Boats, bikes, heat, sand and trains . . .
We arrived at the port in good time. Although we were ready to go at 10am, the boat wouldn't sail until 5pm! Lots of fun to be had in the meantime counting the droplets of sweat dripping from your nose and trying to make patterns with it on the tarmac before it evaporated. Normally vehicles go on the three-day barge and not the actual 'ferry', which goes overnight. Since the barge wasn't going at all, the man who had the stamp for our Carnets was having the day off and had to be raised from his bed to open the drawer wherein lay the stamp. This cost him 20LE in taxi fares and we'd better reimburse this expense, or else. So the boat itself wasn't a roll-on, roll-off ferry at all. More like climb-on,climb-off. With the help of lots and lots of shouting men and a couple of old, broken, wooden pallets we rode and heaved all three into the passenger gangway. Photos of this would have been perfect but cameras are very much frowned upon here. Be assured, it was utter chaos and I used some 'measured tones' as I rode on board. We'd never have done it without all the shouting though.
The crossing of Lake Nasser was relatively peaceful. There wasn't all that much to do except sit on the sacks of fish feed on the top deck and watch the sun and then the moonset. Then enjoy a few stars. Early to bed in order to be up in time for passing Abu Simbel in the morning.
The sun was just rising on our backs over the Eastern Desert as we approached and the boat pulled in close. Busloads of tourists were tiny specks in front of this massive, amazing monument to Rameses II and his dear wife. I think the lake was surely the best vantage point. The sun got a lot warmer as we passed and so we cowered below, apprehensive about what lay ahead. This ferry goes about as far as the Rosyth-Zeebrugge one and anyone who's used that will know about the temperature change from Scotland to Belgium. Somewhere in the middle of the lake we had crossed the Tropic of Cancer and we were heading much further south. The breeze made it all seem easy, but would there be any breeze on the land?
Lots of squashing and much more shouting much more loudly and all the bikes were off and we headed for the customs shed. During the time this took I tried various ways of fitting the washers I'd blagged from the Chief Engineer on the ferry, to the front wheel. No joy whatsoever! Eventually we wibbled and we wobbled off into the sands of Wadi Halfa (renamed hopefully "Wadi Halfords", but actually in vain!). It quickly became apparent (about 6miles down the sandy road!) that my bike wasn't exactly compatible with the other two for this sort of thing. Their wider tyres meant they could go much more slowly whereas I had to keep up momentum or sink. Also their far better, more modern brakes meant they could stop and after RedNick stopped dead in front of me I could only take desperate 'evasive action'. This meant going off the road in a wide arc over lots of tyre-ruts, gunning the engine, getting not very far, then wobbling a lot before thumping down softly into the sand! Just as well I'd forgotten to tie my boots up, or I'd never have got that authentic Saharan experience of bootsful of sand! A little bit more of this and we decided that it would maybe be better if Rachel and her extra baggage got the train. On the way to the station we decided that it would maybe be better if the bike and I tried to get the train too!! The play in the front bearing was moving the dust cover - exposing the bearing itself to the sandy elements. I'd be lucky to get 30miles before it became full of sand and dust and (literally) ground to a halt. I had been hoping against hope for a soft dirt road, but this was soft sand!
We waved our hankies and tried not to snuffle as the Nicks rode bravely southwards, off into the desert following a pick-up truck, shouting and promising to try and re-group in Khartoum.
A train was waiting at the station but of course we could hardly hope to have negotiated passage ourselves. Up pops Mazar to help. He takes us all over the place buying tickets and organising for the bike to go in the goods wagon. "No, it won't spill its petrol, I promise!" Once seated (after only a few short hours wait, Mazar appeared on the train again and I reached for my wallet. "No, please no (you'd have thought I'd pointed a gun at him!), but here is my brother's number in Khartoum. You must call him if you need anything, anything at all." True kindness beats cynicism again, and we sit quietly and not a little shamefully!
I'll spare you the details of the train. They wouldn't let us take a photie as I rode the bike up a girder, no wider than the tyre itself, onto the goods wagon. The only funny part. I've never been much use at public transport (I think it's the 'public' aspect - sorry public!) at the best of times. But I can tell you that the very idea of a squat-down toilet on a very wobbly train does NOT work and should obviously have been just a quick laugh in the drawing office. This railway was built at the end of the 19th century by Lord Kitchener and really hasn't had any upgrades since. The Wadi Halfa-Khartoum express whistled through the desert at a very scary 36kph (23mph). It had all the definitive trajectory of a very, very buckled wheel. We were in a cabin with six others. Heat. No leg-room. Heat. No washing facilities. Heat and sweat. Feet and heat. Our companions all smoked very smelly cigarettes very heavily. An open window invited clouds of dust in. No air but lots of smoke, heat and plenty of sweat with dust sticking to it - and sweaty feet. Yummy! Sometimes the train stopped. Stretch outside into the oven - this was at night!! Two nights and one day on a swinging, sweating, smelling train did nothing for my old back wound. Can't remember ever being so sore and filthy, but this included much of the dust from the spill at Wadi Halfa. (I know, but that is sparing the details!)
The train squeaked and shook slowly into Khartoum and we eventually collected the bike from the goods wagon after chasing it around sidings for an hour. We're told the Secret Police here may try to sell you beer so that they can put you in jail. We started looking for hotels and at the first hotel . . . "Hello, can I help you?" This bloke looked strangely familiar. "But . . . don't we know you?"
"My brother Mazar was in Wadi Halfa . . ." said Moez, Mazar's double. Complete coincidence that in a city of three million souls, we should roll up to the one hotel he is standing outside. We didn't stay there but in a much better one. Good barbecued chicken for tea, and Rachel has contacted her people here. They're picking her up today so I'll be alone again to get myself organised. With Moez and his brother Midhat's help!
I'll miss Rachel's company as well as her positive input. She fitted in extremely well, knowing just what to do and when, how best to help and never complaining. It was two whole weeks and we were a pretty good wee team from the off. A highly recommended pillion passenger. Difficult, however, even for me, to believe we did all those sunsets over the Nile, sailing in felluccas, swimming in the Red Sea and the Nile, camping under desert stars, horse-riding beneath the pyramids, motorcycling through the Egyptian mountains, yet still she stubbornly refused to fall for me!! The age of romance is truly over! Never mind. Thanks a lot and best of luck Rachel . . . :-)