Karima to Dongola
Jun 30, 2005
According to the scraps of xeroxed paper that I call a guidebook, the trip to Dongola should be only three hours, which I took to mean that it should be a good road.
The only transport that I found was a small Toyota pickup. The truck is horribly overcrowded as 12 people pack into the back. There is no room for the luggage among the passengers, so the luggage is strapped to the side. Two more passengers plus the driver fill up the front seat - all of this in a small Toyota pickup - and we're underway.
At the edge of the town, the truck drops off the concrete, and thump, lands in the sand. At that point, something primal in me flipped.
"Get me the hell out of here! Get me back to water!"
It quickly occurred to me that the Bayuda Desert between Atbara and Karima was just the warm-up. Now, I'm traveling right through the Sahara in the back of a pickup truck. How nuts is that?? Though, I guess that I'm not actually crazy, as this wasn't actually in the plan. As of 10 minutes ago, I was expecting a good road along the river.
How big is the Sahara?
I wrap my sarong around my mouth and nose to protect myself from the hot wind. My lips were already chapped. Now with the hot wind, they're getting destroyed. I wrap the remaining bit of the sarong over my arms to protect them from the sun.
Through the Sahara, in the back of a pickup. Shit!
The environment is much like the Bayuda, but more so. We're driving through an endless sea of sand. But there are no dunes here, only gently rolling hills. The black rocks look downright evil.
A couple of hours into the trip, we come across a thing of amazement. In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the Sahara, there is a well with fresh water, a water tower, and shade. Even in the middle of the desert, at some places, with a deep enough well you can get water. Doubly magical though were the evaporation coolers that cool water through the process of evaporation, so even on the hottest days you can have cool water.
Cold water to splash on my face was exactly what I needed!
As we continue through the sand, the truck struggles. It clearly was not designed to go through sand with this kind of weight. One cylinder blows, and then another leaving the engine with almost no power at all. The truck gets stuck every time that we hit soft sand. We are 3.5 hours into the trip, it's 110 degrees (43 C) and we're reduced to constantly digging sand away from the wheels, and trying to get the truck unstuck using running boards.
We are forced to push, and push, and push the truck. Though I confess I let the Sudanese do most of the pushing; they are more accustomed to the heat. In 45 minutes we only progress 1/4 of a mile.
The Gilligan's Island theme song starts running through my head: "It was a 3 hour tour".
Will I have better luck than they did? Will I get stuck in the Sahara for years? When will this crazy trip ever end?
After that stretch of soft sand, the driver finds hard ground and we continue the trip over bumpy rocks. It's a miserable, bumpy ride, but at least the truck isn't getting stuck. A mile later we reach a second water station.
Now we have another chance to rest in the shade, as everyone prays, and the driver tries to fix the truck. He seems to be hammering on something with a wrench. Will that really fix it?
Camels walk up without any master or rider. They drink from a tank of water, and then wander off into the desert again.
Some of my co-passengers start discussing politics with me, which was difficult because their English was no better than my Arabic, and my Arabic, other than ordering food, was limited to "Good" and "Not good".
They tell me that Sadaam and Osama are both good. I politely disagree. But there doesn't seem to be any tension. And, there was no way to continue the discussion further. But I confess, I'm not sure if it's a discussion that I would want to continue.
The hammering did no good. The truck was no better. We continue, bouncing miserably through the desert, riding on top of rocks all the way.
When we reach Dongola, I find that it is a lovely, with lush green fields and palm trees.
We finally roll to a stop after more than seven hours.
But once again, I'm not quite at my destination. This is not Dongola! I order some food, and some drinks, and then some more drinks. I watch a spectacular sunset over the Nile. And then I get a boat to Dongola, which is on the other side of the river.
I refuse to take any more trucks today, so I walk the final mile into town.
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
hi adam! i haven't checked in for awhile, but man...that trip sounds brutal. when you're in the middle of something like that, with no apparent end in sight, how do you keep going? i think i might lose my mind. what does the survival instinct feel like for you?
Erina - Aug 29, 2007
Are you in Madrid for Fashion Week?