A day of sightseeing before our adventure
13.11.2004 - 14.11.2004 44 °C
Saturday 13th November 2004 Bristol – Khartoum
This is not a recent trip, rather it is taken from the journal I wrote on our adventures in Sudan in 2004.
Ever since I first read “The Impossible Journey” by Michael Asher many years ago, it has remained my favourite book. Describing his journey as the first Europeans to cross the Sahara from West to East on foot, Michael describes the trials, tribulations and victories of this, the 'impossible' journey. I am fascinated by the whole adventure, so imagine my delight when I find Michael now runs a tour agency and is taking adventure-spirited traveller on a trek through the Sahara in Sudan later in the year. I immediately sign up, and go about making sure I am fit enough for the trek.
Fast forward to November. We are pleasantly surprised to find Michael himself waiting for us inside the immigration at Khartoum Airport, and also grateful for his help with the numerous forms we have to complete – for visa, for camera permit, for police registrations... Despite Michael doing most of the work, the whole process still takes in excess of an hour before we can leave the airport and head for the hotel. It is now 06:30 in the morning and we have travelled all through the night, so we collapse straight into bed.
Sunday 14th November 2004 – Khartoum sightseeing
After a few hours sleep and a substantial lunch, we meet up with our local guide, Omran, and head out to do some quick exploration of Khartoum and the surrounding area before the real adventure begins.
The first stop is the National Museum, where photography is not permitted inside, which is a great shame as it is a very interesting place showing exhibits including objects from the Palaeolithic through to the Islamic periods. I am blown over by just how advanced the Nubian society was, some 2000 years ago.
Outside are some temples rescued – just like their much more famous counterpart, Abu Simbel - from the rising waters of Lake Nasser during the construction of the Aswan Dam.
The Meeting of the Niles
A modern road bridge crosses very close to the point where the two main tributaries of the world's longest river – the Blue Nile and White Nile - meet. Not that either of them look anything like the name implies – they are neither blue, nor white, rather a couple of dull shades of brown. How disappointing.
Our journey continues to Omdurman where we stop at the Tomb of Mahdi, a religious fanatic who lived in the late 1800s with the aim of restoring the country to its original Muslim beliefs and getting rid of the British Empire.
Today being the 2nd day of Eid (the celebrations denoting the end of fasting at Ramadan), most of the shops in the market are closed.
David buys himself a headscarf.
The people are friendly, however, and very keen to pose for photographs.
As we make our way along the river back through Khartoum to our hotel, we stop at a place where traditional boats are being made from acacia wood.
I do like a man who is kind to cats.
At this stage it doesn't look seaworthy even, but I am sure they know what they are doing and by the time the work is completed, it will be a fine vessel. Ship shape and Bristol fashion, even.
This is the bus that has taken us around Khartoum this afternoon , tomorrow will be very different as we swap modern wheeled transport for the much more traditional animal and our own two feet.
Blue Nile Sailing Club and the Malek Gunboat
In the grounds of the club sits the rusting hull of the Malek, the last renaming gunboat which Lord Kitchener had shipped down the Nile in boxes in 1898 for it to be reassembled and used in the devastating Battle of Omdurman. I find the boat somewhat of a disappointment if I am honest, it seems to be just unceremoniously dumped in a ditch!
The sunset isn't exactly overwhelming either, as seen from the deck of the sailing club overlooking the mighty Nile.
We return to our hotel, the Acropole, and after a quick shower we meet with Michael and the other tour participants (there are 12 of us, plus Michael, the local leader and various porters/camel handlers) for a non-alcoholic drink in reception and a thorough briefing of the adventure ahead.
Michael comes across as very knowledgeable and he is a good speaker too, very clear, approachable and keen to please. He is certainly living up to my expectations from his books.
The trip itself sounds as if it is well organised, and extremely adventurous, real pioneering stuff. An abrupt realisation of just HOW adventurous suddenly hits me in the face like a wet flannel. Gulp. We are the first westerners to ever have ventured out into this part of the Sahara. Wow. We all have lots of questions and Michael does his best to answer each and every one of them.
After dinner we sort out what we are going to take with us into the desert and what we will leave behind in the hotel for when we return. I really struggle to sleep tonight, my mind in turmoil about whether or not I am fit enough to undertake this rather long trek (12-15kms a day, either on foot or camel back), the excitement of fulfilling a long-time ambition, the trepidation of ten days in a tent under very harsh conditions and the thrill of meeting my hero author and sharing this adventure with him and his crew. I eventually drift off to sleep, only to wake in a pool of sweat from a nightmare at 03:15. Not a good start to the adventure.