Arriving in Wadi Halfa on the Sudanese side of Lake Nasser, it became clear that we were now deeper in Africa than the night before. The harbor is nothing but a concrete pier, where a lot of Bedford trucks were waiting to bring the cargo further into Sudan. No buildings, no road, no nothing. Only sand, rocks and workers that where waiting in the shade before unloading the ship. When the onboard passport officer told us that we could pick up our western passports in the “arrival hall”, we all looked at each other in misbelief. By now, Olaf and Inga in the Land Cruiser, James and Katie in the other Landy and us, had become a small group with a common interest; getting us and our cars into Sudan. As it turned out, it was very useful in order to wrestle the Sudanese custom mafia. I wont tell you all the details because it could fill a book of its own but it took us two days before we could leave the sad town of Wadi Halfa.
The international harbor of Wadi Halfa
By then we had performed advanced Land Rover acrobatics on rusty ramps to get off the barge after hours of pointless waiting, created a big scene in the arrival hall over hidden “commission fees” (grease money) where James, who is an undercover priest, almost threatened with the wrath of God if anyone touched him again. We reported the customs agent “Khamal” to the local police to get our money back, spending a couple of hours waiting, debating and making fake embassy calls. In the end we succeeded getting most of it back and the satisfaction of seeing the custom agent totally loose his temper, throw the money on the table and storm out of the office while cursing us in Arabic. By the time we wanted to pay the fee for registration as “aliens”, the word of us as troublemakers had spread through town as bush fire and all the money changers refused to exchange our dollars and our presence in the town became more and more awkward. We managed to pay the officer with the dollars we had and then headed out of town as fast as we could, leaving behind a big cloud of dust.
Camping under a full moon in the desert.
After a night of camping in the desert, Olaf and Inga continued south towards Dongola while the rest of us decided to take the faster route over the Nubian Desert. The crossing took us three days and was an amazing experience. It is mostly “sandily”, as the hotel manager kindly pointed out to us in Wadi Halfa, and after getting stuck a couple of times we let out some air from our tires in order to float better. There is no road or track to follow and your only guidance is the railroad that you follow south. On some stretches, driving on the actual railroad was the only option when the sand was too soft.
Desert driving is a lot of fun but you must keep fully focused at all times. Especially when the desert constantly shifts from sand to rocks to gravel as it did towards the end of the second day. The heat, the driving, the digging and the dust had already gotten the best of us when we suddenly found ourselves in a fierce sandstorm. By now we had left the railroad behind us and the only navigation help, except our GPS, was concrete poles that was placed every 500 meters of the piste. In this case the GPS is of little more help than a compass, only making sure that we are driving in the right direction. You still have two make your choice between hundreds of tire tracks in front of you in order to find your way through the sand and the rocks. As the sandstorm intensified, it became increasingly difficult to spot the next guiding pole.
With just an hour left to sunset and no protection from the strong wind anywhere in sight, we became worried that we would have to make camp in the middle of the storm that didn’t show any sign of settling. But then, just when the sun started to set, which it does kind of hastily in this part of the world, a huge rock materialized in front of us. The first one we’d seen for hours and when we drove around it for cover, we found the perfect camp, totally protected by the biggest sand dune I’ve ever seen! “-Traveling with a priest definitely has some advantages”, I thought to myself, slightly reconsidering my viewpoint on miracles.
The next morning the storm had settled and we continued without any major problems towards Khartoum and a few days of rest. When we finally hit the tarmac it was a great relieve after 3 days of very exhausting driving. The road to the capital is an easy drive and we really enjoyed the famous Sudanese friendliness. In Khartoum we arranged our Ethiopian visa and exchanged some Euros into Sudanese Dinars. As a nice surprise, the bank clerk mistook our Euros for British Pounds and gave us 20 000 SD too much. We didn’t complain this time.
Celebrating exactly 10 000,00 km!
Driving to the Ethiopian border took us another three days with two really nice bush camps. One of them even included the classic blood freezing coyote howling in the dark and huge grasshoppers making random and seemingly painful jumps on the cars and tents. The last 160 km of road/track down to the border from Gendaref is also quite painful but, as we know now, a breeze compared to Ethiopian roads. More about that later.