Category Archives: Sudan

Aswan, Egypt (EG)

The ferry time had changed again to 5 pm with 2 pm boarding for some reason, but at least it actually left on time. We were picked up by one of those open minivans that are clearly too small for 9 people and their luggage. At the terminal it was very chaotic. Our passports held three different immigration and custom forms, the ticket, the Egyptian visa, the Sudanese exit stamp and some yellow piece of paper and all of these needed to be processed somehow. It was mayhem, tons of people pushing and all of them yelling at the same time. We made it onto the ferry without any problems though but found out that there were no allocated seats, only benches, and that women had to sit separately from the men. When we walked in all seats had already been reserved by veiled ladies and their kids but they made room for us and started to intigrate us to their families by sharing food and drinks.

We tried to pass our guys for our husbands and one dad to have them sit with us as there were few men in the compartment but these men were fathers to very young kids. As the men’s compartment was loud and busy the guys then buggered off to the top deck and hid in the shade. I stayed in the air conditioned compartment until I could no longer take the buzz – everyone was talking all the time and tons of kids were running around. I traded my food coupon for dinner (which I believe they made specifically for me, dinner time had passed, supposedly they had run out of food, I was sent to first class despite my second class ticket, and somehow I ended up with half a roasted chicken, okra, rice and salad) and then took my belongings and joined the guys to watch the sunset up top.

I was the only woman along with another white foreigner up there and got plenty of looks. Also immediately obvious was the difference between Sudanese and Egyptian men: the Sudanese polite, the Egyptians more on the ‘hey baby’ side of the scale. Some of them obviously came over to plainly stare at me.

The call for prayer came around 7 pm, all men prayed next to us, pretty soon after that the sun went down.

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We passed Abu Simbel and its beautiful temples around 9 pm. Pretty impressive, we may actually travel back to check it out soon (although from here it’s 280km away). I rolled out my mat on deck among tons of other people (all men) and fell asleep. I woke up every hour or so, usually from being uncomfortable on the floor, someone talking, or because someone next to me involuntarily kicked me or vice versa. In the middle of the night I saw a lunar eclipse I didn’t know was going to happen, that was pretty cool. At 4.30 am I heard the call for prayer again and saw all the men praying next to me. Around that time it even got pretty chilly on deck so I disappeared inside my silk liner (also a handy tool against unwanted stares in the morning). Overall it was a good night that passed fast and in hindsight I was happy that I had not stayed in the women’s compartment where people slept on wooden benches, kids cried all night and you could smell the toilet.

I was also glad that we didn’t have cabins as they looked filthy and claustrophobic. There really wasn’t much of a difference between first and second class, other than it was assumed that white people traveled first class.

Before we had boarded the ferry we saw the barge with our truck nearby. This was a letdown as we had expected it to be already half way there. Turns out that someone had parked their car behind the truck a little off to the side and the barge was now lopsided. They couldn’t reach the car owner last night to repark it. We don’t know if we can get to the truck before Monday now.

The paperwork had not ended at the ferry terminal. Upon boarding we had to hand our passports to the men at the entrance. Hours later they came to the women’s compartment and yelled out our names to collect the passports again. Total chaos. Again hours from then we had to go to the dining department to get an entry stamp for the Egyptian visa.

The ferry needed 18 hours on calm water and we gained an hour with the time difference in Aswan but then lost it again by sitting in the compartment waiting for the porters to unload the ferry after we arrived. I had to put my ear plugs in as I couldn’t deal with this chaos. Instead of letting people off first many men came onto the ferry and started yelling. Porters were negotiating their price with the women. Babies screamed. Huge boxes and luggage pieces were hauled around regardless of other passengers standing in the way.

When we finally did get out it was only because people pushed us from the back. You would have thought there were thousands of people but it was probably only a few hundred.

At the aptly named ‘arrival hole’ it was even worse. Three guards and one tiny doorframe against hundreds of pushy folks with big boxes, everyone yelling. Someone pulled the tourist card and us whiteys got to get through unchecked eventually. At this point it had been two hours since arrival and we were all craving the first beer since Ethiopia.
We somehow dodged the annoying vendors, porters and cabbies at the terminal and took a minivan to the hotel.

The hotel is right by the Nile and in the middle of the action and it is run by a lady who is married to a German. She probably learned English and German from him as she sounds like a typical resolute German matron although she looks Arabic. She has lived near Heidelberg, not too far from my parents, so I instantly had a good and useful connection with her.
The hotel has recently been renovated and we have all scored individual executive rooms which is a treat after the Sudan. Full ac, a proper bathroom, cable tv with awful Western channels, minibar, it’s all good and we’re here for three nights!

Aswan from what I’ve seen so far is cool too, very laid back vibe, beautiful views on the Nile, a huge tourist market and fair prices.
David and I left the others at KFC (really? KFC!) and ate for less than $8 at a local place. All I wanted was a chicken kebab but the owner made us try all of the different dishes he offered so eventually we asked for a sample platter of everything and we stuffed our faces for an hour. Delicious.

Then we went for a stroll through the souq where the vendors are as expected guessing our nationalities correctly and then follow up with cheesy lines known for the respective countries. We had lots of invitations to the stores but luckily nobody was overly pushy or annoying which is a relief – I’m sure this will change soon.


You can tell that due to the political problems in Egypt the tourism has gone back and the vendors and cab drivers, buggy drivers and boat owners (felucas) are suffering, as their prices are extremely low and very flexile before you even ask for a discount. We’ll se what the various sights will cost tomorrow when I have the energy to organize something.
On the way back to the hotel we were cornered by a shop owner who turned out to be a doctor of alternative medicine. He asked me to come into his shop and he would treat me for sun exposure as a gift. 20 minutes later I had a number of potions on me, I had been massaged and I was sipping hibiscus tea…all of it for free. Mahmoud is a Nubian doctor from the Sudan where he lives 4 months in the year with the rest practising in this store in Aswan. I asked for a mosquito bite treatment which he obviously also administered on me. Since the treatment was rather sensual (but never creepy, although Dave felt out of place I never had the feeling that the guy was coming on to me) I didn’t mention that the worst bites are on my thighs and instead I bought some of the sweet smelling stuff along with a Sudanese grain called ‘Helba’ which, if drunk for 25 days as a tea (and the grains eaten) after meals works as a cleanse.We both agreed (!) that the Sudanese baklava had given me a jiggly midriff. Thanks Mahmoud! (If this works I will set up a new business). He also gave me an orange sized fruit of some kind that will supposedly treat rheuma – present for my mother (or her knee). He would have kept on going as he also detected the precise location of my constant back pain which I hadn’t even mentioned to him. But I was afraid that I would buy the entire shop so after an hour or so we moved on. First though we met his shop neighbor and talked for a while and if we hadn’t pulled away and ignored a bunch of friendly people on the way we would probably still be there. The souq is open until 9pm…

It is 7pm now and I still haven’t had my beer. We were told that we can go to the duty free shop nearby today and stock up cheaply. I may just do that and chill out in my room.

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Wadi Halfa (SD)

Turns out I was wrong, I do indeed have bites and plenty of them. They gradually became visible and they are red and very itchy now. I estimate that there are about 600 of them, it’s pretty bad, definitely worse than that time in Peru where I sat on a bamboo bench and the back of my thighs got attacked viciously. Unfortunately the one time I would atually use medication for it I left it in my big bag which is now on a barge en route to Aswan.

 

We are in Wadi Halfa, the ‘border town’ to Egypt, as you can get a weekly ferry to Aswan on Lake Nasser. The guide book said this is a place to spend the night only because of the ferry as there is virtually nothing to do here. And it’s true. The place is tiny, one road of small shops, few restaurants, four ‘hotels’ and a lot of dust. We booked one room in a hotel, the only room with air conditioning and a fan, and hung out here for the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday morning before we left for the ferry. Outside of the room are beds that people pulled from rooms and lots of men in their white dresses sleep on them or watch tv. Having beds in the middle of the room is totally common here as it’s just too hot to do anything.
There is one tiny internet cafe here with antiquated computers that are sticky and dirty, nonworking printers but at least a fast connection. The market consists of five stalls and for once not too many mangoes. Everything is slightly more expensive here.

Busy Wadi Halfa intersection

Our hotel is called ‘Kilopatra’ and has a banner outside that shows a ginormous modern skyscraper, a luxury residence somewhere else surely. Talk about false advertising.

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The truck needed to go on the barge a day early. From what our leaders said this was quite the experience. Evidently the barge will be pulled by another barge but when is ‘inshallah’, aka ‘God’s will’ aka ‘who knows’. Before the truck could go on it the barge had to be pulled out of the water first though. Our leaders did that while all the men in charge where sitting in the shade watching. It’s the African way, why do things now when you can do them later or even better, someone else does them for you?! Our translator had brought us to the hotel earlier and then disappeared as well. All the crazy paperwork to check out of the Sudan, check us onto the ferry, customs for the truck etc. were left to the leaders to deal with by themselves.
Luckily we did get tickets though. This isn’t always guaranteed, neither is the ferry leaving time (first it was 9pm, then 2pm, now we’re going by 12pm) or the fact that it may actually leave. We should arrive after either 15, 18 or 24 hours in Aswan and the truck should hopefully arrive before Friday. If it’s any later we won’t get it out of customs until Monday and that also means we will continue the trip on alternative transport.
The ferry is booked out as there are tons of Libyan refugees coming along, 5000 cows as payment to the Egyptian government for something we didn’t find out what, and a Chinese travel group that did the Cape Town to Cairo tour overland in under 2 months and they booked up all the cabins. This means we’ll have to sit in the boiling heat instead and potentially sleep on deck if we can. There is one meal included in the ticket, probably ‘ful’, so I just bought some fruit and baklava to round out my sugar diet.

Wawa, Soleb Temple and tiny bugs (SD)

A leisurely morning on Tuesday (making the best of the air conditioning) followed by an hour of shopping and relaxing in the city of Kerma. Once again nothing but friendly, curious and accommodating people. Nobody wants to make a quick buck, you get invited for coffee, tea or even food all the time.

We moved on to Wawa, a small community by the Nile. The Temple of Soleb is reached by a foot ferry from there. Swimming in the Nile is not possible here because of crocodiles.

The Temple is probably the best preserved Egyptian temple standing on the Sudanese Nile, it was built by pharaoh Amenhotep III in the 14th century BC and it was huge at 130 meters in length with wall enclosures double that size. It’s very impressive and for once I wished that we had a local guide who could talk a bit more about it. In Ethiopia they beat you over the head with the religious history and meaning of every single coptic cross, but here in Sudan the historic aspect is never explained well or in detail and we only go by the Lonely Planet guidebook which isn’t extensive either.

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Ancient graffiti – we came across ‘Holroyd’ in many places

We stayed at the ‘boatman”s house, i.e. with the family of the guy who took us over the Nile to see the temple. He must be wealthy as the house was huge, it had three courtyards and many rooms spreading out from them. They were all open (big windows, open doors) and contained one to three beds each. There were beds in the courtyards as well and at night each bed was taken. The bathroom and toilet were the cleanest we’ve ever seen – no sign of use ever though at least 25 people must be using them. There was even a washing machine, the first I’ve seen in months.
I was looking forward to another night in a bed but unfortunately the night was hell. For one my face, neck and back constantly broke out in a sweat and it wasn’t even that hot. On top of that I was itchy like a motherf@c&er. I first suspected bedbugs and even examined the bed in the middle of the night with my flashlight but found nothing. I have had a bit of a heat rash recently so I figured maybe that was it but I couldn’t find any more red spots. There were no mosquitoes around either. After three hours of constant scratching I decided I would ignore the itching and focus on breathing so I could finally sleep. It didn’t work, the itching turned into biting and it was aggressive. It was insane. I was blaming extremely dry skin and I was having visions of me googling skin diseases the next time I had internet and I also contemplated moving to the truck and reading my book or sleeping on the ground but I guess after 4am I must have been so exhausted that I finally fell asleep for an hour.
As it turned out everyone had had the same issues and the culprits were tiny tiny flies that looked like dust when they flew in a cloud. Neither of us have any visible bites but nobody slept well and even the couple that slept on top of the truck wasn’t spared.

Kerma (SD)

Last night was spectacular as we had a massive sand storm in the desert where we camped. All night I was holding on to the edges of my tent hoping not to be blown away as I didn’t have much else to weigh it down. I didn’t sleep much and when it got light outside I gave up for good. Rolling up the tent was equally entertaining and now we are trying to find the road in the haze.

Which way is straight on?

The haze hasn’t let up yet and visibility is poor. On top of that it’s extremely hot today, possibly worse than before. We stopped in Dongola for breakfast where we had lamb, falafel and bread and as usual one or two mango juices. We then completed the daily and often impossible task of finding ice to keep our drinks cool. We are drinking brown but treated Nile water which tastes fine but not when it’s hotter than room temperature.

We are now in Kerma where we stopped for a cold drink and to get out of the heat for a bit. Nobody is hungry but still we always manage to polish off a kilo of baklava and despite its sticky ans sweet consistency it picks me up every time. It’s like life is coming back to me after I ate it. The downside is that I have definitely put on a few more pounds and now it’s not only something I know but something that shows as well.

We have had issues with the truck recently in that we sometimes need to push because the ignition won’t work. Once it rolls it starts again and the minute we get out of the truck to push plenty of locals come running to help. The Sudanese are extremely helpful and never want money.

Today was a brutal day for truck pushing, at the hottest hour even the pushing didn’t help anymore as there now was a problem with the handbrake. I used the time to sweat out a gallon of water, talk to 15 girls from one family (one of them filming me the enire time) and using someone’s private bathroom. A man showed me to it but it turned out that he wasn’t even from here, he just asked someone where I could pee. Yes, pee. First time in days.

Kerma’s tourist attraction would be Deffuffa, which means mud brick building and that’s what it is. There is an Eastern and a Western Deffufa, two structures which are three miles apart from each other and are both 3,500 years old. They are the oldest man-made structures in sub-Saharan Africa and they were used as the eastern cemeteries of ancient Kerma with over 30,000 graves. Sacrifices were common, one royal tomb contained over 300 victims accompanying the king to the afterlife.

Eastern Deffuffa

The Eastern building is a letdown as it is located in the middle of nowhere and looks like a dirty rock from afar. You can climb up but you don’t really see anything but mud bricks. Part of our disappointment was that the dusty haze had still not disappeared and it was hard to see anything.

Not impressed by the Eastern Deffuffa

 

However the Western structure is amazing, an actual building can be made out here, there are stairs leading to the top where apparently a temple once was, and the area around it is full of ankle high walls which indicate that there was once a city here.

Western Deffuffa


We were supposed to camp here as well but as there is also a guest house available we had our hopes high for a long overdue upgrade. But first we had to kill two hours at the entrance to the Defuffa where there was a police station and a bunch of friendly policemen questioned us in Arabic and very rudimentary English about our journey and home countries. I am not sure what these policemen were guarding if anything, they did not seem very busy. In fact, two of them were putting strings on a chair to sit on, another one was washing his feet for a while. It was pretty amazing though how far conversations can go even if neither party understands the other.

The guesthouse is a big hallway which functions as a living room and four double rooms with bathrooms going from it. We were told that nobody had been here since October and it hadn’t been cleaned since then. There were empty bottles lying around and of course the plumbing only works in two rooms but there are fans and air conditioning everywhere so we were sold. I had a shower that wasn’t over a squat toilet, and I washed out the dust from my clothes (!!!) – the clothes dried in less than 10 minutes outside.
I also cooked dinner for the group, an attempted frittata that worked out ok, and banana custard that didn’t settle because of the milk powder used. Still, not a bad outcome. Also, the truck has been fixed, no more pushing required.

Karima, Jebel Barkal and more pyramids (SD)

It’s quite the experience to have a cold with icy chills in the middle of the desert when it’s 110 degrees. Not sure how I got it, certainly not from a cold draft anywhere or a ceiling fan at a baklava shop.

 

This morning we started the sightseeing program at Jebel Barkal. It means Holy Mountain and it houses ruined temples and perfectly preserved pyramids. The holy mountain lies between the Nubian and the Bayuda Deserts and it was said to be the home of God Amun, 15 BC. The temple is destroyed now and only the massive floorplan is visible now, but the Temple of Mut (his bride) is carved into the rock itself and thus still standing. In front of it are huge pillars and inside as well as outside you can see amazing hieroglyphs.

It doesn’t look impressive on this photo but it is

The pyramids are a 20 minute walk away which looks like it’s really near but it’s actually kinda exhausting as it goes slightly hill on sand… in the heat. They date back to the third century BC but nobody knows of their significance.

After the pyramids we drove further out to El Kurru which is a royal cemetery. Two huge tombs houses king Tanwetamani and his mother Qalhata around 653 BC. They are empty now but the wall paintings and relief carvings are still preserved and as with everything here they are amazing. We had tried to come here yesterday but had failed at the gate as we didn’t have tickets. These needed to be bought in Karima though nobody knew where and since it was Friday everyone was at the mosque. Sudan is highly bureaucratic, everything requires papers, passport checks and receipts.

 

Entry to the tomb

Inside the tomb
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For lunch we once again stopped in Karima and now that the shops were open I found sinus spray (mine had evaporated), a dress I can wear with a tshirt to cover my shoulders (they sell skimpy dresses here but I wonder to whom. Unless of course women wear them under their mumus?) and a chicken kebab. I showered at the same place again and felt better over all after a somewhat dizzy and snotty morning.

Karima (SD)

Karima is said to be the hottest city in Sudan and I can comfirm that I have never been more uncomfortable. It’s Friday which is the holy day so most places were shut. For lunch I had another tray of Baklava, not that I wanted that much. It did however pick me up considerably, the sugar works wonders in this heat.

 

It’s hard to get fresh food that isn’t ful between the hours that for us are lunchtime. Not for the first time we walked into a restaurant for their shade or weak air conditioning but nobody serves anything. The staff doesn’t kick us out either, it seems to be perfecly normal to just hang out for a couple of hours to escape the heat. Naturally nobody cleans up after the last customer either and if you want a fresh juice and no glasses are available you will simply get a used and unwashed glass. I’ve yet to see anyone handling food wash their hands even, when they put the sticky baklava on a plate for us they handle money and everything else right after. We must look like freaks with our handwipes and hand sanitizers though even we have neglected these gradually in the past weeks.

 

We all took advantage of the public showers next to the mosque. They are a combination of squat toilet in the middle of the room and a showerhead directly above it which wasn’t working. The tap where you can rinse your feet was working tough so we used waterbuckets for a manual shower. It felt wonderful though minutes later we were all sweaty and dusty again. Luckily at the bushcamp in the middle of nowhere it was windy all night so it didn’t feel quite so hot.

Atbara and pyramids (SD)

View from the pyramids to our living room

I got up early to check out the pyramids before the sun started pelting down, and it was well worth it. Again, from further away you see triangular shaped piles of rocks but close up there are at least 50 pyramids or their foundations in various conditions. Supposedly there were over 100 in total but not all are excavated or still there.
The pyramids are not higher than 30 meters which is tiny compared to the ones in Giza but still pretty impressive when you look up at them. There wasn’t a single other person anywhere, only a camel hanging out closeby.

Lunchtime I had roasted chicken with rice from a friendly restaurant near the market in Atbara. Delicious, especially when you expect ful, kebab or burgers only. The owner had us walk into the kitchen with him to see what was on offer and we tried the dishes directly from the pot.
I was wearing my ‘happy pants’ which cover my legs but they are open on the sides so when I walk or it’s windy my thighs peek through. There were a bunch of kids following me and giggling the entire time and I heard later that some angry man threw a potato at me. The pants will stay in the bag and I shall sweat to death.