Aurel: After a nice time in Luxor we take the road to Aswan where we can take a boat to Sudan. This is the only way to enter Sudan by land.
On the road I see that I start to have a bit of water in the oil...
Loïc: We find this out thanks to the CJ Design clutch cover.
Aurel: We are a bit disappointed by Aswan, a charmless city despite the Nil's presence. Having said that we have not much time to visit it. We spend 2 days taking care of necessary procedures to book the boat tickets. We need to:
- check if there are any tickets left for the passenger and the vehicle boats in an agency
- pick up a paper for our bikes at the police station
- return our license plates at the customs
- go back to the agency to pay the boat tickets
And the day after:
- ride the bikes to the port and load them on the barges.
And finally 2 days later:
- board on the passenger boat and navigate on the Nasser Lake to reach Sudan the next day.
We need 4 days to reach Sudan. The bikes arrived 2 days after us. Overall it takes us 6 days to cross the border!
Said like this it does not sound terrible, does it? But actually it takes 10h to load 5 bikes and 3 4X4 on a barge... While we were buying our boat tickets we met a couple of other adventurers who do the same kind of tour than us. An English couple with their Unimog Mercedes, an Irish couple driving a Land Rover, a Belgian couple with a Land Cruiser traveling with their friend riding a Yamaha 660, a Dutch couple with a Honda Transalp and finally two English people on bicycles! We loaded our vehicles together so we helped each other.
Loïc: Traveling at 2 people lowers the level of stress in difficult moments (usually when crossing borders). I now realize that being a larger group of people adds to the comfort.
Aurel: It all starts at the port. First we need to wait for the captains to decide which vehicles are going to fit on which barge etc. But you have to know that these barges are not meant to transport vehicles. There is a specific barge for vehicles moored 100 m away that would solve our problems in 15 minutes. But apparently they are not very keen on using it...
The Irish are the first ones to load their 4X4. And the problems already begin. There is a 30 cm step to climb, the dock is sloping and the barge moves, so we waste time.
It is 45 degrees Celsius in the shadow so we try to avoid the sun as much as possible.
Once the 4X4 of the Irish is loaded there is no space left on this barge but there are plenty of other vehicles to load!
We change barge and it takes time... we wait, we wait... et people negotiate for who knows what... so we decide to take a swim in the Nil!
Loïc: No, I don't pull my tummy in for the picture!
Aurel: We swim until the Fixer comes and asks us to get out of the water to avoid being eaten by crocodiles which are around here. A "Fixer" is a guy who makes himself indispensable to tourists at the customs. He is the only one who can do the administrative procedures with the authorities. And of course he takes a fee.
The last problem to overcome is to find ramps solid enough for the 8 tonnes of the English's Unimog. Wooden ramps obviously break.
There are metal ramps but they are too far away and the barges' employees do not want to carry them. Ok we are going to pull them with the 4X4...
We finally load the 4X4 after hours of readjustments and blabla...
We quickly add the bikes at the front of the barges and it is over!
Bye bye bikes, we will see you in 4 days!
After all this we rush to the hotel where the English stay to enjoy the pool on the roof, with a nice view of the Nil. We well deserve it after a day waiting in the sun!
From left to right: Keim, Yoann (hidden by Keim), Marco, Loïc, Steven, Stéphanie, Chloé, Adam, Tim.
Loïc: Because of this picture I suggest that we delete the words "The Hard Way" from the trip's name...
Aurel: The day after it is our turn to board on the passenger boat. We were warned that we would be packed together like sardines so it was wise to arrive there very early to get one of the rare seats in the shadow. We turn up before the port's opening and we are not the only ones. But as tourists we are a bit privileged and it is easy to go in the front...
We board after a few procedures. It is about 60 degrees Celsius inside, it smells fusty and we can't lie down. The only solution is to go on the upper deck. Only lifeboats can eventually offer some shadow.
There we decide to split into 2 groups, each under a lifeboat.
Once the boat is full it is difficult to go from one side to the other!
We boarded at 10am but the boat only raises the anchor at 5pm.Well, people came heavy-laden...
The night quickly falls and we go the boat's cafeteria in turns. Some of us eat while other carefully keep our place under the lifeboats.
I find an Egyptian lying down on my mattress when we get back from the cafeteria. We are already 3 people sleeping on 1m50 widthwise so there is no room for him. I make him understand that he needs to find another place and he finally leaves, sulking. Besides this guy does not have a nice face...
I sleep between one of the Belgian, Yoann, and the English girl, Chloé, who does not like the air conditioning of her cabin where her husbands sleeps. At 1am her husband wakes her up so she can give him a medicine for stomach ache. This bustle wakes Yoann and myself up. We smoke a cigarette and suddenly I notice that my bag is missing. There are plenty bags of different kinds on the deck. I finally find mine 10 minutes later. When I fell asleep it was close to my head and I find it a few meters away. I realize that my camera, my GPS and my toilet bag have disappeared. FUCK !!
I go downstairs with Chloé to talk to the Fixer, the guy who liaise with tourists and authorities. He is Sudanese and when I tell him that I had my stuff stolen, his first reaction is: "that's an Egyptian for sure, Sudanese people do not steal". Funny. But I am not in the mood to laugh. We quickly discuss the strategy to find the thief. I think of offering $100 to anyone who would get my equipment back but the Fixer advises me not to do so. According to him (and he is right) it will only confirmed to the robber that what he stole is of high value and is worth being resold. In the worst case scenario the stealer will be afraid and will throw everything in the water. The Fixer proposes not to do anything for now and to warn the custom officers so they can shakedown Egyptians once we reach Sudan. But what if the thief is Sudanese? Anyway he knows the place and the authorities better so I have no other choice but to leave it to him.
It's difficult to fall asleep again. I keep an eye open and I suspect all the people moving on the deck. And then I remember the Egyptian guy I chased away from my mattress a couple of hours earlier...
I go see Loïc in the morning under the other lifeboat and I tell him the story. He was sleeping with the Dutch couple and they found the same Egyptian trying to steal their sleeping bas twice! We make progress with the investigation!
I keep the Fixer informed and he askes me to describe the guy. Not easy. Easy to differentiate two western men but it is more difficult to differentiate two Egyptians. However the guy has very unusual hair and the Fixer quickly gets who I am talking about. Loïc discreetly tries to take a picture of him.
Egyptians with curly hair are pretty thin on the ground!
Anyway, the custom officers will get the guy when we will disembark. We can only wait and hope that this man is the thief.
Once in the port, we wait for the Egyptian to turn up at the customs. And then things go fast, the Egyptian is surrounded by custom officers... and my GPS and camera are on the table! HOURRA!
Well.. my robber is not very smart. He hid my stuff in a coolbox full of water... The GPS is waterproof but the camera is dripping wet and one of the officer makes the mistake of turning it on. Short circuit...the camera is broken.
To make it short:
- I am asked if I want to send the guy in prison and I say yes
- I have to sign a statement in Arabic at the customs (private joke: where was my lawyer Maître Marty???)
- The Dutch guy gives his name as he is the witness
- We go to the head office customs with the thief for some additional procedures
- We visit the prison where I am shown the Egyptian's cell (very weird feeling to put someone in prison)
- My GPS and camera are kept for the trial: too bad, I have not planned to stay here for months!
Loïc: Aurel goes from one room to another in the prison for the papers. And I am waiting in the room where they prepare the food. A policeman chats with me for 10 minutes and then leaves. Another one comes in, lies down and falls asleep. As I am ensconced in a faded sofa I take a small nap. This is why I am allowed to say that I have been sleeping in a Sudanese prison!
Aurel: The trial happens the next day. I am offered to get my camera and GPS back if I withdraw my complaint. The guy will be expelled from Sudan and will probably go in prison in Egypt.
The courthouse is nice, is not it?
Loïc: I feared the worst in Sudan for anything related to administration and authorities (police and others) but actually the climate seems to be quite healthy, serene. It has never been question of backshish or intimidation whatsoever. A pleasant surprise!
Aurel: Once are adventures are over we wait for the barges in a city looking like a Wild West city. The first contact with Sudan is very positive. People are extremely nice! Nothing to do with the image that we can have of Sudan when we watch TV.
The barges arrive 2 days later and we all get our 4X4 and bikes back. HOURRA!
It is time to ride through Sudan and to live new adventures!