February 08, 2010 GMT
Sudan and arrival in Khartoum

We arrived here in Khartoum about four days ago, and have been pretty busy since.

Oil changes, filter changes, new rear tyre, repacking, and still no sight-seeing yet.
Except for the 'Whirling Dervishes' at the Hamed el-Nil Mosque in Omdurman. More later.

We are camped in The Blue Nile Sailing Club which is right on the south bank of the Blue Nile.

Ken's tent

Caroline and Beau

Ken's bike covered up like the boats.

And sail they do, as we watch, sipping afternoon tea right on the river bank.
You see, despite all the work to be done, the afternoons are too hot to undertake anything else, as I suppose it was in Gordon's and Kitchener's day.
There are lots of memories of them here, or at least of the British colonialism of the day. The Sailing Club is in the middle of the very large area of government buildings, with buildings and ministries all having very British-sounding names.

So some words and photos of our journey here from Aswan in Egypt.

Firstly, Mr. Salah's secret society of the Aswan Customs Office, and the port, certainly did keep us busy for around five hours. But it was entertaining.
The port is tucked away in a little bay on Lake Nasser at the eastern end of the Aswan High Dam about eight miles from Aswan town.
The purchase of vehicle tickets was a small storm of paperwork - an hour and a half for all of us with very large quantities of Egyptian banknotes flying to and fro, the vehicle tickets costing thousands of Egyptian pounds for each car and truck. Cash only.

Then off to customs, three motorbikes, four overland trucks plus the two trucks of the Tour D'Afrique group.
This was a large storm of paperwork.
Forms, papers, passports and carnets flew back and forth, stapled furiously and rubber-stamped violently, the desk trembling with the constant energetic pounding of rubber stamp on flattened ink-pad. The half dozen loud thumps on the pad for each stamp on a form added thunder to the storm.
The customs man was quite a jovial character, and had obviously met one of the Tour D'Afrique drivers before. When he joked about baksheesh, the driver promptly emptied his pockets and scattered a good kilo of children's sweets all over the customs man's desk and amongst papers and passports. Joviality went up a level and I wished I'd brought a bottle of ink for his rubber-stamp pad. It might have trumped the sweets.

Eventually all paperwork was done and the adventure of loading the barge started.

First, above the dirt embankment which led to the barge, overhead cables barred the way for the big trucks.

A brave fellow climbed onto the roof and moved the cables out of the way as the trucks crept along below.
We didn't have that problem.

Next, the massive steel loading ramp onto the barge had been through some serious adventure, the entire lefthand corner was bent upwards by a foot or more.

The big trucks had to manouevre back and forth in the tiny access space to avoid the left hand wheels plopping straight into the lake.
We didn't have that problem.


Bikes neatly slotted between big trucks.

To our untrained eyes, with a couple of trucks and our bikes loaded and all the remainder assembled close to the bent ramp, it was clear that they would not all fit on.

But then again, the afternoon sun was now in our eyes, so loading continued under the direction of the expert local stevedores. They seemed to know exactly how much the bumpers of the big trucks had to scrape the sides of the barge so that the narrower vehicles could just squeeze in alongside them.
Maybe the paint was too thick, because in the end, six into one wouldn't go. It all had to come off, over the bent-up ramp. Much Arabic discussion and measuring later, we all embarked again. Successfully this time.

My bike dwarfed by over-lander truck. We're supposed to be travelling the same roads!

All safely gathered in and cast off for Sudan.
Looks like The African Queen all over again.

"Wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye.
Cheerio, here I go, on my way."

Our bikes are on there somewhere.......

That was Sunday 24th January. The next day, minus our bikes, we caught the 8:00am train from Aswan to High Dam.
Eight miles, half an hour, sixteen pence, seats for all.

The line from Aswan, at river level, to the High Dam has quite an incline in places. But no danger of run-aways back down the slope when we stop at stations on the way.

Someone has thoughtfully left a spare brake shoe under Beau's seat.

Egypt's troubled past - bullet holes in the carriage window opposite my seat.


The ferry was packed to sardine capacity. We departed at around six pm and by midnight there were still passengers walking around with suitcases unable to find a place to sit, or floorspace for their cases.

There are two options for this ferry:
Take sleeping mat and bag and claim sleeping space on the roof of the upper deck. It can be cold and windy at night.
Travel light and claim whatever space you can in the passenger lounges.
Caroline and Beau chose the former, I took the latter option.
All us passengers with vehicles on the barge had hardly any luggage with us, so we were first on.
And it seemed I sort of struck lucky. The first passenger lounge I reached was empty so I claimed a ten-seat space, two long thinly-padded seats. Shortly a youngish Egyptian with an elderly Sudanese man walking with a stick sat opposite me. He explained he was accompanying his friend home to Khartoum.
Then another elderly man, blind in one eye, sat on the end of my seat. I helped him stow his bags under the seats.
Then the lounge filled and filled and filled. Early birds who had claimed three or four seat spaces for lying down were politely cajoled into sitting up so more passengers could find themselves seats, until hardly anyone had more than a single seat to himself.
Except us, four passengers in a ten-seat space. We were more or less left alone. I'm pretty sure it was the presence of the two elderly passengers with walking stick and poor sight, and me - not quite so old.
The advantages of age...........
Eventually though two more passengers squeezed in so we ended up six in the space of ten seats.
By midnight there were passengers all over the floors, the stairs, everywhere.
Everywhere that is where there was not already passengers' luggage.

The port entrance that morning was like a small market village. Passengers arriving in pick-up trucks joining the queue, and depositing their luggage in the customs area. Luggage for each passenger or family amounted to about the size of a small car. Upright fridge freezers still packaged in makers' boxes looked popular, outdone only by wall-sized colour TVs in first place and 'Ultra Powerful', made-in-China food mixers in second, each one about the size of an ordinary TV.
Memories of loading the vehicle barge yesterday lead me to the inescapable conclusion that there would be far more room on this ferry if they put all the washing machines and freezers on the barge and all the vehicles on the ferry.
But hey, this is Africa!

So every bit of deck space outside the lounges was stacked high like your local electrical-goods discount warehouse. Some parts of the ferry had definitely become completely cut-off.

I ventured out to the upper deck roof to see how Caroline and Beau were doing. They had sleeping space OK, but were squashed in tight by other sleepers on three sides and fifty bicycles on the fourth.
Actually on two sides there were railings, but passengers had put down mattresses on the other side of them directly on the edge of the deck overhanging the waters of the lake below.
Floor space was so rare that the largest pieces I could find would just about accomodate a single foot. To stand with two feet together was pretty well impossible. And there were still passengers trying unsuccessfully to do that, carrying bags as well.

So shortly after midnight complaints must have been listened to. An authoritative-looking man entered our lounge and screamed orders in Arabic, waving his hands all around, exhorting everyone to get off the floors, sit on the seats properly, as others were still stranded on the few one-foot-sized pieces of empty floor that remained outside. He grabbed the life jackets that had been strewn around the floor as makeshift mattresses, stuffing them furiously back into their lockers.
Then peace broke out and an interesting night continued.

On Tuesday morning we passed by Abu Simbel.

A few of the 50 bicycles in the foreground.

Originally built in the valley way below us, the Egyptians moved this monument here before it was flooded by the construction of the High Dam.

Arrival at Wadi Halfa, Sudan, was at about noon on Tuesday as expected but the cyclist took priority with the on-board passport control, so we three didn't depart the ferry early enough to get our bikes through customs that day.
No matter, Wadi Halfa turned out to be a very pleasant small town with excellent and cheap restaurants. There we met a Russian rider heading north who had been in town almost a week, he liked it that much. Not only that, this was his fifth motorbike journey between Cape Town and St. Petersburg, so he was a mine of information for us.

With bikes finally on Sudanese soil the next day, we assembled outside the previous night's reastaurant. Here, a magnificent piece of fish with complete Sudanese loaf of bread was around a pound I think, and what's more, it was served on newspaper! On a steel dish.

Ready for Sudan, Wadi Halfa shopping mall in the background.

And the bank and customs house.

There are three options south from Wadi Halfa:
The train to Khartoum via Atbara, carries vehicles and passengers across the Nubian Desert.
The road alongside the railway tracks. No water nor petrol, at least two days.
The road that follows the Nile.
You need Charlie and Ewan-sized bikes, and back-up, to carry enough water and fuel for the road that follows the railway, so we opted for the Nile road instead.

After a couple of hours we caught up a cycling couple, Hiula and Eva, from Mexico and Germany, who had been on the same ferry and had also stayed in Wadi Halfa that night. So we all went off the road a short way and camped for the night.
They were both accomplished musicians and gave us a little concert on didgeridoo, flute and two hand drums, all of which they carried on their two bicycles!
The things people do! (The didgeridoo was plastic and slotted together in about four sections).
So Beau helped out with the drums as well. In the Sahara Desert as predicted!

Also that night a clear and distinct halo formed in a huge circle around the moon.
Called a paraselene, I don't think they are that common and some computer doctoring of this photo makes it just visible I think. But it was very clear in the dark desert sky at the time.

Sunrise on the edge of the Nubian Desert.

Long sunrise shadows.


We camped again the next night after shopping in one of the Nile villages and taking this photo on the banks.
This had to be a quick photo - as soon as you stop and remove helmet, it becomes difficult to see, let alone use camera, with the dense swarms of flies.

The following day, a rest stop on the edge of the Nubian Desert.

We took a two-day hotel break in the pleasant Nile town of Dongola. There was internet there, but riding and camping in the desert is a surprisingly tiring thing, and we had no energy to update this website.
We made use of the nice cafes and tea bars instead - and there's ALWAYS laundry to do.........

We followed off and on the meandering route of the Nile, but generally the road is a few miles away. In Sudan, the green and cultivated banks of the river extend for only one or two hundred yards each side. Then, the desert begins.
We headed for the pyramids at Nuri, and camped between there and the town of Merowe.

Morning at our camping place between a river-side palm plantation and the desert.

When we arrived, a local farmer on a donkey said it was OK to camp and pointed out his house nearby. Later, after nightfall, he returned with his little grandson and a flask of tea and cups. This was different tea, made with hot milk that was absolutely delicious. We thought maybe it was camel's milk. But no, it was cow's milk, but unpasturised. Makes quite a difference.

Entering a mud-brick village near the Nile town of Karima.
We did food shopping here for the next night in the desert.

And the Mosque.

There are then two long desert hauls to Khartoum. The first is the Merowe-Atbara road across the Bayuda Desert. Completely empty and desolate, maybe three other vehicles spotted the whole day.

One for the telecom engineers, retired or not:
Surreal road sign halfway across the emptiness of the Bayuda Desert.

If it's not clear, it says:

The second long stretch is the Atbara-Khartoum road. A road busy with freight trucks and 12-axle trailers. These have the habit of, if they've started overtaking something, maybe another 12-axle monster, they don't stop. If you're going the other way you're expected to get off of the tarmac onto the gravel shoulder. Which is just wide enough to do so, I'm glad to say.

Posted by Ken Thomas at February 08, 2010 04:15 PM GMT

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