Crossing the Sahara part 2: Egypt

Wadi Halfa, the last town in Sudan before the Egyptian border, isn’t a place you would choose to linger. A dead end town of squat, one story buildings, dirty eateries serving dirty food, and even dirtier hotels, amongst the dust and sand of the Sahara desert. Unfortunately for us, Sudanese bureaucracy is incredibly slow, so, to ensure we had enough time to jump through all their hoops before leaving on the weekly ferry to Egypt, we had to arrive in town a day early.

 

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Wadi Halfa, disappearing into the sands as we walk away to the ferry

We spent most of our time safely ensconced in our hotel room, venturing out intermittently to eat diarrhoea inducing fuul or falafel. And so it was with relief that, after multiple hours in the police station trying to get a departure card, and even more time in the ferry terminal checking passports, luggage and other documents, we finally boarded the ferry. There aren’t many places in the world where a first class ticket gets you a closet of a room and a shared hole in the floor for a toilet, but it turns out Sudan is one of the few. Oh, and as an added bonus if you wanted a shower you had to stand over the hole-in-the-floor toilet as if about to take a shit! With very little to do on board and unpleasant aromas lurking around every corner, I spent the majority of the nineteen hour journey reading in the top bunk of our closet-cabin.

 

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First class facilities, Sudanese style

The ferry travels the full length of Lake Nasser, from Wadi Halfa in the south to Aswan High Dam, the blockage of the Nile which produced the lake in 1970, in the north. On arrival in the south we made our way to the town of Aswan ready for a relaxing three day felucca ride down the Nile the following day.

 

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Cruising Lake Nasser, in the middle of the desert

Relaxing, however, it was not. After agreeing a price, a destination and a menu we gradually realised as time went on that nothing we had agreed on was going to happen. No meat and no attempt to reach our desired destination, actually only half way there. Spending three days with the people who are ripping you off and repeatedly lying to you isn’t the most enjoyable excursion, especially when you’re stuck on a boat with no chance of escape. In the end they dumped us on the side of the river 10km short even of their revised destination, with not so much as a hint of an apology. Not a great introduction to Egypt or its people, but one that was to be indicative of the majority of our future interactions with Egyptians.

 

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Our ride for three days on the river

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Trying to banish the anger on the final day

We never did see the Temples of Kom Ombo or Edfu, both part of the original itinerary, but after an afternoon on the buses, and in the back of pickup trucks, we did make it to Luxor, and a hotel where we could hide from the locals. Luxor is famous for its temples and proximity to the west bank Valley of the Kings, an elaborate graveyard for the Pharaohs of the middle kigdom, the capital of which was Luxor.

 

So the following day, the last before the final leg of our journey, I headed out on a tour of the west bank (of the Nile). And that’s when I realised why so many people visit this country. In the valley of the Kings we went into three different Pharaohs’ tombs, tunnels carved deep into the rock leading to great chambers and giant stone coffins, every wall covered in 3000+ year old paintings and hieroglyphics. A mind boggling display of ancient craftsmanship that has stood the test of time.

 

Unfortunately there was no photography allowed at all in the valley of the Kings but at our next stop, Queen Hatshepsuts Temple, we could snap to our hearts content. A policy that the hundreds of schoolkids made the most of as soon as they saw a white guy amongst them, and at times I felt like more of an attraction than the temple itself. The temple had been sympathetically restored in more recent times and was very impressive beneath imposing limestone cliffs on the sandy plain.

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Standing guard outside Hatshepsuts Temple

 

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An Egyptian all-you-can-eat

Our final stop before returning to Luxor was the Temple of Habu. A Goliath of a structure and still standing after three millenia it was simply superb. My words are not able to describe the grandeur of the place and the photos don’t even come close to portraying its majesty. The combination of the size, age, and detail of the paintings and wall carvings left me in total wonderment. You simply have to go.

 

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The Temple of Habu, without the crowds

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A view inside
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A 3000 year old staue inside the Temple of Habu

After an evening walk along Luxors Nile-side Corniche past the city centre Luxor Temple, watching the sunset over the languid waters of the Nile, we were finally ready to finish our journey. Next stop Cairo!

 

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Sunset over the Nile

This leg

Days: 6

Time on public transport: 25hrs30mins

Distance travelled: approx. 715km

Countries visited: 2

 

Total

Days: 79

Time on public transport: 16days12hrs15mins

Distance travelled: approx. 17,973km

Countries visited: 13

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