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The Incredible Journey 16


We were able to talk to the Ferry owners but they would not agree to giving us a free passage but the donation from our Mormon Friends more than covered the cost. The Mormons also gave us very good advice as to how to travel. A long Arab scarf made from cotton to wrap around ones mouth and nose was essential to keep the dust out. Every time the train would proceed over sand covered tracks a ton of sand would make its way into the carriage through the ever open barred wooden windows and smother the passengers.

These scarves would act like very effective gas masks in the event of the many dust storms. God bless this very sweet Mormon couple. Also a large supply of drinking water was an absolute must. I think the most useful and bizarre of all their suggestions was to carry a large bottle of cheap cologne and later I will explain how we used that to great effect.

The day arrived to embark on board the Ferry which had arrived on the return journey the night before. I think it was a Friday but I am not sure. The trip would take the full day and then a night and we would arrive at Wadi Halfa the next morning. To our surprise the vessel was quite modern and of course there was a stampede to board to get the best deck seats and cabins which were at extra cost. We had been told to talk to the captain and maybe he would give us a cabin for free?

The old colonial days were well in the past but I did notice that because we were westerners we were treated with respect and that was very pleasant. Argue as I could with the Captain, it was all to no avail. He was quite austere and refused us any concessions. However some other business men agreed to give Irmgard and myself part of their spacious cabin and so the night part was not so bad.

The next morning we awoke and the ship was anchored a few hundred yards away from a small group of Nissan huts with corrugated iron roofs. This seemed to be all that was left of Wadi Halfa after the Russian dam built down river at the other end of the lake at Aswan had flooded the surrounding area, covering the small town.

A very old fashioned train was also standing with its end close to the buffers at the end of its road so to speak. Every where else was the usual endless miles of sand and desert.

By the time we had bought our tickets to Port Sudan, our destination, the train was jammed and packed out. Every compartment we went into was teeming with people. Men in their tribal colourful robes and women with their babies. No room for us. We found a railway official and he ushered us back on to the train and then opened the door of a completely full and crowded compartment. He uttered something in Arabic and very reluctantly the already jammed together occupants made a small space for Irmgard and myself.

After he left they all glowered at us. We were not welcome and terribly outnumbered. Then I remembered the cologne. I got up and went around to each person gesturing to them to cup their hands and I poured in a generous amount of good smelling liquid. Slowly smiles began to break out and we were transformed from being their avowed enemies into their very best and long lost friends. God bless the Mormons and the amazing miracle working effects of cheap cologne.

Yes we did have our canister of drinking water. There was water on the train. It was a very brown variety and only the Lord knows how many microbes and bacteria was in there.

We had to wait an indeterminably long time before the train took off. It was incredibly hot and sweat was teeming down our faces and our light clothes were already drenched. Thank God for our drinking water obtained from the Oberoi five star Hotel the evening before. We had to drink so much that the five liters would soon be used up.

At last the train slowly and very deliberately began to move only to stop abruptly for another five minutes. We found out that someone had fallen of the roof. He or she had to be helped back up again and then we really started to move. I thankfully had a window seat sitting opposite to Irmgard who also could look out...

Sure enough the train from time to time would pass over sand covered lines and buckets of sand would come rushing into the compartment through the open iron barred windows like a dark cloud until it all settled again. Our cotton scarves did the trick and filtered out all the minute particles of dust. The Mormons had shown us exactly how to wear them on such an occasion.

We all sat watching each other and then I got out my pocket photo album and passed it around. It was full of shots from Brazil and we used it for provisioning material for the school in Guararema from where we had started out 2 months before. This was passed around and became heavily thumbed by all. One picture is worth a 1000 words and that too came in very useful.

Looking out on to the endless desert was also very interesting. There were many small pyramids dotted around and so many dust devils. These are miniature tornadoes and dance around always missing our quite fast moving train. I say fast, maybe about 30 to 50 miles an hour?

We lost so much body water and then our drinking water ran out. We had about two hours before the train arrived in Atbara. Here we had to change trains. Our train went on to Khartoum where as we needed a train to Port Sudan. We had 3 hours to wait at Atbara so the Lord gave me the idea to go to the local hospital. The signs were still in English and Arabic a reminder of the old colonial days under British domination.

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