Travels through Sudan III – African Time

…continued from: Sudan II – The Beginning

Lake Nasser, Africa.

     …we hit the port in Aswan at around 7:30 AM, after a short bus ride from our hotel. Oscar Del Toro, our six wheeled friend, mate and confidant, was loaded on the vehicle ferry yesterday. This is a milestone, so to speak, in our trip which started in Istanbul. The ferry from Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa, Sudan. We’ve been told what to expect on the other side but everyone is still anxious. This trip is almost legendary, being one of the only, legal, ways into Sudan from Egypt. From the comfort, and annoyance, of tourist-trap like settings with air conditioning, plentiful food and all, or most, of the comforts of home to one of the harshest areas of the world where food is scarce, air conditioning doesn’t exist and tourists don’t often go. One short, 24 hour, ferry ride and everything changes, like night and day.

Bert, not liking this, at a lunch stop along the Dead Sea in Jordan

     Bert has been packed away, Bedouin Kermit is guarding Oscar, and we are headed to the first stop of many at the ferry terminal, to collect, and give back, countless and multiple little pieces of paper. The ferry is scheduled to leave at around 9:00 AM. We all head to the first gate, collect our official tickets, have our bags “tagged”, stickered, and then markered, due to the fact that stickers don’t stick to dirty and dusty bags all too well, most times falling off within about a minute after being applied. This doesn’t stop the sticker guys though, who stand in a pile of fallen off stickers stuck to the floor, happily, well, in my mind at least, although they just sort of grumbled along, sticking stickers to anything that passes them by. I guess just happy they have the jobs…

     Past the sticker guys, tickets in hand, up to the “marker” guys, who mark your bags in case the stickers that just fell off fall off. Through the gate, down the fenced in walkway, to the little shack, give them you tickets, they hand you back your ticket, along with another little piece of paper, to the next shack, where they take the little piece of paper you just got, check it against a ledger, and then hand you two other pieces of little paper. I guess it was the “make sure you got your first little piece of paper ledger”. Back to the fenced in walkway, past the mean looking guys with the AK’s, make a right at the 50, left at the tank, down the walkway to the next shack. Here it is. It was so easy up to now, but this shack, this one is packed. A heaving mass of bodies fighting for the front. This is definitely the bottleneck in the get on the ferry maze. We scramble into the mix, fighting to the front. Another ledger. Hand over the tickets and one of the two little pieces of paper, it doesn’t seem to matter which one. The men in the shack are grabbing, ripping and throwing, handing out another little piece of paper. A shame. They take my nice, big, official looking ticket with the nice picture of the ferry on front, scribble something on it, throw it to the floor, and hand me a little piece of paper with something else scribbled on it. …and so on and so on for another half hour or so. Seems the checkers are checking the checkers and then checking the checkers that

Bedouin Kermie, watchin’ Oscar

are checking the checkers. Good times. Africa. Goes with the territory I guess, which we see time and again for the next few months.

     A bit of hustling and bustling and we’re on the ferry, all bags stowed, stickered, markered and away. We settle in and head to the top of the boat. It’s around 8:30 AM, and the ferry should be leaving in a half hour or so. A beautiful morning, plenty of room on-board, the sun is shining, the metal of the boat cool against the onslaught of the Sahara sun. Life is good.

     As we watch from above, the docks look pretty much plain and usual for a setting of this type. Trucks are coming in, full of vegetables, fruits, packaged food, bottled water, boxes of twinkies …and everything else that can be boxed that is known to man. 9:30 AM and they start loading boxes of lettuce, carrots, cabbages, tomatoes, etc. We’ll be off anytime now. A few minutes later and they start loading refrigerators, mattresses, can goods and such. 11:00 AM and the trucks are still pulling up. It looks like we’ll be pulling two barges on the journey. The docks are a virtual anthill of activity now. Workers hauling anything that’s pulled up on the trucks, passengers milling around, food sellers hawking their wares all about. The crew starts to move around the ferry, battening down the hatches, checking the lines, going over the equipment, although mostly just smoking and drinking tea. Noon, no sign of the captain yet, the trucks are still pulling up and offloaded. As this point it looks like Walmart is moving to Sudan, we’re three hours late already, with no signs of leaving anytime soon. Passengers are still loading, although I don’t really know where they are all disappearing too, as the top of the boat, where we are watching from, is getting a bit more crowded, but still not as packed as it should be with the amount of people coming onto the boat. 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 PM, still loading, this may just be one of the best “people watching” places in the world, as the trucks coming in are loaded higher and higher, to the point of tipping, and the dock workers are getting more and more animated, not slowing down a bit.

Above ↑, 10:51 AM, we should have left an hour and 51 minutes ago. Below ↓, 11:40 AM, still rolling in.

     Around 3:30, still having fun, yet anxious to get going. A very large man comes strolling down the top of the boat, dressed in a flowing all grey Jelabiya, topped off with a matching, perfectly tied, turban and crowned with a scowling grin of all gold teeth. The people on top of the boat part like the Red Sea before Moses, not even daring to look up or catch the eye of the captain. The captain strolls to the wheel room, starts growling out orders and sets the crew into a tailspin, cigarettes flicking over the side, tea gulped down in one last shot. Captain Ahab closes the gate, tells everyone to move back, allows us to stay in “his” area, but barks orders to his crew to tell us to stay out-of-the-way. The passengers move back, quietly, Captain Ahab is king here, with a size and demeanor to match, and I don’t think anyone is going to question him …including me.

     Well, this goes on for another hour or two. It seems we are just waiting for a group of Libyans now. We should have set sail almost eight hours ago, but this is african time. Lake Nasser, Sudan, and the ferry itself aren’t going anywhere, so all you can do is wait, watch and …enjoy, gulp. This thing ain’t moving until Captain Ahab says it is, no matter what time of day, what day of the week, or what week of the year for that matter.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Sudan IV – To Wadi Halfa

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