Leaving Egypt and into Sudan
Written by Jess MC Cormack
We arrived at the Catholic Church and were kindly shown a room with our own little garden in the shade of some beautiful trees. The church was located right on the Nile’s edge with a spine of markets running around the back. Hoots, rings of bells and the sounds of the market could be heard clearly from our room, which was adjacent to the street. We got chatting to a young man, Romario, who then invited us for a meal of kishoury and took us for a walk along the Nile to a Coptic church.
The next morning, Robbie, Michie and I decided to go across the Nile to visit the st Simeon monastry, whose stone walls are camouflaged by the dunes they are nestled amongst. On the western bank of the Nile, we met some young Nubian men, who invited us to ride with them on their camels to a spot perched on the dune overlooking the monastry. We sat and chatted, listened to music and danced. One of the men, Ali, who apart from taking tourists up the dunes, also owns a coffee shop and is a farmer, agreed to show us around his farm, while he went through his daily routine of checking on his crops, goats and camels. It became apparent that this young man was already quite a central figure in the community, greeting and chatting to every person who passed.
The next morning, we decided to leave Aswan by 8 am, in the case of facing logistical issues while passing the highly secure Aswan dam wall. We got on our bicycles later than expected so Angus went ahead, while Mich, Robbie and myself sorted out a few last things. A few kilometers into the 17 km journey to ferry, we got a text saying Angus had been stopped by the police. We rerouted around the check point, only to pass another checkpoint a few kilometers from the dam wall. Picking up our pace, we peddled quickly past the check point, greeted by the most friendly policeman in the whole of Egypt, who, rather than flagging us down with shouts of “no!”, cheered us on as we rode past. We eventually crossed the dam wall, which holds back the 300 km body of water we were about to cross by ferry.
After various security checks, passport control and negotiations on extra prices, we finally arrived on the ferry and were officially stamped out of Egypt. We climbed to the top deck of the ferry and made our space for the night, nestled between the captains control room and the boat railing.
Joining close to 100 Sudanese and Egyptians and their bags of Doritos, tuk tuks, fridges and LED TVs on their commute from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, was one of the highlights of the trip so far. The 24 hour journey meant we were able to witness the sunrise and sunset over Lake Nasser and adjacent desert, along with our fellow passengers who had climbed to the top to also witness the spectacle.
Arriving in Wadi Halfa, it was interesting to note the allopatric divergence in culture resulting from the border, which runs in a straight line along 22 degrees North. Fool and falafel remain staples in the street food vendor stalls, while new additions such as gurassa and assida were served in bowls lined with an almost pancake like bread called kissra. The mens’ nicotine addiction is subdued by chewing snuff rather than incessant cigarette smoking. The scent of Frankenscence drifts from the shops into the streets. The phrase “tamam” replaces “meya meya”, as the commonly used phrase for “all good” and there is a giving culture in Sudan, which puts Africa Burn to shame.
After some bureaucratical proceedings at the police station, we filled our tummies at a street-side restaurant in town. Once we had finished it was already late so we decided to go around a koppie on the edge of lake nasser, just outside of town to set up our tents. We pushed our bicycles around several small bays and found a private space to put up our tents.
Robbie went and checked what lay around the bay. He excitedly ran back, explaining that there were people playing music, actual live music. We pushed our bikes around the bay and sounds of strings and voices grew louder as we approached a shelter constructed with old fishing boats flipped on their side, with fishing nets and line thrown over the top as a roof. The people inside were clapping, not necessary in time, to a man singing and playing the tambour, while passing around a homemade liquor made from dates. The atmosphere was one of joy and freedom amongst the men and ourselves as we sang and danced and admired yet another beautiful sunset over Lake Nasser. We were invited to set up our tents alongside their shelter and some delicious fish was cooked on the fire for us to eat. We all eventually retired to bed with Abu Shaman pushing his bed outside and placing it alongside our tents and placing a blanket over Michie and my tent to make sure we were extra warm.
We rose the next day, and after eating and acquiring SIM cards we cycled with the strong tailwind allowing us to cover a fair amount of distance before we decided to look for another place to set up our tents. We set our eyes on a river bed with a perfect dune in the background and a small rocky outcrop offering a space to set up our tents, out of site from the highway on which we were traveling. We climbed to the top of the dune to watch the sunset over a panoramic view of the desert, which was complimented by a beautiful moon rise over the crisp line of the sand dune, set against deep blues and purples. The wood of the trees in the riverbed provided us with fire to cook another delicious meal under the desert stars.
The next morning we pushed our bikes through the sand back to the highway. The tail winds pushed us along the quiet roads, which we had almost all to ourselves. Water is readily available in ceramic pots on the side of the road, waiting for passers by to fill their containers. We were also delighted at the availability of freshly cooked ful at gold mining and truck stops.
The next day we were curious to see what lay adjacent to the Nile. So we took a vague turnoff and rode between family compounds and farmlands. We stopped and asked a young man where we could purchase some food and he unhesitatingly invited us inside for a hearty bowl of ful and with some kissra.
After cycling no more than 1 km down the A1, two ladies waved at us to stop and invited us in for tea.
This quickly turned into an invitation to stay for the night. After being in Egypt, which has a heavy masculine dominance, we have been grateful for the feminine presence in our interactions with the people we have met in Sudan. At Haifa and Salama’s house, there were at any time between 3 and 10 women in the house and we experienced motherly love and care from all of the women there.