It was an early start as Mazar left to go help fix what – if it works – could herald a new era for trans-Saharan travel. Today he would be attempting to get a backpacker truck from Wadi Halfa to Aswan USING THE ROAD.
The fact that the only legal way to cross the 1,275km-long imaginary line in the sand that constitutes the border between Egypt and Sudan is over this damn lake is one that is as ridiculous as it is typical of this part of the world. Why should this be the case? Well, because the guy who owns the ferry boat pays off the Sudanese government to not open the road, the road that was built TWENTY YEARS AGO linking the two countries. So instead of, you know, simply hopping a bus to Aswan (a journey that would take 2 hours), we have to go through the rigmarole of getting on a filthy, cockroach infested hulk of a ferry boat and spending the night crammed in trying to find a space on a bench (or the greasy floor) like we’re in a f—ing refugee camp. And to think in the UK we worry about the humane transportation of cattle.
It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that its same guy who runs the GRIMaldi ferry from Italy to Tunisia as well as the Greyhound bus company in the US.
I can only assume that the bad ship Sinai will continue plying its way across Lake Nassar until it sinks, killing everybody on board. Then maybe – just maybe – they’ll think about opening the road to all.
After a wash and a cup of tea I could have jumped a rickshaw to town, but it was a cool pleasant blue-sky morning so I decided to walk. I followed the old railway tracks, now sadly defunct. Since the road to Khartoum was sealed, the old train doesn’t chug up and down from Wadi Halfa once a week any more. The dream of the British Empire was to build a trainline from Cairo to Cape Town. Here we are 130 years later and that dream seems as far way as ever. Frustratingly enough, it’s 90% there: apart from a short break between Aswan and Wadi Halfa and then a slightly longer one between Wau on the South Sudanese border and Gulu in Uganda, there is an unbroken line that runs from the Mediterranean coast down to the Cape of Good Hope – passing through Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. But to make an international rail network succeed you need investment, political will and a general lack of corruption. Sadly, Africa is in desperately short supply of any of these things.
It took me an hour or so to ramble into town and once there I took up residence at my usual café in the market area of town. After a few hours, Mazar rang and told me to make my way to the ship. I asked how much the ticket cost, he told me it would be 221 Sudanese Pounds. I checked my readies. I had 224 Sudanese Pounds left. Thinking it would be a good idea to keep a couple of quid for water, I opted to walk across the desert to the port.
Lake Nasser is the third biggest artificial lake in the world. It arose as a result of the Aswan High Dam, constructed in the 1960s at the behest of Nasser, Egyptian first ‘elected’ tyrant (see: all Presidents ever). It seemed like a good idea at the time – it would give the Egyptians control over the annual floods. However, the whole thing has been an environmental disaster on a scale that makes the disappearance of the Aral Sea seem like small potatoes. The dam stops the silt, crucial for keeping the land fertile, from proceeding downriver. This has resulted in increased desertification and, of course, created a need for artificial fertilisers – fertilisers which poison the river and kill the fish. You see very few fishing boats on the Nile these days. It has also been a disaster for the Nubian people whose homeland was flooded (Wadi Halfa is a new town built by the original inhabitants of Halfa, which is now submerged beneath the lake), not to mention the countless archaeological discoveries that will now never see the light of day. The colossi of Abu Simbel as well as the temple of Philae had to be shifted, brick by brick, with the assistance of UNESCO. The nearby temple of Kom Ombo was erected in ancient times to give praise to the local crocodile god – but there are no crocodiles there any more – they can’t get past the damn dam.
Arriving at the port I met with Mazar who told me to wait at the gate while he sorted out some paperwork on my behalf. It was now coming up to midday and it was getting devilishly hot. I tried to sit with the guards in the shade of the gatehouse, but they wouldn’t let me (Sudan again not selling itself very well) and so I sat for 45 minutes with the blazing heat of the sun doing its best to turn me a delicious shade of boiled lobster.
Eventually I got into the immigration building. After the usual African scrum n’ stamp madness I was one of the first on board the ship. Having been on this ship twice before I knew exactly where to go: the bench under the plug sockets. Not just offering me free electricity, it is the closest you can get to the exit when we arrive. I staked my claim and wouldn’t be shifting for all the gold I could eat.
All was going swimmingly until about 10pm. Earlier, I shared dinner with a Syrian family from Aleppo who where travelling around Europe and the Middle East until the fighting ends. Just one family out of thousands forced from their home, businesses, everything, for the ego of one man, one ‘elected’ tyrant (see: all Presidents ever) whose criminal regime is being propped up by the despotic slugs that currently run the horrifically authoritarian kleptocracy that is modern Russia. I spoke to a Russian journalist yesterday, carefully evading any questions about Russia – I didn’t want her to be imprisoned for ‘treason’. ‘Treason’ to the foul leeches that conspire to suck all life and joy from the otherwise good Russian people, can be defined as ‘speaking to a foreigner who says disparaging remarks about the ‘elected’ tyrant (see: all Presidents ever) in charge.’ Technically, if I say that Putin is a greedy evil manipulative paranoid goatf–ker (which he is) and somebody in Russia reads this blog, they can be thrown in jail. Or a gulag. Whatever. Putin’s noble drive to ensure Russia’s place as the most miserable place in the world is one he’s been working towards for almost twenty years now: fending off stiff competition from the likes of Belarus, Paraguay and Pakistan.
Quite why Putin hates Russians so much is anybody’s guess. Maybe he’s secretly Georgian. Like Stalin!
Anyway, Russia provides the banking for the Al-Assad clan (who have been raping Syria’s riches since the early seventies). They keep supplying his regime with weapons and helicopters to more effectively slaughter innocent women and children. They purposely derail anything the UN attempts to do in order to help restore peace to the region. They do this openly and in plain sight, while the good folk of the internet age spout gibberish about lizard-men, moon cheese and global conspiracies, blissfully unaware that when a superpower wants to do something monstrously evil, they just kinda do it. The reason being that as ‘elected’ tyrants (see: all Presidents ever), these guys are immune from prosecution, they are above all law – national and international – and, surprisingly(!), don’t give a f— what you or I think of them.
Well, that’s unless you happen to mention what you think of them to a Russian citizen. Then they spit the dummy out of the pram.
I watched the sun set and the stars come out, good old Orion standing sentinel everywhere I go. I returned to my speck, watched over by the kindly old Sudanese guy who was going to Aswan for cancer treatment. I quietly read my book until it was time to get some shuteye.
I was snoozing, happy enough on my bench when some Eddie Murphy-lookin Nubian git starts clicking his fingers in my face. I groggily offer a ‘wha-’ before being shoved upright and this scumbag sitting next to me. I didn’t know the Arabic for ‘do you mind f—ing the f— off’ so instead partook in the age old African/Arabic tradition of SHOUTING STUFF AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS over and over again. I’ve seen this done on pretty much every single bit of public transport I’ve ever got on board in this part of the world and it seems to work quite well. But, as I was to discover, it only works quite well if you actually speak Arabic, Swahili, Zulu, whatever. He just sat there, despite my very vocal protests. I had been there since 2pm for heaven’s sake.
After I realised I was getting nowhere by ranting I tried a new tack. You know what? If I’m not going to sleep, you’re not going to sleep either. And so I started talking VERY EXCITEDLY like a giddy schoolchild and prodding the guy (lest he dosed off) while reeling off the kind of stream-of-consciousness gobbledegook that makes Joyce such a darling amongst English teachers that hate their pupils:
“…and do you know why the sky is blue it’s the cobalt effect oh no that’s what makes Sonic The Hedgehog blue everton are the blues founded in 1878 Einstein born a year later he’s a Pisces as St Domingo’s FC Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic not to be confused with Dominica which is another country whose capital is Roseau I think Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote The Social Contract The Social Network was written by Aaron Sorkin who did the West Wing with Martin Sheen whose real name is Martin Estevez Emilio Estevez hasn’t been in anything for ages has he I wonder if he’s still alive I’ll tell you whose not alive any more Patrick Moore he was mates with Arthur C Clarke the guy what wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey which was directed by Stanley Kubrick here’s a list of Kubrick’s films The Killing Paths of Glory Spartacus Dr Strangelove or How I Learnt To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb 2001: A Space Odyssey A Clockwork Orange Barry Lyndon The Shining Full Metal Jacket Eyes Wide Shut he was going to make AI but he died so Spielberg made it instead and gave it a lousy ending you know what had a good ending Inception great ending did you know that Inception was ripped off a Donald Duck cartoon strip I shit you not you can Google it when I left school in 1997 Google didn’t even exist hardly anyone had mobile phones and only total nerds had email addresses and Pluto was still a planet the moon of Pluto is called Charon he’s the ferryman takes you over the river Styx that’s why they put coins on dead people’s eyes to pay the ferryman Lone Wolf And Cub Baby Cart at the River Styx was a reedit of the Shogun Assassin series and was banned in the UK for ages along with 80 odd other socalled video nasties politicians think that violent films make people kill each other which is ironic really when you think that politicians are usually the ones who order people to kill each other I mean have you ever stopped to look at the rogues gallery that constitute the political elite of Africa all a bunch of brick-thick maniacs who condemn their citizens to death every day through enforced poverty squalor diseases and bad sanitation AND ANOTHER THING…”
This went on NON-STOP for TWO HOURS.
He didn’t budge and I didn’t shut up. I could – and would – do this all night. Luckily (for the Eddie Murphy dick) one of the guys who worked on the ship came down and spoke to me. After agreeing that Mr. Trading Places over here was being unreasonable, the ship worker offered me a CUSHIONED bench of my very own up in the canteen.
That’ll do nicely, thanks. I grabbed my bags, stuck my tongue out at Bowfinger and had what I reckon was the best night’s sleep anyone has ever had on the damn Sinai.
Will I miss this when the road finally opens?
No. No I won’t.