360 km (Ferry), 11274 km from Cape Town
Dawn revealed a lovely view of the jagged shore of this end tf Lake Nasser, which is called the Aswan dam and it promised to be another scorcher.
At midday with the sun directly overhead and shade a premium we got to Aswan and the ferry nosed to the key just lone enough to get the immigration officer on board and then it reversed out and stood idle off shore.
It took two hours before everybody had had their passports checked and the passengers down in the tiers of upright seats in third class were getting impatient – but we finally returned to the key and tied up.
Our fixer, Kamal recognised us and helped us hump our gear to the quay and organized a couple of long-suffering porters and haggled the price down till he was satisfied and we joined the throng of passengers heading into the clearing hall.
The usual mad shouting crush was in full swing and everybody had to get their luggage through the scanner. A small push me – push you between two overheated porters turned into a free for all, that had porters dropping luggage and flying in, fists flailing. A lot of old scores were being settled!
We used thevacuum all this offered and got our gear through the scanners and circumventing the poor old lady whose trunk-size carton of rusks had snagged on the conveyer, torn and exploded, spewing Sudanese dry bread everywhere!
We were through and Kamal took us into Aswan some ten kilometers away where we booked into a tourist hotel on the Nile.
It was after six but still sweltering and we decided to go for a swim in the pool hotel. Across the Nile could be seen a tall cloud of dust and sand but still distant. We watched for a bit and realised that this was a desert sand storm and watched as it ten miutes, covered the buildings on the western shore and swept across the broad river and was upon us. We jumped into the pool and stayed there for a long while as branches snapped from trees and light fittings came crashing down. We stayed in the pool for as long as our eyes held out and then scuttled off to our rooms.
Sandstorm in Aswan – we jumped into the pool
10914 km from from Cape Town
Mazar came for us and we got a taxi to the harbour. The embarkation shed was jam packed with people – families and all their bulging suitcases. There is no real system of queing in Arabia more sort of a general crush and lots of shouting – Arabic is a language that really lends itself to shouting and so everybody manages to sort themselves out. Mazar did our shouting for us and we were soon squeezing through the last doors with our twelve pieces of bulky luggage and down to the jetty we trudged.
The ferry is an old three decked german-made vessel and we humped ourselves and gear on and onto the upper deck. No cabins were available but a little backshish to the captain allowed us to squat on the open deck in front of the wheelhouse.
There was a fracas at the gang-plank just before cast off. A set-to in Arabia between two men – hoovers in thirty opinionated and voluble by-standers and all will shout loudly for thirty minutes or soand then suddenly it is all over and all walk away. Such was this one which delayed the already delayed start and we only set sail past six.
Heading into open water the wind picked up and so did the bow spray which gave us one drenching and we sought shelter in the first class dining area, which was one deck below and air-conditioned.
We stayed there for the duration of our complimentary meal – black beans and bread – but the loud arabic music and smokey conditions forced us top-side again, where the wind had dropped so we settled into our sleeping bags under the lovely northern sky and passed a gentle and restful night.
Hauling our luggage down to the ferry
380 km, 10914 km from Cape Town
Waking early we intended getting as much of the distance as we could done in the cool of morning. We were all cheerful and bubbly as we struck camp, admiring the stars of the northern skies and making coffee.
Again though, it took longer to get going than we hoped but we were riding at seven.
Desert mornings are beautiful, but beguiling and the temperaure rises slowly for the first two hours and then suddenly starts to spike. It was 22 degrees when we started out and 30 at about nine, then it rose, incredibly a degree every five minutes or so..!.and was soon 43 degrees just like every other day and we were sweltering. It was a good surface, but we passed only one village, where we could get cool water and nowhere we could find fuel and knowing the limits of our tanks at the speed we were doing we were forced to throttle back, which meant a longer time in the heat. We all had to switch to reserve before we got to town and limped in at lunch time.
Wadi Halfa….a sprawling mud hutted affair at the southern tip of the vast Lake Nasser, which is proudly called Lake Nubia at this end.
We met up with our friendly and efficient fixer Mazar and he told us that we were in kuck as there was a barge leaving in the afternoon. We had expected some delays here.
Shane was starting to feel a bit grim so we found the hotel that we were booked into settled him in and took the off-loaded bikes to the harbour.
Mazar told us to wait in the shade of a packing shed and went off to do the paperwork. We sat in the shimmering heat for the three hours that that process took and watched the loaders and foremen and agents come and go.
Eventually he emerged clutching the stamped and signed carnets and we pushed the bikes onto the barge and the crew strapped them down.
Returning by ancient Series One Land Rover taxi we collapsed in our rooms that had state of the art 1950’s aircons that noisily pump fetid air into the rooms..but a lot cooler that outside in the sun..!
Wadi Halfi at last
510 km, 10534 km from Cape Town
We had decided toleave early but the bike packing allways takes longer than intended, so we were away at round seven, although we had planned an hour earlier.
There is a new road that strikes west through the Bayuda Desert to Merowe that is slightly longer than the older northern route that follows the Nile and we elected this good surfaced and faster road.
The first few hours of the morning were very pleasant riding and we made good time of the 385 kms stretch but by eleven o clock the temperature had reached 44 degrees and there is a hot wind that comes off the searing sands. Each rider has developed ways to access water while riding and we carry enough, but it always gets hot quickly and is difficuilt to drink. The idea is to stop at every village and buy more. So our modus is to cast around as we enter a village to try and spot a fridge. Then attempt to stop in some shade, buy the very cheap 500ml plastic bottles and get going again drinking as much as possible before it becomes unpallatable. Water sparayed onto the front of the shirt and arms is a wonderful cooling trick and gives a minute or two of relief before the fabric simply dries up. However there are no village or any habitation at all in this unforgiving desert and so our we were relieved to get to Merowe (not much of a town) about midday and replenish and re-fuel. We had further to go, so we wasted little time, stopping only briefly to view the ancient clump of pyramids at Ghazali. These small structures can be seen from the road luckily as the desert heat was in full swing. Setting a good pace we tackled this second part of the new road through a region called An Nuba.
Again this road is completely devoid of life and the flat featureless desert simply stetches from hazy horizon to hazy horizon.
We all busied ourselves with tricks and rewards of cooling and hydration as the kilometres ticked by and we finally reached the town of Dongola at about three o clock. A very hard days riding and personally I was taking strain. Nausea, dizziness and unquenchable thirst – quite a distessing feeling and we promised ourselves the finest accommodation the town had to offer. Yes we wre told the best hotel would be the airport hotel – so we followed the GPS to the airport to find a deserted bunch of ramshackle, goat-infested buildings that used to be the airport and hotel…no self-respecting airplane had landed here in years..!..ok..we discussed..let’s go one notch down and find the next best hotel…the Lord Hotel..back through the littered and dusty steets we rode as per the GPS and at the indicated spot was a grand looking villa which we took to be our place. We parked in the shade and Shane went to investigate…of course the Lord Hotel turned out to be grand in name only and was certainly not the building we had stopped at…and so on it went, until we had seen all the listed places and we decided to skip town and camp. We stopped to bulk stock water and some chicken and rice and as we were about to set off, a car pulled up and three men in photo-journalist waistcoats got out and smiling, aproached us. It turned out they were journalists, Reuters said the one and had been covering, or were about to cover, a lot gets lost in translation here, a story about a tragedy in Libya – obviously we were a bigger scoop because we were detained for a happy half hour telling our story while the cameras clicked from all angles millemetres from our faces. They even called their office on a mobile and we had to tell it to them.!
It was a reflective moment in all the heat and discomfort – one gets absorbed by the daily business of survival doing what we have been doing and can easily forget how unusual four white men, on fancy motor bikes, weighed down with gear, bristling with equipment must be to the residents of this very inhospitable and therefore not-much visited place.
We explained to the journalists that we could find no hotel and they immediately promised to help and seconded a local and we had to follow them through the same dusty steets passed the same bemused shop-keepers that had watched us ride back and forth all afternoon. Stopping outside the same miserable places we had rejected before, we finally said our goodbyes and left town, heading north. On either side of the Nile there is agriculture and and this road to Egypt follows the river but after 30 kms or so we found a low dune with some distance away from any farming and we pulled off the road and made camp.
Drained by the heat of the ride, camp took a while to set up, and we were soon on our matresses in our tents and asleep.
Bayuda Desert road
326 km, 10024 km from Cape Town
Having our passports back meant we didn’t have to delay in Khartoum and could continue with the journey. We spent a couple of hours changing some dollars to the local currency (there are no ATMs and no cell phone reception in Sudan), and then rode around this large busy city looking for the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, the start of the great river that we’re set to follow for the rest of our journey. Eventually we left Khartoum at about 12, heading for Atbara, and soon discovered that North of Khartoum, it is all desert and heat! Luckily on this stretch of the road there were quite a few little villiages, and we became experts at the little shops that have a fridge, and the electricity to drive it! All along the road there are large earthenware vats of water for the weary travellers, but our feeble tourist stomachs were no match for the tepid fetid water they hold. At Atbara we stayed at the Blue Nile hotel, which is neither blue nor on the nile. The rooms also don’t have windows proper ablutions or aircon, but again the local staff were so eager to help that it made up for the dismal accomodation. Dinner was again at a local street eatery, chicken again.
Loaded up but jackets abandoned in the heat
410 km, 9698 km from Cape Town
Left Gedaref early and rode through the increasing heat of the day which got up to 48 degrees, until we reached Khartoum. The city itself wasn’t particularly inspiring, and we were all cooking in the heat, so it was a delight to come across the german guesthouse where we were staying, a little oasis in the middle of the crowded hot city, especially as it’s central feature was a huge swimming pool, where we spent the rest of the afternoon cooling off. Being a Thursday meant two things, firstly the next day, friday, is the start of the weekend so getting our alien registration would be a problem. Luckily, the german owner had a plan, and we did our usual leap of faith by handing over our precious passports and wads of dollars to a stoney faced nubian who then vanished into the night, to re-appear past midnight with the passports in hand all properly stamped. Secondly, Thursday night is the ex-pat braai night at the guesthouse, which was a tasty affair accompanied by an slighty surreal thumping ibeza soundtrack until the early hours of the morning, just loud enough to drown out the mezzuins call to the faithful.
Sudanese woman in the 45 degree heat
10914 km from from Cape Town
EVEN MORE HEAT
Sierra pretty sick which we figure is probably heat stroke, so we are keping him indoors in the coolish room. The rooms are two star by our star rating for Sudanese hotels….one star – toilet hole and shower,