Finally through the worst border crossing

(I’m having some computer issues at the moment. My laptop crashed in Egypt so at the moment I can’t edit and post photos but I’m working on a temporary solution. And as I tried posting a post via Brian’s computer from northern Sudan last week it just wouldn’t work… Doing my best to get back on track with the blogging.)

Finally we have the worst border crossing behind us! Going from Egypt to Sudan, when we had to load the cruiser onto a barge and go on a passenger ferry ourselves, was the one we had been dreading the most. We had heard so many horror stories telling about a burning and sinking barge – or people waiting clueless and powerless in Wadi halfa for weeks before the barge with their vehicle finally turned up. And it turned out to become a bit of a mission to do this also for us…

After realising we had to wait in Aswan and couldn’t travel again until after Eid we did our best to try and reserve tickets so that we would be guaranteed a space as soon as the ferry/barge business was up and running again. We made sure to have most of the paper work done and we thought it would all be pretty smooth. Instead it turned into almost a week of chaos, uncertainty and frustration. We quickly became aware that our attempts of reserving tickets weren’t worth much now and we found ourselves in the back of the line, almost risking not getting a space at all, now that other overlanders had turned up as well. Everyone we were in touch with gave us different information, nobody really seemed to know what was going on and even when we were told something we didn’t know if we could trust it. Eventually we had managed to get a space on the barge (which you have to arrange before being granted tickets on the passenger ferry) but then we were almost black mailed by a fixer for not hiring him. He threatened to make sure we wouldn’t get to keep our space on the barge. This was not a fun situation at all. It all felt more and more like it was all about money and the lack of power of our own situation made us both angry and stressed. We had now gone together with a group of other overlanders with cars and motorbikes and our vehicles – and the rest of our trips with them – were at stake here. Would they get to Wadi halfa safely or would something go wrong along the way? The loading of our vehicles were delayed day after day as the workers who were supposed to load the rest of the cargo onto the barge never showed. It got to Thursday, the day that the passenger ferry was meant to leave, and we still didn’t know how we were going to get our cars across the lake. For a short while it seemed we were going to load onto another barge that was full of lentils and not really meant for vehicles at all, but with only a few hours left until departure of the ferry we finally got to load onto the regular barge. The situation was exactly the way I had pictured it; having to drive the cruiser on a wobbly ramp with loads of men standing around waving their arms and shouting instructions in Arabic. I was very happy Brian was behind the steering wheel!

We had packed some clothes, some valuables and water enough for about 20 hours onboard the ferry and an unknown amount of days waiting in Wadi halfa. We grabbed that stuff, left everything else in the car, locked it up and boarded the ferry. As we left the harbour just after sunset the barge with the cars and the motorbikes was still moored and we pushed away all thoughts on the fact that we didn’t actually know when – or even if – we would see them again.

By now we were all quite stressed by the situation in general and I asked myself several times if we weren’t just overreacting. Wasn’t this what we should expect on a trip like this? Weren’t we prepared for corruption, language barriers and unorganised businesses? We sure were, but this was still way worse than what we expected. If people were lying to us day after day, if it was misunderstanding after misunderstanding or if they for cultural reasons were just telling us what they thought we wanted to hear – whether it was true or not – we don’t know. But we did learn that a promise didn’t mean anything, all directions could change at any time and we’re all just pawns in a game.

- This was no doubt the worst border crossing we’ve been through, said the Australian couple Ray and Avril who are out travelling with their Landcruiser for two years and have already visited 33 countries.

The truth is that we all left Egypt just wanting to get away from there as soon as possible. It did surprise us in a positive way several times but it just became too much to handle in the end. Initially we were going to do something while waiting for the ferry, going back to Luxor or taking a drive down to Abu Simbel, but we simply didn’t have the energy to do it. Wherever we went we got hassled instantly and constantly. Everyone wants to sell you something, everyone wants you to go with their fellukah or horse and carriage. Nobody does anything for you without asking for baksheesh, or actually demanding baksheesh. The constant hassling in combination with the heat made every little activity a big project and we realised that the best thing was to just stay in one place, draw as little attention as possible to ourselves and just relax.

In Wadi halfa the work continued to try and get updates on the barge’s progress that we could actually trust. We spent the days in this little dusty port town walking around before and after the hottest hours of the day, varying falafel and fool with some grilled chicken and Nile perch, playing pool on a pool table with speed humps and a couple of tuktuk-rides. Wadi halfa used to be this blooming town with green fields and a corniche by the Nile. But when the dam in Aswan rose in the 1960’s the entire town was flooded. Most of the people were placed elsewhere but some of them stayed and rebuilt the town, this time at a safer distance to the river but seemingly lacking all ambition to recreate what the town once was, as if the town spirits was washed away together with the buildings 50 years ago.

On Monday we finally got the phone call we had been waiting for. The barge was on its way into the harbour! We quickly called a couple of a tuktuks over and rushed down to the port and sighed with relief as we saw our cars onboard the barge. The offloading went pretty quickly and smoothly, although with some high pulse since there obviously was no ramp and we had to use whatever we could find. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to document any of it. Getting through customs and finalizing the paper work only took an hour and a bit (we now knew it’s often worth hiring a fixer!). After that a bunch of adrenaline pumped euforic drivers and bikers headed out the port gates and into town, hooting and whistling, spinning in the sand like cows just being let out after a long winter in the barn.

If you are planning an overland trip including the Egypt-Sudan crossing before the roads open we will be happy to share our experiences with you.  We can tell you how we did it, what happened and who we feel you should and shouldn’t contact. Just get in touch!

Philip Svensson - November 11, 2012 - 11:09 pm

Hello agin
Sory for your computer.
Happy to read that you come to Sudan. You can read the same story on our blog. Before we start our draving I say when we come to Kenya I be happy. Take care Philip Huskvarna

Samuel Baheru - November 16, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Hallo Anna, Hallo Brian,

this is Sami from Ethiopia, we met at Langano where you had to spend a night at our place, I’m the one from Germany. How are you? How was your journey? Where are you currently? I hope everything goes well as planned. I wish you all the best, and safe trip.


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