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Pole to Pole

Day 66: Atbara to Khartoum

Atbara, Sudan 
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The 7.15 from Atbara.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleOur equipment is roped on top by a number of porter-helpers, who travel with us. One is jovial and speaks good English. When I ask him how long the journey will take he says, 'Eight hours,' and adds with a twinkle, 'eight hard hours . . . '

We are on our way at 7.15, to make the most of the cool of the day. This is a fairly hopeless objective as it is already ninety-two degrees. My excitement at being aboard such a colourful, ethnic form of transport is rapidly moderated by my acquaintance with the sticky plastic seats, leg room that would have tested Toulouse-Lautrec, and the hard metal of the seat frames, which means that if I nod off I run the risk of splitting my head open.

Atbara is a railway town, the junction of the lines to Khartoum from Wadi Halfa in the north and Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast, and we climb up over lines and past sidings full of derelict steam engines before rattling into the shantytown suburbs, where mud walls give way to semicircular constructions of the utmost simplicity, covered in rush matting, goatskin, cardboard or whatever is available. They sprawl across the sand like patchwork tortoises. Less than thirty minutes after starting off we leave the metalled road behind and, passing a huge open rubbish tip, we bounce into the desert. Bounce is an understatement. There are jolts of such severity that the whole bus leaves the ground, flinging us towards the metal roof. Away to the west a train passes, heading north, with a human crest stretching back along the coaches.

By nine o'clock the temperature has reached 100 degrees once more and huge stretches of silvery water and thick stands of palm trees fill the horizon - the most vivid mirages I've ever seen.
Atbara, Sudan 
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Fast-rising Nile, do-it-yourself irrigation.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 66
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Atbara
  • Book page no: 146

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