HELLO + WELCOME as we drive from Sydney to London, overland across Africa.
It’s Kirsty here and today I’m writing about taking the ferry from Sudan to Egypt, one of the most memorable days in Africa.
6AM. Ferry day had arrived! We had been in Wadi Halfa waiting for this day and the morning got going quickly when we heard some locals out the tent window getting bogged in the sandy streets.
During our time in the country we had been told we were the luckiest people in the country, but come on… getting bogged next to one of the only 4WDs in town? This was definitely the luckiest Sudanese man this morning!
This morning we were going to embark on the passenger ferry and the Troopy would follow on a barge days later. That would mean we had to hand over the keys to our fixer, who would hand them to the barge guys, who would hand them to someone in Egypt. With that in mind we wanted the Troopy as secured as possible.
Gareth separated the front seats from the cupboards in the back by creating a wall of carefully mounted MAXTRAX (genius!). We also erected our emergency bed in the back which blocked entry to the lower cupboards. Our strategy for security through much of Africa has been deflecting attention. If whoever had the keys to Troopy couldn’t see that Christmas had come early in the back, then chances are they wouldn’t go hunting. If someone really wanted to get in they could gather a few tools chainsaws, perhaps? and do so, but people are most likely looking for easy wins and so we were looking to not provide any.
Meanwhile I packed our belongings into our two backpacks for the ferry ride and the possibility of weeks in Egypt waiting for the vehicle. The packing list included: yoga mats for sleeping on the deck of the ferry, first aid kit, entertainment, torches, travel pillows, snacks, meals, water, change of clothes, tarp for shade, sheets/kikoys etc.
It was sweaty work in the already 35 degree heat.
Time flew faster than imaginable and before we knew it we were supposed to be in town picking up our German biker mates Jaane’. Instead we were jumping in a bucket shower and being told to sit down my Mazar’s wife for a breakfast. Omelette, cucumber, tomato, pita, coffee. YUM.
:: Luckiest man in Sudan. Getting bogged next to one of the only 4WDs in town!
:: MAXTRAX didn’t work too well with the guys bald tyres. So we just pulled him out with a snatch strap.
:: Packing our bags for the ferry and a possible couple of weeks without the car in Egypt
:: Breakfast, Sudanese style. That’s salt and chilli seasoning.
10AM. We went into town to collect the bikers gear and ended up meeting about five sets of overlanders who had just come off the passenger ferry from Egypt. It was one of those fast-paced twenty minutes in life where everything happens at once. People to meet. Stories to tell. Notes to exchange. Smiles to share. It was more overlanders than we had met in ALL of Africa!
We felt humbled seeing these guys starting out to Africa, knowing what they were to face. One particular fellow seemed to know everything already. He tried to help us by suggesting how we should ‘handle’ Egypt as he had had a rough time. We just nodded our heads as something that was ‘outrageous’ to him, had become normal to us. Everyone looked so fresh faced and clean. So… unwrinkled?
I couldn’t help but feel happy to be near the end of our challenge and relieved to be joining chilled out Jaane’ for the ferry north. Mazar appeared and declared ‘Time to go’ An Irish lad also appeared, backpacking and, jumped on to side of the Troopy.
:: Ready to go and catch the ferry from Sudan to Egypt
11AM. Down at the port Mazar came into his own. We simply parked off to the side and waited in the sun. Troopy came into his own and provided shade for all five of us. As Gareth and I erected the awning in seconds, Irish lad said “Ohhhh you look like you’ve done that a few times, I’ll just let you attend to it”. It made me smile. A: Because he was taking the piss, which was the perfect company for the so called cruise that we were about to take. B: It was true. In an instant I could see the Gareth and Kirsty of two years ago, putting the awning up. The annoyance, the fiddlyness, the fights! But now, us hardened travellers 😉 could woosh it up in a second. It’s a bit navel gazing… but, sometimes a coming of age only happens when someone calls it into being.
:: Our little crew for the ferry to Egypt. Waiting for Mazar to fill our Arabic forms.
11.15AM: We wait for an hour or so. Joking around. Sitting. Calmly. We all have a sense of what we are in for as we have heard others horror stories. We chat. We joke. Irish lad, who had originally thought the ferry went daily gets annoyed at Mazar for taking so long and not sharing information. At this early stage of the proceedings I couldn’t care in the least. I assume he’s doing what we are paying him to do! Also, G and I are expecting Ferry Day to involve waiting for six hours before we actually get on the damn ferry! Anything less than absolute carnage will be a bonus.
2PM. Mazar collects us with various forms filled in Arabic. He points this out. “Yes Mazar very good” We enter the main hall filled with Sudanese and Egyptians. We hustle and bustle through immigration and customs. Forms change hands and we are fast tracked through a surging ocean of humans.
2.40PMish. We approach a bottle neck to get our bags checked. There is no fast tracking here – this is diving into the bloody sea of humans! It’s hustle central and so disorganised that you would be forgiven for thinking this is the first time they’ve ever done it.
A woman shoves in to my right. Men to my left. Gareth behind me. Jaane’ to the front. The ocean pushes and pulls. Whooo! This is fun! Until it gets a little more intense. Then women and men get personal and bodies get whacked and pulled at. I turn around and tell the man behind me in no uncertain terms to get his elbows away from me. Gareth barks orders to 150kg plus man to his left, Go G! scary! But he stepped on his toes… literally.
A man barges into Jaan and we both give him what for. I grab hold of Jaan’s farthest shoulder and we create a barrier. A few tense moments. But we had been expecting a bit of carnage and it was the most spectacular jumble of humans.
And This: While I expected I would have been stressed, I fell away from myself, and absolutely loved it for what it was. An adventure far from anything I knew.
Anne’ gets past first. We then hand things over to her to stash. A little team of troopers. We finally all get past the bag check man, who doesn’t check anything, and issues a pink sticker on each bag with a black texta scribbled half on the sticker and half on the bag. Irish, without vehicle paperwork to process, has already rushed onto the ferry to claim space on the deck. Jaane’ and him struck a deal that they would handle the luggage if he could do a mad dash in advance to secure space on deck.
Anne has realised she’s left a bag inside Troopy that is needed in Egypt. G has secured the backdoor shut with multiple external padlocks, so they troop off to Troopy via a side gate. Tight security ’round here. Jaan and I wait together, half a duo with half a duo. After so long as operating as a solo duo it feels fun to have another couple to tackle things with! Gaane’ (that’s G with Anne’) arrive back moments later with her bag wrapped in a scarf. Smuggling at it’s finest.
Carnets are stamped and we walk down to the ferry. At this stage it is SO HOT we all comment on how the soles of our thongs feel like they are melting on the concrete.
:: Anne, Mazar, G-banger, Jaan, and I (behind the cam)
3PM: The ferry has begun loading passengers. Mazar leads us to the side of the line. This feels a bit wrong. People gather behind us. An official barks at everyone. A police officer confiscates the passport of a man trying to push in.
The four of us look down – eyeing each other. We are the ‘white line’ it seems. The police officer wants to assert that he is still in charge ‘yes sir, yes sir’ and we are on. We scoot up to the top deck and find an Irish lad erecting the Germans gigantic tarp for 24hour shade… FOR US ALL!
From my perspective, we all froze. OHH MY GAWWWWWWD HE HAS DONE SO WELL And then, just like cartoon characters we all exploded into high fives, excitement, hugs, kisses and ‘You are the most amazing man alive! Thankyou!” If you were allowed to drink alcohol in Sudan we would have soon been the drunkest sods on the boat.
:: Our spot in the shade under Janne’s huge tarp they got specially made in Nairobi for the boat ride
:: We were the onboard entertainment
The following hours of the day didn’t matter at all. We were on the boat. We had good company. We had our yoga mats. A sun shade. And a local audience to watch our every move in fascination.
We played a board game that lasted 5 minutes. We ate food. We drank lots and lots of water. With the Troopy back in Sudan we couldn’t use his water pump, so for the first time on the trip our only option was to drink from plastic bottles. Watching the plastic pile up was painful.
We leaned against bags propped against railings, and continued in our quest to stay alive in the heat. Only men occupied the upper deck + Anne and I. The only two women to be seen. We made jokes about what we were looking forward to in Egypt ‘I’m really looking forward to having a sauna’, ‘Man I hope it’s warm and balmy’.
A small boat whizzed out of the blue with an alarm filled with men without uniforms, carrying guns. Everyone on the ferry rushed to the edge to see what was happening. It was an uneasy moment – particularly seeing as we had surrounded our passports when we got on the ship. The moment passed.
On the lower deck was an area where hundreds of Sudanese gathered. Men sat separately to women. When I ventured down to the loo I felt a thousand eyes following me. I had an out of body moment where I could see my white self walking through the masses of black bodies. ‘This should be intimidating’ I thought as I floated above myself. But it wasn’t. On the upper deck I had kept to myself, but down here I was in their World.
I didn’t take any photos.
The sun set, muslims prayed faced towards Mecca and the ferry cruised the waters of the Nile in darkness. The deck of the ship was covered with bodies and the full moon shone down on us all.
Gareth and a man chatted freely. We are invited to visit in Cairo. He tells me “He (Gareth) is a very good man”
Just before night fall two young boys came to the feet of Gareth and I. They must have been just 4 and 7 years old. With no parents telling them what to do they stretched out a white cloth, laid down and closed their eyes. They laid in the ‘hallway’ between us and the ships wall.
During the middle of the night the boys naturally stretched out. Our limbs intertwined. When I woke and stretched. His little foot moved innocently onto mine. With the moon shining down, it was one of the most naturally touching moments of my life. “We are all the same” I said out loud, to no-one. After all the hustle and bustle everyone on that deck just needed the same thing, to lay down and sleep. Regardless of our worries we were just a heaving mass of bodies on a boat.
:: One for the memory bank
:: The upper deck of the ferry where we slept the night side by side a hundred odd Sudanese and Egyptians
:: The little boys who slept at our feet
:: The full moon that delivered one of the most touching moments I’ve ever had in Africa
6AM, DAY 2. In the morning the boys packed up quickly when we heard the call to prayer. Watching hundreds of muslim men pray at sunrise was beautiful. Gareth pottered around and I slept a little longer. Sleeping on a yoga mat wasn’t entirely indifferent to sleeping on a 5cm thick mattress in the Troopy.
:: First time sleeping on the deck of a ship
10AM. DAY 2. Gareth and I arrange our visas for Egypt. Which involves asking someone, who knows someone, who finds the guys, and then the guy ‘will be here in 5 minutes’ and handing over some money to a big boy named Mohammed to fast track the visas on the other end. Jaane’ do not feel comfortable doing the same. Both approaches work out in the end.
11AM. DAY 2. Turns out we are seriously famous in Sudan and Egypt. The past 21 hours have been a blur of requests for our photographs and handshakes. This intensifies as we approach the end of the boat ride. We are just about dock… and then swing out to sea for another hour.
12.34PM. DAY 2. We step foot on Egyptian soil! We bloody well did it! We have arrived at our last country in Africa feeling absolutely stoked and sweaty and stinky and exhausted.
Door to door? About 32 hours.
:: Egyptians welcome us to their country
:: Irish hustles to get a group discount for accommodation in Aswan
:: As I said, WE were the onboard entertainment 🙂
:: Whoo! On Egyptian soil!
And that’s how we came to reach our last country in Africa.
As always guys, thanks for being here. It has been such a wonderful thing to be able to share these experiences.