I’ve now been on the road for a week, the week has seen me pass through 3 countries and travel over 2000 kilometers, so to bring you up to speed, I’ll start where any half decent story should, the beginning.
Early morning we caught or flight and landed into Cairo at 6.30, I know this is an overland trip, but technically this doesn’t count as my trip begins in Cairo. We immediately set about trying to organise travel down south to the city of Aswan. Our initial plan had been to get the sleeper train, however we found it was fully booked so a quick trip to the bus station and we had ourselves two seats on the overnight bus to Aswan. The bus didn’t leave until 6 that evening so we had the best part of a day to spend in the city. Whilst wandering around, wondering what to do with ourselves a great chap called Ahmed invited us for Shisha and Tea. We sat with him for a good hour or two, trying our best to mutter any of horribly formal Arabic. I asked him a few questions about Egyptian politics, the revolution etc. He was an interesting guy, about to sit his final years exams in Law at the University of Cairo, perhaps this was his method of revision procrastination, taking tourist for a drink. He was taking a taxi back to wear he lived in Giza, so we decided to tag along, share the price of a Taxi and spend a few hours at the Pyramids.
We paid for a camel ride up to and around the pyramids, because one can never experience to many cliches, I’m glad I went to to see them but I’ll be honest it was a pretty disappointing experience. As you enter, you are assaulted with a barrage of offers. Vendors desperate to milk any pound of cash the tourists have on them. The Pyramids themselves are also pretty poorly looked after, litter everywhere, tour guides relieving themselves in places they really shouldn’t. I also picked up on the fact that many of the animals looked in very poor health. I wont be in a rush to go back there, nor recommend it to anyone. I know Egypt has been through a lot over the past couple of years, but come on guys!! This is your trump card, perhaps the world’s most visually stunning attraction, look after it!
The hours rolled by, and so we decided to head to the bus station about 5.00, wanting to be in good time and all that. The overnight bus was a 12 hour marathon, I tried my best to snooze during the journey but arriving in Aswan the next morning, I was not on good form. Stumbling out of the bus station like something out of a George Lucas epic, we arrogantly declined a couple of Taxi’s, I mean, how hard could it be to find our hostel? After about half an hour we gave up, got in a cab, of course we had been going the wrong way. I didn’t care, I was just delighted to get off my feet.
The next part of our journey was perhaps the most difficult, logistically speaking anyway. Despite having a ridiculously long border, the only official crossing between Egypt and Sudan is a once weekly boat from Aswan, across Lake Nasser to Wadi Halfa. As I said, the boat leaves once a week on Sunday, sells out almost every week and you can’t buy a ticket until you have a Sudanese Visa. After a couple of hours of sleep, we headed to the Sudanese consulate in Aswan. It’s a pretty easy visa to get, we filled in a form and and were told to come back on Sunday morning at 10.00. I’d been hoping we might be able to get it on the same day, as I had read quite a few people have been able to online. Despite our pleading they told us they needed a day to process it, and with Friday and Saturday being the weekend out here we would have to wait until Sunday. This left us in a far from ideal situation, normally people turn up for the ferry witch tickets already bought at about 8.00 on the Sunday. We would have to pick up our visa and head to the dock with no ticket and simply hope for the best.
In the meantime, we had two days kill in Aswan, so we hired out a felucca it cost about 7 pounds each, though I still felt as though we had been ripped of. Beside that, it was a really relaxed afternoon, bobbing around, almost aimlessly, on the Nile and then exploring the botanical gardens.
Sunday came, and really not wanting to be stuck in Aswan for an extra week we got up at an hour my mother would have been proud of! Straight to the consulate and after sitting around waiting or it to open for an hour we were in and out with an unnecessarily large visa stamp. We hoped in a taxi to the port, wanting to get there as early as possible to give us the best chance of getting a ticket. We pulled into the car park a maze of overloaded trucks and unloaded electrical appliances, all of which, just like us, was trying to get to Sudan. I headed straight to the ticket office, it was here were I got my first glimpse of the infamous Mr Salah. Sitting in the office, the man is mentioned in almost every piece of travel writing on this particular route (why buck the trend?). I asked him about two tickets and he told me that I would have to wait until 2, that was 4 hours of sitting in the baking sun that I wasn’t looking forward to, but alas, what choice did I have?
About 3 hours or so passed and I was mid way through a pretty decent Coldplay chorus when about a dozen guys,all of whom had been waiting for tickets like us rushed to the ticket counter. I got involved and wormed my way to the front, this was where the waiting game would truly begin. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, and what’s more they didn’t reopen the ticket office until about 3.00. In total, I spent a good two hours in a sandwich of fully grown Sudanese men. Tensions were rising, as was the fear factor. At times I felt like a small goat, trapped in a herd of bison, just waiting for one of them to gobble me up. Despite the ordeal, which I look back on with humor, though in reality it was a turd of an experience, when I finally made the front of the queue there were tickets to spare, thank God.. And so, after handing over approximately 35 pound my seat to Sudan was assured.
Given the fact that we had got our tickets late, by the time we got on board the boat the deck was rammed, sleeping bodies, fridge-freezers and I’m pretty sure I even saw a guy with a pogo stick. It’s every man for himself at the best of times and no mercy was shown for us mere late-comers. After about 30 minutes a wandering around and being kicked out of one or two decent spots we thought we had managed to clinch we found refuge on top of the engine cage. A spot of surprising luxury, able to stretch out, I rolled out my sleeping bag and got lost in the stars. In the middle of Lake Nasser, which the boat crosses there’s minimal light pollution. It was an almighty inflight movie, those few hours before I fell asleep are an image that I will always remember…