The ferry from Egypt to Sudan along Lake Nasser is infamous amongst Africa over-landers. It's the only way to cross the border and is notoriously crowded, filthy, bureaucratic, and over-priced. We had been dreading it since the start of the trip.
Tickets are purchased from Mr Salah - a man described by other bloggers as being difficult to deal with, prone to mood-swings, and quoting crazy prices. However on our first introduction Nick was able to fix a problem with his computer and after that he was a total sweet-heart, even offering to come shopping with us to find some revolution bumper stickers that we'd been searching for. Tickets were purchased for a total of EP3000 (£320) which is expensive for Africa, but much less than we'd feared.
We set off for the port at 8am on Monday stopping off on route at the police station for some paper-work. At the port there was a couple more hours of form-filling and rubber stamping to be done. We joined forces with a group of Belgians who were driving to Ethiopia - the home-land of their adopted daughters. The two little girls were a joy to be around - always clowning about and I never heard a complaint from them once in the four days of waiting that we spent in their company.
By noon we had got to the ferry dock where the rather rusty ferry was waiting surrounded by mountains of boxes and sacks and throngs of Sudanese on their way home with all their earthly belongings in tow. It was incredibly hot so spoilt princess that I am, I left Nick to drive Brenda through the throng whilst I watched from a shady spot near by. I was glad of that decision when a small tornado hit the dock from out of no-where. It swept over the crowd lifting up a cloud of dust, rubbish, sacks and even large sheets of metal and hurled them up into the air over the lake. The Belgians and their cars were right in the eye of the tornado (see photo!) and were seriously lucky to have taken cover before the sheet metal hit them. Amazingly no-one was hurt and the tornado vanished as suddenly as it arrived.
The ferry doesn't take vehicles so Brenda needed to be loaded onto a barge. The barge was pulled up alongside the vertical edge of the dock and to my horror I realised that Nick was expected to drive it straight across the gap onto the barge with no ramp. This wouldn't have been so scary if the barge had been moored, but it was actually loose and steering itself back and forward to find the right spot where the dock height was level with the edge of the barge. Nick bravely drove her on and the Belgians drove their cars tightly alongside us. So tight in fact that Nick had to climb out through the window as the doors wouldn't open!
It was now 3pm the hottest part of the day and time to board the ferry. This was seriously unpleasant as the other passengers were in a desperate fight over the limited deck space. I got separated from Nick as we battled through the scrum and was crushed between local men everyone dripping in sweat. Some locals took pity on me and helped me crowd-surf my way onto the ferry - phew! By now I was so hot and filthy I was desperate to get to our 'first class' cabin to cool off and wash. Sadly the first class cabin was actually a tiny filthy closet with bunk beds and no window. Still this was luxury indeed compared to the majority of passengers who would have to sleep on deck sandwiched between boxes and bags. Apparently they have been ignoring the maximum capacity rules for the last few weeks to make room for refugees from Libya, so the ferry was very crowded. So began our 18 hour journey in a small rusty tin packed full of very sweaty men!
The ferry arrived in Wadi Halfa, Sudan at 9 the next morning. Wadi Halfa is a small, dusty place which only exists to service the weekly ferry passengers. We were greeted by the local tourist 'fixer' and directed to a basic hotel. We spent the rest of the day sorting out our 'alien registration'. The vehicle ferry wasn't scheduled to arrive until the next day as it doesn't have radar so can't travel after dark.
Wednesday dawned and we set off to the dock excited and anxious to see if Brenda had made it in one piece. We were deeply relieved to see her sat on the barge anchored just a few metres from the dock. The vehicle barge was parked up behind a cargo barge which was being unloaded by hand. We were advised to wait an hour until they would be ready to move our barge round for unloading. Several hours passed and nothing happened. Mazar, the fixer turned up and explained to us that there was a problem because our cars were actually on a cargo barge, not a vehicle barge and there was no easy way to unload them. The dock here is too low to drive straight off as in Aswan and they only had flimsy wooden ramps which wouldn't hold a car. There was a suggestion that we could move to another location to unload but not now as the wind might cause the barge to capsize! All day long we were told 'maybe later' but by 7pm as the sun set it became obvious that Brenda was going to spend another night on the barge.
The next morning (day 4 of our ferry experience!) Mazar assured us that the cars would be unloaded today. Miraculously some strong metal ramps had materialised but on the wrong dock. Nick and the Belgians helped shift the ramps onto a truck which drove us and the ramps to the correct dock where the barge was waiting. Unfortunately the barge was positioned such that there was a 6 foot drop from the barge to the dock, which would have been impossible to drive down even with the ramps. After much shouting by Mazar, the barge was eventually moved so the drop was only 3 foot. The two ramps were of significantly different lengths and were balanced quite precariously over the steep drop. More shouting ensued as the barge captain was worried that the cars would be damaged and didn't want to be held responsible. Eventually we were asked whether we thought we could get the cars off. Our answer of 'um… yes' was accepted as our taking full accountability and so the unload could begin.
The ramps shifted and bent as the vehicles rolled off but thank Allah all three vehicles got off without accident. A bit more paper-work and then we were off into the desert. We found a wonderful spot to camp at the foot of a huge sand dune. A brilliant end to four very stressful days.