I had intended on catching the bus south from Wadi Halfa to Dongola, but when the guys from 2Cape—a couple of Swedes over-londing it from Sweden to South Africa—offered me a lift with them, I jumped at the chance. We had met on the ferry from Egypt, forming part of the small group of khawaaja traveling this way into Sudan. They had already picked-up an American girl and a Belgian guy who were going as far as Tanzania with them, and we had all got on well over the last few days.
Had I not met them, it is likely I would be currently lying in a Sudanese hospital, or traveling back home in a coffin. I learned that the bus I would have taken had crashed en route, killing eleven of its passengers. Road accidents, particularly involving buses, are very common in Sudan.
A year ago, it would have taken around fourteen hours to drive to Dongola; the desert road being nothing more than a dusty track. Sudan is currently undergoing massive development in its road network, largely due to oil-money and Chinese investment. As a result, it is now possible to drive to Dongola on tarmac roads in less than half the time, the route skirting along the Nile. Every now and then the black asphalt cuts across the old route, a reminder of the comfort in which one now travels; we were spared a slow, bone-shaking endeavour.
The Sudanese drivers, however, are not used to the now limitless speed in which they can take these roads. I counted at least three bus carcasses lining the road, one of which being the bus I should have been on. For a people so relaxed in their everyday life, for whom time never seems to be an issue, behind the wheel they are transformed, never hesitating in overtaking at the most inopportune moment.
The passage itself is stunning. Setting off before dawn, at times we followed a seemingly endless, straight road cutting through desert that stretches to the horizon; at times winding through rocky mountains that rise from the plains. The route generally follows the Nile, along which small villages crop up, sustained by the Nile’s irrigating waters.
Stopping in Abri, the market was in full-swing. One local man accosted me, keen to talk about the up-coming elections here, and keen to know how the process takes place in England. I had come from the country that had “given democracy to the world”, and was about to witness it in its newest form. If the buses don’t get me first.