Wadi Halfa Ferry

You should be aware from the two previous bulletins of Chris’s misfortune although it has turned out alright finally. The dog involved was identified by a local vet treating him for food poisoning and was not Benji.

The Aswan to Wadi Halfa ferry is not your usual car ferry as it consists of a passenger boat, a general cargo barge and a vehicle barge. The barges travel independently of the passenger boat, are slower therefore take longer, and as they leave at more or less the same time do not arrive until one or two days after the ferry.

We actually loaded our cars onto the barge on Sunday and returned to board the ferry ourselves on the Monday at 09:30. The ferry does not leave until 17:00 and by then is a seething mass of humanity. It appears that every Arab that travels carries several huge bags of goods, enough to fill most small shops. So by the time the ferry leaves the dock there is hardly room to swing the proverbial cat.

Although cabins are available there are very few and frankly not to be recommended for the squeamish. As for the other facilities the less said the better. When buying our tickets, from the infamous Mr Saleh, we met several fellow foreign travellers most of whom were also doing Cairo to Cape Town or similar. In the main however they had far more suitable vehicles. We all had the same idea when boarding the ferry, which was to claim a spot under one of the lifeboats where the air was fresh, compared to the inside of the boat, and shade was available from the heat of the sun. We formed a ‘travellers club’ exchanging stories and experiences as well as tips. One very useful thing came out which is that we will require a letter from the British Embassy in Addis Ababa stating that they will take responsibility for our car whilst it is in the country ensuring that it isn’t sold, etc. We will have to contact the embassy as soon as we get to Khartoum.

The ferry crossing was not difficult. Leaving at 17:00 on the Monday it took almost sixteen hours to reach Wadi Halfa. The daytime was hot and the night a little cold, but not too bad. I had taken a camp bed with me so I was comfortable whilst everyone else complained of a hard deck. The night skies over Lake Nasser are something to behold, not only because of the millions of stars visible but also because of their brilliance.

We were not allowed to disembark from the ferry for two hours and then it was chaotic threading our way through customs, but we eventually made it at around midday. We were then bussed into the town of Wadi Halfa. That was a bit of a culture shock. Wadi, I suspect, exists only because of the passing trade via the ferry. It is a collection of mud brick and corrugated iron houses built where the desert meets the lake.

We were taken to our hotel, the Kilopatra; don’t blame me for the spelling and I don’t know if it was someone’s sense of humour or not. The rooms consist of a twelve foot square area containing two beds. The doors were tin as were the window shutters, and there was a fan in the ceiling. Power cuts are a daily occurrence and the common bathroom facilities were just about as basic as they come. By some good fortune we were destined to enjoy the hospitality of Wadi for three nights.

The second day there we all wanted to know when the ferry would arrive, following a ten minute exploration of the towns amenities. However you have to wait until a lookout spies it steaming towards the port. It arrived late that afternoon, after the customs officials had all gone home for the night. We were directed to appear at the port the next morning at 08:30, which we did. The cars cleared customs at 13:30 and we were free to go!

We had so enjoyed the hospitality of Wadi that we decided to stay for one more night, although the cynics said it was because the next sizable town was 5 hours away. We left Wadi at 06:35 next morning. It would be wrong however to leave anybody with the idea that everything about Wadi is poor; the fact is the people are gorgeous. They are friendly; love to chat to foreigners, honest and proud of their country. They are extremely good hosts.

The drive from Wadi was interesting, but hot. For the first sixty miles the cars drove perfectly and the morning sun had little heat, then the temperature started to rise fairly rapidly until by 10:00 it was over 35°C and still rising. Bridget started to develop some hesitation on acceleration and then started to misfire. This continued for around another one hundred miles when it started to get seriously bad. We pulled over and I started to check everything to do with the ignition. Eventually I altered the timing which appeared to clear the problem and we started off again.

About one hundred miles south of Wadi we came across the largest campsite I have ever seen, with literally thousands of people moving around, building things and being generally industrious. There were hundreds of temporary dwellings, some ramshackle huts and many tents of all sizes. Smoke was lazily wafting into the sky and there was a low level smoke screen across the road. This was the Sudanese gold rush. It is largely unregulated and very recent in its construction however it is, by all accounts, very productive.

The road from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum is excellent and is one of many newly laid roads built by the Chinese. Currently there is very little traffic on the roads in Sudan.

Bridget’s engine misfire became alarming and I was only able to maintain a speed of around 30 mph for the final twenty miles into Dongola. Dongola is in many respects very similar to Wadi, but larger and with one acceptable hotel. It wasn’t five stars but it was comfortable, clean and with working showers. It was the first time for five days that I came out of a shower feeling cleaner than when I went in.

That evening I set to work on the engine problem, changing the HT leads, distributor cap and going right through the timing setup. By the time I had finished she sounded good again. Dorothy was running fine so Chris went off with three ‘bikers’, we had met on the ferry, to have dinner.

The next morning Bridget refused to start. It was as if she was saying “I’ve been telling you I have a problem but you haven’t been listening. Now I go no further until you sort it” I can’t tell you the resolution at the moment as it will be the subject of a competition, but I will let you know later, but we resolved it.

Although leaving two hours later than planned we drove the three hundred miles from Dongola to Khartoum. The drive was very enjoyable across Sudan’s Nubian Desert, but the environment for the cars was easily the harshest to date. Midday temperature was around 45°C and sand was being whipped up by a fairly strong breeze. Stopping just the once for fuel we arrived around 15:00 and found the Plaza Hotel.

Khartoum is a bustling city with a mixture of traditional Nubian, old colonial and ultra-modern architecture. It, like the rest of Sudan, is not geared up to tourism and with a closed economy is unlikely to change in the near future. This means that no credit or debit cards are acceptable, no ATM machines exist except for Sudanese bank account holders, therefore you have to have US dollars, GB pounds or Euros. Photography is also disliked, particularly in Khartoum, where we were warned to stop using our cameras on more than one occasion.

From here we will be heading for Ethiopia.

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