Sudan - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 74

Khartoum International Airport

Sunday 25th May

We departed Nairobi and Kenya this afternoon and for the first time since reaching Africa, we are now north of the Equator. With great sadness, we leave the wildlife of Africa behind us and move on to more adventures. Our flight this evening takes us through to Cairo via a brief stopover in Khartoum in the Sudan. We are just sitting here on the tarmac, waiting to pick up some more passengers before completing the final leg of the journey. An excellent opportunity to compose my daily log entry as we will probably be too tired when we arrive in Cairo later on tonight, close to midnight.

With no particular rush, we got up this morning after a restless night. There were a couple of mosquitoes that had somehow found their way into our room and every half an hour or so, one would buzz around my ear and I would wake up, switch on the light and sit there hoping to catch sight of the little bugger. Sometime around three or four o’clock, I managed to catch one of the little blighters. Mosquitoes are not just a nuisance, here; they are bad news and represent a potential Malaria risk. This gives me all the excuse I need to hunt down and destroy the little winged parasites – from which I derive far too much enjoyment.

With our flight out of Nairobi not departing until five thirty in the evening, this left a pretty big gap in our day which we had no plans for filling. Worse still was the fact that we had to check out of the hotel by ten thirty and lugging forty kilograms of backpacks around the half deserted streets of Nairobi on a Sunday was not a good idea.

After breakfast, we decided to have Henry, whom by now was already eagerly waiting for us outside of the hotel, to drive us to the airport where we would check our bags in and just hang around for the rest of the day.

At the airport, we sat and ate for a while and just mulled around in general for several hours. We almost got a $150 per person upgrade to first class but it turned out to be a miscalculation on the part of the novice, ticketing clerk. Even despite my best protestations, I couldn’t get him, his supervisor, or her manager to budge and we ended up stuck with economy class as originally planned.

I walked around and chatted for a while with several people, including and armed guard, a couple of different taxi drivers, a restaurant employee, the woman at the travel agency desk, the man behind the glass at the bureau de change office and a couple of airport handling employees. We even got to know the guy working the passport desk who was nice enough to let us back out of the airport to get something to eat, even after we had gone through and had our passports stamped. Technically, this meant that we have now visited Kenya twice. As was the case with the people we met and befriended at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, I have found the people of Kenya to be very warm and friendly. It doesn’t take much to strike up a friendly conversation with a complete stranger and get to know them a bit. The people of Africa have been one of the highlights of the entire trip to date and many of the most precious memories that I will take back home with me will be of the people I met here and got to know a little.

After we passed through passport control and went into the departure lounge, again, Sandy did a little bit of shopping for a couple of small items, really just to get rid of the remaining few Kenyan bank notes that we had over and we soon boarded the flight bound for Cairo via Khartoum.

It’s now later in the evening, we just finished loading the new passengers and the engines are starting to growl again so I must now switch off the laptop and draw this log entry to a close. Next stop will be Cairo and the treasures of Egypt. More adventures await us ahead and it will all kick off with a rather auspicious start since we will arrive close to midnight and we have no accommodation plans yet. Nothing like flying by the seat of your pants!

Well, even though it’s now gone two o’clock in the morning, we’ve arrived here in Cairo at our hotel and I just have to put a few thoughts down before nodding off.

Crash! We’ve arrived in Cairo! If ever there was a place where culture shock is going to hit us, this must surely be it. It’s absolutely bedlam in this place and once again I feel like I’m in the middle of a controlled crash that doesn’t want to end. The procedures at the airport were straight forward enough although there were a couple of women wearing surgical face masks that were pointing little ray guns into our ears (apparently to measure our temperature) and subsequently handing out anti-biotic tablets for pretty much every newly arriving visitor to take. They muttered something about arriving from countries with endemic diseases such as Cholera and SARS. We obliged by taking the tablets from them, as did everyone else, but I doubt we will bother with them as the whole thing seemed very unscientific and non-clinical.

After receiving our tablets, the next obstacle to overcome was a line of bureau de change windows. Someone at each of these windows was frantically waving at all the new arrivals coming down the corridor, begging them to change their money at their window. These little cubicles also served as the place to get the mandatory $15 entry visa and we needed to change some traveller’s checks anyway so we eyed each and every one of them for the best exchange rate going and eventually settled on one of them. The money exchange was handled quite efficiently and we were soon on our way to the immigration cubicles with our visa stamps (they look like postage stamps) now stuck into our passports.

Passing through immigration was also a breeze and the most hassle-free that we’ve experienced in the whole of Africa. Our two checked backpacks were already waiting for us and had already been removed from the now stationary luggage belt. The luggage handlers were clearly looking for a handout but since none of them had actually performed any service for us over and above what they were there to be paid for, we immediately left with our luggage strapped to our backs to navigate the gauntlet of taxi drivers and touts that were inevitably awaiting our exit from the customs hall and into their path. Hounds to the hunters, we were. A taxi driver latched onto us in record time and stuck with us fairly persistently for the next fifteen minutes or so. We were not planning on getting an expensive taxi into town anyway so we pretty much ignored him. This wasn’t difficult to do since he spoke very little English.

Our plan was to either sleep somewhere in the airport terminal building (which we later learned was not allowed at Cairo International Airport – although it is allowed at some airports), or to call one of the recommended budget hotels listed in my newly purchased Lonely Planet guidebook for Egypt. We bought a phone card and, with the help from a semi-reluctantly helpful information desk clerk, called the Mayfair hotel to negotiate a rate. The best we could get was 10% off the E£70 ($12) nightly fee due to the fact that we had a guidebook that listed them in it. As the room has air-conditioning, an on-suite bathroom and comes with breakfast included, we can’t complain.

So, after agreeing on a rate with the hotel manager over the phone, the next logistical problem was to figure out a way to get from the airport to the hotel. The hotel manager seemed to think that the buses were still running, even though our guidebook says that they stop running after eleven o’clock in the evening. We finally figured out where the bus stop was and walked the short distance over to it from the terminal building and sat down. I was a little concerned about the fact that it was a poorly lit place out in the middle of a car park and that there was nobody else around but someone else soon arrived and he was apparently also waiting for a bus. It’s almost second nature now for us to automatically strike up a friendly conversation with the locals and this was no exception. He turned out to be a police officer with the immigration department at the airport and had just finished his shift. We chatted for about thirty minutes about our travels and ourselves, and he was extremely helpful with lots of useful information for us. After seeing several buses stop just outside of the car park where we were sitting, without coming through, we all eventually decided to relocate to nearer the main road where the buses were passing. Not only was this young police officer, that was dressed in civilian clothing, very welcoming and friendly, he also insisted in paying our bus fare for us and taking us most of the way to where we needed to go before getting off himself. He wrote several titbits of useful information down in my guidebook and even left us his home phone number just in case we ever found ourselves in a predicament where he might be able to help us out. I don’t know if it has just been good luck or what it is, but we always seem to meet the nicest people that want to go out of their way to help and assist us. There were even several people on the buses that we navigated into town that sat down next to us and started chatting and offering helpful pointers such as where we needed to get out and what the landmarks were that we were passing. Accordingly, our first impressions of the people of Cairo are very good indeed. The bus ride itself was an adventure all of its own. I don’t think the driver actually brought the bus to a complete standstill once to let any one of the dozens of passengers on or off during the forty-five minute ride to the centre of town. People were lunging themselves onto and off of the bus in mid-flight and I did my best not to look completely horrified and some of the manoeuvres that he and the other vehicles around him was making.

After reaching the termination point for our bus journey in the main square in downtown Cairo (the name of which I will simply never be able to correctly pronounce – even after a bit of elocution lessons from our friendly police office), we gratefully got off and flagged down a taxi to take us the remaining little distance to the hotel. I had a horrific premonition that the taxi ride would be worse than the bus ride but gave in to the situation and tried to think of all the fun stories I would have to tell at the end of our trip – if we were still alive. Of course, we managed to find the only taxi driver in Cairo that doesn’t know where he’s going – or perhaps none of them do. As was the case with the bus journey, the taxi ride was a hellish nightmare of a rollercoaster ride with the exception that I was now sitting in the front seat with a full, forward facing position and could see the Ladas and Skodas hurtling themselves around the roads at us. There are very few rules of the road in Cairo other than barely trying not to hit anything either moving or stationary. Anything and everything else goes. Even after midnight, there are plenty of people walking about the place and they use the roads just as happily as the pavements to navigate from A to B. As far as I can tell, the trick seems to be to try to move around without giving any indication that you’ve even noticed that there is anything else on the road. This applies equally to the motorised and pedestrian traffic. Traffic lights are there purely to decorate the city, it seems, as the particular colour being displayed at any point in time seems to have no significance whatsoever. Lines on the road are similarly there for some purpose other than guiding traffic in any given direction. If it is tarmac, it’s pretty much up for grabs as far as Cairo traffic is concerned and everybody drives in whatever direction they please. Just about every object we passed, both moving and stationary, was the very near result of a collision and I could barely watch or even move a muscle.

After stopping several times for directions, we finally made it to the hotel and we were glad to get out of the taxi – even more so than with the bus – shaken, but at least with our lives still intact. We paid the man more than the going rate for the journey, although the amount we gave him was still barely the equivalent of a couple of dollars.

After a few formalities at the front desk of the hotel, we have now settled in and will sleep well tonight. Tomorrow, we formulate our plan of attack for tackling Cairo and the pyramids.