23rd April 2012
22.05.2012 - 23.05.2012 40 °C
Our decision to follow the co-ordinates and go for a starlit dune drive had paid dividends. Unzipping the tent door revealed a pyramid filled vista bathed in the early morning sun. Through the mesh of the tent we could see two chaps on camel back approaching. We stepped outside of our tent and onto the ‘veranda’ and looked out across a small valley. On the opposite side, maybe five hundred metres away, lay twenty or so pyramids. The diamond studded night sky, so pleasing just hours before was disappearing as these magnificent structures appeared to be lit up by the Gods themselves. We’d camped on river beds and banks, on mountains and game reserves, in deserts and forests but this was a special location. Shrouded in a feeling of satisfaction we climbed down the ladder to see what exactly the two chaps with camels wanted.
It was fairly obvious what they wanted and we knew the question before it was asked. Of course we wanted a camel ride; who wouldn’t? But naturally we didn’t want a ride at their first price of twenty pounds per person. That became ten and finally we settled on five. We mounted our steeds and began a photographic journey to the pyramids of Meroe. For a while the camels had more attention than the pyramids, but 5 pounds it seemed didn’t buy us a return journey and, novelty over, we dismounted and took a few pictures with our cameleteers Abdul and Ahmed (pronounced Ack-med) and then ventured off to have a closer look at the tombs.
The pyramids were different to the classic image of the huge structures at Giza in Egypt. Here they were smaller and perhaps up to eighteen or twenty metres high. They had a steeper angle to their sides making them appear more pointed and their number, around twenty or more gave them a visual completeness. Their stance in the morning glow was sublime; we wandered among them our minds turning to the lives of the Kings and Queens that had been buried beneath.
Sheldon had been four or five days ahead of us and his updates had kept us abreast of any potential troubles that lay ahead. He and Mike had been arrested as suspected spies in Atbara for taking photos of the main road. We’d decided we’d circumvent that town choosing to take the road that appeared to bypass it on our maps. Our grand plan unravelled at the first turn and we drove straight into town. With our cameras firmly packed away we had no problems and we stopped to fill up on diesel. At twenty five American cents a litre filling up was fantastic this despite that the fuel quality is pretty awful; we were driving level tar roads at a low altitude and suddenly our fuel consumption had soared.
We were stopped on leaving the town after crossing the now combined Niles. The police officers wanted whatever we didn’t have and that was something we would never fathom. The policeman took our passports and made a long phone call looking very serious. We weren’t too concerned and eventually our officer returned passports in hand and bade us a safe journey. We’d crossed th Nile again and would be driving across the Bayuda Desert to a town called Jebel Barkal.
The desert was, unsurprisingly, hot and dry and seemingly endless. Yellow sand and rocks and dust, there were no dunes, just rock and dirt. Jebel Barkal was a town perched on the banks of the life giving river. Jebel Barkal was a date town; grown on the palms that are irrigated and fed by the water and silt of the river. Harvest time was October, it was April, no dates for us then.
What Jebel Barkal did have was more pyramids as well as a Temple to the God Amun and one to the sky goddess and wife of Amun, Mut. Jebel Barkal means Holy Mountain and quite conveniently provided great views of what remained of the structures.
Laura was having the time of her life. In forty degree heat, drinking incessantly but unable to quench a thirst whilst the sun bore down in its suffocating embrace, she was struggling to shake the bug that was sapping her energy and making her feel so wonderful. I left her with a cold flannel on her neck, a bottle of water and a view of the temple and went for a quick trip to the summit. As the Nile wound itself tortuously through a field of green the pyramids sat proudly below the Holy Mountain of Jebel Barkal.
Back down with Somers we took a quick trip to see some even older pyramids at Nuri before heading off to see if we could find some fresh juice to restore a wilting Somers. Stopping in town I ran over to a shop to ask if they knew anyone that sold juice. The answer came slowly. First we exchanged names and countries of origin, then we discussed the football both in England and Spain and then we had a surprisingly drawn out conversation about a new metal detector he’d bought from the US that was going to turn him into a millionaire. Then, and only then, did he inform me that although he had no juice he knew a man who did. He left his shop and walked me down the road to another shop where there was no juice, but there was sprite. He asked how many did I need and I told him one for me and one for my wife (it’s easier to be married.) Then he reached into his pocket and bought them for me. He insisted on paying and my protestations were cut short in the knowledge that it was his pleasure. The Sudanese are an extraordinary people.
After declining an invitation for accommodation I wished a new found friend farewell and returned to find a Somers that was improving as the heat of the day subsided. It was about then that we had a rethink on our Sudan trip. It was Monday, the ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan left every Wednesday. We’d been making spectacular time and were left with a decision. If we drove hard and were quick at the various tourist sites we could make Wadi in two days. If we took our time we’d be left with three or four days hanging around in the heat waiting for a ferry. The heat was killing us, it wasn’t a difficult decision. We had cold water and we were drinking so much that our bellies were distended with the stuff but we just couldn’t quench the thirst. Rehydration sachets made up for the lost salt as our bodies leaked water as fast as it went in.
We called our fixer, Mazir, to see if there was space for us on the ferry. He said there was, but, shock horror, there was no first class available. We knew what we had to do. We’d already crossed one desert and with our new plan we’d be halfway across a second by nightfall. One half of the Nubian Desert stood between us and the Nile side town of Dongola. From there it was a day’s drive to Wadi.
A pristine tar road made for excellent driving and just after dark we pulled off the road outside of Dongola and found a spot to pitch the tent and spend the night.