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Pole to Pole

Day 65: Wadi Halfa to Atbara

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleOur roof-top deliberations are interrupted by the arrival of a robed bundle of a man carrying a huge kettle swathed in cloth and a stack of glasses. Ali Hassan insists on buying me a cup of tea, and a cloth bung is removed from the spout and my glass filled with a sweet but refreshingly sharp substance. I'm lingering over the pleasure of this unusual feat of catering, when I notice a bony hand impatiently extended. The tea-man wants the glass back so he can continue along the top of the train. He sways off into the distance and Fraser shakes his head. We'll get botulism, he declares, that's for sure. Still, that was the least of my worries when I climbed onto the top of a moving express.

At eight o'clock we pass Station Number 6 (none of the stations across the desert have names). I remember a Sudanese butler in Cyprus insisting I visit his family here, but there seems no sign of life, family or otherwise, for miles around. I make my way through the shredded and rusting remains of a connecting corridor to the dining-car. There are six tables set beside dirty, shattered plastic windows and a number of empty wall-fittings where fans used to be. The breakfast of bread, chunks of beef, a boiled egg and lentils is not bad.

We reach Abu Hamed as the day is beginning to boil up. This is where the Nile, having completed a wide loop, turns south again.

The engine that has miraculously survived the night is taken off here, and while it is being refuelled I walk down to the river bank. A number of long, low boats with outboard motors are filling up with passengers to cross to the far shore. I notice that the women travel separately from the men, as they are required to do on the train.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 65
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Wadi Halfa
  • Book page no: 144

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