BILL AND DES'S SAFARI Entry 2: Heraklion – Cairo – Aswan – Khartoum
Leaving Heraklion in Greece to fly to Alexandria in Egypt meant meeting all other fellow Air Rallyists at 05.30 am. Having only just put our clocks back 2 hours it really did feel like 03.30 am!!
A skip over the ocean at 11,000 feet for 3.5 hours had us arriving in good time to clear customs in Egypt and push on further south to 6th October airfield (a military base) just for fuel. It ended up taking longer to fill out the paperwork (in a very small smoke-filled coffee smelling 'office') to sort the landing fees out than to refuel the planes! Whilst at the airfield we were able to observe the military jets landing and even a bit of parachute action. We left to head back up towards Cairo, whereupon the Air Traffic Controller at our departure airfield didn't hand us over in sufficient time to pacify the receiving Air Traffic Controller at Cairo…. so we found ourselves much closer to Cairo airspace than our new Controller wanted. He loudly and angrily insisted we change course “IMMEDIATELY as it is very, very dangerous for you to be this close to Cairo....". We respond quickly and then request soon after to descend from thick cloud at 9,500 feet. Our wings were taking on lots of ice at temperatures of minus 9 and we were conscious that we were supposed to be flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules) only. Incredibly, we are instructed to maintain our altitude…. Not quite as friendly as we were expecting!
We then enjoyed the unique Egyptian expanse of desert (with the odd outcrop of grey and seemingly volcanic looking rocks popping up out of the sand) and on to Aswan for an overnight stop on the edge of Lake Nasser and the Aswan Dam in a lovely hotel called Movenpick (great ice cream!!) on a very small island on the River Nile. So, a short boat trip, quick shower and dinner at 10.00 pm with flight briefing for the next leg. Our flight from Aswan to Khartoum in Sudan followed the Nile through the Nubian Desert and was strangely without issue. We descended a few times to look at several townships and a few local monuments along the route, all up around 550 nm, and after touchdown we were told the fuel we were expecting in drums "couldn't come today, so we must refuel tomorrow". Good job we had a planned night stop and a day sightseeing in Khartoum! The Hotel Acropole we were booked in to is a ......1 star at most, but with a very friendly owner and his wife. Very basic rooms but apparently rated No.1 on TripAdvisor.......wow!!
The first stop on our 'Tour of Khartoum' was at the Sudanese National Museum where we marvelled at the tombstones and treasures of the Sudanese ancient and medieval past, giving us a great history lesson. Writing this just as we are arriving at the Camel market on the outskirts of Khartoum, certainly makes you appreciate all the things we take forgranted! 9 million people live here (more than London) in a space much smaller, most in total poverty. Living in rows upon rows of mud brick huts with no electricity or window glazing, doing absolutely nothing at all, day in day out.... The camels were cute, we have some great pics that we hope to be able to share with you all soon..... we were all sincerely hoping that camel would not feature on the menu in the Lebanese Restaurant our guide and Archaeologist, Moneer Salih Khalil, had booked for us to try that evening.
Following the camel / cow / goat market, we were then treated to Mahdi’s Tomb. Mahdi died after the collapse of Khartoum in 1885, and his son had the Tomb built in his father’s honour.
The markets or souks were alive and vibrant, full of very different smells and traders, everything from crocodile skins to whole crocodiles, giant python skins to everything made from either.
Next stop, after a lovely lunch, was a visit to the famous Omdurman boatyard where we were able to see the El Malik, formerly one of Kitchener's gunboats that has seen many battles, namely the Battle of Omdurman. After retiring from government service, she was handed over to the Blue Nile Sailing Club and used as its headquarters.
We were fortunate to meet two great South African guys who set off in October 2014 from London to Cape Town on bikes. John and Pierre have cycled 4,500 km already and plan to do another 10,000 km hoping to land in CT in September 2015.
Preparing this evening to leave Khartoum and fly through South Sudan, over a corner of Ethiopia to Kenya…. More soon and we hope to be able to share some pictures.