Worst Water I’ve Ever Drank (Sudan Desert)

I really enjoyed my time traveling overland through Sudan. After some up and down times in Ethiopia, Sudan was a welcome relief (which surprised all of us that were traveling together). Because of Sudan’s oil reserves and corresponding Chinese investment, things actually worked there.

pulling up well water sudan desert
me, third in line

Our overland truck took four days to drive through the desert from Khartoum to Wadi Halfi, where we were to catch the ferry to Egypt.

I was drinking a nice, cold glass of water last night with Lawrence of Arabia on the TV and thought back to these days in the Sudanese desert.  It was incredibly beautiful.  I cannot wait to go back and do some more desert travel (in fact, I have a trip in my head planned where I am going to cross the Sahara on camel back, perhaps in 2012).

The quiet.  The stars and night.  The vastness of the landscape. It is different from any other sort of terrain.

While I had a great time, I won’t be going back at the same time of year that I did it.  We were there in July.  Middle of the summer.  It was hot.  It was Africa hot (movie line reference, if anyone cares to guess).  It was over 50 degrees Celsius every day, which was the highest our gauges went to.

orange sudan well water unaltered
unaltered photo - straight from the well

As an American, I had to look that up.  That’s 122 degrees for most of you reading out there.  Yea.  Hot.

So the absurd heat is one thing, but being in the shade almost the whole time helped that particular situation.   What was unbearable was the water.

First, have you ever drunk water that is warmer than your body temperature?  Not just a little water, but about a gallon and a half a day, which is about what you needed to drink in this heat, even in the shade…. and that is your only choice of liquid.

Second, the water we had on the first half of the trip was water we got out of the tap in Khatroum.  Regular  water, that we treated.  We ran out of water in the desert and had to fill up our jerry cans on day three from a local well.  That picture is the water we got out of the well.

The color was one thing, but the taste…. o’ my.  It tasted like chalk.  And also had a metallic edge to it.  You know how you hear people say this or that was “the worst” or “the best” whatever in their life.  Personally, I think most of those comments are pure hyperbole.

On the other hand, I can state conclusively this was the worst water I have ever drank in my life.  Not sure I’ll ever be able to beat that dubious distinction.

But none of that was even the point of this post.  I tore the meniscus in my left knee that day hauling the water out of the well.  Later that night, my knee swelled up to about twice its normal size.  Obviously, we didn’t have any ice to ice it down, so we just wrapped it up and I dealt with it.

When I get back to home about a year later, I finally went to the doctor.  MRI.  Yes, torn meniscus.  Little surgery to clean it up (though I still get some pain in that knee still) and I’m good to go again.

Man, I paid dearly for that crappy water.

61 thoughts on “Worst Water I’ve Ever Drank (Sudan Desert)

    1. I should have taken better tasting notes. Like when I go to a good winery. 😉

    1. funny thing was that we did find some powered stuff to put in the water the next day… don’t think it was Fanta (don’t remember), but it only helped very marginally.

  1. Pretty accurate description of well water. It is indeed terrible. But wow, I’ve never had to drink it in 122 degree heat.

    1. I love hearing people talk about “living real” or “the good old days” when I then tell them… this, plus no indoor plumbing, was that life. 😉

    1. you would have been thirsty. Even in the shade, you had to drink at least 4 liters of water a day, or you would have been in real, real trouble.

  2. Great read about riding a camel – Sand Dance: By Camel Across Arabia’s Great Southern Desert by Bruce Kirkby. Just in case you get serious about a 2012 trip.
    That water looks disgusting – not exactly like you can pass on drinking it either.

  3. Great story! I laughed all the way to the faucet. Beth considers herself a water connoisseur, so I’d love to get her out to one of those wells. I’m curious, what were you using to treat the water?

    1. we were using the water purification drops. Worked fine. No one ever got sick from the water at any time on the trip.

      1. Which ones did you use, out of curiosity? I am a bit overwhelmed at my options for this and it’s going to be important in Mongolia.

        1. don’t know. They had some bottle with purification liquid in it. Was efficient — just a drop or two for 40 or so gallons of water.

        2. You’ll be alright in Mongolia. Just turn up at any ger and ask to fill up with milk.
          Lots of mare’s milk to drink there….

        3. The issue in Mongolia is that there will potentially be points at which I will not be seeing other people, herders included, for days at a time, and though I will be following various rivers and streams due to the needs of my horses, I will need a way to purify the water for myself, as carrying enough to last several days would add significant poundage to my pack horse’s load.

        4. can’t reply down under your latest post. The liquid we took was literally the size of a bottle of eye drops and was good for thousands upon thousands of gallons of water, so weight shouldn’t be an issue at all. I also carried some sort of water purification wand with me the whole trip (that I never used once), that couldn’t have weighed more than half a pound or so. Or you can carry a few dozen tablets around with you and be good for a couple months that way.

  4. oh god that water does look horrible… but I really feel you on the knee problem! I tore my ACL when I was 18 and didn’t have surgery until I was 21. Still have issues, and it is annoying.

    1. ahhhh, I think the ACL is worse than mine, but know how you feel. Don’t think mine is ever going to be totally right again. Then again, I’m getting old and feel that way about almost all my body. LOL.

  5. Michael,
    I did not know you were in Africa…nice story, but I’m sorry about your knee. Man, you’d need a knife and fork to down that water.
    Jason

  6. Well though such difficulties may make a trip like that difficult I’m sure one really wouldn’t really want a trip without them. I mean it seems to me like an event-less trip through Sudan and Ethopia would be sort of pointless right 🙂

    1. that’s the truth! During the eventfullness, I tend to not appreciate it much. After I make it through… those are the good stories.

  7. I can’t imagine being in 122 degree weather and not having much water to drink… I know not having to think about water is a luxury for us in the U.S. (and maybe most developed countries), but it’s still not a luxury I’d want to give up any time soon!

    1. we had volume…. no worries there. It was not the amount, it was the heat and the taste. O’ well.

  8. I honestly cannot compete with a bad drinking water story that would come close to rivaling yours. That’s just fine by me!

    In fact I have great memories of of drinking water from a few places, like Fraser Island in Australia. It’s the world’s largest island made completely of sand, and fresh water flows everywhere, it streams right out of the sand and you can drink it without hesitation. I’m told that it takes over a thousand years for the water to get filtered through all that sand, thus making some of the purest fresh water in the world. That’s a trip you should book, it was one of my favourite places in Oz.

    1. Second Ken’s comment on Fraser Island – spent three days there and they were a highlight of my year round Oz.

      1. Yep. Been there, done that. And wish I’d have stayed longer. Only did a day trip and need to go back and camp for days and days.

  9. That both looks and sounds absolutely foul. I’ve been trying to think, and I honestly can’t remember any truly awful water in my past. I’ve definitely showered in water that color, but I tried to avoid drinking any of it. I’m sure it’ll come eventually though!

    1. I think showering in it would be pretty damn bad also. Doubt you ended up smelling much better after that than before. 😉

  10. Okay so the water was horrible, but damn tell us more about your knee injury…

    So it swelled up to twice the size, you had no ice & you just dealt with it? How the hell do you deal with that??? How long did it stay swollen… did it hurt? Are you okay now… okay that was a dumb question I would assume yes you are.

    1. Ahhh, lucky is was only a slight tear and not an ACL or anything. Was a bit of a nagging injury for the next 7-8 months before I got home, but not too bad. Would lock up on me every once in a while and prohibited me from taking any big hikes or going up any mountains, but wasn’t that big of a deal.

  11. The hottest experience I had in Africa was in the Namibian desert, where the temperature was above fifty C for most of the day. As I recall, I sat around most of the time with a wet towel on my head, while the wind blew in hot from the desert, raising the perceived temperature even more. Then our guide took us for ice cream, at which point everything seemed good again.

  12. Good thing that you’ve put the orange water in a Fanta bottle, maybe you can trick your body into believing it is actually Fanta

  13. The water you were drinking may be the worst you have ever had but from charity fund raising for WaterAid, I know that your water was a lot safer than hundreds of millions drink each day.
    As for your knee, I sympathise, the damage never really goes away, the pain comes back when we are older to remind us of the accidents of our youth. I hope the pain you still experience, doesn’t prevent you doing all the things you have planned.

    1. Ain’t it the truth, John. Ain’t it the truth. Amazing that so many people in the world have to drink water that is truly dangerous. Since we added a few drops of chemicals, we were totally safe, but that can’t be said for the millions that have to drink unsafe water.

  14. Reading your post I can’t help but imagine the people that have to drink this quality of water on a daily basis. Matt Damon’s charity at water.org is a really great example of the effort behind making clean water accessible to everyone. Isn’t it incredible how we can take such a basic necessity for granted? I bet drinking that liquid chalk put things into perspective for you.

    1. Agree with you and John 100%. I am trying to pick a charity (or two) for the Ultimate Train Challenge and one of the water organizations is right up at the top of my list of possibilties.

  15. Hmmm… In Mauritania, in the deep Sahara, I drank a welcome fermented camel milk drink which clearly contained well water and had to be flown out of a third world hospital in Mali… I guess I’m saying count your blessings.

    Still love the Sahara, all the same. But maybe not as enthusiastic about camels as you are, having ridden a couple of the suckers while not very well…

    1. ahhhhh, that is a horror story. I was so damn lucky on my trip to not get into any sort of health problems at all. Knock on wood. Did you write that story up?

    1. Oddly, the only thing I brought on my trip that I never used. Not once.

  16. Bummer about your knee, that must have been one painful journey. I remember dreaming of ice water in the Sudan. We were cycling 80-100 km a day and all I wanted was something cold to quench my thirst. Those warm coke stops helped a lot to say the least. When we returned from Africa, my doctor found 3 different parasites living inside of me. Ah, good times, good times.

    1. again, thank God I never had any real health problems. The part of the story I didn’t tell was that we did make it to some tiny town about three days after only having hot water to drink. They had Cokes and Sprites that were refrigerated. Might have been the best drinks I have ever had in my life.

  17. Glad to hear your knee is ok now 🙂
    The water looks awful, indeed. I’m sure those water purification drops were a blessing! I guess tap water is not so bad after all.. :))

  18. Warm water is vile to drink but make it lovely and chalky and no problem. LOL. Give you ten out of ten. my dummy would of been out of the pram.

  19. A packet of water sterilizing tablets are a must for that sort of travel. They may not make it look any more appetising, but at least they’ll kill the bugs.
    Spent two weeks in Namibia, drinking water we pumped out of the ground there. No tummy upsets, and the water was crystal clear. Even had to kick the donkeys away from the trough for a wash.
    Can’t wait to get back there in May.

  20. Brilliant story, the Shara are officially on my wish list – strange how it took a story about chalky water to inspire me.

  21. Mmmm, sounds tasty! I can’t imagine that heat… the hottest I’ve experienced was 47 degrees in Australia once… not pleasant.

  22. Wow, that water is very murky indeed. Could you strain it through cloth for at least remove the murkiness? The worst water I consumed was nothing murky and yellow like yours. It was river water that looked clear. But nobody realized that there were several worms swimming in it until we almost finished it. Not sure how many got “consumed”. Also turned out that up stream was where villagers wash their cows.

  23. “about a year later” with a torn meniscus?! That is hard core! That water looks hard core, too. Can’t say I’ve ever been in a situation where I was forced to drink nasty water. Just the occasional wormy water here in Costa Rica when the gov’t water gets infected but they fail to let us know until it’s too late. It still tastes good, though. 🙂

  24. Pretty accurate description of well water. Amazing that so many people in the world have to drink water that is truly dangerous. After I make it through… those are the good stories.

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