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June 17, 2007

Kayaking Lake Nasser. Day 2 - A Near Miss

Click on image to play video (high speed connection advised).

LOCATION: 7 nautical miles north of the border - Egypt
Longitude: N:22deg.07'24.
Latitude: E: 031deg.26'13.
Kms from Djibouti: 3,362 kms

I came-to with a start, the cold water engulfing my head and upper body, waking me instantly. For a split second I was completely disorientated: 'Where the hell was I and why was I trapped with my head underwater and in complete darkness?' Panic quickly set in as I wrestled to free myself from the obstruction that was preventing me from gaining breath. Then I remembered: I was in a kayak, paddling across Lake Nasser in pitch darkness over the border between Sudan and Egypt. I'd apparently fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning while paddling and capsized.

As I gathered my wits and ripped the kayak skirt away from the cockpit, enough to free my legs and catch a breath, my thoughts quickly turned to crocs. Nile crocodiles are notorious in the lake (hunting has been outlawed for sometime) and typically outgrow their saltwater cousins from Down Under by as much as 20%. I'd seen one the previous day while paddling north from Wadi Halfa - just a quick glimpse of a brown snout taking a largish fish at the surface - but enough to remind me that spending any length of time in these waters is potentially bad for the health.

Fortunately I'd been shadowing the eastern shoreline close to a clutch of small islands when I'd capsized, so rather than trying to pump the boat out while treading water and going through the difficult procedure of getting back into the kayak solo, I was able to swim to shore with the mooring rope in my mouth and complete the operation with the luxury of my feet on dry land.

By 5.15 am enough light was creeping into the eastern sky to be able to start looking for a place to hideout for the day, until being able to resume the expedition the following evening under cover of darkness. I needed enough cover to hide myself, the kayak and the tent fully erected with tarpaulin rigged for shade. I knew this wouldn't prove easy seeing as the shoreline both sides of the lakes was quite barren: just rocks, sand and occasional evergreen shrubs and bushes strangely suffocated by spider webs. And I had a tight timeframe to not only find a suitable location but also to unload the kayak and drag everything up the beach away from the prying eyes of villagers, fishermen or sheep herders who would be up and about from sunrise (6 am) onwards.


The one major asset the edge of Lake Nasser has for this kind of activity however is how convoluted it is: a labyrinth of tiny islands, inlets and coves lead away from the main lake making it possible to disappear from view very quickly. Within 10 minutes I'd found a perfect spot hidden behind a double row of bushes and with a steep cliff face to the rear so that only by standing on the top of the island looking down the cliff face in exactly the right direction would someone be able to see me. I felt confident that I could rest here during the heat of the day without detection. How wrong I would prove to be!

I cooked a meal then slept until 12 when the sun became too hot. A few hours later a herd of sheep drifted in nearby and the shepherd boys charged with their care seemed far enough away not to pose a problem. But as the afternoon wore on the sheep came closer and closer, and I held my breath as one of the boys broke through the barrier of the bushes just 30 feet away in order to take a pee. He turned to head back the way he'd come and for a split second I thought he hadn't seen me. But his peripheral vision must have picked up the incongruous shape of my tent and kayak. He threw the quickest of glances in my direction then hurried back to share the discovery with his friends.

Five minutes later my campsite was invaded by no less than 5 visitors (see video) who came traipsing through the bushes to say hello and ogle at the kayak. My cover was now blown and I was in a quandary as to what best to do. The older men stood with their arms crossed seemingly musing at the situation and considering what action to take. I couldn't understand a word they were saying of course but their body language spoke of distrust and betrayal. They left abruptly with one of them raising his hand to his temple in the international sign language for making a telephone call. I resolved to move my position as quickly as possible in case they tried to call the authorities. Within an hour I was back in the kayak and paddling further into the myriad collection of islands available for temporary obscurity until darkness fell.


Posted on June 17, 2007 10:29 PM