Sailing south by passenger ship across Lake Nasser – up the Nile to the border port of Wadi Halfa in Sudan can be a long, maddening but memorable journey.
A relaxing train ride from Aswan (7:45 am) ends with crowds of people waiting around. Bored. Baggage and boxes stacked. Waiting for port gates to open. Heat already intense. Around you pushing, shouting, arguing. Slowly squeezing thru barriers to pay port fees, go thru customs, immigration, more customs. Bags and porters and people everywhere. Much shouting and commotion.
On board you may get a bench, to share. The AC works. But there’s no view thru the portholes. It’s way too hot – frighteningly hot – on the outside steel deck in summer. Besides there’s still 8 hours – til departure. This early arrival only guarantees you a tiny patch of public space – that will shrink with overcrowding in the coming hours. So you sleep when and where you can.
The crush to get off the next morning is frantic – like fleeing a burning building. Stalled by a narrow exit and stern police checks. (Make sure you have both visa entry stamp AND the separate travel permit paper – done on board; find the officials upstairs in first class). Clambering onto an open truck. Tired. Very hot. Lack of sleep is intense. Driven to customs building. Bags everywhere. Friendly, fast, hassle-free for the foreigner. In the back of a covered pick-up to the dusty, remote town of Wadi Halfa (cost: 10 SDP).
Sleep will be patchy the next few days.
Rooms stay hot – as walls and roofs exhale heat all night.
Any available fans, just surge hot air at you … sleeping outside is the only option. No electricity in Abri, limited washing water, too. Wretched Leger Hotel is the only option: 15 SDP per bed BUT you have to buy all 4 @ 60 SDP for this broken, dirt-floor room. Beds dragged into the yard at night. Use repellent. Manager helpful for transport.
In Dongola, the discovery of an A/C room with working bathroom is bliss ( Olla Hotel: ragged twin room = 60 SDP; Lord Hotel – owner, very knowledgeable – offers beds for 10 SDP ). Street meals of fried Nile Perch @ 15 SDP. Decent internet cafe connection = 5 SDP / hour.
I share this journey – from Aswan to Dongola – with Tomo, a chilled, 27 year old Japanese backpacker. We both crave cold beer. Daily. Hourly. Constantly. Temperatures reach 47 degrees … Tough luck. No beer here.
SUDAN TRAVEL ADVICE – 2013
SHIP PRICES – Aswan to Wadi Halfa: Second class – sleep anywhere – LE 307; First class – not luxurious, cabins for 2 people = LE 485 each (best option, but difficult to obtain).
Sailing can be twice weekly: leaving Aswan always on Sunday + sometimes, on Thursday. Departures around 5 pm. Price includes one simple meal. If you have a second class ticket (like me) comfort options aren’t good. Outside on the deck would be better if the heat allows (like under the lifeboats for some shade). Getting there really early hardly seems worth it; all space anywhere will be encroached on by late-comers anyway. A ship made for 200 squeezes 600+ people on PLUS masses of baggage.
MONEY: Leaving Egypt at Aswan Port, you’ll need Egyptian cash: LE 40 for port tax + LE 2 for immigration stamp. Money changers at outer gates. Egyptian + Sudanese + US dollars can be used to buy drinks, snacks, meals on board.
YOU CAN’T BUY A SHIP TICKET – UNTIL YOU HAVE THE SUDAN VISA.
SUDAN VISA in Aswan. Wait 3 days. NEED: $US50, 2 photos, copy of passport page.
HOTELS IN WADI HALFA – don’t have running water and are just rope beds in bleak rooms or out in a courtyard. But Cleopatra Hotel does have fans – not much use in summer – BUT the showers in shared bathrooms is a big plus.
BLACK MARKET MONEY CHANGE IN WADI HALFA … RATES as of early May 2013: $US1 = 6.6 / 6.7 SDP (much better than official rate). The money guys will find you.
ONWARD INTERIOR TRAVEL: Bare rooms and limited but okay eating options. Thanks to recent Chinese improvements – transportation is easy; the roads are sealed and smooth, served by new micro-buses (and long-distance buses).
BACKPACKING TRAVEL COSTS: $US 15-25 daily (“monument” entrance fees are 50 SDP).
REGISTRATION in Dongola costs 205 SDP and takes about 30 minutes (officials didn’t seem to care if it’s done beyond the “3 day” period).
BIGGEST SUDAN TRAVEL ISSUE – THE HEAT (It’s always hot but summer is very intense: June – the month I travelled – is the hottest; called “month of the sun” by Sudanese. July + August are alittle cooler, due to slight rain and clouds. The far north is hotter than here in Khartoum).
Travels in Sudan – 2013