Leaving Khartoum

This is just a quick note to all our blog watchers that we are leaving Khartoum tomorrow, and not sure when we will next get access to t’internet – probably in Addis Abeba, but even there it can sometimes be difficult to find one that’s open, working and ready to use when we are ready to use it! So, if you don’t hear from us for a while, don’t worry! We are writing down our memories, and will update things when we get a chance. Sudan’s been lovely so far, and we have every hope that our last bush night in the country will be fantastic, followed by a long but hopefully productive border crossing in Ethiopia. Will let you all know how it goes asap! Bye for now! C & G

From one ferry to another, in an ambling sort of way

Well, ambling is one word for it! Having left Luxor at 7:30 in the morning, and in something of a rush to make it to Aswan in time to catch the ferry on the following day, we again experienced the wonders of post-English occupation in Egypt – more bureacracy! This time, we were sent back to Luxor, and told to catch the 11am convoy. This we duly did, waiting the 3 hours it took to wile away the time by playing checkers and stuffing ourselves with chocolate. We weren’t best pleased, as you can imagine, but there was nothing we could do about it. The convoy, as others have described, is a complete farce. We left Luxor with sirens screaming, dodging the donkey carts and other traffic which must experience this every day but still got caught out by the crazy driving of the cops. Then, about 1.5 hours later, just as quickly as it had started, the convoy came to an abrupt end, and we were summoned on our way without so much as a glance at our papers. We finally made it to Aswan late that afternoon, hot and tired but relieved too to have made it in time to book our ferry crossing. No sooner had we found our hotel (one of the cheaper versions, not the $160/night version which we first tried!) than we bumped into another two bikers, from Holland, Luke and Guido. They immediately ushered us off to book our ferry, if it was still possible – they were highly skeptical, as it’d taken them all day to do the paperwork, another of those farces which they were coming to rue, especially as they’d spent an entire week in Aswan, having miscalculated on Eid and therefore not realising that that Monday’s ferry would be cancelled. Nice to know we weren’t the only ones who’d not realised the impact of this national holiday!

We were incredibly fortunate. A Mr Salah gave us the go ahead to catch the ferry, relieved us of about $50 each (which isn’t bad, really, even if the ferry is really a torrid experience) and told us to meet him at the port by 12 the following day or we wouldn’t get on. Norway This put the pressure on, as we knew from the ‘Hollanders’ that there was actually a lot of work to do including, among other things, visits to the traffic police (among other things, to return the Egyptian number plates we got on entry). Again, we were very fortunate with time, as the following morning saw us running from the various pillars to posts required relatively speedily. It wasn’t fun, but we managed it OK, and by the time we arrived at the port, sweat dripping from every pore, we saw the boys plus a whole fleet of 3 other overlanders who had been waiting since early that morning to load up their vehicles. In total, it took us about 4 hours to organise our crossing. Some of them had taken 10 days! We both believe the good wishes and prayers of everyone back home are definitely working some magic!

Now, I mentioned a torrid experience. This was, as I say, expected, because no-one who’s written about it is complimentary about it. But, having developed really low expectations, I have to say that it was actually survivable. Yes, the loos were not somewhere anyone wanted to venture. No, 1st class cabins (which a French overlanding family had taken) were not ideal – they were cockroach infested, had the water pipes running through the room, and had dirty red linen on the beds. Luckily, we took the advice we’d seen previously, and ‘booked’ a space on the open-air deck. This was achieved by coming together with the other overlanders, and together we managed to save enough room for us and our belongings, including a space just large enough to obtain some fitful sleep overnight. ip In the morning, we were treated to a view of Abu Simbel, the temple that was relocated during the building of Lake Nasser; and by noon we’d made it across to our Sudan port of entry – Wadi Halfa.

The vehicles were arriving on a separate barge, which was only expected the following day, so we stayed overnight in what is generously called the ‘Nile Hotel’. Think beach hut, with sandy floors, string beds and moonlight shining in through the roof. back link check . And no beach. But, for all its simplicity, it did have showers and loos that were both functional and clean. Plus, you could have your choice of fish or omelettes at the next-door ‘restaurant’ – who could ask for more? We spent the next day waiting for the barge, and completing the inevitable paperwork, which included our ‘Alien Registration’ documents. In Sudan you have to let the authorities know whenever you enter a new town and stay there the night. You also have to register, as an ‘alien’, upon entry – this is a separate procedure to the passport controls. And a costly one too. Another $90 each, on top of the $100 each for visas. This done, we went to market for a few fresh supplies, and then got news that the barge was in port. Fantastic! It took another 4 hours to clear customs, but eventually the whole troop was free to go. I should describe them: In addition to the four bikers (me, Glyn, Luke and Guido) there was a sandy-coloured Landrover containing Catkin, a British district nurse and Gavin, a New Zealander. They’re on their way to New Zealand, but taking their time about it. Then there were the ‘Frenchies’ in a white Landrover modified to be a campervan – a family of four consisting of mum Estelle, papa JF, and kiddies Jeremy (about 10) and Hugo (2). Finally, in a Toyota Landcruiser, was Louis, also from Holland; a wandering soul who’d been here before and was going to tell us all how it should be done.

Desert riding in Sudan, south of Wadi HalfaThis motley crew set off for Dongola early on Thursday morning. What followed was three days of tortuous track riding and ‘interesting’ group dynamics. It was, for us, a very good thing to have met up with them all, as it really benefitted us to be in a group at the start – Louis and then Gavin and Catkin helped by carrying my Ortlieb bag, all the vehicles provided shade when we stopped for breaks, and more than once we were to benefit from the cold drinks they could provide from their onboard fridges. But, as with all of these things, the time came to say goodbye. For us, it was on the third day of riding in convoy when twice the group had been split and a lot of time spent trying to find or catch up with the others. I found it particularly stressful the first time, when we believed we were behind everyone, and so were rushing through very sandy patches (for ‘sand’ read ‘fall off’ – a lot!) only to find that we were ahead, and that some were critical of our conduct because we should have turned back. Anyhow, there’s a lot more to say on this, which will have to wait for another time. Suffice to say that we left the group at the 3rd cataract of the Nile, and continued our way south to catch a ferry at Argo, north of Dongola. Once again, our luck was in. We arrived 20 minutes before what must have been the last ferry of the day. So it was that we rolled the bikes onto the small, sturdy vessel just in time to go sailing down the Nile as the sun set behind the black silhouettes of date palms and kingfishers. After 3 exhausting days of off-road driving, it was magical.

Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings

Although we had said we would take up the sister’s offer of attending mass at the convent, we had to renege on this commitment when we realised it would take up most of our morning. Taking into account the dreaded police escorts, we knew we needed to leave very early. And so we did, after packing the bikes in the company of a deacon from the church who quizzed us about our adventures, and a myriad coke bottles which are normally stored in the garage where we’d been told to leave the bikes overnight.

The journey was as expected – long, and particularly arduous because of police escorts. At one point, I felt the need to stop and photograph a particularly spectacular statue of what would appear to be a local muslim hero, and artist or writer. As a result, we were overtaken by a Thompson Local tour bus, and at the next checkpoint we picked up a pretty slow policeman. Glyn was not best pleased, telling me that he blamed me entirely for the fact that we were now being escorted by a ‘bakkie’ that ‘could do better’! I didn’t realise then that what he meant was that he thought all the others were accompanying the big bus. He was probably right. At the next checkpoint we had to wait 40 minutes, and it was only after a lot of loud gesticulation that we were going to go regardless that our escort finally arrived.

We were getting worked up because we had visions of it taking 40 minutes at every next stop, and we had only made it one third of the way. But thankfully that didn’t happen, and we managed to arrive rather early at Luxor, and the splendid (in our eyes) Rezeiky camp. With shade, grass and a swimming pool this place was a veritable heaven. The blackened light switches and showers-over-toilets scenario we could deal with. So it was that we set up camp, and did an hour of clothes washing (which finally removed the grit from my fingernails too, thank the Lord!). We ate a meal of local Egyptian food, prepared by camp staff. This, I believe, has been our undoing. Suffice to say that it’s been a delicate state of affairs today!

We visited the Karnak temple for the evening’s sound and light show, which was pretty spectacular, if a little long-winded. The size of some of the structures is pretty amazing, and comparable to the pyramids in detail if not in size. Certainly, the price for entry was more than for the pyramids.

The Valley of a Thousand KingsThis morning we ventured across to the west bank, to visit the Valley of the Kings. A lovely, winding tarmac road takes you up into the sandstone-coloured hills, where you’re greeted by hordes of tourists disgorged from buses. Like ants, we all scurried around from one tomb to another, burrowing in and out of them, working up a serious sweat because inside some of them it gets incredibly hot. We were going to visit King Tut’s tomb, but they wanted an extra fee on top of the one already paid at the gate, and although we had decided it was probably worth doing, since we were here, it meant going all the way back to the entrance. At which point we said ‘forget it’ and visited another, empty tomb. This was far more pleasant. No ghastly yanks panting down your neck. Just the stillness of a burial place. Oh, and a little Egyptian ‘guard’ who, despite all the signs to the contrary, encouraged us to take a photo of what was a pretty spectacular sarcophagus, and then wanted his fair share of our wallets!

Luxor TempleHave decided not to bother with Luxor temple, which in any case is in the middle of the town and can be seen while walking along the promenade of the Nile along which all the river boats dock. Have a dirty secret to admit here too! Shh! I got so hungry, and was so fed up with being harangued by locals, that, it pains me to say, I committed that heinous crime – I visited the MacDonalds! I know, I know. It’s completely unforgivable. But it did have a wonderful view of the ruins! AND air-con! What more can you ask? What’s doubly terrible about this crime is that I did it while Glyn was doing bike maintenance back at camp! There he is, all greased up to the elbows, and I’m swanning about tucking into a packet of greasy chips with goopy tomato sauce all over them. Well, some forbidden fruits just do taste better!