Day 46 - Cross The Desert to Wadi Halfa
Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
68Trip End Nov 07, 2007
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Distance Travelled: 7665km
Frame of Mind: Jubilant
I just crossed 1,000 kilometres of the Sahara Desert on a 250cc motorbike. That's pretty fucking cool.
Day 43 - Khartoum
www.durban2london.co.za). I had expected him to be well on his way by now but it turned out that he had some administrative difficulties with Sudan and was delayed. He was also looking to travel through the desert with someone else. I eagerly accepted his invitation. It would mean leaving Khartoum a little earlier than I had planned but the pros (safety in numbers, companionship, reduced cost of hotel rooms etc) definitely outweighed the cons (spending several days in hot, dry, empty, hungry Khartoum).
The city is a big, sprawling beast with sand covering many of the roads (having being blown in from the Nubian Desert to the north). During Ramadan, which was in its eighth day when I arrived, the streets are practically deserted (no pun intended). Few shops are open, regardless of whether they sell food or not, as the people of Khartoum try to stay out of the sun and rest their hungry, thirsty bodies until the sun dips below the horizon and the muezzin calls to the faithful (everyone) to pray. They break fast first. Then they pray. I think this is the sensible way round, if not the official way, as after an all day fast in 40+ degree heat those prayers will be even more heartfelt!
Because of this, at sunset the streets are eerie and completely empty. No taxis, no beggars, no one. They are all breaking fast and praying. The strange atmosphere is intensified as the desert winds pick up at this time and the sky turns red. You can see lightning in the distance. Not caused by rainclouds but by a dust storm out in the desert that may or may not find its way to the city, covering everthing with sharp, still hot sand.
This is a foreign city in every sense of the word. But by no means frightening. But certainly not as welcoming as those in Amdangla. It is Muslim first, Sudanese second and there is no third. No foreigner-fever like in Ethiopia. They do not need The West or tourists. Only the richer and more educated Khartoumites seem interested in foreigners. Everyone else just carries on with life as normal. A nice change.
Day 44 - Preparations in Khartoum
- To pay 45USD to be 'registered' with the immigration (a necessary but unnecessary task)
- To fail to find a replacement chain in the whole city (Andrew (the SA chap) had a spare chain so that was a last resort)
I gave up, bought some baklava and went back to the sailing club to do some washing. Half an hour later the clothes were bone dry and I was soaking wet.
The next day we were heading off early to cross the desert. Although we had little idea of exactly what to expect we had a good idea that it would be three or four days of unpleasantness. It was, however, the last big challenge of the journey. We were ready for it. Or as ready as we'd ever be. Our final preparation was to have a large Debonair's pizza. Critical.
Day 45 - Khartoum to Dongola
It's empty. Except for that flat, black road running off into the distance the desert is empty. And despite its lack of features, remarkably beautiful and peaceful. we encountered a strong headwind that slowed progress considerably (my 250 didn't have enough beef, Andrew's 600 was a little easier). The headwind turned into a side wind that threatened to force me off the road (again, Andrew's bike being so much heavier weathered this better...but his time would come in the sand and mud when that extra weight would be a millstone round his neck - this is what he was most worried about, I on the other hand had too little experience of these things to know whatg to be worried about!). Then it turned into a sand storm, which whipped curling lashes of sand across the road like sidewinders. It was amazing. Especially when four pyramids rose out of the desert storm ahead of us. Unmapped and looming. This is why we were doing this.
My bike continued to struggle through the wind and heat and more than likely poor quality petrol but we made good time and hit the Nile by lunchtime (the oil leak turned out to be fairly minor, but I kept on checking in once an hour just in case). You can't see the waters from the road but the wide snaking line of greenery wending its misplaced way through the desert is proof of its location. Another 200km along almost perfect roads and we were in Dongola. I felt like I'd run a marathon. I had been battling the wind and heat for over eight hours and was exhausted. Five years ago there was no road along that stretch. Gulp. The worst was yet to come....
Day 46 - Dongola to Abri
Day 47 - Abri to Wadi Halfa
My boots had been 're-engineered' and lasted but my frame broke again, as did my rear suspension, my kidneys and lower back were aching from all the corrugations, we got separated and reunited, I packed and re-packed my kit many times, we got hot again, we got thirsty, we got grimy. We completed the 200km in only 6 hours and rocked into Wadi Halfa mid-afteroon and within a few minutes had big grins and cold Pepsis. We had conquered the desert.
I wax lyrical about the hardships and pain but in reality the trip was like running a marathon or walking up a big mountain. It is exhausting both physically and mentally but is achieveable...by anyone. I believe anyone can do these things if they want to enough.
Andrew, who had come from Durban, calculated that there were only 1,500km of unpaved roads between Cape Town and Cairo (the traditional north-south overland route across Africa). All 1,500km were being either upgraded as we drove, or at least being surveyed for upgrade. In five years you would be able to travel the whole distance in a Fiat Punto. Now where's the fun in that?