The Road to Sudan

Would you like to go to Khartoum, capital of Sudan? If so, then follow these simple instructions and in no time at all (five days or so) you too can be here with us, sipping jebanna (coffee) on a street corner under the leafy green shade of a tree.

First you must get yourself to the Aswan High Dam for 11AM at the latest(a huge rockfill dam which captures the world’s longest river, the Nile, in the world’s third largest reservoirs, Lake Nasser) in Egypt. Locate the ferry terminal. Simply follow the streams of taxis jammed with people and overloaded with assorted household furniture. The terminal will be easily identified: queues will stream from the gate for what seems like miles and the pandemonium will be unmistakable. On arrival, join the chaos – trying not to suffocate in the crowds. You must first of all get past the gate. After that, you must get through security. Then it’s on to baggage control. Next you need to swap one meal ticket for another (not exactly sure why) and after all of that you need to get onboard the tin can ferry. With any luck, you should be ready to depart at about 6PM – it takes a lot of time to unload all those trucks by hand you know. Might I suggest that rather than camping in the cramped conditions below deck that you perhaps consider the All About Africa Option: climb to the top of the ship, find a comfortable cranny beneath a lifeboat, climb into your sleeping bag and spend an evening with the stars.

After twenty four hours on the ferry (six of which will be spent in port, twelve of which will be spent in darkness, eight of which will be spent ogling the beauty of Lake Nasser) you will arrive in the hamlet of Wadi Halfa in Northern Sudan. You will be in Wadi for at least a day waiting for the train to take you to Khartoum. So check into the rustic Nile Hotel and choose between a communal bed in the enclosure or one of the quaint dorm rooms made of mud with sandy floors. Treat yourself to the renowned fish (delicious) and strike up a conversation with the locals at one of the restaurants in town. Relax. You have a long journey ahead.

In the morning, go to the train station and get yourself a train ticket. The journey will take between thirty five and fifty hours (you never can tell) so try to spend the extra five dollars on first class tickets and when you discover that they are already sold out, get second class. Come back to board the train in twelve hours time.

The first segment of the railway, from Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamad, was built by General Herbert Kitchener in his drive against the Mahdiyah in the late 1890s. In many ways, the train itself resembles something from about this time. It may well be. It travels at a speed of about 40km and hour which means you will have ample opportunity to take in the vastness of the desert on either side during the first portion of the trip. You will sleep in a cabin with seven other people but beware: children do not count as people when it comes to ticket sales so you might find yourself, as we did, in a cabin with ten others. I know it’s difficult to sleep sitting up with children wrapped around your feet and luggage sticking into your ribs but do try – you will be very cranky if you don’t manage it.

I wouldn’t recommend this at home of course but if you do find yourself feeling bored and/or adventurous why not climb onto the roof of the train during one of the stops? You will have a splendid view of the Nile of course, you will shout greetings at children from the various mud-brick villages en-route and you will have the company of the forty or so people who dodge the fare by taking the entire trip on the rooftop. You might also decide to brave the roof on into the nighttime to ogle the stars – they are upside down in this part of the world and very plain to see.

Imagine it. Just carry out these simple instructions and with just five days travel from Egypt you too could be here in Khartoum with us. Why not? It’s a fabulous country. Much as the Irish were at pains to point out that the troubles were an isolated phenomenon, the Sudanese are at pains to remind us that the conflict here is isolated to one or two areas. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m very impressed. The people are friendly and helpful and genuine. Strangers will approach you on the street to offer their assistance and to welcome you to Sudan. The scenery is stunning. It’s not often that you see desert together with the lush landscape of the Nile Valley. In Khartoum, you can see the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. You can take your ease with a cuppa shai (tea) or maybe you fancy a spot of shopping at the souq (market). You decide. Will we see you in a week?

– Written by Niamh O Riordan and published in The Imokilly People

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