A Travellerspoint blog

Sudan

Day 215 –A Policeman’s Breakfast

24th April 2012

sunny 40 °C

Day break revealed a very different scene to the one we’d envisioned in the dark of the night. Our campsite was besides a field where men were bagging onions and donkeys and Toyota's began another days work under the Sudanese sun.

We’d need ruthless efficiency to get through the day. Somers was feeling a little better and we made beeline for the nearby Kawa Temple. Tutankhamun built a temple there in the 14th century BC and the temple was eventually and literally deserted in the 4th century when the Kushite Knigdom collapsed. The British have since excavated the site and the British Museum is now home to one of the granite sphinxes found there.

We spent a while beside the river before setting off for site number two, the temples of Defuffa, the seat of the first independent Kingdom of The Kush at around 1750 years BC. Some of the building have been dated to as far back as 2400BC making it the oldest urban settlement in sub Saharan Africa. At it entrance was a police station and there we met the officers of Kerma. We paid the entrance fee and after our visit were invited by the cops to have breakfast with them. We sat under the shade of a lean to and drank from the huge pottery urns that kept the water very cold. The officer insisted I have a go on his motorbike and then I absolutely failed as a man when I put the key into the petrol cap rather than the ignition. As images of Dennis Hopper and Tom Cruise’s ‘Maverick’ flashed through my mind I singularly failed to start the engine and ended with the chief of police suggesting I would be dangerous if I ever got it started. The food saved the day and, quite embarrassed, I gave the keys back to the officer and handed back my automatic machine gun to a second chap. The police were very accommodating. We shared a huge bowl of delicious fuul and bread and we brought to the table a tin of guava halves. A gesture that was as selfish as it was generous; quite why we had guava halves in our car I’ll never fully understand.

We had one more visit to squeeze in before reaching our destination and we stopped at the village of Wawa to find a man with a boat that get us across the Nile to the Temple of Soleb. It took a little while and a lot of questions but we did find just the man and it wasn’t his first time shipping foreigners back and forth.

The mini Nile cruise led us to the temple built by Amenhotep III in the 14th century BC in dedication to Amun and Nebmatre. It was quite a sight to behold sat on the edge of both the Nile with its green fringes and the desert whose sand disappeared into the distance. Several of its columns were still standing and again, two granite lions that once called Soleb home, have found their way across deserts and seas to the British Museum.

We crossed back and again had to politely decline the offers of tea and accommodation. The mission to Wadi recommenced with a renewed verve. We made it that evening, Mazir found us and took us for coffee and we met Sheldon, Mike, Ben and three cars of ‘fresh meat’ heading south on a Cairo to Cape Town trip. There was no room at the Kilopatra Hotel which was fine as we preferred to camp. There was a large walled enclosure which protected us nicely. It was only once we were inside the perimeter that we realised that its edges appeared to be an open air toilet. There was no smell and we found a turd-less spot. Seven months in Africa and we no longer cared that our standards had plumbed new depths. We cooked and ate a kilo of steak bought near Defuffa earlier that day went into town to watch WWE wrestling on a large screen whilst we went ‘crazy’ knocking back lemonades and fizzy orange.

Posted by ibeamish 08:38 Archived in Sudan Comments (1)

Day 214 – Two Deserts In One Day

23rd April 2012

sunny 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.

Posted by ibeamish 08:37 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

Day 213 – Temples and Starlit Camps

22nd April 2012

Mazir was a man we’d never met. His job title was fixer and he lived in Wadi Halfa a town at the southern end of Lake Nasser in Northern most Sudan not far from the border with Egypt. He would have to be a nice guy because we knew we’d be leaving on a ferry three days before Redvers. Mazir would be given our car keys and in it our lives; he’d better be a bloody nice man. We called him, arranged tickets for the ferry for ourselves and a spot on ‘the barge’ for Redvers and revelled in our luxury for five more minutes before it was time to go.

Our dinner invites beckoned and we’d set aside an afternoon of visiting hosts for coffees but alas our phone calls made no gains, with our moral high ground intact but our afternoons coffee prospects diminished we stopped by Ozone for one last lunch before attempting to procure some more Sudanese Pounds from our friendly dealer. He had no money, we had enough to survive on for the next week and so we turned tail and set sail for our first culture stop; the temples of the Lion and Amun at Naqa.

We turned off the tar road and for thirty kilometres we raced across the desert. The road was inconsistent in both surface and existence but eventually with the unwavering support of the sat nav we pulled up outside the Lion Temple. Amidst the desert we had found ancient temples dating back to the third century BC. They had been built by the Nubians during the Meroitic Period in the 1st Century AD and subsequently excavated by Europeans in the twentieth century. They were stunning. The carving and inscriptions that adorned their walls were as clearly visible to us as they had been when they were first carved, the Gods with their Rams and Lions heads and even a snake emerging from a lotus with the head of a lion, adorned the walls. We were awestruck. The second temple had two lines each of six huge stone rams sat on plinths leading up to it. In the warm glow of the late sun the temples appeared magical.

We left at dusk, aiming to drive to our next destination, the Pyramids at Meroe to camp and observe the pyramids at daybreak. Our journey led us back to the tar and north for another eighty kilometres. We once more pulled off the main road and following a set of co-ordinates we’d received earlier in our trip we drove over dunes and deep sand to find a little spot in the desert and beneath the stars where we could change the shocks by torchlight and call it a day. Our camp was more than a bush garage, it was heaven. Beneath a canopy of diamonds set in deep, deep blue silk we sat. The dunes surrounded us, the heavens looked down upon us and somewhere nearby the pyramids watched over us.

Posted by ibeamish 01:58 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

Day 212 – The Sudanese Are The Nicest Nation On The Planet

21st April 2012

The artificial darkness of the heavily woven curtains combined with the perfectly cooled room extended our slumber almost indefinitely. Sadly we had a few tasks to undertake including the procurement of a sim-card and some new shock absorbers. The holiday was fast becoming a monologue in the pursuit of shock absorption devices throughout Africa.

We visited the parts dealer and rejoiced in the thrills of our black market money. Three new shocks cost us sixty federal dollars. The Sudanese parts dealer had no intentions other than the honest intent of providing us with what we desired, his prices were honest to start with and we brokenly discussed the merits and disadvantages of the different brands he stocked. The Sudanese are a brutally and unfalteringly honest, unremittingly helpful and kind nation.

With shocks and sim sorted we went for a mouth watering lunch at a cafe called Ozone before it was back to the hotel and, complaining about the relentless heat, we jumped into the swimming pool and then into the sauna. As complete hypocrites we retired to our room and ordered room service.

After dinner, Somers decided that a hot bath would be both beneficial and curative in aiding her digestion and easing her ailments. But, shock horror, only luke warm water emerged from her marble bath tub’s tap. Almost in complete disgust that such a felony be allowed to happen in that great bastion of sensibility I telephoned reception who concernedly told us they would send an engineer immediately. As the phone receiver was replaced a knock on the door signalled the engineer’s arrival. He walked into the bathroom. He looked at the tap. He scratched his head; and then he swung its shiny polished handle to its other extremity. I looked on as hot steaming water gushed forth from that luxurious appendage and could only apologise as I saw him out before turning to Somers and silently shaking my head. Five minutes in a fancy hotel and we’d already changed.

Posted by ibeamish 01:57 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

Day 211 - The Dancing Dervishes

20th April 2012

sunny

We were making exceptional time. The previous evening we’d pulled up in the dark outside of a small village 180km’s from Khartoum. The night had been awful. Hot winds had hounded us. The tent walls had performed a night-long round of applause as the dust and heat found every opportunity to clog our airways.

However, for the first time on our entire journey we were amazed when we woke and spotted a man walking across the field. He didn’t stop or deviate to investigate these strange white folk from afar, he didn’t come to see if we had food or money or clothes for him, he just carried on about his business.

Khartoum was a mini Dubai; a haven for all things modern in the middle of a desert country. But for all it looked to offer, it was Friday in a Muslim worlds and it was very quiet. Running short on ideas we but knowing we wanted luxury, we stopped by the Blue Nile Sailing Club thinking we might find someone who could lend a hand or at least give us some ideas.

The Blue Nile Sailing Club was a place that offered camping in the Heart of Khartoum. It was also home to one of Kitchener’s gun boats now ‘moored,’ or rather beached, and used as offices. We sat in an empty open seating area and started to read our guidebook. There was no-one around. And then a tall bespectacled man in his late fifties and wearing a long pristine white jelbab appeared and joined us. He ordered coffee and tea for us and began to talk. He was a Sudanese air accident investigator who was also secretary of the Sailing Club. He added that they had a race that morning and they were short on crew members, we’d be in the race.

As we sat drinking, a motley drew of would be sailors appeared. Russians, Brits, Dutch and of course Sudanese appeared and formed nine or ten crews of two. Another round of coffees ensued before we met our skippers, Mohammed would take Laura and Bart would be saddled with me. There was a gusting breeze as we opened the jib and raised the main sail. I was getting a crash course in sailing as the minute gongs were being turned leading up to the start of the race.

As the klaxon sounded Bart and I were still taxiing to the start; forgive the lack of sailing parlance. Somers had made a better start but for my race at least that would be the closest I ever got to the remaining boats. The course took us two bridges up the Blue Nile, back to the start, back up to the first bridge and then back to the start which doubled as the finish. No sooner had we started than the wind dropped. It was to be a slow motion race for Nile supremacy. As Bart and I sauntered upstream, we waved at the other crews already returning, discussing working life in Sudan as well as money changing and where to eat. Somers was mid pack and seemed to be deep in conversation with her skipper.

Surreal doesn’t begin to describe the affair. By the time I had finished the other boats had moored, packed their sails away and nearly finished lunch. A small ovation received the ‘better-luck-next-timers’ and I found Somers getting stuck into Ful (beans) and Injera, with bread, a lamb dish and a ginormous water melon. There had been a huge brunch spread laid out for the sailors and spectators all traditional Sudanese fare.

With an unexpected box ticked on our ‘life experiences’ list we’d spoken to a Dutch guy named Dawa who agreed to show us where his money changer hung out. A ten minute drive across town led us to a corner chop supermarket on an estate in Khartoum. We knew the owner was doing business as we watched men walk out holding fistfuls of notes. As I walked in I giggled at the row of NGO vehicles parked surreptitiously outside and smiled even more broadly when I saw their owners pretending to look at tinned anchovies whilst waiting to ‘do a deal.’ I waited, in line, and eventually got 5.75 to the dollar. That was more than double our money. Nice work if you can get it.

With money on our minds and bursting out of our pockets (it came in bricks of cash) we found ourselves a place to stay that included pristine cleanliness, air-conditioning, swimming pools, fresh fruit delivered hourly and a concierge service in its list of basic requirements. We’d finally succumbed and found five star luxury in the heart of Khartoum.

We weren’t completely splurging as Dawa had told us that they had a special weekend rate. We stepped from the car park into a marble and granite lined lobby, air conditioning chilled the sweat that covered us and we suddenly realised that wearing ripped and dirty shirts, with flip-flopped feet so dirty that we looked like street urchins, made us stand out a little. We marched to the desk like we owned the place, through our bags on the brass luggage trolley and then on asking for a room had to remind our receptionist that they had a weekend rate was significantly lower than the $300 a night he was suggesting. Furthermore our newly acquired Sudanese pounds were not welcome. Foreigners must spend foreign currency we were told and so we handed over a few dollars more as our dust riddled bags and our dustier selves were escorted through the marble and granite foyer, across the plush carpets and upstairs to our feather and cotton lined, pleasantly chilled nest. How easy we found it to slip from the dusty tent to the five star room.

Friday afternoons however were special in Khartoum, or rather, in Omdurman. Sheik Hamid Al Nil was a 19th century Sufi leader whose tomb lies in Omdurman. Every Friday afternoon the Dervishes dance and worship in front of the tomb; a spectacle of immense marvel. We arrived an hour early and within ten minutes we were sat drinking coffee and hibiscus tea, the latter in Somers’ hand, with a new found friend named Abdul. He insisted that it was his duty to pay for our drinks and escorted us on an impromptu tour of the tomb before talking us through the dancing.

The dancing dervishes were a sight to behold. They were stunning to watch, a delight in fact. As we watched for over two hours we were repeatedly greeted and questioned as to our time in Africa, in Sudan and in Khartoum. We were offered places to stay, dinner and had a couple of coffees all as a direct result of a hospitality and national pride that the nations of the world would do well to acknowledge. We drank coffee with a man named Mohammed whose degree and masters was in English and was planning a trip to South Africa to study the Zulu language. After a sensational evening we chose to retire to our new found accommodation.

It was dark by the time we left the Hamid Al Nil tomb but the streets had come alive. Whilst many seem to shirk the persecuting hours at the height of the suns power it seemed they were now making up for lost time. Bazaars, stalls, shops and cafes were all doing boisterous business. But something more was going on. There were an unprecedented number of Sudan flags flying, youngsters were running in groups along the streets, flags billowing in a startling show of patriotism for a normal Friday evening. Redvers was being slapped in joy as we crawled our way through crowds that congested a road system whose floutable rules were bent beyond recognition. Laura was still having a time of it. Hot and cold, weak and heady, the night air was still thick and warm and the crowds were tingeing a sweaty fight home with claustrophobia. Since businesses seemed busier than ever we’d decided that now was an ideal time to find a pharmacy with a malaria test kit for Laura. Lucky on our third attempt we found a pharmacist who spoke excellent English and suggested that rather than wasting our money on an ineffective kit, Laura could visit the lab over the road for a blood test and malaria screen, all for ten Sudanese pounds (US$2.) A needle whose freshly broken packet lay before her, broke her skin and Laura smeared her fresh blood onto a slide; twenty minutes later, the lab technician told Laura that she was negative for malaria. I explained to her that she was a hypochondriac, and with her ‘Negative Test Result’ in her hand she was feeling better.

Laura was also told that the excitement on the streets was in celebration that the Sudanese had just reclaimed the border and oil town of Heglig from their newly formed South Sudanese neighbours. The passion and patriotism was scary and it would seem that these new states will have to resolve their oil differences quickly if they are to avert a protracted conflict. Our car was slapped and inspected as we sluggishly fought our way through streets overwhelmed with people. A twenty minute drive took nearly two hours as we inched our way home, feigning cheers and excitement in what our Sudanese ‘friends’ had achieved. Eventually after a long, hot and humid drive home we arrived at the hotel. We’d never been unsafe, but it had been bloody hard driving.

As we lay down on our triple bed beneath a feather duvet, our heads cradled in feather pillows whilst the air conditioning silently cooled the deep pile carpet and the wide screen television sat in quiet expectation we revelled in the sanctuary of a world a thousand miles from the one we’d just spent two hours crawling through on our hands and knees.

Posted by ibeamish 11:19 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

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