Trip Diary - Africa

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We caught the overnight ferry on Lake Nasser from Aswan (Egypt) to Wadi Halfa (Sudan). As it is the only way to travel between Egypt and Sudan, the tickets are expensive. There were no cabins left and the dingy second class was in the bowels of the boat, so we opted for a space on the deck right outside the captain’s control room. The ferry was overcrowded. There were people sleeping in every corner of the boat. If it had been a scramble getting onto the vessel, it was mayhem disembarking the following morning. We had taken warm clothing and our own bedding with us. Ashleigh and Seamus, without a grumble, carried their fair load. They were pushed and bumped about by the sheer number of people and cargo moving backwards and forwards down the narrow corridors and stairs. A quick head count onshore confirmed we had all survived.

We then collected our vehicle and trailer which had travelled a few days before us (somehow safely-GS), cleared immigration and customs (after a long wait for officials, who only work one day a week, and then can’t arrive on time) and headed into a country that was unknown to us all. I had my reservations about Sudan and especially taking my children into it. Our first night was spent rough camping on the shores of Lake Nasser. The following morning we suggested to our travelling companions to go on ahead of us, as we were a bigger group and would need to travel more slowly than them.

We packed up our camp and drove for Abri along a dirt track riddled with corrugations. Distracted by a trapped fly in the car, we hit a rock and punctured the right front wheel. Whilst Graham put on the spare, I made us a cup of tea from the back of the trailer. That night we camped in the desert near Abri. The following morning we discovered that Miranda (the landcruiser) wouldn’t start. It appeared to be an electrical problem; something had shaken loose on the road. The only clue being every warning light illuminated at the same time. Unable to find the problem, Graham emailed (using our satellite dish) Julian, a landcruiser owner/expert in the UK, who made a few suggestions and in 5 minutes we were on our way again……many thanks to Julian.

Abri was a lovely little village. We strolled through the souk and met a few locals who welcomed us so warmly. We were invited into a shop for a friendly cup of tea whilst our puncture was being repaired.

The main road along the Nile to Dongola is severely corrugated dirt, punctuated occasionally with Nubian villages and views of the Nile through the trees. That night we camped alongside the river looking out onto palm trees and bulrushes. Nobody minded and left us alone. The third night we camped on a patch of land close to a Nubian home. We asked permission. They were delighted and invited us in for tea. They have wonderful homes, consisting of a large central courtyard with trees and plants, enclosed by 4 walls into which the rooms are built.

We crossed the Nile by ferry at Dongola. Our vehicle was squeezed on with 2 others and all the gaps between and under the vehicles were packed in with people, donkey carts and herds of goats……a classic photo opportunity.

Once on the other side of the river the road took us away from the fertile Nile into the desert, a vast white wasteland littered with the carcasses of cattle, donkeys and camels which hadn’t survived the journey from the camel market in Khatoum to the northern region of the country and onto Egypt. Eventually the dusty road turned to asphalt and we made fair progress. That night we camped up behind a sand dune off the road. There were a couple of camels browsing from nearby acacia trees. It was the first bit of evidence of savannah bush.

The following day we drove into the Blue Nile Sailing Club in Khartoum. We camped up in the car park, sat out on the green grassy lawn looking out over the Blue Nile drinking cold coke. Although it wasn’t an official campsite, we enjoyed it a lot and stayed eight days. The children loved it for the space and the friends they made.

During that time we decided to have another night in the desert, and visited the Meroe pyramids. They were too expensive to enter but we got a great view of them from a sand dune nearby, behind which we camped under the stars that night. Only to wake early the next morning covered in a fine layer of red dust and a couple of Sudanese people sitting nearby trying to promote their camel rides and pyramid souvenirs.

Driving towards Khartoum along the asphalt road Miranda’s right front wheel suddenly flew off, we watched in amazement as we saw it bounce 15 metres into the air, bounding across a dry river bed and coming to rest 200m away from the road. Graham, with all his experience of driving, was able to bring the vehicle to a gentle standstill on the edge of the road. On inspection all 6 wheel nuts had sheared. Graham did a bush repair job on the roadside whilst the children and I explored acacia trees and ant lion holes.

As Khartoum is very sophisticated we were able to pop into Toyota and purchase the bits to repair the broken wheel properly.

I managed to visit the brand new International School of Khartoum. The building was so impressive it would put any BMW head office to shame in comparison. Along with 2 Australian girls I had met (one who is riding her bicycle through Africa) we attended an interesting talk given by Prof Wildung, an archaeologist from Germany, who spoke about Sudan as the cradle of humankind. Remarkably, the history of Egyptian civilization goes back 4 500 years, the history of Sudanese civilization goes back 12 500 years.

The following day we packed up and headed south for Ethiopia. We spent one night in a scruffy hotel in Gaderef before crossing the border the following morning.

Sudan was an unexpected highlight. In this dry and dusty country the Sudanese people are extremely generous and warm hearted. If you care to befriend them they will invite you into their homes and provide wonderful hospitality. They ask for nothing except perhaps a wave and a smile. Our children cried when it was time to leave.

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