Thursday, May 15, 2008

Midnight Train to Heaven - Somewhere between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa, Sudan.

Don't get me wrong. Looking back now, those were the best of times (on the entire African trip). The living conditions were horrendous. But I shared them with so many nice people on board the train, despite various Nazi-like figures.

I took a couple of GPS readings while on the train...

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This coordinate shows the railroad tracks running beside the Nile River.

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The above map shows the tracks eventually leaving the banks of the Nile, heading straigh through the inhospitable Nubian Desert.

The day started ok. The souq al-arabi bus station is chaotic at anytime of the day. It downhill the moment I got on the train. I was just settling down to my 3rd class seat. Ahamed, my friend from Abri made it to the train and we sat together. I rolled out my camping pad for both of us to deaden the pain of the wooden bench. Everyone seemed really friendly and ready to roll. That's when a conductor tapped me on the shoulder. There was a minor kerfuffle between him and surrounding passengers. Apparently, the seat I was sitting in was already spoken for. They kicked me out. I was a bit confused as I stepped back out onto the platform. A blessing in disguise, I thought, when they plunked me in padded seat in a 2nd class compartment as a replacement.

From there, the train slowly chugged out of Khartoum. As it turned out, ”slowly chugging” was its only speed. It didn’t matter though. We were soon out of Khartoum and into the bleak landscape of the Nubian desert to one side and the occasional rendezvous with the Nile river to the other side of the train.

I shared the compartment with a really nice family: Mahmoud, his wife and 5 kids. The smallest kid was pretty nasty. He’d wail away every time he wanted sometime. Very annoying. I wanted to club him one right over the head. But, for the most part, his parents did the corporal punishment for me. From my observation face and wrist slapping of children was a quite common occurrence. Anyways, Mahmoud was a junior high teacher in Khartoum. He was taking his family to Cairo for a holiday. For hours they plied me with drinks (I tried to reciprocate but they'd have none of it). In return I entertained them with my 10 word Arabic vocabulary. All the while we watched the desert dust pilfered into the compartment.

The fun did not last however. When we arrived in Atbara in the early evening, the trained stopped for a half hour. The locomotive was changed. New passengers came on board. I decided to stretch my legs on the platform. There I saw, walking down the platform, my American friend Matt from Vermont with a group of Sudanese boys. He tried to buy a train ticket but the train was sold out. To avoid being stranded his friends suggested that he be a stowaway. Ha! He climbed on board.

(Ahamed was on the platform, as well. I asked him about this morning's debacle. He threw up his arms and said with a big smile, "This is Sudan". Such a nice man, I laughed and agreed with him.)

I made my way back to compartment only to find it occupied with strangers. All women except for a lone guy. He motioned to me, asking whether the backpack was mine. Upon my confirmation, he angrily threw the pack at me (not a light backpack at all) and declared that it was an all-woman's compartment. Struggling with my bag, I noticed the nice family was also camping out in the hall way now.

The hall way was packed. There wasn't a spot to sit except on a water cooler. Matt and I tried to stay in the dining car for as long as possible but the Nazi-like dining car owner idiot wouldn't have anything to do with it (even though I kept pounding back the Cokes). If we weren't eating, we were in the way.

I returned to the passenger car. It was jammed to the rafters. People were slathered all over every square inch of the hallway floor trying to sleep. I had no choice but to return to the dining car. This time to the very butt end of the car, hoping Adolf wouldn't notice. No such luck. This time his was really fuming. I climbed over the snoring people in my old car to find a suitcase to sit on. With my back against the outer wall and legs cantilevered over a particularly obese woman, I checked my watch. 1 AM. Still 36 hours to Wadi Halfa.

Good fun had by all.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, May 15/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!

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