…continued from: Travels through Sudan IV – To Wadi Halfa
…and so we went. Out of Wadi Halfa into the Sahara. Illegally actually, but not really, but kind of, seeing as we were given permission to enter the country by the customs officials, but with one stipulation – that we weren’t allowed to enter the country until we came back to Wadi Halfa the next morning to get “officially” processed, at which point it would be official, but no more real, but I guess less illegal, all the while knowing that these guys just wanted to finish their day, go home, and smoke a hookah. Understandable. That’s what I would do.
We drive a half hour, maybe forty-five minutes out of Wadi Halfa. The tarmac ends before it starts, although we did hit at least twenty feet worth at some point. We stare wide-eyed at the town, the outskirts made entirely of mud and sand blending perfectly with the desert, never really ending at any point, but more just slowly blending into and becoming desert. Fading into the sand until it is no more. We get a taste of the desert. It’s late, the air turning cool. We find a good spot that, we think, is well protected from any eyes and set up camp for the night. We’ll have nine days of this coming, so no one is in too much of a hurry to leave Halfa. The morning consists of, well, just the opposite. Break camp and head back the way we came. …we hit the twenty feet of tarmac again also. Bonus.
Getting all of our paperwork and entry requirements is all formality at this point. We wait in town and do a little more shopping, but mostly just looking around. Two hours and we are officially legally allowed to be where we have already been, but illegally, but not really. As for shopping in Wadi Halfa, don’t expect too much. Remember where you are and be thankful for what you can find. The bread is amazing. Nothing is like “Sahara bread”. Often times baked right in the sand, and full of it, it’s crispy yet gooey. Soft yet firm. Sweet and flavorful. Other than that, the fruits and vegetables don’t last long in the heat, any type of meat is canned, and anything that can melt already has. Ice …pfffffff, forget it. Feul, the Sudanese version of fava beans, are a staple and plentiful. Other than that, good luck. …Wadi Halfa Wal-Mart below ↓
At this point, remember, you’re in Sharia Law at this point. A hand for a hand, a foot for a foot kind of law. You steal, you get your hand cut off …you don’t steal. No alcohol, ooouchhh. That hurts, but good after two months on the road, where one tends to drink “regularly”. The women here, …you could tell the men had it better. That said, there is no crime, and honestly, even without Sharia, I don’t think there would be much. Some of the nicest people in the world. My thinking on the subject is, that it is such a harsh environment, in country with so little, amid a people who have been pushed and pushed for decades, that people just want to live and be happy, and see their neighbors happy. Everyone shares, helps each other, and does the best they can, no matter how high on the “worst enemy list” the USA has them. Main Street, Wadi Halfa pictured below ↓, and I mean Main St, Center City, the most happening place in town main street…
We finish our shopping, we head back out into the desert. It’s about eight or nine days down to Khartoum. You follow the Nile, cutting corners when you can. There are no “roads” per say, you just follow the tracks in he sand most of the time, with other times well, just keep the Nile in your site to the right. I’m not quite sure I have ever been in a harsher natural environment, getting up to 120° F in the daytime, falling into the 50’s at night. The sun, its warming in the early morning, but by around 9:00 AM it’s blistering, cooking everything and everyone in its sights. You see those movies where the people crash in the Sahara, walking around, soaking with sweat, no suntan lotion and no water …that’s all Hollywood (or Bollywood or Nollywood), you wouldn’t last all but a few hours under this sun. Sweating to the point you can see droplets on your skin …your expelling water at an extraordinary rate and just about dead. You can take a pair of jeans out of a bucket of water and they will be bone dry in fifteen minutes, literally watching the water line move up the legs at about minute five. We talk to people who say the last drop of water from the sky they saw was over eighteen months ago. At points we jump out of the truck to sink two feet in bull dust.
We keep the Nile on our right, we go south. Eight days through the desert, no paved roads, no tarmac, no electricity, no showers, no hotels. We loaded up on vegetables in Wadi Halfa, which will be rotting by tomorrow. We know where there are a few wells on the way. I have my sunglasses, my suntan lotion, and long “sharia law” pants, damn. I could go for a beer, illegal, damn. The sun rises, the sand bakes, I bake, the truck bakes. We play tic-tac-toe on the truck dashboard …covered with dust, and by the time we wipe the game clean, another layer of dust is ready to start. It’s not an easy trip and it’s not a safe trip either, but as we go, I think we all find that it is well worth the hardships – and as you’ll see, I think a few get a little “loopy” along the way.
The first day is almost scoured from my memory now. The heat, the dust. A mud and sand shack along the Nile every once in a while. A black mountain of rock here, a tire track here. We stop for a lunch of half rotten tomatoes and laughing cow cheese sandwiches. …careful with the water. The Nile constantly at our side, the desert smirking on the other. The sun, oohhh, the sun, just waiting and watching for a chance to deal the last blow. Luckily, it doesn’t come. Oscar is strong and the sun finally starts to get sleepy. We made it one day, seven to go, a fight till the end and a testament to the strength of the people who live here, everyday. The Nile becomes a lifeline, as it has been for thousands of people for thousands of years. You don’t know the significance until you have experienced it, but the Nile is truly life, and without it there would truly be nothing. The people we meet long the way, god bless em’, they live. I’ve never met a tougher people. We made it one day, they’ve made it a lifetime, we have seven to go…
…to be continued.
Next Edition: Sudan VI – Dune