Sinking Under the Nubian Sand

The Cape Town to Cairo Caravan traveled over 12,000 miles over seven arduous months, trekking through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

One notable experience, prior to traversing the Nubian Desert to Wadi Halfa (in present-day Sudan) took place after stocking up on supplies in Abu Hamed.

Before leaving Khartoum, all Caravanners attended a general meeting run by Wally. Caravanners heading to Wadi Halfa had two choices. They could either safely and painlessly go by train and flat car, or they could elect to cross the sandy and ever-so-treacherous Nubian Desert.

Wally had one stipulation: all three auxiliary vehicles had to go with the group across the desert. So seven Airstream trailers and three solo auxiliary vehicles were on their way to Wadi.

It took us eight days to cross the desert, across deep sand that stretched miles. We experienced two broken axles, several flat tires, and a burned out bearing on our photographer’s truck.

We followed in three auxiliary trucks. The two Chevy trucks (for the scout and mechanic) towed the photographer’s disabled IH truck, which was more an anchor than a towed vehicle. We hit soft sand, which swallowed us up. We were stuck for a period of ten hours.

In addition to duties as a scout and driver, Wally made me available as a cook for five people: Wally, Nick Charles, Arthur Ruiz, Pete Turner, and myself. He set a price: 75 cents, per meal. Nick and I had an arrangement from the beginning of the Caravan that I’d do the cooking and he’d do the dishes. A fair exchange.

When the three auxiliary vehicles became stuck, it became necessary to provide meals for Nick, Arthur, and myself.

In Abu Hamed I purchased one kilo of Chinese rice. I had the water boiling, so I took the rice from its container. It was crawling with rice weevils. Choices. Put the rice back in the cupboard? Throw it out? Or cook it.

I cooked the rice, added some spices, and served it – a secret kept until just a few years ago.

Maybe, just maybe, this was the highest-protein meal on the entire Caravan?

In crossing the Nubian Desert, it took more than just truck power. All too often, manpower (and womanpower) were needed.

Here, you see #165, Oscar and Etta Payne’s rig, being pushed through deep sand.

Oscar and Etta were from Thermopolis, Wyoming. They had a tourist and RV camping ground complete with a hot springs pool. The dependable couple had caravanned through Mexico, Central America, and Europe. Etta was noted for having written two books, one each about the Central American and European Caravans.

On Airstream Wally Byam Caravans you are always bound to set some form of a Guinness record. This time, it was for crossing the sand-bound Nubian Desert with seven Airstreams.

When we reached Cairo, Egypt we had an “Accomplishment Banquet.” One of the highlights that evening was a program put on by the younger Caravanners for their parents and grandparents.

They performed skits and sang songs. One in particular fit this desert crossing, a song sung to the tune of “Jacob’s Ladder.”


We are crossing o’er the desert

Pioneers in the Sand

Every spin goes deeper, deeper

Sinking in the sand

We all hopped the railroad track

To escape the Sand

No more after Wadi Halfa

We are through the Sand

Dale “Pee Wee” Schwamborn has silver in his blood. Each week, Pee Wee shares one of his many stories, including his experiences on the iconic Airstream Caravans, his time spent working in the Airstream factory, and the many Airstreamers he’s befriended, far and wide.