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    The Young Americans…in Sudan

    November 19th, 2006 by steve

    After all the trouble we’ve been through getting visas and the ferry, we weren’t sure what to expect from Sudan, but all worked out well. The immigration and customs were cake and the only problem we faced was the crappy hotel we ended up with and a bit more waste of time and money in bureaucracy to get us “registered” once in the country.The $35 hotel we start at is double the price of anything we stayed at in Egypt and still so bad that we slept with the lights on and moved to a campground on the Nile the next night. (we stayed the first night only because we hadn’t slept in 34 hours and just needed to fall down.)

    We had 3 days to explore Khartoum while we waited for our bus which finally arrived yesterday (Sat). Friday night, I went to a gathering at a local cemetery of Sufi-Muslims (so we’re told) doing an absolutely random mix of whirling dervish, southern baptist gospel and tribal dance to pay respects to the dead. Pretty crazy what people do when nobody is looking.

    The people in Sudan are amazing. Most people don’t really pay us any special attention unless we say ‘hi’. Those who do notice us say ‘hello’ like we’re their next door neighbor. The hard part is talking to people who have been impacted by Darfur or Ethiopia/Eritria. The positive attitudes of individuals I’ve talked to are absolutely incredible against the backdrop of what they’re are going through. The human spirit is truly unreal when put to the test.

    Khartoum as a city isn’t terribly inspiring, but it shows that a people who care can have a clean city. They have garbage cans around town and people use them in huge contrast to Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and some of Turkey where the city is your private trash bin.
    Now we’ve met up with our friends and are getting ready to head out again tomorrow en route to Ethiopia for our next adventures. The group has promised to get stuck in sand down to the transmission again so we can see what fun we missed!

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    Mall Rats

    November 19th, 2006 by steve

    Now separated from our tour, we caught an overnight train back to Cairo and booked a 1:30am flight to Khartoum the next day where we’ll wait for our group. That leaves us 15 hours to hang out in City Stars, the swankiest mall in all of Egypt. Seriously. It’s financed by some Dubai (I think) capital funding group who maintains offices in a hi-rise buried within. The mall is complete with luxury apartments, offices, a big glass pyramid and a Hotel Intercontinental who was kind enough to store our bags all day.Life in the mall is good fun. Mary caught a needed haircut and shampoo from a Parisian-trained Lebanese stylist who fit the Rodeo Drive sterotype perfectly. Nice work for $20. Top that off with a morning cappuccino and snacks and a viewing of “The Departed”, we’re having a good morning. It’s pretty crazy to watch such a profane and violent movie uncensored in a Muslim country. They loved it, with plenty of applause at the end. I thought it was pretty good, too.Needless to say, our couple days were infinitely better than the stories we heard from our friends who did make the ferry. Also better than the other Americans who stuck with their moron “leader”. But I’ll spare you that story.

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    "I HATE EGYPT!!!" or "Death Barge from Hell on the Nile"

    November 19th, 2006 by steve

    It’s now the morning of the day we ferry across Lake Nasser into Sudan and we Americans still don’t have visas. We’re stuck with 4 other Americans from another travel group and their idiot “apprentice” leader who is only sticking around to shag the girl.After doddling with them on some scheme to get visas, Mary and I take matters into our own hand at the Sudanese embassy where we meet some very nice people including the mystical head Counsel who speaks in poems and riddles. In the end, everyone does get visas and we all head to the port to catch our ferry.The rest of our group had gone to the ferry port 7 hours before us with tickets they had purchased two days prior. We couldn’t get tickets without our visas and find out at the gate that the boat is sold out (later we learn there were ~670 people on the boat meant to carry about 250). Using techniques of confusion, shouting and general sneakery, Mary and the other American girl make it passed the 3 armed guards and enter the dock making for the boat.

    –Steve’s perspective from the first guard post–
    Another 10 minutes later I get a window of opportunity and walk briskly down the path away from the guard post, ignoring the shouts of “Mister! Mister!” Getting close to the dock, I can go left through immigration or right through a gate to what looks like the dock itself. Tough choice. We’re being chased OJ Simpson style at this point by a guard yelling at us from 20 yards behind. I advise the guy I’m walking with to ignore and keep walking, but he chickens out and stops to address the guard. This move actually buys me some time, so I pick up my pace a bit more. I finally catch sight of the death barge with our group standing up top cheering. I make it onto the gangplank and have to face just one last guard before boarding. He wants to see my exit stamp from Egypt immigration which I simply don’t have and he’s serious. Game over.
    By this time, the walkie-talkies have sent message of our exploits all around the port and I’m descended upon by the port authority who kindly escorts me away from the boat. This is an unfortunate time to meet the one Egyptian who seems to be honestly trying to just do his job.
    While waiting in near-custody for the Arnold Schwargenegger-sized head guy to sort things out, I finally catch sight of Mary on the boat and she decided to come off. This is a huge relief as the boat looks like what you see pictures of bringing refugees over from Asia. It’s a floating death trap. It actually sunk 6 months prior and killed 200+ passengers.

    –Mary’s perspective from the first guard post–
    -to be filled in when Mary is able to finally speak of ‘the ferry incident’-

    Back together on the dock, the port guy is trying really hard to figure out how 7 people made it through various parts of the port without tickets or going through immigration and how on earth Mary got onto the boat. He starts grilling Mary a bit about how she got so far and she finally loads the shotgun and fires a big “I HATE EGYPT!!” his way before turning her back and walking away.
    In the end, the guy has too many upset people on his hands to get any good answers and finally just gave up and freed us to roam Egypt some more.

    After all is said and done, it is best we did not get on the boat. There was apparently quite a rigorous verification of tickets and baggage customs tickets on board and also at the Sudan port after our little stunt. That and the boat was not only a filthy hell-hole that stank like a sewer, but the group spent 17 hours on deck exposed to the elements.

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    Sailing down the Nile

    November 19th, 2006 by steve

    Once in Aswan, we needed to burn some time while everyone’s visas (except ours) were being sorted out. What else is there to do but run a little ‘felucca’ sailboat down the river for a couple nights. It’s incredibly relaxing to do absolutely nothing for 2 days but brown under the Egyptian sun as the Nile rocks you to sleep. That’s actually the morning’s second activity. First is Mary leading yoga class on the boat.

    The only downside to this voyage was that after all this wonderful relaxation we needed to wake up at 3:15 the next morning to jump on a bus to Abu Simbel to see the pretty amazing temples of Rameses II.

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    new toys

    November 6th, 2006 by steve

    Since we won’t be around as much to blog for you, I thought I’d have some fun and give you a googlemap to track our trip. I don’t pretend that it works well, but click on the “interactive map” link to the right here or got to and you can follow along with maps when we aren’t here to entertain you. It only shows our trip since Turkey, but I’ll get around to the earlier parts when I can track down all the latitude and longitude coordinates for cities in the other countries..

    I also got photos for Dahab, Cairo and Luxor up.


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    Week 1 on the Tonka truck

    November 4th, 2006 by mary

    1 week down and camping has been easy because it’s been at campgrounds with showers and lights. The truck converts into a kitchen so our meals have been spaghetti bolognese, chicken stir fry, fajitas, curry, stew, omelets, banana crepes, and French toast. We’re fortunate that one of the passengers used to be a head chef. The guide is a firefighter and experienced independent traveler. The driver is a trained mechanic and has traveled extensively through Africa. Neither one however has gone through Sudan or Ethiopia so they’re new to everyone. Everyone is friendly and full of laughs, but it is only the first week. Passing time on the truck has been more challenging than expected. It’s hard to read because of the bumping and wind so we’ve resorted to word games, napping, and of course watching the world go by. There’s already a soccer ball and cricket paddle on board so we picked up some balls to play dodge ball. The majority of people are single and either just finished university or taking a break in between terms. There are those similar to us in age just taking a break from work and a couple more aged travelers so we’re somewhere in the middle.
    We’ve driven through the western desert in Egypt, which is the eastern end of the Sahara. The black desert wasn’t much to look at. It looked like rocks covered with ash. The white desert was neato, but really bright under the desert sun. It looks like it’s made from chalk (CaCO3). We passed through some oases which were just villages covered in dirt. We climbed to the citadel of Mut which is just a pile of mud now. On average we’ve been on the road 5hrs a day. Now we’re in Luxor and will be taking it easy from here for a few days. We’ve even upgraded from tents to rooms.

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    The world is our toilet

    November 3rd, 2006 by mary

    Seriously, when you’re on a truck with 25 other people you’re bound to need a potty break every 2 hours or so. And when you’re driving through the barren landscape of the Sahara desert the potty is the side of the road. This is how it goes: Someone pushes the buzzer to signal driver to stop. Then people pile out the back. The girls hike over whatever cover there is, usually some mound of dirt if any, and do their business while the boys walk 30 feet from the truck and empty their bladders with their backs to the truck. You very quickly learn that a bum is a bum, some are just whiter than others.

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