Africa, Russia, Mongolia and China
Long and Dusty Road to Find a Place to Rest for the Night
It is Friday at 10 a.m. and 115 degrees outside as I watch them tie my large backpack to the bumper of the pickup truck. This is the only ride heading across the desert this morning to Dongola. Fridays in the Muslim world are like what Sundays used to be in America, quiet, especially during Ramadan. So I had little to choose from.
How long to Dongola?
“Four hours” replies a man waiting for the truck. Of course I have learned to be skeptical of what anyone says about driving times. It never includes flat tires or accounts for diversions.
I park myself with the other dozen riders in the back of the pickup on a small section of a padded bench. With my arms resting on the roof of the white cab the truck speeds out of town into the heart of the brown and red desert.
A new road is being built through the desert, but according to a couple of engineers I had tea with the night before, it won’t be completed for another two years.
We go past the point where the pavement ends, and the sand begins, at the same breakneck speed. I pour water over my red handkerchief and lift it from my neck up over my nose, otherwise the air is too hot to breathe. Looking like an old western bandit in modern day sunglasses, I watch the driver weave his way across rocks and through sand; sometimes following used tracks and other times creating a whole new way.
Occasionally I glance back at the passengers in the back and watch them transform as the red sand and dust cover their bodies. I look closely and see black eyelashes blinking on a red, dust-covered face. I run my fingers through my hair; it feels like the bristles on a broom.
Hour after hour blurs like a mirage on the desert floor.
Then suddenly the truck comes to a stop next to the River Nile. The man I talked to at the start turns to me and asks; “what time is it?”
“Two in the afternoon,” I answer.
“Exactly four hours, see I told you so,” he says with a smile.
“Yes you did,” I answer.
I arrive in Dongola only to discover this is not the right place to stay. I’m told I might have trouble finding a ride further north. Traveling solo means you can only complain to yourself and that’s not really much fun. Off I set for Kerma, a small village further up the Nile. I was told from there I could find a bus to Wadi Halfa, my last stop in Sudan.
The next leg of the journey was a bit more then I bargained for.
With only three people in the back of this pickup, the driver speeds over sand roads like some kind of dune buggy race, spinning his tires around corners, half airborne at other instances. I think to myself: This guy is crazy, but soon realize that I have never driven in the sand, so what do really know?
An hour later the pickup rolls up to the only hotel in the small town of Kerma. I grab my backpack and plop it onto one of the beds in the open courtyard, another night of sleeping under the stars.
We arrive just as the sun is setting and the fast is breaking for Ramadan. A group of men unroll woven mats in the middle of the street, and place food across from one end to the other.
As I daydream about a shower, they all say: “welcome.”