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Desertaholics

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Su Shi

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Sudan 06 - 11/07/2012

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Sunt locuri in lume unde, din cauza climatului extrem, masuratorile meteo pot fi facute numai cu sateliti NASA. Asa arata topul celor mai ridicate temperaturi terestre inregistrate vreodata de acestia (Fahrenheit) si (Celsius):

In climatically harsh corners of the world, access for routine measurements and maintenance of a weather station is impractical, so the infrared energy emitted by land can only be detected with NASA satellites. These are their top ten highest ever recorded air temperatures on the planet (in degrees Fahrenheit) and (Celsius):

1. El Azizia, Libya (136) (57,8)
2. Death Valley, California (134) (56,6)
3. Ghadames, Libya (131) (55)
3. Kebili, Tunisia (131) (55)
5. Timbuktu, Mali (130) (54,4)
5. Araouane, Mali (130) (54,4)
7. Tirat Tsvi, Israel (129) (53,9)
8. Ahwaz, Iran (128) (53,3)
8. Agha Jari, Iran (128) (53,3)
10. Wadi Halfa, Sudan (127) (52,7)

Eu, Ana si Yamaha noastra aterizasem abia in locul de la coada topului, asa ca nu prea aveam cu ce sa ne falim. Dar era iulie, adica miezul verii. Oraselul Wadi Halfa, sau Halfa, cum ii zic localnicii, este singura trecere de frontiera pasabila intre Sudan si Egipt. La inceputul secolului trecut, egiptenii au considerat oportun sa o inunde insa, odata cu intregul tinut ancestral al Nubiei, sub al doilea lac artificial ca marime in lume, Nasser. Egiptul avea nevoie de ceva mai mult Nil, asa ca s-a trecut la edificarea unui baraj, despre ale carui consecinte vom afla mai multe ceva mai tarziu. Acum principala noastra grija era sa traversam aceasta frontiera de apa cu bacul saptamanal catre Assuan. E bine de stiut ca exista o alternativa rutiera pentru a trece granita, o sosea nou-nouta, pe care insa egiptenii o tin semi-secreta si inaccesibila, pana la indelung amanata inuagurare ‘oficiala’. Se pare ca deja cateva masini de overlanderi au si traversat-o, pe multe mii de dolari si cu escorta militara.
Calatoria noastra de-a lungul Sudanului fusese o lectie de viata de neuitat. Poate ca mai potrivita concluzie avea sa fie chiar celebrul si temutul bac. Viza pentru Sudan nu a pus probleme deosebite in Nairobi, necesitand doar o scrisoare de la ambasada noastra si o rezervare (neverificata) la un hotel. Amuzant, desi in Sudan nu merg bancomatele (nu am crezut pana nu le-am luat la rand), viza necesita o copie xerox dupa VISA. Pentru Yamaha a durat cateva ore sa rezolvam cu actele la frontiera, dar numai pentru ca vamesii erau ocupati cu masa, un pui de somn si o rugaciune. Pana a trecut si o ploicica de vara, aveam hartia in mana, pe numai 15 lire sudaneze. Ca de obicei, detaliile despre cum se traverseaza Africa fara Carnet, pe HUBB.
Intrebarea care ne-a fost adresata cel mai des in Africa si pe care ne-o punem si noi de multe ori este: ‘de ce calatorim?’ Banuim ca unii oameni calatoresc in cautarea bronzului perfect, dar nu stim prea multi care chiar fac asta. Calatoria te poate testa in multe feluri noi. Trebuie sa inveti sa improvizezi din orice ca sa iti faci motocicleta sa mearga din nou, apoi sa o conduci pe un teren despre care nu sti nimic; trebuie sa negociezi intr-o limba straina cu femeia care vinde rosii pe marginea drumului; trebuie sa faci focul pentru ca ai pus cortul peste urme proaspete de lei. De cand calatorim, lumea a devenit mai ‘reala’, dar obiectivul nostru, pe langa incercarea de ne gasi un ‘cuib’, a fost sa intalnim oamenii si sa le cunoastem modul de viata. Daca esti ca noi, si calatoresti pentru oameni, atunci Sudanul este un adevarat regal. Ospitalitatea sudaneza e legendara, si nu trebuit sa ne indepartam de frontiera ca sa ne convingem, pentru ca vamesii ne-au si invitat la masa. In seara aceea am pus cortul la intamplare intr-un camp, dar era uscat, cerul era senin si eram fericiti sa putem din nou transpira de cald.

Me, Ana and our Yamaha only landed in the place ranked at the bottom of this top ten, so no glory to behold. To our defense, it was July, so at least we had made it to number 10 at the peak of summer. The little town of Halfa, as locals call it, is the only border crossing in use between Sudan and Egypt. In the wake of the 20th century, the egyptians decided to flood it, along with the entire homeland of Nubian people, sinking them both under Lake Nasser, world’s second largest manmade lake. Egypt needed a dam to harvest more Nile. We would learn more about the consequences of that dam a little later. Now our main concern was to cross this water border with the weekly ferry to Aswan. It must be told that there is a brand new overland route, but Egypt keeps postponing its grand inauguration for many months. Reportedly some overland jeeps have already driven on it, after paying thousands of dollars for the privilege and the armed escort.
Our journey across Sudan had been more humbling than ever. Maybe the dreaded ferry was just the right end to it. The Sudanese visa was easy to sort out in Nairobi, requiring just a bogus hotel booking and a letter from our embassy. The funny thing is that even if the Sudanese ATMs don’t take foreign cards (we did not believe that until trying ourselves), we had to hand in for the visa a xerox of our VISA. For the Yamaha we had to wait a couple of hours at the border, while temperatures soared and a soft rain flickered, so that the custom people could enjoy a meal, a nap and a prayer. Time we had plenty, and we got a great deal for waiting patiently. 15 Sudanese pound for the temporary import permit. Again, details on how to overland without a Carnet, our take, on the HUBB.
The question Africans ask us all the time and that we also often ask ourselves is: ‘why do we travel?’ I guess some people travel to get that perfect tan by the side of a pool, but we don’t know many who do. Travel can be a testing gap in what we take for granted. Learning how to fix your bike with whatever you can find and then pull it through difficult terrain, negotiating roadside purchases in a foreign language, mastering a crackling fire where lion footprints are fresh. New skills for the new you reward the decision to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Since traveling, the world has become more ‘real’ to us, but the scope of our journey, besides our subsidiary quest for a ‘home’, has been meeting the people and sharing their lifestyle. If you are like us, and travel for the people, Sudan is a treat. The hospitality of the Sudanese is legendary, and we didn’t need to move away from the border to experience it, as the officers invited us to share their food. Our first bushcamp that night was sketchy, but it was dry, the sky was clear and we were happy to sweat again.

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Primul mic dejun a fost cam prea ‘de capra’ pentru 7 dimineata, dar bucatarul in galabiyya albastra era atat de entuziasmat sa ne indoape cu tocana si supa de mate si organe din sus-mentionatul animal domestic, incat nu am avut inima sa nu-i facem pe plac.

First breakfast was a bit goaty for 7 in the morning (flat unleavened bread with goat soup, lentil soup and goat offal stew), but the cook in blue galabiyya was so happy to feed us, that we couldn’t say no.

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Traversand confluenta Nilului Albastru cu cel Alb in capitala Khartoum, am simtit ca e musai sa diluam cockteilul de proteine cu niste suc.

Crossing the bridge over the Blue and White Nile confluence in Khartoum, we felt we should wash down the protein loaded breakfast with something raw. We swung by the market and found this juicing joint.

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Am dat peste cele mai bune sucuri din lume. Sudan, odata cea mai mare tara din Africa, astazi pe locul doi, in urma declararii independentei Sudanului de Sud, este practic un mare desert. Nilul abia daca aduce cu luxurianta vale egipteana, dunele insa se intind neintrerupte decat de piatra seaca. Cu toate acestea, nemaipomenite freshuri si smoothies de fructe si iaurt de casa se gasesc la orice colt, si sunt foarte ieftine. Nu e nici o problema sa comanzi ceva personalizat. Eu mi-am gasit formula ideala: jumatate guava, jumatate lime.

Now, you need to know these are the best fruit juices in the world. Sudan, once the largest country in Africa, after the independence of South Sudan falling into second, is basically a vast, baking desert. Compared to Egypt, the Nile valley is barely a trickle of life across the ocean of dunes and bare rock. But somehow delicious fruit is widely available, and cheap, so are the amazing freshly squeezed juices and homemade yoghurt smoothies. And they will gladly fix you a custom blend of your choice, should you ask. I got mine just right: half guava, half lime.

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De fapt toata mancarea e delicioasa in Sudan. Pilaf cu sofran, muraturi, kebaburi, falafel, gratare, supe, salate, clatite de linte si lipia care e aproape gratis. Sudanezilor le place sa manance bine si sa-si imparta blidul cu strainii, si am primit multe invitatii la masa sau sa gustam cate ceva necunoscut. In fiecare alee si de-a lungul drumurilor dintre localitati, gratii sudaneze servesc ceai si cafea etiopiana. Observasem deja ca localnicii sunt foarte aratosi, desi hainele lasa putin la vedere (in Sudan e impusa o forma a shariei). 

Actually, all the food is Sudan is very good. Saffron rice, pickles, kebabs, falafel, roasted meats, soups, salads, lentil pancakes and lots of inexpensive flat bread. You can tell the people love to eat and to share their food with strangers, as we were often invited to grab a bite or taste a dish. At every corner of the dusty capital and dotting the national routes between towns, women brew ethiopian coffee and tea. The Sudanese had already impressed us with their beauty and pizzazz, even if there is very little on display, because in Sudan, a muslim country, is enforced a form of sharia. 

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‘Ceainaresele’ insa, investmantate in intens colorate valuri transparente, sunt exceptional de frumoase. Standurile lor sunt minuscule, dar cumva mentinute intr-o ordine si curatenie impecabile. ‘Ceainareasa’ prepara, serveste si spala mereu cu gratie si zambetul pe buze, ca Sayida, de pilda:

But the tea ladies were positively gorgeous, even more so in their vividly colored, transparent veils. Their tea stands are minuscule, but somehow kept neat and perfectly organized. The tea lady would sit upright on her stool for hours, brewing, mixing, serving and cleaning, without losing her smile and grace. Like Sayida, for instance:

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Sau ca Fatuma, careia se pare ca i-am cazut ‘cu tronc’ :)

So was Fatuma, who seemed to like me :)

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Sayida are, ca toate ceainaresele, o colectie de borcane de sticla cu scortisoara, ginger, cardamom, coaja de rodie si alte condimente si ierburi aromatice, cu care poti sa ceri sa ti se parfumeze ceaiul. Am remarcat ca multi oameni, mai ales batranii, sunt foarte pretentiosi. Un bunic chiar a venit cu propriul amestec pentru ceai, infasurat in ziar. Nu a lasat-o pe ceainareasa decat sa fiarba apa. Amicii Sayidei s-au activat la sosirea noastra.

Sayida has, like all tea ladies, a collection of glass jars with cardamon, cinnamon, pomegranate peel, ginger and other spices and aromatic grasses, that you can perfume your tea with. We noticed that many people, particularly the old, are very picky with their tea. One grandpa even walked to the stand with his own blend tucked in a piece of paper. He would only trust the tea lady with boiling the water. Sayida’s palls were hyped we had stopped by the stand.

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Dupa ce am luat si un sandwich picant cu vinete in lipie integrala, am plecat mai departe. Din cand in cand ne trageam sufletul si ne racoream picioarele murate in aerul fierbinte. De la intrarea in Sudan inregistrasem temperaturi de 52-54 de grade Celsius in timpul zilei, cu minima de 27 in zori. Rutina noastra s-a schimbat: condus intre 6 si 22, cu o lunga pauza la pranz.

After a spicy sandwich of stewed eggplants in pita bread, we left, stoping here and there to peel off the melting socks and let our sorry feet breathe. Since entering Sudan we had been recording temperatures of 52-54 Celsius by day, and 27 at dawn. Our routine had changed: drive from 6 to 22, with long breaks around noon.

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Data fiind caldura extrema, nu ne-am fi mirat ca pe langa animale, sa vedem si oameni putrezind pe marginea soselei. Peisajul amintea de Mauritania, numai ca aici gasisem mancare buna, oameni fabulosi si un extrordinar sistem de rezistenta imotriva efectului devastator al caniculei: Apa gratis, pentru toata lumea. Sub umbrare de caramida sau beton sunt asezate amfore de lut cu apa rece, cu o cana, uneori alaturi de o banca, un scaun, sau chiar o rogojina pentru ca insetatul calator sa isi poata recapata fortele. Un concept care ar trebui implementat in toata Africa. Intr-un astfel de loc de popas am fost chiar indemnati la masa de cel care avea grija de umbrar. Am tras tare pana in noapte, intr-un alt loc minunat de pus cortul. Dupa ce facusem dus cu propria transpiratie doua zile la rand, am hotarat sa sacrificam niste apa ca sa ne improspatam cat de cat. Cu mai putin de jumatate de litru ne-am spalat amandoi pe corp si pe dinti.
Cand am campat, era noapte, foarte cald, liniste, minunat. Asa cum numai in desert poate fi. Ne fusese dor de un astfel de loc. In zare am vazut cateva fulgere, dar ne-am zis ca sunt doar riduri de frumusete pe cerul instelat. Cum ne-am inselat! In mai putin de o ora a venit furtuna. Mai intai vantul ne-a scuturat bine si ne-a pudrat cu nisip. Apoi a inceput sa toarne cu furie. Cu Tunete. Cu Fulgere. Nu era de gluma. Eram singuri in desert, cu cea mai violenta furtuna intalnita in Africa. Ce mai era si asta? Cortul s-a umplut in cateva minute cu apa, si am auzit cum nisipul a cedat sub masa motocicletei, care s-a culcat pe o parte. Dar nu aveam ce face, trebuia sa stam in cort, pentru ca altfel vantul l-ar fi maturat cat ai zice peste. Ne miram si acum ca structura si materialul de cort nu au cedat, pentru ca practic a trebuit sa le sustinem cateva ore bune impotriva furtunii. Nu stiam ce e de facut, daca vor veni torentii din amonte peste tabara noastra precara? Ca prin minune, vantul a mai stat, asa ca am iesit afara sa ridic motocicleta. Dupa ce au servit-o pe Ana pe multe mii de kilometri, vechii tenisi ai Anei au fost sacrificati ca sa improvizam un stand pentru Yamaha.

In this extreme weather people bodies should be rotting along the road, just like dead cattle do on some stretches. This reminded us of Mauritania, only with great food, fabulous people and an amazing lifeline: Free, good drinking water for everyone. Clay amphoras filled with cold water are laid out with a cup for everyone to share, under the shade of brick or concrete kiosks all over the country. Sometimes a chair, a bench, or even a carpet, so that the thirty and the tired can rest and survive. We love the concept, Africa should see more of this. In one of these man made oasis the caretaker heard our Yamaha, and came by to ask if we needed any food. We pushed on to another top notch campsite. After showering in our own sweat for two days, we decided to sacrifice some water to freshen up a bit. We managed to drop-shower and brush our teeth with less than 2 cups.
When we had pitched, it was crazy hot, quiet and beautiful, as only the desert can be. We had missed it. We noticed some distant lightening in the distance, but we took them for harmless wrinkles on the perfectly starlit sky. We were wrong. Not even an hour later, the storm hit. First the wind shook us well and scattered some sand. Then it started to pour, a massive, relentless rain. Lightings stroke. Thunders roared. It was scary. We were alone in the desert, facing the most powerful storm in the whole Africa journey. What was this? Tent quickly filled with water, and we heard the bike falling on one side as the mushy sand gave up under its weight. But we had to stay inside, where it was raining just like in a tropical jungle, or the tent would have been swept away by the wind. I am amazed the poles and the fabric didn’t break, because we had to hold the tent walls against the pounding rain for a couple of hours. We had no clue how to deal with all that, what if the torrents would come sweeping? Miraculously, the wind calmed a bit, so I went out to lift the bike. After serving her well on many thousands of miles, Ana’s old sneaker was sacrificed to make a sidestand for our Yamaha.

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Poate inca o ora mai tarziu, ploaie, vant, tunet si traznet s-au mai calmat. Se facuse indeajuns de liniste, ca sa auzim ceva nelinistitor. Sunet de rau, sau cascada? Afara din cort le-am vazut, peste tot in jurul nostru, lucing sub luna. Ploaia formase parauri care acum brazdau desertul. Mai mult printr-un noroc, decat din precautie, campasem pe o movila de nisip, asa ca parea ca nu vom fi afectati. In departare se auzeau acum claxoane de camioane: drumul traversase in ajun o albie seaca, care probabil ca acum era inundata, si blocase masinile. Am adormit cu greu. Nu pentru ca facusem un dus de cateva ore fara sa iesim din cort, sau pentru ca totul inauntru, cu exceptia rucsacului de electronice, era leoarca, ci pentru ca habar nu aveam daca furtuna trecuse sau nu. In zori desertul era aproape uscat, dar urmele dramei erau inca vizibile.
 
Maybe another hour later rain, wind, lighting and thunder all lost intensity. Now we could hear into the desert silence, and it was worrisome. It sounded like water flowing, and coming out of the tent we saw rainwater streaming across the desert, under the moonlight. We had been more lucky than cautious to pitch camp on a patch of higher ground, so we might be safe, even if surrounded by cascading streams. There were distant trucks honking: we had crossed a dry riverbed earlier, which must have been flooded, with the trucks ambushed by storm. It was difficult to sleep that night. The fact that we had taken a thorough shower while hanging for dear life inside the tent, or that our stuff, except for the gizmo backpack, was soaking wet counted less than the paranoia that the storm was not over. The brisk morning was quiet, almost dry, but last night drama was still evident.

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Balta din cort inca nu se uscase

Small pools lingered inside

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Dar in numai jumatate de ora am zvantat totul. Ne-am facut bagajele, si am plecat sa gasim oameni, si ceai. Imi dau seama ca e posibil sa te fi plictisit deja cu atata text, si atat de putine poze. Imediat o sa-ti spun de ce.
Dupa furtuna din noaptea trecuta, incepuse sa ne fie iar dor de prieteni si familii, de o asezare umana. Dar frumusetea peisajului sudanez ne-a infrant lasitatea. Ne aflam, in sfarsit, oameni si armasar de metal, in vastul desert nubian, unde pietrele lucesc albastru sub soarele fierbinte.

In half an hour everything was dry again. Packed up our bits, and left to find people, and tea. Now I realize that at this point into the story you might have grown impatient with the abundant text, and the lack of supporting photos. We’ll explain why.
After last night’s storm, we felt alienated from the security and assertiveness of human settlements, we missed our friends and families. But the beauty of Sudan melted the panic away. We had reached the fringes of the ochre Nubian desert, where rocks glisten blue under scorching sun.

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Ne place la nebunie soarele fierbinte, asa ca am turat motorul si am intrat in dune. Mai adanc decat as fi vrut, nimerind intr-o situatie sora cu faza din Zair, numai ca de data asta Yamaha era infipta in nisip, in loc de noroi de ‘bumbac’.

We enjoy scorching sun, so I revved up my bike and hit the dunes. Until I ended up in a DRC moment, only in the copycat the swamp was blistering sand, instead of cotton mud.

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Si un flashback din RDC

And flashback to DRC

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Un beduin a sosit ca sa ne ofere o tura pe camila, dar a fost mai incantat sa ne dea o mana de ajutor.

A man arrived on his camel, not too bummed we would not take it for a ride, but rather happy to give a hand.

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Fara bagaje, dunele au fost o nebunie. Probabil ca erau peste 54 de grade, dar placerea mea era maxima, iar Ana avea ce poza. Aproape ca am uitat de piramidele Meroe, din spatele dunelor. Din 592 i.e.n pana in 350 e.n. faraonii negri din dinastia Meroitica au creat aici o civilizatie infloritoare. Epoca faraonica s-a incheiat odata cu sosirea abisinienilor, din zona care azi e cunoscuta ca Ethiopia. Piramidele inguste din situl Begrawiya sunt tot ce a mai ramas din orasele meroitice. Geometria piramidelor in contrast cu profilul curb al desertului nu te poate lasa indiferent.

The light bike felt awesome on dunes, I had a blast. It had possible soared to 54sh Celsius, but I was enjoying my riding, and Ana her shooting. We had almost forgotten to check out the Meroe pyramids behind the dunes. From 592 BC to 350 AC the Meroitic black pharaohs thrived on this land, finally conceding power to the Abyssinians arrived from modern day Ethiopia. Their narrow pyramids cluster in the well preserved Begrawiya site, a geometry even more striking against the soft profile of the desert.

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Din pacate aceasta a fost ultima poza pe care am facut-o in Sudan. Dintr-o data camera a cedat. Am incercat in van sa o resuscitez in zilele urmatoare, dar nu a mai pornit. Asta nu a fost tot. La cateva minute dupa ce Canon-ul a facut atac de cord, a murit si GPS-ul. Era al doilea care se strica in Africa. In seara aceea era liniste si jale in cortul nostru. Aveam o harta simplista pentru Africa de est, dar fara GPS nu aveam nici o sansa sa gasim singuri diferitele birouri unde trebuiau obtinute tot felul de hartii pentru a intra cu Yamaha in Egipt. Eram acum o prada certa pentru fixerii egipteni. Calatoria continua sa ceara de la noi sacrificiu dupa sacrificiu. In jurul nostru, cel mai curat desert, dar abia daca am pus geana pe geana.
A doua zi ajungeam in Abu Hamed, ultimul oras pana in Halfa, de care ne desparteau inca 340 de km. Urma sa aflam in curand cat de dificila era in fapt frontiera de care ne temusem cel mai tare. In itinerariul din 2010, de dinainte de accident, nu fusesera incluse nici Sudan, nici Egipt, pentru ca stiam ca ar fi fost extrem de dificil, daca nu imposibil, sa intram fara Carnet de Passage. Dar tensiunile din Siria si Libia escalasera intr-atat de atunci, incat fara nici un fel de sistem de comunicare satelit sau ceva similar, era de neconceput sa incercam sa le traversam singuri. Trebuia sa mergem in Egipt. In Abu Hamed se topeau trotuarele. Inventasem intre timp o rutina pentru a face fata arsitei: de cate ori gaseam apa din belsug, ne udam bine costumele si ne turnam o cana-doua in cap. Efectul racoritor tinea 15-20 de minute. Dar in dimineata aceea efectul combinat al stresului din ziua trecuta si caldura excesiva ne-au venit de hac. In pragul lesinului, am tras intr-o carciuma, sa ne intremam cu un pahar de ceai cu cardamom. Ca de fiecare data, am fost primiti cu cele mai calde zambete si ospitalitate desavarsita. Auzind ca ne pregateam sa pornim inspre Halfa insa, mesenii au sarit la unison in picioare: ‘drumul e foarte greu, nu se poate sa mergeti singuri, e musai sa faceti cale intoarsa si sa urmati drumul cel nou!’ ne-au spus. Adica nu eram pe drumul nou? GPS-ul ne lasase inainte de Atbara, probabil sa ratasem un semn. Alternativa din Abu Hamed e offroad, paralel cu linia de tren, care are are statii din 30 in 30 de km. Insa abia la jumatatea distantei, la Statia nr. 5, exista un popas cu ceai si apa. In rest am fi singuri, in desert, in miezul zilei.


Unfortunately this was our final photo in Sudan. Abruptly, the camera stopped working. I tried in vain to resuscitate it for the next days, it never powered up again. To make our day even ‘better’, minutes after the Canon heart attack, our Garmin GPS died as well. It was the second GPS to lose on the trip. That night in the bush the mood was as bleak as it gets: we had a basic map of East Africa, but without a GPS we would never find customs offices and whatnot to sort our papers in Egypt. Now we were sure prey for the egyptian fixers. We could see no end to the sacrifices that the journey demanded. We were surrounded by clean desert, but we hardly slept.
The next day we arrived in Abu Hamed, the last stop before the final push to Halfa. 340 km more to reach the border we had feared the most. In our original plans from the 2010, before the crash, we had not included Sudan, nor Egypt, knowing that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to cross the border without a Carnet de Passage. Now Yemen and Syria were in turmoil, so without satellite communication or other emergency device we would not attempt to cross them alone. Egypt was the only logical next step. In Abu Hamed the sidewalk was melting. We had developed by now a routine of pouring water over our riding gear and heads whenever we could find it plentiful. Quite effective in the blistering desert wind. But the mix of stress from last day’s events and intense heat made us both feel dizzy. We pulled by a falafel joint to recover with a cup of strong cardamon tea. We were welcomed again with heart melting smiles and incredible hospitality. Hearing that we were about to leave for Halfa, everybody jumped off their chairs: ‘the road is very bad, you cannot go, you must go back and follow the new tarred road!’ So we were not on the new road then? The GPS had broken before Atbara, I guess we must have missed a turn. The Abu Hamed alternate route to Halfa is pure offroad, and it runs parallel to the train rail, with stations every 30 km. Halfway, at station 5 we would find a rest place with water and tea, but should anything go wrong, for the rest of the journey we’d be alone in the desert. ‘There is very little traffic’, the men insisted. After a lengthy debate, we had to concede it was irresponsible to continue. We were in no shape or gear to risk being stranded under intense weather.

Am cugetat la riscurile pe care trebuia sa ni le asumam. Si am ajuns la concluzia ca era stupid sa nu ascultam, de data asta, sfatul oamenilor care de atatea ori ne-au spus ca drumul e bun unde era rau, si ca e aproape ce era departe. In cazul unei probleme tehnice, cu lantul uzat si gumele zdrente, cu apa limitata si fara telefon, nu ar fi fost de gluma. Ca sa mai avem o sansa sa prindem feribotul aveam de facut insa cel putin 650 de km pana la lasarea noptii, pentru a recupera timpul pierdut. Dar nu aveam de ales, si am facut cale intoarsa catre Atbara, unde am oprit pentru o runda de freshuri de mango. De-a lungul celor 200 km de pustiu care au urmat ne-am tot gandit la biciclistul pe care il intalnisem cu ceva zile in urma. Oare cu rezistase pe acea etapa, fara localitati si fara amforele datatoare de viata? Asfaltul era asa cum ni s-a spus in Abu Hamed, impecabil, Made in China. Desertul e un mediu propice sa-ti pui ordine in ganduri. A fost o zi dura, dar spre seara am ajuns in Dongola, cu rezervele de apa pe sfarsite. Orasul avea sarm, apa din amfore nu mai era la fel de neagra ca in Atabara, brutariile coceau lipie calda, falafelul mirosea bine, oamenii erau numai zambet. Am facut plinul, apoi am depasit orasul si am campat, satisfacuti ca ne indeplinisem obiectivul. Estimam totalul zilei la 730 de km. Soarele a apus din nou de parca cineva ar fi stins un bec gigant.
Ne-am trezit la 200 de km de destinatie. Planul era sa ajungem in Halfa pana in pranz, sa gasim un hotel si sa ne luam bilete pentru bac. Wadi Halfa a fost fondat de cele cateva familii de nubieni care au rezistat mutarii fortate de pe tinutul stramosesc, aflat acum sub apele lacului Nasser. Ar fi greu de ghicit ca prafuita si modesta asezare e o importanta trecere de frontiera. Toti overlanderii stiu cine e ‘tartorul’ aici. Oricat de mult am uri insa conceptul de ‘fixer’ (intermediar), azi, cand punem in scris povestea, si putem sa judecam la rece ce se intampla de o parte si de alta a granitei dintre Sudan si Egipt, trebuie sa recunoastem ca Mazar nu e un om rau. L-am intalnit in drum spre docuri, o ducea in atasul motorului primit ‘cadou’ de la un sud-african pe o englezoaica, care sosise cu bacul din Assuan, si care urma sa doarma la el acasa. Multi calatori fac la fel, iar el le rezolva toate actele. Mazar e respectuos, vorbeste bine engleza, si pana la final nu ne-a cerut nici un ban, lasand la latitudinea noastra orice rasplata. Teoretic noi nu aveam nevoie de el, ne puteam lua singuri biletele si trecusem singuri atatea frontiere. Insa bacul asta are o chichita: pasagerii pleaca miercurea, dar barja pentru vehicule pleaca a doua zi, sau la cateva zile distanta. Adica iti astepti in Assuan cateva zile masina sau motorul, pe care nu le poti incarca singur pe barja, decat daca esti dispus sa mai ramai o saptamana in Wadi Halfa pana la urmatorul bac, si sa platesti taxa de port in Egipt. Aici intra in scena Mazar, caruia a trebuit sa ii dam cheile de la Yamaha. Mazar urma sa incarce motocicleta pe barja care inca nu se stia cu precizie cand va sosi din Assuan. Seara am dat o tura prin oras cu Kostas, un jurnalist grec, care e platit sa conduca diferite motoare prin lume. Sosise cu bacul din Assuan, in drum spre Cape Town, apoi urma sa traverseze America Latina. Subiectul cel mai fierbinte a fost experienta lui pe nava RO-RO din Turcia in Egipt, singura solutie viabila pentru a parasi continentul african. Discutia a necesitat cateva carafe din celebrul suc de lime din Halfa, care e pe atat de fabulos pe cat se spune. Intre timp hotelul nostru, si intreaga localitate, devenisera un furnicar sufocant de oameni si bagaje. Anticipam o nebunie pe bac, dar habar nu aveam.
Ultimul mic dejun sudanez a fost un delicios fuul cu branza, rucola si ulei de masline. Dupa care ne-am imbulzit impreuna cu alti 500 de pasageri, sa prindem un loc sub punte. Ne imbarcam pentru cele mai nebunesti 24 de ore. Urma sa induram pe acea Arca, in acel Babilon, toate emotiile si mirosurile imaginabile, atat sublime, cat si revoltatoare, si sa ii intalnim pe Carola si Joe, care vor juca un rol important in viitorul nostru.  

So we turned back. Now if we were to catch that damn ferry at all we had to do at least 650 km before the end of the day. Back in Atbara we juiced up for the 200 km stretch of nothing that comes next. We kept thinking about that cyclist met we had a few days ago, wondering how did he cope where there are no settlements, and no amphoras. This new road is like they say in Abu Hamed: super smooth Chinese tar, man made perfection in an imperfect landscape of surreal beauty. The empty space gives one time to think about things. It was rough, but we made it to Dongola with our water reserves just about to end. Dongola had great beat, water was no longer as brown as in Atbara, bakeries baked bread, falafel stands smelled good, people smiled. We filled up the tank, then we camped, assured that we had done our job for the day. We had driven approximatively 730 km. Sun set again as if a huge red bulb had been turned off in the distant haze.
We woke up with only 200 km to do. The game plan for the day was to arrive before noon, find a hotel and buy tickets for the ferry. Wadi Halfa is home to the remaining original inhabitants of the Nubian town of Halfa, now lying on the bottom of Lake Nasser. The few families that resisted forced government relocation founded an unassuming settlement that hardly looks like the important border town that it actually is. Every overlander has heard about Mr. Fix-It-All in Halfa. As much as we hate the ‘fixer’ concept, today, when we are writing this, and are able to put things into perspective, we must admit that Mazar is not a bad guy. We met him on our way to the docks taking home a girl from the UK who had arrived from Aswan. Many travelers stay for free at his place, and he takes care of all their papers and shit. Mazar is considerate, well spoken, and to be honest never asked anything from us. Theoretically we did not need him. The thing is, the ferry has a catch: it leaves on wednesday, but your vehicle travels by a barge, that leaves a day or more after the ferry. So you cannot load your vehicle yourself, unless willing to spend another week in Halfa waiting for the next boat and a hefty fee for storage in Aswan. Here’s comes Mazar, whom we had to relinquish the bike key, to load the Yamaha on the barge that was not even there yet. That night we hit town for a few carafes of the famous Halfa lime juice with Kostas, a greek journalist who is paid to ride different bikes around the world. He had arrived from Egypt and was going to Cape Town, then to South America. The hot topic was his experience on the newly inaugurated RO-RO from Turkey to Port Said, currently the only option in or out of Africa. Back to our hotel, we were anticipating a frenzy on the ferry: the place had filled up to capacity, luggage flooded any available space. But we had no idea.
After a final Sudanese breakfast of fuul with gibna (cheese), rocket and olive oil, we fought with 500 more people onboard for a place under deck. We were embarking for the craziest 24 hours journey. On that Ark, in that Babylon, we would endure every imaginable emotion and smell, experience revolt and awe, and meet and befriend Carola and Joe, who would play a significant part in our future.



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