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Buy a Map!

Posted by on July 2, 2012

So, we took the wrong way up! Serves us right for attempting to do a Trans-African trip without a map or a guide book. Yet, as someone once said, “Bad decisions make good stories”.

We left Khartoum four days ago, ‘happy as chappies’ and ready to get to Egypt, just to find ourselves stuck in this:

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Apparently the road from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa via Dongola is a stunning tarmac heaven through the Nubian Desert. The road to Wadi Halfa via Abu Hamed on the other hand abruptly ends as soon as you have left Abu Hamed, leaving you with 350km of desert ahead and 600km behind you to get back to the Dongola-road. We thought it was the other way around mainly because we have no map or book to inform us otherwise… can you imagine our surprise when we realised we were wrong.

But, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Paul Theroux writes that ‘photography’s spoiling the visual pleasure of places is nothing compared to the way the Internet and our age of information have destroyed the pleasure of discovery in travel’. Let’s just say that we support that idea fully. Thanks to our lack of informative guides (and books and maps) we took the road less travelled but we also got to discover the splendour hidden in this unforgiving terrain.

The result was a night camping in the desert with a view of the stunning Nubian Pyramids at Meroë. And we even exchanged our Pole Pole bike for a camel (but only for an hour).

Meroë is probably one of the most spectacular places we’ve seen during our trip. Not just because we ended up there by fluke, but also because it is so remote, so untouched and the isolation of its location left us breathless. For hours there was nothing around us. No sound, no movement. Just heat and the stunning pyramids. We were in awe at its splendour and as the sun started setting over the desert we explored the area.


Our joy was short-lived though as we had absolutely no equipment for desert camping and ended up spending the night sleeping inside our tiny tent that was gradually fulling up with sand as the desert wind swept through it. It was like attempting to sleep on the beach during a very windy day. We had a bloody hectic night and at the first sight of sunlight we packed up (with an argument or two) and headed onwards.

With another 350km dusted we looked at the end of the tarmac in Abu Hamed and finally faced facts and accepted that we have taken a wrong turn. We also knew the only way out of the desert was straight into it so we had a great dusty adventure for old time’s sake.

We waited in the desert for a lift, first in our own makeshift hideout until a passer-by kindly informed us that we were in the wrong spot and later in the right spot with traffic police. Subsequently we found a ride with an empty truck and spent another night in the desert.

After endless hours on no road we were, once again, covered in dust when we crossed the stunning and brand new tarmac road from Dongola into Wadi Halfa – just in case we didn’t know what we had been missing. Nevertheless, we are on schedule according to our visas and made it to the border and our last stop in Sudan – with Pole Pole still in great running condition.

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