Boat trips are great times to catch up on writing. The crossing from South America to South Africa yielded about ten blogs. This trip up the Norwegian coast is about a third as long, but hopefully almost as productive. The scenery is a hell of a lot more inspiring.
Here is a brief recap of the ten days that I spent in Sudan. In July. Just to be clear, for anyone out there that wants to go to this part of the world in the future, July and August might not be the best months to visit.
At the time, I was on the Oasis Overland truck for three weeks, from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Aswan, Egypt. I’d been in Ethiopia for about ten days before getting on the truck, in my first prolonged stop somewhere to secure visas. Between that time and the five or six more days in Ethiopia spent on the overland truck, I was completely fed up with that country and decided to evacuate to Sudan a few days before the truck was going to go. One of the other guys in the truck, Sean, agreed to hop on a couple buses with me from Gondor to the border and then on to Khartoum, Sudan.
I think I’ve written about this before, but the image is still one of my favorites on the entire trip. The bus we took to the border was incredibly crowded almost the entire way. It would stop and pick up and drop off passengers all along the route. At one point, a sixty-year-old guy waved the bus down and got on.
In one hand, a live chicken. In the other, an AK-47.
Just thinking about that right now as I travel through very ‘civilized’ Europe brings a huge smile to my face.
After we crossed the border, we got the best bus that I had been on in months. It was more like the buses I rode in South America. Nice seats. One person per seat, which I now realized was quite and important criterion in a bus line. And air-conditioning. The summer heat had not been a problem for the most part on Ethiopia, because I had mostly been in the central and western part of the country, which is at elevation and quite temperate. As we got closer to the Sudan border, and then in Sudan proper, we got back down to sea level.
It was hot. “It’s Africa hot!” But that was just a taste of what hot was soon to mean.
Khartoum was a welcome relief from Ethiopia. For one thing, things worked. There was electricity every day. The internet was fast. The drinks were cold. There weren’t any kids begging on the streets. People would give you directions without asking for payment. It wasn’t the prettiest city in the world, but coming from where we’d just been, we were pretty happy.
A few days later, the overland truck could up with us and a couple days after that, we got back in the truck for the four-day drive to the Egyptian border. We were going to be camping in the desert every night. There weren’t any towns of any appreciable size on the way. We were going to be eating whatever food we bought in Khartoum. We filled up the twenty, twenty litre jerry cans full of water and set off on the way.
On the first day, we stopped at Meroe. Unknown to me, Sudan actually has more pyramids than Egypt, though the ones in Egypt dwarf them. These were quite well preserved and you could actually walk right into a few of them. There were no other tourists at the entire site, save for the twenty of us on the truck.
We walked around for an hour and half. A few of us took rides on camels from the guys selling rides there. Did I mention that it was hot??
The four days in the desert averaged over 50°C every day. Although you would rarely be in the sun for long – you actually felt that the sun was pulling the life directly from your soul if you stood in the sun for any period of time – it was still hot enough that you were drinking water all day long. Everyone on the truck was averaging drinking between three and five litres of water a day. Between using our water for drinking, we also were using it each night to cook and clean with. Needless to say, the two hundred litres we had weren’t going to last the entire trip through the desert.
Our truck was basically following the route of the train tracks between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa. On the third day, we stopped at one of the small way stations by the side of the train tracks and filled up our empty jerry cans. Directly from an open well.
Two of the guys climbed down the ladder to the bottom of the well, which was about a hundred feet down. We then tied together about all the rope and cord we had on the truck, so we could get our jerry cans down to the water, for the guys to fill them up. We then formed a line of four or five guys to haul the full jerry can back up. Repeat this about seventeen times in the mid-day heat for the full effect.
But the bonus from all the effort (and I think this is where I screwed up my knee on this trip), we got fresh, well water.
It combined a cloying chalky taste with a hint of metallic overtones. It was a little young on the palate, but with a bit of age, I’m sure some of its overbearing nature would fall out and it would bloom into a fine vintage. I personally think the ‘07s were slightly better than these ‘09s, but Robert Parker would disagree.
This is an unaltered picture of the water of life:
The worst water I have ever tasted in my life. A horrible, painful illness (I wasn’t dying, we would be in Wadi Halfi in a couple days) due to dehydration on one hand and this water on the other. . . It was a tougher call than you might think.
I seem to have the bad pattern in writing these blogs of emphasizing the negative. EDITOR!!
The desert was actually great. One of the highlights of the trip, especially at night and in the early morning. The long drives each day were fairly boring, true, but at the end of the day, the truck would pull off away from the tracks, we would whip up dinner, the ever-present wind would die down considerably, a few people would set up their tents, more people would just sleep directly under the stars – it was incredibly peaceful.
O yea, I forgot to mention that at one point, we were driving on the railway tracks and the right side of the embankment gave way. The truck slid to the right violently and almost tipped over. If it would have, we would have tumbled down the embankment and into a shallow pond. Twenty frantic people trying to get out of an upside down truck.
Yea, it would have been bad. But here is the video of the other overland truck pulling us out of the mess that we got ourselves in.
I haven't been to Sudan but my daughter cycled through it as part of the Tour d'Afrique a few years ago. She loved her Sudan experience – desert camps and lovely people despite all the bad press.Your comment about things working compared to Ethiopia is what I heard too. Sounds like quite the adventure on your part.
Thanks for painting a beautiful picture of Sudan. I'd love to visit one day!
This is amazing! Im planning on heading to africa this year and this is def a trip I would love to take
Sudan was great — I hope the recent elections don’t throw everything up in the air again there.