32 – Red, Conqueror of Toteel Mountain, Well Almost!

Tue 29th Dec, Hotel Al Nada, Kassala

I woke up early today, very sleepy, no thanks to cable movies that lasted late into the night. (I’m watching The Perfect Storm as type this). The plan today was to go to Toteel mountain, described in Wikipedia’s Kassala entry as an easy half hour climb halfway up before resting at the many cafes built into the rocks.
Set off on the Katmiya bus (0.5 SDP, ask to stop at Toteel) and got off at the houses near the base. It seems that Toteel is a local attraction as well, since there is a ticket booth (1 SDP) and at the base are all these cafes (everyone’s a bob marley reggae wannabe). Bypassed them, and turned my attention to the mountains beyond. Now back in Kadogli, the Nuba Mountains weren’t actually mountains; they were rolling hills covering really large expanses with flat plateaus alternating. The Kassala peaks on the other hand are large chunks of boulders and rocks stacked all the way to the top.

The climb was quite tough. If you have experienced trekking, think Malaysian mountain peaks’ last 30-50m or so to the summit, when all you have are rock escarpments. Take that kind of climb from the start and you have the Toteel. In addition, in my infinite wisdom, i brought two buns and a 500ml of 7UP (“yeah, so back at Nuba i brought 1 litre and had excess, this Toteel is a half hour climb, no problem”). So in the hot afternoon sun (damn these rocks are hot to the touch!), with barely a trail, I was scampering and half-scaling across rocks. It took well above half hour. The entire trek took 4 hours, my water ran out around 3 hours even after rationing. There was no one else on the mountain, and i kept comfort in seeing goat droppings. Wherever there are goat droppings, theres a decent trail and I won’t suddenly drop off a cliff. There were no goats, mind you, i was just following their shit.

So at 1pm, with my throat parched, lower part of my palms burnt, and my pants torn, i reached the prize. It wasn’t the peak. There was no way i would reach the peak without any equipment, unless I’m Spiderman. Instead i followed the ridgeline and now could see OVER the mountain. Into Eritrea. I may not have obtained the elusive visa, but dammit, i will get my glance at that country. And maybe someday, I will be back (through Yemen hopefully! 🙂 ) Lingered at the summit area, went back down. The downclimb really took its toll.With no water, and I kept following wrong trails that lead to drop offs, so had to retrace my steps or lower myself down tediously. It was tough, but really worth it. I should reconsider my itinerary though. I had ideas, time permitting, to trek the Simien mountains, Mount Kenya or maybe even Kilimanjaro, but i’m really not geared for it (yes, I’m still in my sandals, Chaco is great btw).

Reached the hotel, cleaned up and went out into the souqs again. There are really interesting looking tribal people around. Too bad I do not dare take out my camera here. Photography is sensitive here. Heck, even the women lift up the veils higher when they see me. From reading up LP’s info, the Nara or maybe Hedareb tribes are the ones I see where the men scarify their cheeks with 3 short lines. And the women with the large nose rings could be possibly Bilen (though LP says they are in Keren, Eritrea so i don’t know if they spread all the way up to the Sudan border. I know the colourful Rashaida tribe has a souq somewhere in town but was unable to find it.

I got invited to sit down with a shirt stall holder and had a shai. Talked lots, took some photos with them and went for dinner. Oh, I took a haircut (5 SDP) so I am now the proud owner of an authentic Sudanese close cropped hairstyle.

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