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Pole to Pole

Day 65: Wadi Halfa to Atbara

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleBy midday my thermometer reads 100 degrees in the compartment. Outside, the rock-strewn desert floor is bleached white. Inside, I'm eating a tin of 'Stewed Chicken with Bone', canned in China, bought in Wadi Halfa. The rest of the crew are opting for health, safety and Sainsbury's tuna. No one has much energy left, and when I squeeze a plastic tube of mustard so hard that the end flies off and covers Nigel in a pattern of yellow blobs, there is a sort of weary resignation that this is the kind of thing that happens on the Nile Valley Express.

About half-past one someone falls off the roof and the train backs up for half a mile to collect him. He was flat out at the time and the whole episode gives a new meaning to falling asleep.

Between Artoli and Atbara we run close to the Nile, which is thick and muddy here compared with Egypt. The villages are squashed along the bank, and there seems to be no systematic irrigation. The houses are square, of mud brick; simple shelters from the sun. There are goats, but no vehicles. It looks a hard life out there despite such a bounteous river.

In the dining-car, desperate for anything to relieve the relentless heat, some people are drinking Nile water, complete with mud. I stick to tea bought for me by three Khartoumers, two of whom are returning from a honeymoon in Cairo. One is an agricultural engineer, another a lawyer. They are anxious to tell me of the damage they think the present government is inflicting on their country. The fundamentalist hardliners are aggressive, they have killed many opponents and, says the lawyer with a frustrated shake of the head, 'They really do dislike educated people'.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 65
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Wadi Halfa
  • Book page no: 144

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