We’re essentially in a hurry now, virtually dashing for home, time is pressing and we’re pre-occupied with complicated, at least for the uninitiated, shipping arrangements for Bruce. But we’ve heard so much about Sudan and its wonderful people that we still want to at least make a first acquaintance with them, in our penultimate African country of this tour.
The recent heart-wrenching, inner sadness we’ve been experiencing, as we slowly try to extricate ourselves from our love affair with Africa, begins to lessen and the “hole in your stomach,” gaping emptiness recedes a little, as we cross another natural border from the high green peaks of Ethiopia down to the almost flat countryside, first with green fields very soon superseded by the white deserts of Sudan and the atmosphere is at once a different Africa, a desert Africa, an Arabian Africa.
For much of our 10 days here, we follow the course of the Nile. First the Blue Nile brings us from Ethiopia, where it originates in Lake Tana, our lovely camping spot at Tim&Kim Village, and shows us the way to Khartoum. On the edge of the capital city, we stayed at the German Guesthouse run by the very affable Norbert and his unendingly helpful staff. The Blue Nile here converges with the White Nile, which originates in Lake Victoria and we had last seen while camping on its banks at The Haven in Jinja to celebrate Alina’s birthday 4 weeks ago.
Don’t forget to click on the first photo in each gallery for better viewing:
From here, the Nile now more or less guides us across Sudan and all the way through Egypt to our departure point for Europe. We don’t always stay on its banks, but it’s always apparent where it is, palm trees waving in the breeze and green fields close by, marking the oasis it creates in the otherwise harsh desert conditions. Our first night after Khartoum is at the 6th cataract, though the water levels are really too high to see too many rocks or short rapids. The sun has heated the ground to the temperature of glowing embers and we feel ourselves cooking on the almost sizzlingly hot black rocks.
Wild camping is very easy again and we try to enjoy the vastness surrounding us and the shimmering diamonds overhead. In reality it’s windy and with open windows next to the bed we wake up blanketed in tawny dust and even when the wind abates on other nights, the stars are difficult to discern through the gritty cloak in the sky.
The Nubian pyramids at Meroe, part of the Kingdom of Kush and older than the Egyptian ones we all know, present an archetypical desert scene. The structures are clearly eroding, literal witnesses to the blowing sands of time, evidence that nothing will stay forever. We sleep in solitude but awaken to three enterprising young boys, slender with tousled hair, their little ornaments laid out carefully on the sands, their big brown eyes imploring you to part with some small change.
In Karima we celebrate into our wedding anniversary. It’s off-season, our favourite season in any touristy places, and the beautiful and thoughtfully constructed Nubian Guesthouse may not have any guests that night, but they still have a full shift of employees and we linger over dinner on a candle-lit terrace, all to ourselves, quite blissful! Next morning we are invited to sit with the staff as they tuck into their elevenses of chickpea puree, dunked with fresh flatbread, accompanied by lemon juice, tomatoes and cucumber. We trade experiences of our home countries and lives and we see a hankering in two of the youngsters to get to Germany where the roads are obviously paved with gold. It’s a memorable feast and we have to laugh as we realise the manager was the nicest Ethiopian we had met, we just had to leave his country to find him!
Don’t be fooled into thinking Sudan is a completely undeveloped country. While cruising along an unfrequented, tarred road, we still manage to have 3G network on our phones and can buy tickets for a The The concert in London next year online while chatting via WhatsApp with the friends joining us!
These days it’s the roads that are the death centres, not the pyramids, and we count the number of dead animals fringing the highway: one afternoon it’s 8 donkeys, 2 camels and handful of goats.
One well-driven truck route becomes our downfall. Jens had just commented on the amount of tyre remnants lying by the roadside along this stretch, when suddenly there’s a “BANG” followed by du-du-du-du as our tyre explodes and a long ribbon of rubber hammers against the car. Gripping the steering wheel with rigid arms, he prevents us careering down onto the sand and possibly overturning. We wobble to a stop and are surprised at the state of the tyre. It’s hot outside our air-conditioned ‘cruise ship.’ Very hot. 54°C hot! To compound matters, we’re missing the end piece on our jack lever and have to work very hard by hand, or with a spanner, to raise the car. We’re finally using the spare tyre that’s never been used in 11 years: we might be hesitant, but we don’t have much choice. The sweat gushes down our backs but evaporates instantly in the torrid heat. We leave the tarmac to follow the sandy track to our next historical site, but don’t get more than 50 metres when we hear ‘hissssssssssss.’ A quick about turn, while maintaining speed so as not to dig into the sand, we head quickly back to the petrol station where we’d spotted a wheel changer, who must be making a mint with all these damaged tyres around. The valve needs replacing and we have some with us. Thankfully we’ve been keeping one of the old tyres replaced in Zambia and Jens didn’t dispose of it in Uganda as he’d intended. As changing the rims is a manual job here in the desert, we had originally decided to wait to swap them with the better machines in Egypt or Europe but now with no ready spare tyre we go to this local who, with a long jemmy, his body weight plus that of his slim assistant’s they manage to grapple the damaged tyre off and the used one on.
Our final stop, before trying a brand new border post, was in Soleb, across sandy stony, road-less desert. Fortunate enough to arrive just as the sun was beginning to set, the scene of the ruined temple was tremendously evocative and simply picture-perfect at that time of day. While wandering through the rubble, we were greeted by Hamid, dressed like the majority of men outside Khartoum in his ankle-length, light jalabiya robe, a tagia or skullcap hugging his head. It might look like nightwear to a foreign Westerner but it is perfectly adapted to the climate here. I wonder if men of yesteryear picked up the style through trade in the region in the past and adapted it for themselves to keep warm at night? Hamid absolutely insists, without any English at all, that we camp in his yard that night. What a pleasure! We are immediately welcomed and a little while later not only provided with dinner as travelling visitors, but we share the meal with him and a neighbour as guests. We learn via hands, feet and props, he was seemingly a well-travelled archaeologist and he showed us his old visa stamps in his long-expired passport to Libya, Egypt, Saudia Arabia and so forth and some old photos of himself at excavations. This balmy, final evening in the desert of Sudan was a classic and quietly momentous end to our short cross-country trip here.
Western Defuffa at Kerma. The central structure is over 3,500 years old and possibly the largest man-made structure in sub-Saharan Africa:
The Lion Temple at Naqa:
Footnote: for those who don’t understand the title: we sang Ian Dury & the Blockhead’s chart-topping hit throughout the country:
In the deserts of Sudan
And the gardens of Japan
From Milan to Yucatán
Every woman, every man
Hit me with your rhythm stick
Hit me! Hit me!
Je t’adore, ich liebe dich
Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!
Hit me with your rhythm stick
Hit me slowly, hit me quick
Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!