Some passengers on the bus got me set up in a hotel who had a really helpful manager. I spent the next two days just lying on my cot just in a heat driven daze. There is absolutely nothing to do, and even if there was it wouldn’t be possible to do until after the sun went down. I spent my few hours out of the cot, eating fried fish and fuul, or drinking Cokes next door with the shop owner I befriended. It seemed like I was the only foreigner in town and on the boat I confirmed it.

Finally, the next day came and it was boat day. Unforunately it didn’t leave until 6pm so I had to spend one more day just laying in my cot. One good thread that seemed to make Sudan in general more pleasant was the guys I met. Now, the Sudanese are definitely accommodating, but it is the Egyptian guys that are kick ass fun. You go from these really strict Muslim Sudanese men who are refreshing as they don’t bother with you, to a bunch of Egyptian guys who tend to speak English and are very fun and upbeat kind of like the Irish and Brits. They spend the whole time just yakking away making fun of each other, the Sudanese, and anybody who walks in their sites. None of them had anything pleasant to say about Sudan and they all were thankful that they were leaving so they could get back to Egypt where it is parties, women, and drugs. In Sudan they joked it was Fuul, your hand, and chewing tobacco.

And with that I was out, well almost. I came three minutes from quitting this whole Africa thing. But thats a whole nether story. Rat bastard government people is how I will describe it. Rage level 6.3.

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