Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Journal Entry for March 5, 2000: Notes from a Trip Down the Nile

Just finished unloading pictures (see below) from my Nile Trip. Was really incredible. I joined for three days the First Nile Expedition. The expedition, headed by Pasquale Scaturro and with Gordon Brown, left the source of the Blue Nile high in Ethiopia on Xmas Day 2003 for the first trip all the way to the mouth of the Nile in Alexandria Egypt. (The Blue Nile carries 85% of the water of the Nile.) While going down the river, they were taking part in making an IMAX film. The Expedition arrived in Khartoum on February 16. After two weeks of rest and re-stocking, plus filming at some sites near Khartoum, they left on Monday (the 1st) to begin the second half of their journey and I went with them. I spent three days and two nights traveling about 210 kilometers to the next big town downriver, Shendi.

Being on the Nile was a real trip. Long ago, the wildlife disappeared from the river. There are no hippos or crocs. Competition with the people was just too intense. That’s because the Nile creates a thin strip of life through the desert. (Every drop of water we went by fell as rain hundreds of miles upstream in Ethiopia and Central Africa.) We passed 100’s of small water pumps lifting water from the river up to the fields on the flood plains. Fields of sorghum, groves of date palms, fields of tomatoes and other produce are everywhere that people can get to. All along the shore, men in their white jellabiyas, women in brightly colored clothes, bashful girls and playing children waved or ran or asked us – mostly in hand signals – who we were and where we were going. Despite that lack of big animals, the Nile reminded me of the Zambezi except usually bigger. It meandered along sometimes seeming more like a big lake with no end rather than a stream rushing to get anywhere. We used two rafts that were necessary for running the upstream rapids. Each had an outboard motor at the back that was connected to a long handle that we used to steer. I was allowed to take the “wheel” and spent many outstanding hours guiding us through the river. Simply no way to describe how cool that felt. The first great river that man ever traveled on over a million years ago and I was on it.

The wind blew most of the time and until we reached the deep desert just south of Shendi, it blew cool and comfortable. The water was muddy and lots of things floated in it, including dead cows, goats and donkeys. The guys washed in the river and our two Sudanese helpers drank it. I did neither. But I did get into the river in a shallow to help reposition the motor. It was cool and probably safe enough since it was flowing rapidly. At night, we made camp on sand bars that were under the river just several weeks ago. These were lovely spots of sand and scrub. We pitched tents while dinner was cooked. I brought along some beer and cigars. We ate under the stars as the moon crawled through the sky and the water pumps went off. I slept in a tent that was mostly just a mosquito net. Both nights it was cool enough to use a cover.

By the third day, I was getting into the rhythm of the river. Waking up, breaking camp, setting out, cruising until late afternoon, making camp, eating, talking till late and then sleeping again. If I stayed another day, I might never have left. 


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