The Ecphorizer

Sudan Diary
Martha Johnson

Issue #10 (June 1982)



Editor's Note: Last year [1981'/> the two authors spent January to June traveling around the world. The following article was mailed to the Intelligencer from Egypt, but was not printed at the time because of space limitations. - George, 1981


[quoteright'/>During our recent travels, we have tended to keep two kinds of records. George has maintained the more prosaic log of events and finances, while Martha has written an impressionistic diary of our experiences. Here are some excerpts from both, covering the journey northward from Khartoum. Note: Prices are in Sudanese pounds, which cost $1.05 in "unofficial transactions.

TUESDAY 3/17 KHARTOUM

LOG: Preparations for travel tomorrow. Transaction in souk: Changed $60 cash for 57 Sudanese pounds at jewelry stall. Bought 12 oranges, 6 tomatoes, half kilo dates, bag of shelled peanuts, Total 4.70. Two plastic jerrycans for water, 3.00. Train tickets to Wadi Halfa 18.20 each, plus 32.60 for 2-bed private compartment.

DIARY: George went to the train station ticket window at 7:30 AM. He was told Wednesday was sold out and we would have to get the Sunday train. (There are two trains a week.) Relieved of the need to rush about madly we wont to the market (souk) and bought water containers. As I walked back to the Oasis Hotel (expensive, but aptly named -- have Pepsi and glasses of ice!), George went to the train station and bought our tickets. This time they said Sunday was full, Wednesday was not, no we had to leave the next day after all. How totally Sudanese. At 5:00 PM when the worst of the heat was past, we walked back to the souk and bought food for the trip. We also picked up mail at the Post Office.  I got a letter

WEDNESDAY 3118 KHARTOUM TO ABU HAMED (560 km.)

LOG: Train scheduled to leave at 6:30 AM; actually left at 8:15. Consists of 17 wooden carriages; first class has padded seats. Compartment has folding wash basin which ultimately runs out of water. Route along Nile past archaelogical site of Meroë, with stops at Shendi, Atbara and Berber. No evidence of former slave markets. Expenses: Taxi to station, 1.00. Tip to man who found taxi at 6:00 AM, .25. Mutton-rice lunches on train, 2.20. Bread and tea at stations, .70.

DIARY: The train was a nice one. Outside, the scene was desert with low, dry-looking brush. At the stations food vendors wandered by, as well as goats, who munched any debris tossed out the window. We met a delightful retired Canadian named Doug in the next compartment and were befriended by a big, out-going Sudani. Saad is married to a German woman and they live in Germany. He was traveling on business and helped us greatly. We learned to order tea without sugar - chai bedoon sukrah. Sometimes we wished we could order chai bedoon chai, it was so strong.

THURSDAY 3/19 ABU HAMED TO WADI HALFA (370 km.)

LOG: Train route leaves the Nile, cutting across the Nubian Desert. Landscape looks like the moon. When we open the windows we get choked by dust; when we close them we fry. Choking seems preferable. At 5:00 PM the Nile reappears and we steam into Wadi Halfa. Scramble for beds at the "Nile Hotel." Martha is spared the horrors of the women's quarters. One hour lineup for cold-water shower. Clean again! Expenses: Train breakfasts (nearly inedible), 2.00. Tea and misc., 1.00. Donkey cart from station to "hotel", .65. Two beds, 2.20. Delicious local fried fish, 1.00.

DIARY: During the night, the scene changed to flat, flat land with no vegetation, only an occasional rock. All our stops were at stations with no names, just numbers. When we arrived at Wadi Halfa, we couldn't get on the boat because Customs was closed. Saad took charge and booked us all into one room at the Nile Hotel, the only "hotel" in town. For dinner we had some very tasty and delicately fried fish wrapped in Arabic newspaper (purchased by Saad). I ate lightly as I didn't want to use the outhouse-type toilets any more than necessary.

FRIDAY 3/20 WADI HALFA TO ABU SIMBEL (42 mi.)

LOG: Spent morning clearing Sudanese Customs. The S.S. Ashorah Ramadan, a 400 ton flatbottomed river boat, left at 2:00 PM. Our first class cabin is at deck level; second class is above, under the cabin roof, and third class is in the hold. An additional third class barge is lashed to the starboard side. Luckily, our cabin is on the port side. Nice views of the Nile and a chance to do some laundry. Boat tied up at nightfall just above Abu Simbel. Expenses: 2 tickets to Sadd El-Ali with 2 berth cabin, 10.40 each. Landrover from "hotel" to jetty, 2.00. More fried fish, boat food, tea, etc., 3.70 total.

DIARY: Arising early, we packed up and rushed over to the boat ticket window/Passport Control. Saad was a great help again, as the few signs were in Arabic. Passport Control had a separate window for non-Sudanese. This category included many Egyptians so it had what I call an Indian-style queue, where everyone jams around the window and pushes madly. This bothered Doug and me more than it did George, but eventually we learned to defend our position with our elbows and got our passports stamped for exit. The boat was nice except for the toilet (common "facilities"). Showers had only cold water, but it was so-o-o good to be clean again. I had not "showered" at the "hotel" the night before.

SATURDAY 3/21 ABU SIMBEL TO NEAR SADD EL-ALI (175 mi.)

LOG: A pleasant day chugging down lake Nasser, tying up at nightfall a few miles above the High Dam. Captain gives rocks a good bash when tying up; hope they don't let him near the dam itself. Egyptian immigration formalities on boat -- usual madhouse. Expenses: Boat food to supplement last of provisions, 4.20.

DIARY: The boat started up at 12:15 AM. Why did it stop last night? We came up with different theories. Saad said it stopped to get bread. George thought the captain wanted a good dinner and/or a romp with his girl friend. Anyway, we roused up in time to view the temple at Abu Simbel which was dimly visible by the light of the full moon.Then it was back to bed for a good night's sleep. In the morning Doug returned to his cabin after breakfast and found his Sudanese cabin-mate had invited six friends into the small room. They were playing cards on his bed, eating food and throwing orange peels and other debris on the floor. Mild-mannered, courteous Doug went into a towering rage and threw them all out. Things got quite exciting with much yelling as the Sudanese argued and explained in Arabic.

SUNDAY 3/22 SADD EL-ALI TO ASWAN (19 km.)

LOG: Morning spent on Egyptian health inspections, including fumigating the boat with everybody on board. Lunch at jetty: fish-rice and real Seven-Up! First train not until 4:00 PM, so shared a taxi into Aswan. Back to civilization, somewhat. Expenses: Lunches, 300 Egyptian piasters, taxi seats, 200. Heavy bargaining here, requiring much "piaster resistance".

DIARY: We arrived at the dam this morning. It took forever to get everyone cleared through the one health officer, but we finally got off the boat. Saad got us all fed and then we taxied to town. Saad took the train to Cairo and Doug, George and I went to a hotel in Aswan. Beautiful view, dirty room, clean bed. Altogether this trip has been one of the most delightful parts of our travels. The scene itself was interesting all along and it had the added ingredient of truly congenial traveling companions.


A TRAVEL SONG

It's a long way to Overeating,
It's a long way, we know;
To the restaurants of Southern France,
It's a long, long way to go.

Good-bye chicken curly;
Farewell, sheep's head stew:
Oh, we're on our way to Overeating

With the Fifty-Franc Menu! 

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Martha Johnson




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