Khartoum to Cairo - Egypt at last! (Milestone)
Don't listen to people who say things are impossible - unless it motivates you ;)
When you meet as fine people as I have been fortunate to cross paths with, leaving any place becomes so much harder. But I left Khartoum.
For years I've had this idea that a great deal of people probably have set out to pay a visit to every country. But then they get tired. Or perhaps they get comfortable somewhere? Or perhaps they lose track of what the point was to begin with. Less than 200 people in history have reached every country within their lifetime. In comparison more than 5,000 have summited Mt. Everest. So what do you think is the hardest? I know the two cannot be compared... But I promise you this is not easy ;)
Marwan made Sudan for me as a souvenir to remember my time there.
Some of my Sudanese family :)
I got a little sidetracked. But back to my point. If you fall in love with a country, a town or someone's heart then that might anchor you forever and you'll never reach every country. Personally parts of my heart has now been spread across more than half the world. Let's hope it recovers. Never before has one man owed so much to so many.
More Sudanese family :)
Fortunate to meet up with some Great Danes before leaving :)
I left Khartoum on a bus much against my will. I wanted the train but couldn't wait around for the next one which would leave a week later. The scenery was splendid though. Sudan is beautiful!
Near the Egyptian border while still in Sudan you will find Wadi Halfa. A quiet but interesting border town neatly on the eastern side of the Nile. I spent a night at an average hotel and wondered if everything would go well the following day. I had a ticket for the steamboat but was told that I needed to confirm it as early as possible. Also I was told that the boat would leave at 5pm. Great because I would then get the sunset across the Nile and as a unique bonus I would get to see the spectacular temple at Abu Simbel. What more could a traveler dream of?
The next day I was told that my ticket was fine and that I didn't need to confirm anything. I've had my share of bad information but trusted this anyway. Then I was told that there was no need to be at the boat before 6pm? Was everything going to be alright? Just before 6pm I got a ride to the terminal. They took my ticket and registered me. No problem. Then I waited as I saw the sun set through the terminal window. No boat sunset then...and it got dark...no temple then. And it got late...
The fellow who wanted exit tax. Sure...take my money...
With a lot of chaos all passengers needed to clear immigration and I had to pay an extra departure fee of SDG 80? Not a fortune but come on Sudan? USD 100 visa, USD 50 for registration and now a departure fee? Most expensive country so far. From many countries I have experience with non legitimate fees and assessed that this one was legit. It wasn't just another authoritarian figure trying to pocket some money so I paid. Then with more chaos than necessary we all went through a luggage control. Why didn't we do this while waiting for all this time? Oh well...
All of these people wanted their luggage checked before everyone else...
I got to walk out to the boat around 9pm. I boarded and walked down the stairs to second class because the first class sleeping cabins were sold out days in advance. Second class wasn't to rough but they had air conditioning which was set at penguin! Can someone explain to me why warm countries on various continents always set it at penguin? I managed to secure myself a bench and fell asleep. I guess we were about 100 passengers onboard and it was a mix of various Sudanese people. Quite a few were sick and heading for a hospital in Egypt. Some were businessmen dreaming about securing a great deal and bring merchandise back home to Sudan. Yet again some were just family or friends looking to visit.
Second class before it filled up.
When I woke up the next morning I was in more pain than I had been in for a while. All my muscles were sore, my nose was clogged and I remember thinking: "what if every morning the rest of my life would be like this?" Could I stand living like that? I went up on deck and let the sun warm my body. An hour later I was back to my normal self and enjoying the beautiful scenery along the Nile.
The White Nile sees its beginning in Uganda and I remember seeing it in all its glory sparkling under the Sun in South Sudan. The Blue Nile comes down from Ethiopia's mountains and they join each other in Khartoum from were they make their way as the Nile to Egypt - and I was on it! What an entry! The boat made its way to Aswan Dam and at times the Nile was so wide that you could hardly see from one side to the other. I had a look at Google Maps and the Nile looked so tiny on this huge continent. I zoomed all the way out on my map and concluded that I was officially in Egypt: country no. 127. Only with 3 more African countries to go, however Libya is one of them and that may really complicate the finale.
People onboard were nice. Disembarking was more chaotic than what was required. I had handed over my passport when I embarked and immigration was now onboard. I waited my turn and after what seemed a million years it was my turn. "From Denmark?" Yes I am. A proud Danish Dane from the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe! "Welcome to Egypt! You will get your passport in the immigration building". Getting into the immigration building was easier said than done with 100 eager Sudanese all wanting to enter Egypt. The Egyptian immigration police were clearly frustrated with the lack of order: "I SAID FIVE OF YOU COULD GO AHEAD!!! NOT SIX!!" Immigration shouted in Arabic to a woman. You didn't need to know Arabic to understand that :). When I entered as one of the last they picked my luggage for a security check. As I was opening my black Northface basecamp duffel-bag another policeman waived me on giving me a smile and an okay signal. Further on another immigration officer (the one from the boat) waived me over to the side: "come with me".
I haven't cut my hair since I reached Africa. I won't cut it until I leave.
Everyone was so super sweet. The guy explained that they didn't have any visas but that they stamped my passport anyway. I was told to go to any bank in Aswan and buy the visa sticker for USD 25 and stick it next to the stamp. If I didn't, it would cause problems when I would exit Egypt. Finally I was shown a backdoor exit to the street which was quite convenient. Now that was a lot easier than I had ever dreamed of! :)
A minibus got me to Aswan for USD 1. Aswan is beautiful and exotic. Temperatures were somewhat lower than they had been in Khartoum, and people were friendly and helpful. Egyptians have this nasty reputation of being schemish and always looking for an angle to spin a dime or two off you. And that's actually how I remembered Egyptians from prior visits to Cairo and Luxor before the Saga. And of course they are when you're in touristic areas. However, the normal everyday people walk in between those types and in Egypt, like everywhere else, people are just people. I found my home for the night which was the Nubian Oasis Hotel. A place that offers more than you need without much luxury. Great location and friendly staff. I bargained the price with its owner Mezo. He gave in a promised that he had never before given a price so low ;).
Aswan was an absolute delight. I had long ago forgotten how easy life can be! I arranged for a simcard and 3G internet which was fast enough to Skype with a few VoIP appointments which had been waiting. I then had a delicious street meal, a fresh juice, bought my train ticket for Cairo, had more street food, a shower, texted those I needed to tell I had arrived and went to bed. The next day I went hunting for a bank to secure my visa. The first bank looked at my as if I was asking for a visa at McDonalds?!? "Do you mean a Visa card like a master card?" Neither, I need an entry visa.
Didn't ask McD for my entry visa. Perhaps I should have?
I pretty much had the same experience at the second bank at which point I asked if they were a private bank or a government bank? They were a private bank. Perhaps that was the problem? I went to a government bank and had the same experience?? The fourth bank pretty much gave me the same reaction at which point I asked the man at the desk to ask around a bit. He complied and after a while he told me to come back at 3pm at which point they would have the visa for me.
Aswan has a lot of charm.
At 3pm I was standing at the bank which was closed? But the man from the desk waived me over from a backdoor and I followed him inside the bank (Masr Bank) through the staff entrance. How did I reach a point in my life were this stuff feels normal to me? Inside the bank there were other customers and I was told to wait. 20 minutes later I was handed the sticker and paid USD 25. Done! :)
(That's 99 trains since the Saga began)
The train left at 7pm and it left on time. I was there early and got my sleeper compartment which had cost me USD 80. That's 4 days in the budget but I wanted to be in the train. Quite peculiar I couldn't pay for the ticket with Egyptian pounds. I had to pay in US Dollar. I did a quick online check and saw that the price online was USD 125. So I didn't complain...however I also noticed that the local prices were much lower. I guess it would have been both cheaper and faster to go from Khartoum to Cairo by various buses. But I wanted this experience - and I got it! :) The cabin was luxurious and had room for two, but it was mine alone. The steward was chewing gum and was friendly. To my surprise the fair included dinner and breakfast.
Tasted a lot better than what it looks ;)
I sat there alone and enjoyed my dinner and 3G internet while the landscape outside went by under the cover of the night. Just to socialize a bit I went looking for the dining wagon as I like to call it. It was quite a precious sight! No women and only what appeared to be local men sitting and enjoying beverages in relative silence.
No socializing but it felt nice to sit among other people. I enjoyed a cup of tea before heading back to my compartment. The gum chewing steward made my bed and I ended the day closing my eyes to the sound of the train against the tracks...ka-dunk, ka-dunk, ka-dunk, ka-zzzz...
223 days after the Saga set out from Cape Town in South Africa...we rolled into Cairo!!! I am now a member of the "Cape Town to Cairo" club for overlanders. We did it extra hardcore though as we also included the African nations in the Indian Ocean along with a very rare land entry to Eritrea. Mission accomplished! We reached that landmark and it feels soooo good! Cairo has been on my mind as a distant dream a great many times during these 223 days. At times it felt completely impossible. But look at us today! You, me...we did it!
Ramses Station, Cairo. Beautiful!! :)
Dabbing like a boss :)
As a proud Dane I might just tell you that we are 5.6 million crazy Danes. Egypt boast around 100 million crazy Egyptians and somewhere around 20 million of them are found in Cairo alone!! So when I walk about in Cairo I keep thinking that about 4 times as many as my Danish population lives here!! There have recently been three tragic and very pointless terror attacks in Egypt. Two in Alexandria and one in Cairo. That shouldn't frighten anyone as it's terror and terror has no effect if it doesn't terrify you. But it should make us all a little sad. In cold and cynical mathematical terms a single terror attack in Cairo is equal to a quarter of a terror attack in all of Denmark. Life goes on even in hard times. People are just people and we always find a way.
Cairo is everything in one place! Think about it? 20 million lives are being lived in this city all at once. That is a serious amount of Facebook updates!? Life here is far cheaper than in Sudan. Living on a USD 20/day budget shouldn't break a sweat. I figure I could get by for less than USD 10...and I'm in a capital! The pyramids are here not far from where I sit and write all of this. I haven't seen them yet but I went to see them back in 2009. While the pyramids in Sudan are big as houses the three pyramids of Giza are like mountains! Egypt also has the smaller ones, as Nubian history and culture is shared by both nations.
The street food in Cairo is incredible!
Thanks to my friends in Sudan I have friends in Egypt and my calendar looks fully booked already. I'm fond of how well the metro works in Cairo. Uber is nearly a necessity and Egypt has its own called "Misr Cab" as well. Just like Sudan has its "Mishwar". Uber is not alone in this world and I see it as a groundbreaking foundation to what is to come with driverless automated minibuses, which we will some day pick us up by the command of our phones and drop us off by the command of our voice. That reminds me that I have been wondering why Google hasn't introduced driverless farm equipment for the fields yet? I seems like a good place to start?
What a joy it is for me to be in Egypt. For those of you that read last weeks blog entry you will know that the Saga isn't all dance and laughter. But this my friends- this is the good stuff!
WELCOME TO EGYPT!! :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - made it so far!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga