Going With The Flow

Going With The Flow

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The Nile is 6,853 km (4,258 miles) long and thought to be the longest river in the world. It took me nearly 5 months to go from the mouth in Egypt to the source, Lake Victoria, in Kenya. It was 1974.

I am using it here as an analogy.

For the first part of the journey we went by train from Cairo in the north of Egypt to Lake Nasser in the south. We had a couple of choices. We could have got a steamboat to the south, but this was very expensive (see Death On The Nile) and was a round trip. It was impractical and did not suit our purpose. Also, we wanted to stop off at Luxor to see the Valley of The Kings. We stopped there for 2 weeks. We went by train 3rd class which was very very cheap and very cheerful. You met other interesting people on the way and it was the travel of choice of the natives.

In life there are choices about the routes and mode of transport you will use to get somewhere. You may travel first class but in doing so you will be cocooned from many experiences. (Whilst on the train I met a man selling trinkets and the like, I swapped my woolen cardigan for his filthy turban. When I washed it, it was the most beautiful embroidered silver threaded scarf you have ever seen). Taking the peoples choice of transport served me well. I met people and learned much, like the language and customs of the local people.

When we reached the Aswan Dam the Nile came to a pause that could only be navigated by a short bus ride to Lake Nasser and taking a boat across; it took a day and a night. It was very beautiful.

In life there is sometimes only one way to reach your goal and that is the only way. You have no choice. However, you may be pleasantly surprised how beautiful that journey may be. From the still lake we saw desert marvels like caramel cones of desert formations and we saw what looked like Scud missiles pointing to the sky. The stars twinkled in the silence of the desert.

The ferry stopped at the Sudanese border and there was only one way to get to Khartoum and that was by train across the Nubian Desert. For 250 miles there is nothing but vast stretches of sand, relieved only by rocks. Very cheap again and mandatory. No choice.

In the middle of the desert the train broke down and we were stuck, no way forward no way back and again in life you may need help to get where you want to go. We just had to sit and wait until the terminus realized something was wrong and sent a rescue train. We waited about ten hours. No choice. We shared food and water and took comfort from the fact that we were all in the same boat (train).

From Khartoum we got a train to Kosti about two hundred miles south to catch the boat going to Juba in what is now Southern Sudan. It would take ten days on the river. The paddle boats, there were six of them all tied together to the one working boat in the front.

If our engine is broken sometimes we have to tie ourselves to a “working engine” to get where we are going. The Nile goes through the Sudd a vast expanse of swamp made up of papyrus reeds. The river can get lost here with channels opening and closing. At one point the channel became so narrow only one boat could be taken through at a time. So the boats were un-lashed and we waited for our boat to be towed to the wider channel.

Sometimes in a group you have to be separated and let a facilitator lead you to the safe place in order to continue.

We all stripped off and went swimming. We were splashing about and a great cry went up and everyone (we followed them) dashed out of the water in a panic. Crocodiles!!! On closer inspection, they turned out to be logs. We also found some sugar cane which we happily chewed.

You may be stuck somewhere through no fault of your own and are having fun, but there may be dangers just below the surface. Be prepared for any and be warned if others report danger. Also, they may not be crocodiles, but only logs.

In Juba, we were stuck. The Southern Sudan had just ended 20 years of civil war. It was either go back or turn right and go through the Congo a hazardous and long journey or try and head up the Blue Nile to Ethiopia then to Kenya.

My friend I was travelling with headed back to Khartoum. I waited with another guy not knowing what to do. Sometimes if we just wait and are open to suggestion a solution will come. We found out from a friend we had made that a government convoy (two Landrovers and a truck) was heading to the Kenyan border for talks about the road joining the two countries. We asked if we could hitch a lift with them.

Governments can be useful at times.

However the road between the two had been washed away by early rains and the convoy decided to send two tribesman to walk to the Kenyan side to tell them the meeting wouldn’t take place. We crossed the swollen river and walked the 25 miles across the Kenyan border. It was my 25th birthday. Not one I will ever forget.

Sometimes you just have to get out and walk.

We arrived at the police border post and they gave us tea, a meal and a tent to sleep in. They said a mail plane was due in a week or so and maybe they would take us to Nairobi.

We were sitting outside the compound and there was a roar of engines and in a cloud of dust in rolled a white hunter in a Range Rover and two Landrovers. He said he would take us the 600 miles to Nairobi!

Waiting sometimes produces remarkable results even when you don’t know you are doing it.

After more adventures we eventually made it to Lake Victoria and the sky turned pink with Flamingos.

The most important lessons I learned were to go with the flow, never lose sight of your goal and be prepared to wait. Be friendly to all people and remember when you are on a journey, be mindful and open to suggestion. Being dogmatic, often leads to stagnation; getting stuck.

I worked it out it cost £28 sterling in transportation, in 1974 money, for the whole trip.

I hung around in Kenya for three months and then, through some judicious banking, bought a boat ticket from Mombasa to Bombay. Waited there for a couple of years…but that’s another story 🙂

The world is your oyster and you are the pearl.


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