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Pole to Pole

Day 65: Wadi Halfa to Atbara

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAs we step off the train in the cool of the evening at another Nileside stop, I watch a roof passenger unwind his turban and lower it down to a water-seller who ties it around the handle of a bucket, which is then hoisted up again. Locals sit beside their wares with hurricane lamps burning, and little girls walk up and down with kettles kept warm on a base of burning charcoal. The river has a rich, sweet smell here and the bleached and silent rock of the desert rises, bare and uncompromising, against the last of the sun. As I'm thinking how utterly and wonderfully strange it all is I notice that the coach in which we have been travelling across the Nubian Desert bears the maker's name: 'Gloucester Railway Carriage Company, 1959'.

We reach the busy town of Atbara, 193 miles from Khartoum, seventeen hours after leaving Wadi Halfa. From here we are to continue south by bus. I can remember only shadows, soft smells of cooking and a lot of carrying as we disembark. At a government rest-house we celebrate the successful conclusion of a potentially very difficult stretch of the journey with a jug or two of karkaday, a pleasant Ribena-like beverage made from the hibiscus flower. Well, it's all there is.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 65
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Atbara
  • Book page no: 145

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