We stretched out our morning at the Nubian guesthouse as long as possible since we were dreading the drive from Aswan to Abu Simbel - another desert drive, 3 hours nothing but heat and dust. We were briefed by locals that the police would shut down the road to tourists around dawn for safety reason, so we weren’t too happy about the fact that at the first checkpoint we were already pulled over. Same as always:
“No, only English…”
And we waited. For an hour. It was getting dark. And then we were free to go, having wasted a precious hour of daylight and driving into the desert night, on a completely unlit road with the occasional pothole out of nowhere. After 30 minutes of driving we saw police lights ahead of us and already knew it would be an escort for us, hopefully this time without a detour. At least we had some lights to follow in the pitch black.
When we arrived in Abu Simbel, the parking place where EVERY overlander has always parked to take the ferry the next morning across Nasser lake was closed due to lack of tourists. Nothing is as always in Covid-19 times, I guess. We spent the night in the most unpleasant spot yet, on the street in front of a sports bar - at least we could use their bathroom, I mean, hole in the ground.
The next morning, we got up at 4am in order to be the first guests at our last tourist stop in Egypt: the Abu Simbel temple. We were fascinated by its history: in the 1960s, the entire temple had been cut into large blocks, relocated and reassembled, saving it from the rising waters of the Nile caused by the Aswan High Dam. Apparently, we had to learn it the hard way - we got there at 5am to learn that the oping times of the temple had been changed to 7am due to the pandemic. We killed time with buying snacks and filling up on gas, returned there at 6:45 and were kindly let in - with a French couple and their guide ruining the exclusivity of our visit. The audacity of it! Anyway, the Abu Temples might have been the last but certainly not the least of our visits to ancient Egypt. As a matter of fact, in hindsight we agreed that we found it to be the most impressive construction: huge statues carved out of rocks, throning majestically on each side of a huge entrance giving way into an enormous hall with even more statues forming an honor guard, leading you into various chambers covered with wall paintings.
We would have liked to stay longer but the phone rang: our fixer was calling - the ferry was leaving NOW. We rushed back to Boggy and took him to the ferry dock, where buses and trucks were already in line to embark. Boggy was squeezed into the tiniest spot possible and we enjoyed the ride across the lake in the morning light. Once we got off, it took us another 30 minutes to arrive at the Sudanese border where we skipped the endless line of trucks and were let in. The customs guy took his job very seriously - we had to take out our entire luggage and he made sure to check every compartment, lift the seats and tap all the door coverings. Meanwhile, our fixer had been gone to take care of the documents and when we finally were let go by customs, we learned that the computer system had broken down so we actually couldn’t get out of the country. He said that with a certain air of casualness as if that would happen on a regular basis. There we were, stuck in no man’s land between Egypt and Sudan, hanging out with a couple of fixers in the copy shop - essential of course, there is a lot of paperwork involved exiting this country.
After hours of waiting we were eventually cleared and just like that we left our first African country behind, entering the next one. We were awaited by Midhad, our fixer on the other side. He took all of our documents and we were enjoying our first of many delicious coffees made out of on-site roasted coffee beans and brewed with spices like ginger and cardamom. Being the gringos that we are, we drew the attention of the border police on us. They weren’t exactly busy and happy about the distraction - we ended up with the invitation to a wedding (Bjoern) and a proposal (Katharina).
Our first encounter with the incredible hospitality and friendliness of the Sudanese didn’t take long: since it had already gotten very late, Midhad invited us to stay at his place and offering to help us with exchanging money and buying a SIM card. He gave us the key to his house with directions and let us drive ahead as he still had business to do. We arrived in Wadi Halfa, the city closest to the border and engaged in a soccer play with the local kids who were and excited about our arrival - big selfie time for all of them!
When Midhad returned, he took us down town - we were riding in his car at 10km/hour and he explained to us that he needed to go slow in order to save gas. The fuel shortage we heard about was apparently very real. We had a traditional Sudanese meal which consists of baked beans with flatbread and a fried egg, the bread replacing cutlery as you’re scooping your food up with it. Midhad was surprised to learn we were vegetarians: “No meat at all? Have you ever had meat?” He was trying to convince us that the Halal butchering was the most animal friendly way. We were not getting into discussing the oxymoronic irony of this expression.
" ...Midhad went into some shady places to enquire about the current black-market exchange rate..."
After dinner we bought a SIM card, Midhad went into some shady places to enquire about the current black-market exchange rate for Egyptian pound into Sudanese dollar which turned out to be 1:11,5 instead of the official 1:3,5. Pretty sweet deal, I’d say.
Exhausted but happy after our first day in Sudan, we went to sleep - in beds located on the patio outside of Midhad’s house. It was going to be one of many nights right underneath the stars.