The Nubian Desert
Wadi Halfa, the town at the northern edge of the Nubian Desert, a part of the mighty Sahara, was a pleasant surprise after Egypt. The town was clean and neat, with no rubbish lying around the houses or in the empty spaces of the desert. We wandered around the "commercial" centre of town - it was a bustling market day. The people were friendly and smiled and greeted us. It was nice to be approached by people who only wanted to say hello and welcome, and not have them try and sell you something or convince you to visit their brother's shop. Again, not like Egypt at all!
Our group had grown for the desert crossing. A young English couple, Malcolm and Sam, and an Austrian couple, Helmut and Babs, joined us. We had met Helmut and Babs back in the campground in Aqaba, and Debs and Thiemo had come across Malcolm and Sam who were delivering a Land Rover to Khartoum. Safety in numbers in the desert and we were happy to have them along.
After getting our police registration completed, we formed our convoy and headed for the "road" to Khartoum. Just outside Wadi Halfa, the tarred road just stopped! The only way is to follow the railway across the desert. There followed two and a half days of driving through sand, over stony ground, around and over hills and mountains. We camped in the middle of wide open spaces, with not even a blade of grass around us. It is desert at the extremes. With no vegetation, there was no animal life as well - in the morning there was not a single track, in the soft sand, not even small lizard or insect.
We enjoyed the driving. Sand driving requires full concentration and is never boring. Some of the group got bogged at one particularly soft area. We were behind and saw what had happened so found another route though the small valley. Helmut is in a GPS club and so we did a short detour to the exact spot of 20 deg north, 33 deg east. Someone had already been there before and had marked the spot with a circle of stones. Then, just as we were leaving, I discovered we were almost out of fuel. Fred and Debs who was in Fred's car at the time, stayed to help us get some fuel out of the jerry cans into the car. Debs showed us the use of an African funnel - a cut-off soft drink bottle. We went to follow the tracks of the rest of the party, but to our dismay, it was almost impossible to determine which were the right tracks! The desert is completely criss-crossed with tyre tracks going every which-way. So we did the logical thing and headed for the railway track and one of the stations to sit and wait for the party to come and find us. We were happy to have the opportunity to look around the station which was abandoned. There were round conical roofed huts with thick walls which were surprisingly cool in the desert heat - it has been around 35 deg C every day here - and water storage tanks and mud brick structures. After a while the Land Rovers loomed out of dust clouds to find us as we knew they would!
As we travelled east and south,after reaching tarred roads again, the landscape gradually changed. Although still desert, there was increasing vegetation, more and more small villages and lots of camels, donkeys, and dogs. People everywhere waved and smiled at us. If we were stopped anywhere, someone would always come up to greet us and say hello, even if that was the only English word they knew. There are very few private cars on the roads - mostly big trucks - and so the sight of a convoy of lkandies must have been an unusual sight for the locals.
Before Khartoum, our last bush camp was at the Meroe Pyramids, structures built by the last pharonic civilisation around 300AD. We woke in the morning to find ourselves ringed by donkeys and camels and their owners. Sudan has no tourists to speak of and we were eagerly shown their wares on blankets spread out on the sand. And some quite interesting stuff amongst it all - fossil shells, old coins, handcrafts, jewellery. We were happy to buy some - the money is a real bonus for a very poor community. The pyramids were marvellous, with some restoration work. The soft sandstone they are built of is being sandblasted by the wind and sand dunes are encroaching. But what a joy to be able to look around without the throngs of tourists. We were virtually the only people there.