“La wen?” asked the just-arrived officer in plainclothes.
“Wadi Halfa,” I said and for the 15th time that day explained my travel ways.
He turned to the woman that was running the roadside shack restaurant where I was hiding from the oven conditions of the sun and ordered me a plate of ful (fava beans) followed by some tea. This was the shift I needed in the energy that had gone from positive to the edges of negativity. The day had started great, as most do with me. Ahmed had showed up around nine and took me to the highway, dropping me off at the police checkpoint.
It was here that I’d break my record for the longest wait in the three years I’d been on the road (and a sea and ocean crossing). Standing in the 45-degree heat of desert sun for the next five hours, having tea and breakfast with the police who struggled to find me a ride to Wadi Halfa.
Not a single vehicle had stopped for me. Not even to ask me where I was going. Not even the buses.
When I saw two trucks on the horizon I was joyful, knowing they had to be heading to Wadi Halfa. But eight buses suddenly appeared – full-sized coaches – and parked for a police check right in my hitching area – right as the trucks went by.
The buses pulled out after an hour, my fourth, and I knew that I needed a shift if I was going to get out of this desert. That’s when the new officer arrived, fed me and decided it was time for me to reach my destination. I felt renewed and as I was sipping the tea I saw the trucks.
And no buses to block my way.
I shot the hot tea, almost burning my throat, handed the glass back to the lady, thanked her and hurried to the road just as the officer stopped a truck. He waved me over, indicating to bring my stuff.
I hopped on, thanked the officer and off I went to Wadi Halfa with an Egyptian trucker who didn’t speak a word of English and was enjoying what sounded like some imam quoting phrases from the Quran over the radio.
After almost four hours of driving we stopped for dinner in the middle of nowhere, eating some overcooked chicken and bread and then sipping tea. The driver brought out a waterpipe (houka) and smoked some tobacco through it before we continued on into the night.
We arrived late at the police checkpoint of Wadi Halfa where I hopped off. A cop sleeping on a bed outside stirred awake and tried to intimidate me to go to town for a hotel.
“No sleep here,” he said angrily.
I smiled and said, “Ah-huh. Lemme go talk to your chief.” Asshole.
The chief was more than delighted to provide me with a place to sleep. He called over an officer who had a twitch and he took me to where the water jugs were. He pointed to the matted area. It looked like a praying spot and the Quran books proved my detection to be correct. I took my sandals off before stepping in and was about to unpack my bedding when another officer showed up.
“Muslim?” he asked.
“Then cannot sleep here.” He pointed to where a tuk-tuk and motorbike were parked. “Sleep there.”
I moved and rolled out a mat that was on the wall and shut my eyes. At about three in the morning I was stirred awake by what sounded like a large, stadium sized speaker in distortion.
In my ear.
I quickly realised what it was.
Back in Oz, as I was driving through the Kakadu National Park in the Northern territory in the second month of my nomadic travels, I pitched a tent by Jim’s billabong (a billabong is a watering hole. May or may not contain crocodiles). As the sun had set, I was swamped by mosquitos. The noise was deafening and I thought that they would collectively carry my tent off with me huddled inside.
I covered my face with my gamcha and could do nothing but wait it out.
At 04:30 about six buses pulled over and the passengers spilled out. All the men headed over to where I was supposed to initially sleep.
And began to pray.
But then some women came and hung around me.
“They want to pray,” said a passing police officer.
And I was on their mat.
I got and packed up my gear and the police provided me a free ride on a tuk-tuk – to the bus station.
For fuck’s sake.
The tuk-tuk driver was overly eager to get me to the station and when we almost flipped I almost slapped the guy.
“Shwaeh-shawaeh, ah?” I said angrily.
I didn’t just survive five hours of desert sun and a night of mosquitoes to be taken out by an overeager tuk-tuk driver. He calmed down and plumped me at the station where I managed to call Mo from Hassan, an Ethiopian with a juice bar. Mo explained to the guy who didn’t seem like he was too keen to even direct me in the right direction until his friend showed up.
“Come,” I was escorted to the bus ticketing office where I again called Mo and he translated for the bus guy my concept.
“So he says because it’s Friday the borders are closed,” he explained as I took back the phone. “But he’ll try to help you with a ticket tomorrow at seven.”
The guy, Mohammed, didn’t seem too keen to help.
“He’s afraid that you’ll have trouble at the border because you have to pay to leave the country.”
What? “Pay to leave the country?” That’s a first. “Tell him not to worry. I’ll be fine.”
Mo translated. Mohammed didn’t seem convinced and I asked if I could hang out in the shade for the day.
Towards the afternoon prayers I found myself surrounded by Egyptian bus drivers. I chatted some Arabic with them and then a kid asked me to play music. As soon as I strummed Folsom Prison Blues five cameras were whipped out and I was videoed from all angles.
One stall had a speaker I could plug Ol’ Red into and so I fired her up and echoed around the empty terminal, the mosque intimidatingly just across the way. But I managed to time it right and unplugged the guitar just before the afternoon prayers. I packed her away and by the evening met Mazin, a young 20-year-old kid who spoke English.
“Where are you sleeping?” he asked. “Have you eaten?”
“Groosh mafi,” I grinned. “And I don’t know where I’ll sleep. Maybe here,” I pointed to the bed he was using as a bench.
In three years of travel I’ve never once worried where my head will lay. I know that if Ol’ Red didn’t help provide something then the energy I was very observant of projecting would help guide me to a safe bed.
He blinked. “Wait,” he said and disappeared.
He returned about an hour later and told me to follow him. Straight into a restaurant. He fed me grilled chicken with rice and a bottle of Sprite and then told me to grab my bags.
“I’ll organise a bed for you.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d been waiting the whole day for some sort of sign from the Universe that things were heading in the right direction and it presented itself in the form of this generous kid on his way to Khartoum.
What a legend.
He got me a bed in a hallway of an over-packed hotel. I showered and hit the sack. I didn’t have an alarm but knew that the five o’clock call to prayer would wake me.
The hotel was packed with men and to my surprise, not a single one snored.
What a fuckin’ day.