Less check-points, now that I have left Sinai. Riding down from Suez and arriving in Hurghada, I’m told it is not possible to continue to Luxor w/o a police escort. These escorts can be a bit of a hassle, as I’m not free to ride the way I wish. Not particularly looking forward to it.
I decide to book a decent hotel last minute in Hurghada and spend a night at the Continental. Despite all the comforts and luxuries, there are a few things I have come to dislike about this type of hotel. The rules, the guests and bothersome staff. The pool closes at 5:00 p.m., leaving me little to no time to take a swim after a long day of traveling. The “all-inclusive” guests aren’t the most pleasant company. And there is staff wanting to sell you massages, jet ski rides and all kinds of offerings I have no interest in whatsoever.
The Husky and I hit the road early towards Luxor. Some of the check-points are not manned yet and we pass through easily. Quite an impressive security concept. The first manned check-point is surprised that I show up and two friendly officers invite me into their hut. I can for once observe the “security-check” procedure first hand. They take a picture of my passport on their mobile and send it via WhatsApp to some other unit. Following a few phone calls I’m free to go.
The mountain passing to Qena is a proper pass road and it’s peaceful in the early morning hours. We make it to Qena where we’re stopped at a check-point. The chief is always the one most casually dressed. The dress code being lose khaki pants, an unbuttoned shirt, leather slippers, Ray Bans and a gun casually tucked into the trousers.
We are now to receive an escort for the last 70km to Luxor. Handed over 5 times, every time we change districts, progress is slow. The setup is always the same: Toyota Landcruiser, driver, chief as co-driver and two young soldiers in back with AK47’s. One drives 50km/h out of town with sirens / flashing lights and is clearly upset when I overtake him to up the tempo. Another goes 140km/h on a side road w/o sirens / flashing lights and enjoys a bit of a race. I think they truly believe they can outrun the Husky and me. Ridiculous.
Arrival in Luxor, fully trenched and my iPhone overheated. It is now 44 degrees. I flee into an air conditioned room and cool down for quite a while. I have developed a strong appreciation for A/C. I tidy up the Husky in the backyard and am helped by the security and kitchen staff. They all want to swap their Chinese Motorcycles for the Husky. We have quite a laugh.
Along my journey, many questions have been asked about the Husky. Usually primarily about the amount of fuel, range and motor size. In Egypt the first question is always w/o exception “how much?”. Everything is about the money. My answer is always 5 pounds.
The good thing about Ramadan is that there are no people around. The bad thing is that all the vendors, taxi drivers and guides are focused on me. I visit the Valley of Kings and Hatchetsup Temple and there is one coach parked where usually hundreds stand. It’s not too much of a joy in these places, vendors and guides wear me down. Absolutely everything comes at a price, even when given directions w/o asking for them. I decide to follow the Nile down to Aswan the next day.
An Egyptian Overlander has told me that a German motorcyclist is heading down South as well. We get in touch and decide to cross Sudan together. I meet Armin in Aswan. He has quit his job in Germany and is planning on doing a 2 year trip around the world on his GS 1200. Africa is his first continent after Europe. We get along well and tackle the bureaucracy for exiting Egypt together.
Kamal (a.k.a. Kamal very very famous) is the go-to man to get this job done. We spend two days in Aswan getting the paper work done. Thanks to Kamals services Armin gets the Sudanese Visa in 1 day instead of 2-3 and we’re directly admitted to all offices w/o having to queue at the counter. These offices are incredibly well hidden and, if at all, only marked in Arabic. I don’t think we would have managed this process in a reasonable time w/o Kamals help.
We’re staying at a very basic, local hotel. No towels, no clean bed sheets, no restaurant. There is one oasis in Aswan where we can settle for a cold beer in the evenings; Mövenpick Hotel on Elephantine Island. This island has the benefit of being a bit cooler compared to the 43-45 degrees in Aswan and we become regular customers in the evenings. Turns out to be a good tactic to sleep cheap and use the amenities of an upper class hotel.
Abu Simbel is our last stop before crossing to Sudan. The route through the desert is tough at 45 degrees. The wind makes things even more challenging. Visor down is the only way to go as the wind is so hot it actually almost hurts.
There has been news about fuel, currency and bread shortage in Sudan and we’ve spent some time debating about how to proceed. We decide to fill up the bikes in Egypt and carry along some extra gasoline in PET bottles. Although more expensive then in Sudan, the liter of gasoline comes at CHF 0.40 in Egypt and is still well affordable. The ferry crossing Lake Nubia from Abu Simbel leaves at 07:30 a.m. and we get up early to prepare ourselves and the bikes.
We meet Kamals accomplice Hamad (short for Mohamed). We can jump the queue of coaches and enter the Egypt exit border zone in advance. The process is almost the same as when entering, just in reverse (incl. scanning of luggage). This time however it’s managed by a man who knows the game. 3h of waiting, Hamad brings us a cold beverage, we settle the payment and are permitted to leave Egypt.
After crossing a messy buffer zone we approach the Sudanese border. Mazar, our Sudanes fixer, welcomes us. This slightly nerdy lad is a true professional. We visit two offices and fill in two almost identical forms. Mazar then takes our documents, gives us some pocket money (Sudanese Pounds) and brings us to the cafeteria to have some coffee and drinks while waiting. As Ramadan doesn’t apply to travelers, there are plenty of people drinking and eating. No such thing as a free lunch though, travel days must be compensated after Ramadan.
Another 2.5h and everything is settled. Our luggage has stickers on it; no scanning required. The gates are opened and we’re greeted with a “Welcome to Sudan!”. I have been slightly worried about this crossing because the borders have been shut and could be shut any time again due to the volatile political situation. Now the past 5.5h seem quick. I may have gotten used it.
A Sudanese man at the border had ensured us that the Sudanese people are the friendliest we will have ever met. I’m curious to meet these friendly people. We take a hotel in Wadi Halfa, the border town in Sudan. Actually never a good idea, as border towns don’t tend to be the best places to stay. The double room goes at CHF 6.70 the night. The room isn’t great. The bathroom has probably never been cleaned, the shower doesn’t work, no towels, no toilet paper, stained bedding and mold. But there is only so much you can expect in such a place at such a price. Since Aswan my sleeping bag has become an important piece of gear.
We meetup with Mazar in the evening and he invites us for coffee. At the end of the evening he summarizes all border expenses and says we shall pay him as much as we deem suitable. We hadn’t paid a cent until now and he has given us his full trust that we will compensate his expenditures and efforts. We give him a fair amount and ensure him that we will recommend him to other overlanders.
I have come to realize that these fixers aren’t only helpful due to their understanding of the process and network, but they are also very persistent. In a few cases I had seen them putting officials under pressure or even shouting at them to get the job done as quickly as possible. Something I don’t (yet) dare doing. Nonetheless, Egypt and Sudan shall remain the only countries for which I will pay for these types of services.
Abri is the destination for today. Temperatures are rising further. At one point my GPS indicates 48 degrees. We have been drinking vast amounts of water. Unfortunately the bottled water often comes with a very foul cellar taste to it. Breathing out before drinking and shortly holding your breath afterwards is the only remedy to this challenge. Drinking several liters a day is a must.
30km before Abri we take a break. It’s not easy to find shade in the desert and we approach a little clay settlement called Ferka. Immediately some people come out and greet us. They bring us under a shelter, roll out a mat and serve us tea. This town is very tidy and has a nice atmosphere to it. Our hosts are slightly shy, friendly and very curious. We have a chat as one of the girls named Zeinap speaks English. Generally the Sudanese seem to master the English language better then the Egyptians.
After a while we’re asked if we could fix Zeinap’s brother’s (Mohamed) bicycle as he needs it to ride to school. I manage to pump up the front tire but the rear tube has a long slice in it. No way of instant repair. After some debate Armin and I decide to take the wheel along to Abri and have it repaired. We strap the bicycle wheel onto the GS 1200 and ride towards Abri.
We settle for a simple hotel in Abri, directly at the Nile. The hotel manager invites us to his home for dinner and drives us through town in his old timer Morris Minor. On the way back we stop at the towns bicycle sales man’s house, walk in and wake him up. He tags along to reopen his shop so we can buy a bicycle tube and tire. As the rooms are unbearably warm, we spend a night in the open under the stars.
A 60km detour back to deliver the bicycle tire this morning. We’re served coffee and thanked for our help. Mohamed is happy and now again much faster on his bicycle with his inflated tires. I have to admit, I envy him a bit; pretty cool bike he’s got.
Due to the detour we only make it to Dongola today. Generally difficult to find a decent hotel in Sudan, practically impossible in Dongola. We decide to wild camp along the Nile. Shortly before the evening prayer (shops close) I head to a little town to find a shop to buy some food and water. With strongly limited Arabic knowledge, these types of situation are always a bit of a challenge. The term I’ve used most often throughout Egypt is “la mushkila” (= no problem). Works well with officials; doesn’t really help me in this situation.
We’ve spent some money on the bicycle tire and are running low on Sudanese Pounds now. Credit-/Debit-cards don’t work in Sudan and banks are closed on Saturdays. The only option is swapping some USD on the streets. Tough negotiations in front of a shop surrounded by locals. It’s entertaining and a quite interesting game. All are very friendly and we have a laugh. I manage to negotiate a better rate then the offered one, but still pretty bad. Not a familiar practice to me. I must up my game in street negotiations.
It’s 485km to Khartoum today. We fuel up the bikes and hit the desert. It’s hot and we face some small sand storms. Due to the fuel shortage many gas stations are shut down and the 31L fuel tank comes in handy. 1 liter of gasoline now goes at a fixed price of CHF 0.15. Prices are not the problem; availability is the issue.
We break a golden rule by entering Khartoum at dawn. Generally traffic rules are ignored or nonexistent, but in the dark cars w/o lights, pedestrians and animals on the roads and non-visible potholes add to the challenge. We survive it and arrive at the hotel. It has been a long day.
Sudan feels very hospitable and safe. Crime is not an issue here although poverty is rampant. This countries’ people are welcoming and cheerful albeit the situation this nation is in. It’s hard to comprehend how these people can be so good in such a difficult situation.
Only two check-points on our way down, but in Khartoum the military is more present. A general strike has been announced for Tuesday and Wednesday. The risk of conflict between the population, the military and potentially the RSF (former militant special force in South Sudan and Darfour) is rising. Things can turn to the worse very quickly. We don’t wish to overstrain our luck and will leave Khartoum before the general strike.
Everyone I have spoken to praises the friendliness of the Sudanese and I can only confirm. The people of Sudan are proud of this reputation and do everything possible to maintain it. A great paradigm to have.
I must now move on and can only wish the wonderful people of Sudan a peaceful and prosperous future. These people deserve it.