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Friday, 24 December 2010

Sudan Part 2 - Atbara, Jebel Barkal, Dongola & Wadi Halfa

(Continued from Sudan Part 1.)

From Meroe, we drove for a good few hours before reaching a large town called “Atbara” where all of us were buzzing as we walked its streets: the sights were as Africa should be, the smells were intoxicating – some in good ways, some in bad ways – and the place was a hive of activity. This is why we signed up for the trip! 

As a gang of us (Ronald, Son, the Saffer Bros, Kenji, Rob D and I) meandered our way through its dusty streets, we chatted with locals, gave friendly banter and heard ‘welcome’ and ‘whereyoufrom?’ an infinite number of times. This felt good so we settled in for some spiced tea and coffee right in the thick of it at the busiest looking tea/coffee stall/roofed plaza. As a Brit, I’m naturally predisposed to a fondness for tea, but when a leather-faced Muslim woman with a big toothless smile and even bigger heart offers you coffee with ginger in it (we think that’s what it was) you can’t say no....and DAMMMN it was good! Sweet and black (like her) with a little bit of ginger (like me).

Whether it was the caffeine or the ambiance of the place, the group damn near skipped through the rest of the town on our hunt for a good ‘chawarma/shawarma.’ We didn’t have to look far for food before - lo and behold! – a local guy was helping us find some. We expected some kind of charge or request for a tip, but nothing. I love this place. I’m sure Egypt will be like this, right? RIGHT?

Along the way we took photos of a butcher smiling and posing with one hand on a cleaver and the fingers of the other hand holding up a camel’s head by its eyelids. Once the other butchers and fishmongers in the alley saw our excited reaction to this, they vied for our attention like Miss World contestants around George Best. Back at the truck I got an invite I couldn’t turn down: a sheesha and a coffee with Kimbo Slice, Hendrik and Kay. We wandered the streets with the girls swearing they knew where they were going when finally - after asking numerous shop-owners – we found the ‘ahwa’ (coffee and waterpipe den) where we smoked some of the melon-flavoured good stuff. Afterwards, I went back to the truck again only to be convinced to have one more ginger coffee on the street with Allison, Saffer Rob and Son

This town left a really nice taste in my mouth and it wasn’t just the coffees, chawarmas and sheesha.

Reluctantly, we drove on from this awesome slice of African life and made our way along an almost empty desert highway. There was nobody around so we took the opportunity to take some cool group shots and act like road-kill. Although some didn’t quite get the concept of road-kill being dead and inanimate, we still got a good snap. We weren’t back on the road more than a few hours when we found our bush camp for the evening. This is also the place where a short-lived relationship came to an end: My affair with Doris (read previous Sudan entry) lasted almost 12 hours until the guilt-trip laid on by the girls convinced me and Berbs that she should be released in the desert. (Where they really concerned about animal cruelty? Or where they actually upset at my infidelity so soon after Lara’s departure?)

Playing footy in the road...I think that's Yoich on the left, Hendrik in the foreground, Rob D and then Gab in the distance.

Homeless on the run...quite possibly from the law.

The roadkill shot...featuring Homeless The Flying Ninja.

Roadkill...admittedly it was too hot to lie on the ground for longer than 30 seconds...the guys at the back couldn't take the heat!
One biiiig, white skid mark you got there AK.

The gang's all here. (Geezer's at the very back: Gabs, Yoich, Hendrik & Berbs; main left to right: Kyle, Matt, Ish, AK, Son, Kimbo, Paddy, Kezza, Alli, Spence (hiding behind Alli), Rob D, Ronaldinho, Kenj, Saffer Rob, Jules, Jen...bald-headed Kay is the bouncer keeping reprobates from coming in through Roxy's side-door.)

The bush-camp where we let Doris go was one of my favourites of the whole trip. Whilst the sun was still out, Berbs, Saffer Rob and I went on a "dangerous creature hunt" whilst the others huddled in the shade provided by the truck. Even then, it was still so hot that we were all barely-clothed right up until hitting the sack (where we wore even less). The tents were all put up without their flysheets on so it was merely the poles and a fine mosquito mesh between us and the night sky. There was not another soul around as we all retired to our well spaced-out tents and star-gazed from the comfort of our sleeping bags (of course, the unrelenting heat meant that we were on top of them, not inside). Thankfully, it wasn’t quite as hot as it had been when we were in Mali on the west coast leg of this trip; the night-time here in Sudan provided a relieving drop in temperature that we never got in Mali.

My tent...out on its own to watch the sunset at on one of my favourite all-time bush camps.

Breakfast is served.

The next day saw us at another pyramid spot – this one had a massive freestanding rock/mountain (Jebel Bakal) in the middle of the site. A few of us took it upon ourselves to climb the rock and take in the impressive scenery. Roxy looked tiny from the top. There was a ‘library’ and other sights there but we contented ourselves with the climb up and the subsequent rapid descent down one of the sand-covered sides.

Jebel/Gebel Barkal.

For some unknown reason, the surrounding area at Napata had fetid cattle carcasses strewn all over it.

Not sure which of the boys this is at the top of Jebel Barkal, but my guess is Berbs, the Skommel Bros and Kenj.

View from the top of Jebel Barkal of what looks like a stunning private residential oasis...possibly belonging to Sheikh Falafel.

That's wee Roxy right down there...if you look closely you can see Marjane working on her with a cigarette in his mouth.

The view of the pyramids from the top of Jebel Barkal.

Everybody keeps telling me that I look like that guy out of The Hangover. I don't see the resemblance.

Hendrik & Berbs...contemplating The End as Roxy looks on in horror.

The Saffer/Skommel Bros and me...such gangsters.

Skommel Bros Hendrik and Rob causing trouble as usual...this time joined by Yoich.

Berbs climbs stuff.

From a Berb's-Eye View to a Bird's-Eye-View of the ruins at the foot of Jebel Barkal.

Rob D takes the short-cut back down.

After this, we made our way to “Wadi Halfa” over the next few days with a couple of impressive bush camps thrown in for good measure. One of which was just outside Dongola on the banks of the Nile where Kenji and I cooked up a beef and veggie stir-fry. After most of us had eaten our fill, we all stepped back and watched in amazement as two Crocs came in stealthily and cautiously and the leftovers and scraps of food were devoured from the very table we’d prepared the meal on. Luckily for us, the Crocs were not the ones that lived mere metres away beyond the Nile’s riverbanks...they were the ones on Yoichi “The Seven Bellied Samurai” Oguchi’s feet.

Roxy and the gang...jus' chillin' on the banks of the Nile somewhere between Dongola and Wadi Halfa. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Mijlof aka Homeless)

Wadi Halfa was a strange wee backwash kind of town. We got there a couple of days before our ferry across Lake Nasser to Aswan, Egypt was due to leave. This small port is one of the only realistic ways of crossing the border between Sudan and Egypt and we expected it to be teeming with independent travellers, local nomadic people and their livestock but it was more like a deserted town in some western from the 60’s or 70's (am I thinking of “Westworld” perhaps? With Yul Brynner?”). I hate to admit it, but the much ridiculed (by us snobbish, so-called “hardened” overlanders at least) Lonely Planet summed this town up nicely:

“A non-descript transit point where the Lake Nasser steamer meets the train, plane and automobiles arriving from Khartoum.”

I had the look to match a hostage video.
We were lucky enough to have everything taken care of for us by Marjane and his local ‘fixer’ so we didn’t need to queue for the boat tickets or roam the streets in search of accommodation. The place we stayed at (“Defintood”) was, in fairness, a bit of a dive...but it wasn’t without its character – it looked like something that belonged in some kind of sweaty, Levi’s advert from the late 80’s (or failing that, the Al Qaeda’s latest hostage home video blockbuster!). At the very least, the beds were comfortable. Not long after we arrived there, Roxy was placed on a barge for vehicles and we waved her goodbye for the next couple of days until we caught her up in Aswan.

The "corridor" at Defintood. (People slept here on the sand the night before the ferry left.)

The shower at Defintood.

...and the toilet at Defintood (looks a lot like the shower doesn't it?)
Gabaraone making use of the toilet...or is that the shower.

The room I stayed in...which, I believe, was named after that Desmond guy from South Africa (You know? The religious guy and human rights campaigner.)

Inside Room 22. I don't think that's blood smeared on the wall but I can't guarantee it.

Locals gathered around here in their jalabas to talk about last night's X-Factor and episodes of Seinfeld and about just how much they hate Siobhan in the Accounts Dept.

The guy at reception...rushed off his feet.

The ferry-crossing is, I believe, the same one that Charlie and Ewan did on their “Long Way Down” (except in reverse obviously) but unlike those silverspoon pussies, we didn’t have a cabin...we roughed it with the locals, sprawled out on the top deck in our sleeping bags. Marjane had prepared us for this a long time ago...we’d be lucky if there was sitting room and if we found some, we shouldn’t leave it unguarded. By some stroke of luck (possibly due to the upcoming Muslim festival - "Eid al-Adha" - which fell on Nov 16th this year) the boat was surprisingly empty; the lack of crowds meant we got a good view of the light show at Abu Simbel as we passed by and other than the leaking air-con vent that chose to spout (hopefully clean?) water all over me in the middle of the night, the crossing was a sound one.

The morning came with Aswan looming ahead of us and me commenting on how the sea air always seemed so clammy...that is of course, until somebody pointed out that we were on a man-made, fresh-water lake and not the sea. Idiot.

The gang settling in for bed on the top-deck.

Me, Berbs & Son chilling in the VIP suite in the corner underneath the air-con unit.

Sunset over the nile from the top-deck of the Wadi Halfa-Aswan ferry.

Berbs (cocooned), Son, Rob D and Ronaldo.

Asleep on deck.


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