What to see and do in Wadi Halfa? Well, you'll probably find most of your time is spent waiting at the station for the ticket office to open, but if you tire of that, then there's not an awful lot else to do. You can walk to the shores of Lake Nasser, wander round the miniscule souq, pay a visit to immigration who are terribly nice but can't really do anything to save you time in Khartoum, or climb a rocky outcrop and watch the big birds soar. Are they eagles, or are they vultures assuming that the town either is or soon will be dead? I'm not a great ornithologist, but whatever they are, they are impressive, if rather scary as they swoop down towards you.
Next to the Funduq an-Nil are a couple of basic eating places...as Wadi Halfa fills up as soon as a boat or train arrives, and as both forms of transport offer little in the way of nourishment, everyone is after the same thing on arrival, and it is a chance to relax a bit. These eating places have various plates of meat, bowls of fuul or addis, and possibly fish if you ask nicely, and there are tea ladies ready to make you a hot drink dotted around the place too. On the boat and train, new friendships are made, so big groups of fellow travellers sit and drink tea here in the evening. A mix of nationalities (Sudanese, Egyptians and a smattering of khawajas), men and women (one of the few places where this happens outside Khartoum), and a touch of music...it is almost a party atmosphere, or as close as you can get in Wadi Halfa!
Favorite Dish: Fuul or addis are the vegetarian options, while meat-lovers can choose from all sorts of odd looking cuts sizzling away on a huge heated stone...if you lack the language, go up and point to what you want.
If the train doesn't tickle your fancy, I doubt whether the buses will either...converted Bedford trucks make the trip across the bumpy desert (there is no road) to Dongola twice a day, with one bus a day heading all the way to Khartoum. If you choose to take this route, don't drink too much tea beforehand, and make sure you empty your bladder too...being jolted around on a bus always makes me want to pee, but the drivers are not willing to stop for fear of getting stuck in the sand.
Moving on from Wadi Halfa, you have a choice of buses or the famous train (watch Michael Palin's Pole to Pole...things have not changed much since he did the trip). The train sounds like one of those trips that are just begging to be done...but the reality is a slow monotonous and very uncomfortable ride through endless desert, stopping at some godforsaken outposts before joining the Nile at Abu Hamed. Nothing to see, nothing to do, nowhere to sit...it is a gruelling trip all the way to Khartoum, so I suggest you break the journey by leaving at Abu Hamed, Berber or Atbara, and continuing by road. For a rough idea of the speed of this ancient locomotive, it chugs along between Atbara and Khartoum in over 10 hours, while a minibus does the same journey in 4. The whole trip takes around 36 hours, give or take a few for break downs, emergency stops to pick up passengers who fall off the roof, and to clear the tracks of sand or animals.
The train can be very busy, especialy around either Eid, when practically the whole of Wadi Halfa heads south to celebrate with family and friends...if you can, book a seat well in advance, or you'll end up sitting on the floor.
The train is supposed to meet the boat, so if the train is late, the boat will wait and vice versa.
There is a somewhat tired-looking ferry that takes passengers over to Aswan once a week...it leaves Aswan on a Monday, arriving the following day, then makes the return trip whenever the train arrives from Khartoum. There is a first class, which consists of a few cabins (apparently quite comfortable, so I'm told), but most choose to go second class (I prefer to call it steerage!), which means sitting on a hard bench in a stuffy crowded lounge, or marking your own little patch on deck and sleeping under the stars. One meal (plain fuul, bread, cheese and tea) is included in your ticket, but as the trip is a long one, bring supplies with you. Not much to see en route, although the ship passes by Abu Simbel, so make sure you are on deck at that point as the views are impressive. Some immigration is carried out on board the ship...but be warned, getting onand off the ship is chaotic! And before disembarking in Wadi Halfa, DON'T FORGET YOUR YELLOW CARD, or you'll be screeched at by the customs officials!
Tickets are bought in a hidden office in Aswan, at the port in Wadi Halfa, or through some travel agents in Khartoum.
Wadi Halfa doesn't seem much of a town, but it isn't really Halfa's fault...when the High Aswan Dam was built and Lake Nasser created, the old town of Wadi Halfa was flooded and the inhabitants moved. Some chose to build a new settlement on the banks of the new lake, which became Wadi Halfa, while others were relocated to a small town in Kassala State called Halfa al-Jedida (New Halfa). Many families are split between the two towns, so it is not so surprising if you meet Halfawis in Kassala or Kassalawis in Halfa.
Some old books have pictures of Halfa before it was engulfed...many villages and fertile land were lost, although UNESCO mounted an operation to save ancient monuments, most famously Abu Simbel just north of the border.
If you've been to Aswan, you'll know all about the Nubians from the great museum there...and you'll know that many of the people who live around this region are Nubian. Those living in Wadi Halfa have their own dialect, called Halfawi or known simply as Rotana (dialect)...here are a few phrases to try out:
How are you? = Sikker fii?
I'm fine thanks/Good = Ashriyya
Goodbye = Affiyaloggo
and just in case you meet someone on the train, maybe you'll find this phrase useful:
I love you = Ay kadolyeri
Don't blame me if you get a slap in the face for it though ;@P