Sudan to Egypt: waiting and wilting

Shop on Main Street Wadi Halfa

We arrived in Wadi Halfa after what felt like our longest marathon journey to date: seven whirlwind days around Ethiopia, followed by a two-day long border crossing and four continuous bushcamps across a stinking hot desert. Our arrival was welcomed, yet still somehow anticlimactic. We were onto the homestretch, getting to Egypt, but the some of the worst was yet to come. Don’t get me wrong here, I am loving traveling through these parts of the world, but it is full-on. There is very little relief from the skin-melting, life-sucking, dry heat of the Nubian desert. After a while, even the hardest-worn traveler craves staying put in one place, a little shade, a cold beverage, a bucket shower, bare shoulders and knees, and sweet, sweet air conditioning…to name a few.

So what did we have to look forward to upon arriving in Wadi Halfa? Well, we had the better part of three days to hangout in the small desert town while we waited for our ferry to Egypt to depart. During the day, we did as the locals do: sit sedentary in the shade, where it was a cool 47°C. I kept wondering how on earth do people live here? It is so completely inhospitable. Even in the shade, I felt like I was being baked in a giant convection oven with no escape! It was unbelievable. Thankfully, the town had a plethora of shops with refrigerators selling cold drinks. People off the truck were nonetheless dropping like flies, succumbing to heat stroke. Also, thankfully, we had bridge club to help while away the time. Yes, we have discovered and aided in grooming several fabulous bridge players on this truck. Shout-out to Barbara-Jeanne and Jeff, and Becky, Colin, Helen and Kev too. Bridge rules!

bushcamp outside Wadi Halfa

Come evening, we drove the truck back out into the desert to bush camp. Desert bush camps are by far my favourite. There is no shortage of flat ground to set up your tent. You just sprawl out where you choose. No worries of stepping on a thorn or getting eaten by mosquitoes either. But the heat was still overwhelming, even at night. The sand retains heat from the sun during the day and lying down on the sand in your tent is like lying on a hot frying pan. There is a breeze, although I’d be lying if I said it was refreshing. Rather, it felt as though I was in front of an industrial-sized, high-speed hair drier. No relief there. But in-spite of our suffering from the heat, the campsite was undeniably magical.

Luxury ferry to Egypt

On the morning of our ferry departure, we stocked up on water and drove to the bustling port. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly bustling — our ferry was waiting there, along with a few cargo barges and several herds of goats. We said goodbye to the truck, which had to go on one of the barges and would be meeting back up with us in Aswan. The way to cross the border into Egypt from Sudan is via an overnight ferry, traveling the length of Lake Nasser from Wadi Halfa to Aswan, in Egypt. The ferry leaves just once a week in both directions and is therefore quite packed.

We arrived early to ensure a spot underneath the life rafts for shade since our budget tickets were only good for the exposed top deck. We were told that 370 tickets were sold, which was great news considering there were 600 tickets sold on the previous voyage going in the other direction. No one seemed clear on the actual departure time (nor arrival time), which was another good reason to show up early. We managed to squeeze in underneath the port-side raft, between a few friendly Egyptian men returning from business in Sudan. Then we waited. And waited. The ship finally set off at around 6:00 pm, at which point we were starting to realize that 370 people on a boat of it’s size was a heck of a lot. I was also reminded of how much Egyptians like blondes and wound up in several more cell phone albums, more I’m sure, that I’m even aware of. Although we held second class tickets, as foreigners we were allowed to sit in the first class air-conditioned dining lounge where things were a bit more laid back and we where we easily whiled away more time playing bridge.

Mark hanging out under the life raft in the morning

As night fell, we made our way up to the top deck again to reclaim our spot under the life raft and catch some Z’s. By the time we made it back up we had to tip-toe our way through a gauntlet of sleeping bodies. We were grateful to our Egyptian friends for saving some space for us. Just as we settled back in, we were treated to our first welcoming sight of Egypt: Abu Simbel. It was lit up beautifully from the water. Abu Simbel is a temple built for the pharaoh Ramses II and his wife Neferati. When the Aswan dam was built, forming Lake Nasser, the entire temple was moved out of harms way, to the spot it’s currently located. It’s an incredible feat of engineering, it looks like it’s been in the same spot for thousands of years. The temple marks the end of the Nubian desert and the entrance to civilization. It certainly felt this way.

Miraculously we managed to sleep a wee bit. We brought our therm-a-rests on board for some comfort as well as our trusty ear plugs. I only woke up half-a-dozen times or so to feet nudging and call to prayer at very un-Allah hours. Filthy from traveling and sleeping in scorching desert heat for seven straight days, the day of showers and beer had finally arrived. Only a few more hours to go. The anticipation was overwhelming.

The ferry eventually arrived in Aswan at around 11 o’clock, we were almost there. 11 o’clock agonizingly turned into 12 o’clock. Why weren’t they letting us off? We needed a paper from immigration — from a man who already disembarked — stating we weren’t on a terrorist black list. All of us were stuffed into a narrow corridor with 350 other people rudely squeezing their way through. They would not let us off until, after waiting another 30 minutes, they did. Yippee! I guess they changed their minds about us being terrorists. Rudely squeezing our own way through psycho porters and passengers, we were on Egyptian soil. A beautiful air-conditioned bus took us to a hotel in the beautiful city of Aswan. We have our own air-conditioned room, with an en-suite and a refrigerator. The hotel has a rooftop pool overlooking the Nile and cold beer.

Sweet relief, at long last.


    hey are you guys planning to visit libya? Adam Koebel and his wife Laura will be living there at the end of the month. I believe they are in the city of ajdabya. Adam has a job there and has been travelling back and forth and is now living there permanently. Let me know and I’ll hook you up.

    […] arriving in Egypt via the overnight ferry across Lake Nasser, we spent three very relaxing days in Aswan. Compared to the Sudanese desert and […]

    Wow! Crazy heat and crazy beard!

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