…continued from: Sudan III – African Time
Still sitting in the Port of Aswan, Egypt …I know, part IV and not even out of Egypt yet, I’ll move this along. 5:00 PM now, we got here at 7:30 AM, scheduled to leave at 9:00 AM, just waiting on the Libyans now it seems. Looks like everything is wrapping up down below, the barges are just about full, the ferry is packed to the brim with people and supplies. Moving down the aisles of the lower decks means climbing over the rails, around the people and through all the boxes, cans, barrels and everything else needed to start the Wal-Mart, Wadi Halfa. Captain Ahab is growing restless. The Libyans bus pulls up …without the Libyans, it’s just a bus full of supplies. Another bus pulls up – this must be them – there’s no one in this one either, it’s full of boxes. The people must be just behind, or hiding amid the boxes, not really sure at this point. No wonder they’re eight hours late, they are carrying so much stuff that they can’t actually fit in their own bus… C’mon, you gotta be kidding me ↓ (x2 remember).
A few minutes later the Libyans show up, on foot, and now we’re just waiting for their luggage to be un, on and uploaded. 6:00, 7:00 PM …all right, everything on, ready to go. Somewhere around 8:00, just after sunset, Captain Ahab sends out the word, the ferry roars to life, everyone claps, Ahab scowls, metal grinds, the boat starts to slowly slide out of the dock. Goodbye Egypt, hello Sudan. WooHooo. 8:00 PM, 9:00 AM, it’s all relative I guess. We head down below, play a little cards, wander around, and hit the hay early, wanting to be up early for when we pass by the Temples of Abu Simbel.
A few hours later and we get the call. It’s early, brisk, almost cold out. The sun is coming up and we see the Temples on our right. A great sight really, well worth missing a few hours of sleep. Abu Simbel seemingly rising right out of the side of Lake Nasser, in true dramatic ancient Egyptian form. Not a view that many get, and I’m glad I saw it from this vantage point, noticing the thousands of moving ants around its base, turning into people as we get closer. We wander around the ferry for a few hours, talking, watching, wondering. The top deck is basically a maze of people, boxes and bags. To get from front to back you need to jump, squirm, hop, sidestep, crawl and squeeze to get through. The walkways on the lower levels, around the sides of the ferry, are virtually impassable, with people now sleeping on top of all the piled boxes. The best place to smoke, as evidenced by everyone smoking there, is right in-between the 50 gallon barrels of petrol, using the tops as ashtrays. Good times. We get a tomato from a woman at the bottom of the stairs, who pulls it right out of a crate, which probably isn’t hers, but we are thankful nonetheless. We head down below. This is where you say “Oh My God”. Benches upon benches of people from front to back, smelling of throw-up, sweat and pee. Packed in every corner and aisle. A virtual african market is going on down here amid the crowd, with everything for sale from cigarettes to candy, bread to childrens toys. A night market being held at all hours of the day, with most just wanting it to end and many not wanting to see the water that they are travelling on, not knowing how to swim, yet wading through deeper and deeper water as the boat leaked through the day. A true OMG and eye-opening moment, as we travel in the comfort of the sun and fresh air as hundreds are packed in below like some movie about the 16 or 17 hundreds…
We wander for a few hours, have a bit to eat, the “first-class” cabins including dinner and breakfast in the price. We head to the front of the boat, relax, talk, and wait. It’s a bright sunny day out. Hot. Sahara hot if it weren’t for the wind and the water of the lake. Relax a little before we reach Sudan.
The rest of the ride goes on like this until we hit the docks at Wadi Halfa. The unloading ensues, the passengers all try to make a quick exit, a thousand bodies through a two body wide space. We had all of our paperwork, passports, and visas checked by the Sudanese officials who got on the boat in the night. Being American, the only American on-board, I was interviewed in the ferry restaurant turned interrogation/customs room. All is well though, and it seems I don’t pose a threat to national security or the continuing war in Darfur or the south. We wait out the crowds, head off the ferry and onto the docks, or dock, or concrete block slowly turning into sand bank under the falling Sahara sun. A short walk to the customs village, with a quick sighting of Oscar on the way, and we’re back into the land of stickers that don’t stick followed by marker men and a lot of sitting and form filling out land, followed by another two hours of sitting. Another hour or so later and we’re told that we can’t be processed tonight, so we’re not allowed into Sudan yet, so we all head over to Oscar, load up our bags and head into Wadi Halfa and Sudan, only to have to come back tomorrow morning from Sudan to get the official “OK” that we’re allowed into Sudan. We head to Wadi Halfa, which is actually a few miles from the port of Wadi Halfa, which is actually just a big entry, exit, customs village. We’re in, but not really, but actually we are, but not officially. It’s Africa, it’s all relative. Time to do a bit of shopping for food and supplies for the night and for the nine days of desert driving to Khartoum. Bedouin Kermie is right where we left him.
Wadi Halfa, well, doesn’t disappoint so say the least. It’s the rundown, wild west, edge of the desert type of town we were told to expect. It’s hot, dry, dusty, the color of the desert. It looks bad to the bone dangerous, poor, and ultimately somewhere you don’t wanna stay for long, let alone live in, but only before you start talking to the people who live there. I instantly like, no love, the people here, including the guy on the left which I just like to call “Cool Cat”. There is no hassle, no tourist touting hagglers, no trinket sellers. This isn’t Egypt, and feels a world apart, yet only a ferry ride away. This town is all about business. The business of getting into Sudan and across the desert out of the town. It’s truly the middle of nowhere, with a wild frontier type feel to it. No reason to be here, unless you’re coming or going, or part of the Nubian culture that has called the area home for thousands of years. We do a bit of shopping, wide-eyed and admittedly, a bit scared, and head to the desert to camp and wait out the night until we can go back into customs…
…to be continued.
Next Edition: Sudan V – Into the Desert