Cape Town to Cairo 2012

Day 51 to Day 58 - July 17th-24th

In Khartoum, we stayed at the Acropole Hotel, a traditional English hotel managed by George and his brother; their family has owned the hotel for fifty years. They were very knowledgeable about Khartoum and helped us arrange a tour of the city. They also provided some insights on how to get to Wadi Halfa, the starting point for taking the ferry north on the Nile to Aswan, Egypt.

We had only one day in Khartoum, and we needed to make efficient use of it. We visited the national museum, which devotes a fair portion of its exhibits to the dams along the Nile that have been built to generate electricity and irrigation. Overall the museum’s exhibits seemed to focus more on Sudanese breast-beating than on the country’s interesting antiquities, though there were some artifacts to be enjoyed.

As Lake Nasser rose behind the Aswan Dam, most of these treasures (pictured above) were excavated, including some magnificent Christian frescos that were removed from the walls on which they had been painted thousands of years ago. Somehow, they were able to remove the plaster and laminate it to a board without cracking off the paint. They were miraculously well preserved in the museum. Perhaps the most dramatic of the sculptures was from the site at Abusimbel, where two huge statues along with the side of a mountain were moved to higher ground – truly a modern restoration accomplishment.

We went to the camel market and the mystery of why people keep camels began to clarify in my mind. The camel has a more melodious bellow than me.

We saw more camels than you can imagine.

Here’s a reluctant youngster whose mother has decided that the weaning time has come:

Every year a caravan of 7,000 camels heads north to Egypt, from which they spread out through the Arab world for purposes such as racing, milk, and I’m sure meat, although I have yet to see it on the menu.

The steering bearings on my motorcycle around which the front fork turns have developed a flat spot. I had this checked before I left, and it was not deemed to be a problem. But now it is becoming a serious problem. The flat spot occurs with the front wheel pointed straight ahead, but it requires effort to turn in either direction. It is particularly awkward going at low speeds when I am turning the handlebars constantly, or in a cross wind when the handlebars are cocked slightly. In either case, it is a struggle to keep the handlebars on the high spot of the bearing. I don’t have time to get an air shipment of another set of bearings, although I have the full manual on a jump drive and would be able to replace it. But it is too complicated to remove having no assurance that I could find suitable replacement bearings in Khartoum. The plan is to stick with what I’ve got and cross my fingers.

As I was considering whether to proceed with this repair, we were staring down the barrel of the stretch that awaited us: a 650 km drive to Arima through a mini-sandstorm; we knew we could expect the wind to be hitting us broadsides.

The scariest part of the ride was the occasional sand drift across the road, which, with my steering geometry, could have sent me flying. The most irritating part of it was that because of the particular angle of the prevailing wind, the flat spot of the steering required me to grip the handlebars tightly. It didn’t take long for me to get tennis elbow on the pull side of the handlebar.

On the way we stopped to visit Sudan’s pyramids via camel.

There was so much wind and sand in the air that our tracks in the sand were covered up in only twenty minutes.

Helge and the camel compete in the bellowing event:

The camel’s feet are fascinating to watch. With each step, their toes spread out to provide a broader platform.

The motel where we were scheduled to stay did not have our reservation, so they made beds for us in the servants’ area:

We were shocked (and relieved) that there were no mosquitoes or flies, even though the Nile was less than one mile away.

To make this photograph printable, I have used Photoshop to put clothes on everyone. Roger wanted a tuxedo, but he’ll have to settle for a T-shirt and shorts:

The next morning while the others went hiking up a mountain, I drove to Dongola alone in the same mini-sandstorm. Along the way I saw a variety of people. Check out these young boys watching American television:

They were mesmerized by it. What a nasty thing for us to export!

Here is a mechanic and his children:

Only a short distance from the Nile, the sand begins.

I always wondered where dates came from. Here is a date palm.

Tucked up in there are thousands of dates.

The town of Dongola is protected from Nile flooding by a dike.

Downstream, the river probably floods like it used to do, renewing the fertility of the soil.

The hotel in Dongola where we planned to stay was full. I found a teachers’ hotel that had some rooms, but check out the sheet on the bed! I bet it hadn’t been washed in two months.

The bathroom was also a treat – no toilet seat, the toilet did not flush, and the container that was supposed to be used to flush the toilet had a greasy handle. I call this a two-star hotel.

We arrived during the first day of Ramadan. The entire town was vacant, including the marketplace. No one could eat or drink until after sundown, and the temperature was about 110˚F. Ramadan goes on for one month. Everyone works for half a day with the purpose of appreciating more the hardship of less fortunate people. After sundown, several families asked us to join them for dinner. The Sudanese are incredibly hospitable, and part of the Ramadan tradition is to help strangers and travelers.

On the way out of town, these two bozos almost caused me to make a disastrous mistake.

I asked if the pump was benzene (the same as petrol or gasoline), and they said yes. I stuck in the hose and began pumping. Helge noticed that the hose was a little too big.

It turned out that I was pumping diesel. Thankfully, I did not have to drain the tank because I had put so little in, so I just added the benzene from this pump.

It could have been a real mess.

In Wadi Halfa, we met up with the two couples from Tasmania and Miami. We discovered that a ferry also left on Saturday, which we should have taken, instead of the one we were scheduled to take on Wednesday – a reservation screw-up. We had to sit in the godforsaken town of Wadi Halfa for four days. To make the best of it, we cooked meals in our hotel kitchen. Here Helge gives Kim a taste of the soup he has prepared.

We talked about having cockroach and cricket races and thought of other silly things to do. We ended up adjusting to a prison camp mentality. It was 115˚F outside. There were fans in the room, but no air conditioning, just a water-spraying device meant to cool you off.

We dumped our motorcycles off at the barge. On the way there, Vincent got a nail through his tire in a way that we had never seen before.

It did not puncture the tire. With the bikes loaded on the barge,

We returned to our hotel to wait until July 25th when the ferry was scheduled to leave. We are calling our hotel Stalag 18.

I was excited to find an Ethernet site in Wadi Halfa at an Internet cafe. I hooked up and found out that it was actually hooked up to a cell phone modem. I stayed there for an hour, being able to send only a couple of pictures. The Internet connections are horrible here. Unless I think of some other way, I will probably not be able to send another blog until the ferry drops us off at Aswan. We have an emerging concern about getting the bikes to Alexandria to meet our container-loading deadline of August 1st or 2nd. We are contemplating an inland route going through the Sahara Desert, rather than the Red Sea route or the Nile routes, which are crowded and prone to being closed by roadblocks. We have a driver that will accompany us with a 4 x 4. The plan is to camp out one or two nights in the desert, which will be a welcome relief after our current accommodations. I’m not sure what’s more lovely about our room here: the wonderful variety of animals crawling all over it, or the bathroom…

The sink has been torn off the wall, and there is debris remaining on the floor. There is a traditional Arab toilet that flushes when it wants to. Part of the shower drains into the shower tub, and the rest flows down the slanted bathroom into the bedroom. Of course there is no soap, towels, or toilet paper. I wonder how travelers can adjust to such low-level accommodations. The fact is that this is a replacement for a Bedouin tent. It is a magical convenience not having to transport a big tent using camels, extra people and other paraphernalia. Everything is relative, and we must think of this hotel as an alternative to a tent.

Obama is extremely popular in the Sudan. Check out this guy’s Obama hat.

There have been a lot of comments about the large number of plainclothesmen in the Sudan making sure the “Arab Spring” does not head south. We have had two Americans complaining about being harassed by the plainclothesmen, but we have not had a single incident, and have not been asked to show a photograph permit that is required in the Sudan. Everyone we have met has been extremely friendly.

Khartoum, Sudan to Wadi Halfa, Sudan
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