Jebel Berkal temple ruins at sunrise in Karima, Sudan (2012-07)

Travelling Sudan, pt. 3: Into the desert


Part 1 and part 2 of my journey through Sudan happened mainly in the country’s capital. Today it’s time to move on.

Another task to accomplish in Khartoum is to secure tickets for the ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan. After some searching I find an agent in town that is highly regarded among other travelers: Midhat Mahir. But even if he is Sudan’s best tour operator he has no good news: tickets to the cabins sell fast and are often given to VIPs. He offers to secure us two spots on the deck for the boat in a week and to ask around to see whether cabin tickets become available.

We stay a few more days in Khartoum to allow my friend to recuperate. I use that time to drink plenty of juice – from lemon mint to avocado to strawberry to mango… – and map out the road ahead.

On a very early Sunday morning we finally head back over the bridge to the bus station. Today is the day I will see my first pyramids. The plan is to take the bus towards Atbara, have the driver drop us off at the Meroe pyramids, go check them out and then hail down the next bus going for Atbara where we’d spend the night.

At first everything goes according to plan: when we leave the bus – loaded with all our baggage – we immediately see two camels move towards us. We quickly agree on a fee (40 Sudanese Pound for both of us) and there I am on my first camel ride. At the pyramids we try to hurry to be back on an air-conditioned bus before the midday heat. Still I take my time to be thoroughly impressed. The pyramids aren’t very large and some of them have been quite visibly recently repaired. But I must applaud the archaeologists who recovered them in the first place as I see the sand in a constant struggle with the conservationists to bury the pyramids again. The folks at the gate offer to let us spend the night here, for a little extra fee. Since we have not enough water or food, and the day hasn’t even peaked we take a pass. When we see a group of five shiny SUVs packed with tourists roll in we know it’s time to get back on our camels and head for the road.

Sure enough busses and minivans pass by frequently. Only they won’t stop. Bus after bus passes by us as we stand there baking in the sun. One stops only to let us know they’re full. Gone are the good old days when in Tanzania there was always room for one more. Panic starts to rise within me as I not only get hotter but also see my travel companion get more and more impatient. He was sceptical from the start about the plan. But right now I really can’t do with a ‘I told you so!’

Finally a truck packed with hay stops 50 meters from us. While I still discuss with myself whether I should run for the truck since I fear the driver might be fooling us a guy gets out from the passenger seat and waves at us. Of course he doesn’t speak English. Somehow we negotiate a price: 20 Sudanese Pound for both of us seems awfully cheap (less than 5 USD). Then again the bus fare from Khartoum to Atbara is 80 pounds. So who am I to argue?

Well, I guess the person that is about to be ripped off.

When we arrive in Atbara all smiles I hand the guy a 20 pound note. He looks at me: that’s not enough. I raise my hands. What does he mean? Did I misunderstand and it’s 20 per person? The guy pulls out a paper. Luckily the licence plates taught me Arabic numbers. And even more lucky that my travel companion has already loaded all our luggage into a cab. The guy is now demanding 200 pounds. As I am just about to break into a rant my travel companion pulls me into the taxi.

After this short unpleasant experience the next installment of the series will see me find an oasis in the desert.


Do you have anything to add? Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.