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Africa » Egypt » Lower Egypt » Cairo
April 5th 2010
Published: April 5th 2010
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Cairo to Khartoum


There is nowhere to stick my camera memory card so you will have to make do with imagining the events I describe. I've fallen woefully behind on updating my blog. I am actually in Ethiopia right now, and will be heading to Kenya within the next few days, but this blog entry will focus on my time in Egypt.

Cairo is a huge smog-filled city of car horns. But I enjoyed my time there. For three nights I stayed in Lialy Hostel which is situated on Midan Talaat Harb right in the middle of Cairo. My priority was to secure a Sudanese visa before heading south and cracking on with my journey. The process of obtaining this visa is complex (and for some nationalities is impossible). I first had to attend the British Embassy to obtain a 'letter of invitation' to Sudan. This was straight-forward enough and at our embassy I was amused by the presence of young Egptian men who had recently married very old British ladies. Love, of course, and nothing to do with 'entry clearance'. This letter cost me E£270 (about £30), a fortune in Africa, but nothing compared to the $100 (£60) I then had to give to the Sudanese Embassy a long with the 'letter of invitation', my passport, a copy of my passport, two passport photos and an application form. I was, however, able to pick my Sudanese visa up the next day.

After booking a sleeper-train ticket to Cairo ($60) I decided it was time to stop spending money. I looked at the Nile (although you cannot see far due to the air-pollution) and visited Islamic Cairo, the older part of the city. It was hot, loud and claustrophobic so it was nice to slip into the Al-Azhar mosque, the oldest in Cairo, which is open to people of all faiths. Here I just sat, read and ate oranges for well over an hour before heading back out into the carnage and back to the hostel.

I met some really good people in the hostel. Caterinus was a Dutch guy who loved talking about sex and Anne and Kevin were a British couple who have been travelling on and off for years. With Caterinus I visited the pyramids at Giza, braving the relentless cries of 'nice sunglasses, where are you from, come to my shop, I have a business card, need a guide...'. Cairo's Metro is great. Efficient, simple and it gets you off the streets. With Caterinus I also discovered the delight of 'kushari'. It's a really filling combination of rice, pasta and lentils with a tomato sauce, great for strapping great lads like me.

On the Friday I had to get my train to Aswan, in the south of Egypt and from where I would need to get the ferry to Sudan. The train left at 8 in the evening and I was chuffed to discover that I was sharing my cabin with Chris, a lad from Yourk whom I'd previously met when booking the ticket. We chatted until 2 in the morning before getting some decent sleep. The train pulled into Aswan station at 8 in the morning and I instantly felt the more relaxed atmosphere. I found a hostel for E£10 a night (£1.50) and after booking a ferry ticket to Sudan for the Monday (E£311) I met Suzanne, from Alaska, and Franzisca, from Germany, who were also staying in my hostel. For the next few days we hooked up, drank juice and ate ice-cream together. That afternoon we arranged a felucca (sailing boat) trip on the Nile on whcih we drank beer, swam and visited a Nubian village, Nubian people being those who inhabit the southern areas of Egypt and northern areas of Sudan.

the following day we visited the Great Temple of Abu Simbel and the neighbouring Temple of Hathor. These are temples cut from the hillside in 1500BC to honour the Pharoahs, most notably Ramses II. Equally impressive as the temples themselves was the fact that the entire chunks of rock had been winched to their current location in the 1960s to avoid Lake Nasser's rising watersas a consequence of the construction of The Aswan High Dam.

The next day was Monday and the day of the ferry to Wadi Halfa in Sudan. Having boarded the ferry at 10 in the morning we departed at 7 in the evening. In this time I met Radek, from Czech, and Istvan, from Hungary. I also met some great German and English guys trucking it to the World Cup in the summer. In fact, much of the top deck was filled with travellers seeking the fresh air that could not be found in the boat. People set up shaded areas but, unprepared, Istvan, Radek and I made do with a spot on the edge of the boat underneath the lifeboat. I slept the night there, my legs dangling over the port side and surrounded by a cargo of industrial fans and benders. The 400km journey passed without incident and we docked in Sudan at midday the next day, disembarking two houts later after passing through Sudan immigration which, in the absence of any alternative, was set up in the restaurant of the boat. From the boat we jumped on a posh, air-conditioned bus to Khartoum on which we were given aeroplane style food. I should hope so for S£75 (£25). We arrived in Khartoum at 1.30 in the morning. The heat was incredible. Daytime temperatures reached 45 degrees celcius and I'm convinced it was not much cooler at night. We eventually got to the hostel at 3 in the morning after a torturous journey with a totally ridiculous taxi driver. I had to direct to places I didn't even know and at one point I thought I was even going to have to drive the thing myself. The taxi driver blamed the confusion of finding Khartoum Youth Hostel on my mispronunciation of the word 'sharia'. Apparently I was pronouncing it more like the word for the type of brutal law Muslim states adopt as opposed to the word meaning road. My fault, obviously.

Regardless, Istvan, Radek and I were exhausted but safely in Khartoum, Sudan, and as I fell a-sweaty-sleep that night I had to pinch myself to believe it was true.

PHOTO-IMAGINE-EXERCISE:

1. Gorgeous courtyard of Al-Azhar mosque. Cool, shaded and tranquil.
2. The Nile at Aswan, palm trees and felucca sails behind which is a beautiful sunset.
3. Me standing like a right pillock in front the enormous Great Temple of Abu Simbel
4. The crazy upper-deck of the Aswan-Wadi Halfa ferry. Boxes, blankets, travellers and a white guy (me) perched precariously on the dge underneath a lifeboat.

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