18 January 2011
Total Distance: 14 495 km
Distance covered today: 545km
Start: Baasher Palace Hotel, Port Sudan, Sudan
Finish: Wild Camping, Meroe Pyramids, Sudan
To answer some questions posed in the commentary, we make use of hotels a) in Ethiopia the people think anyone who wishes to stay in a tent must be mad so one must sleep in the drive ways of the hotel for not much cheaper than a room. (And trust me, when you see the public toilets campers must use, you will run for your life and never come back). And b) we have budgeted to allow for evenings where camping is just not possible and to get a proper warm shower to return to normal. So, we do often travel in style and it is not as expensive as one thinks. And the hotel names might sound exotic but don’t let the cover of a book fool you.
I forgot to mention, due to our GPS not being so accurate in Sudan, we could not find the hotel which was mentioned in our guide book, so we stopped in Port Sudan next to a group of policemen and asked directions to Baasher Palace Hotel. They tried to explain with a few lefts and rights and I went into the direction they told me, but soon realised I will have to ask again so drove into a fancy hotel’s parking area to ask reception for another direction explanation. Just as I got out of the car, the policeman who explained the route to me earlier, was waving at me from outside the parking area to follow him. He drove in front of us and drove us to the front of the hotel, got out of his car, shook our hands and waved us goodbye. Very special people…
Anyway, back to today. We heard from fellow-South Africans we met in Ethiopia about a ‘ghost town’ near Suakin which is a fishing village some 50km south of South Sudan. This tickled our interest and now we are going there before continuing direction Khartoum. On the green coastal belt, big numbers of nomads erected their tents and these are made of a variety of colourful cloths. Yes, as per Anet’s questions, they love colour. Any colour will do but blue and green are the two most popular colours. As the mud structures won’t take colour and will be washed away soon anyway, they rather paint the wooden parts of the house.
In Suakin we drove to the entrance gate of the ghost town. During one of the battles between the Brits and the Sudanese, the former bombed this slave-trading enclave to smithereens. The whole village was built with coral bricks just like Stone Town in Zanzibar. Today most houses are demolished but some houses have survived and made for some interesting photography. We could see that there must have been some pretty amazing houses here before the bombing occurred. As we left the town, we stopped at a market to buy bread and I asked for 4 rolls and opened my wallet again to the man who took out 2 pounds and placed 2 more rolls into my bag to ensure I have enough bread for the 2 pounds.
Afterwards we drove back through the mountain range that runs parallel to the coast and once again the similarity of these mountains to that of the ones along the Orange River is astounding.
Our aim for the day was the Meroe Pyramids and on the way the landscape became drier and harsher until that pancake from yesterday became Mt Everest compared to what we saw today. As far as the eye could see, Nothing was growing 5 meters tall. The one thing there is no shortage of apart from Nothing, is trucks. They run between Port Sudan and Khartoum non-stop and we would pass at least 2 – 4 per minutes in both directions. The amount of trucks create another eye-sore though and that is shredded tyres left on the side of the road. At one point, just to break the monotony of the drive, we counted in one minute 88 shredded tyres lying beside the road. Take the distance between Port Sudan and Khartoum of 900km which will take 542 minutes and multiply that by 88 tyres per minute and you will get a staggering 47 600 tyres lying on the side of the road!!!! All the things one get up to while passing the time on the road. On the way we passed another overlander vehicle with two wonderful Germans who have travelled literally the world. We pulled into a deserted road leading off the main highway and had lunch together and swapped stories. Although they are heading to SA, we were both heading towards Khartoum and the pyramids. Because of my job and travelling to Egypt, the history of the pyramids is rather intriguing so to see more pyramids in a country outside Egypt was quite appealing. The Meroic Era was from about 650BC to 350BC and although these pyramids are not as huge as their counterparts in Cairo, what makes them very special is that there are quite a number of them and we were the only tourists there to see it. These pyramids are 20m x 20m and 32m high and at quite a steep angle. Unfortunately the English in search of wealth blew the tops off and only a few restored pyramids show the original height. They are situated on a hillock some 20km away from the Nile. The entrances all face east – where the sun rises and where they believed the afterlife will start again. Another difference between the Giza Pyramids in Cairo and these is that the tombs at Giza are in the middle of the pyramids where here they were underneath the pyramids. They are surrounded by small sand dunes and as the sun is setting, a beautiful glow emits from the sandstone rocks. We even ventures onto camels and took a short camel ride around the pyramids. What was the best of the experience though was that we could wild camp literally within sight of the pyramids under the stars and not a tourist or city in sight.
19 January 2011
Total Distance: 14 745 km
Distance covered today: 250 km
Start: Wild Camping, Meroe Pyramids, Sudan
Finish: Blue Nile Sailing Club, Khartoum, Sudan
Just before sunrise we rushed to the pyramids and based ourselves on the eastern side of the pyramids and watched the sunrise behind the black mountains and lit up the pyramids in soft red hues. It was that magical time of the day when everything was still quiet, the temperature cool and the limitless views over the desert stretching beyond the pyramids finishing off another Van Gogh.
Werner and his wife Herta invited us for breakfast in their fancy Toyota Campervan and we got spoiled with warm bread, fried eggs and tea! What a great way to finish off our experience at the pyramids. Werner recalled a time when they decided to break away from the realities of life and they lift in the wilderness of the Siberian Forest for 1 year and not seeing a soul. They built themselves a tented style accommodation and lived off fishing and wild vegetables. Very interesting people who live life in a very different way yet the most incredible people’s people who are eager to learn everything about other cultures and values.
The way into Khartoum was relatively smooth and the streets were lined with a mixture of prosperous property and shanty style houses. Numerous bridges span the 2 Niles and it was quite a moment to drive across the Blue Nile once again and our camp site is on the south bank of the Nile. I won’t discuss the condition of the bathroom facilities in fear that you might loose your bowel movement but the setting is perfectly on the Nile, our companion for the rest of the tour until we hit Alexandria.
As we entered Khartoum, we stopped to get vegetables and fruit and in the shop there is no cash register, it is just a box filled with money. Again, through pure trust I held out my hand with money and as he took 4 Pounds (R9) off me, he told his assistant to add another 4 tomatoes to the heap I already had. The same generosity ensued at the bakery next door. One cannot walk down the street without some saying to you: Welcome in Sudan.
20 January 2011
Staying at Blue Nile Sailing Club, Khartoum, Sudan
I believe every person has a place in the world which has a mystical ring to it that s/he would like to visit. For many that place is Timbuktu, for some it is Kathmandu and for me it is Khartoum. Can’t explain why, but I have always wanted to visit it and here I am and enjoying every minute of it. Ok, I will admit maybe not every minute, in fact not for at least 4 hours of today when we were sent from one side of the city to the other side for a so-called Registration. When one enters Sudan, one needs to ‘register’ with the Police in Khartoum upon arrival. But no-one seems to know the procedure nor which Police station. Even a policeman next to the road did not know where to go. Eventually through a contact of another camper at our campground, we could get the right info. However, through all this we saw large parts of city I always wanted to see. We went to a local souk (market) and here you can buy everything from apples to x-mas decorations. No-one bothered us or try to sell stuff to us and only said: welcome. With one exception: Peter die Prater (Talker). My goodness, verbal diarrhoea was patented by this man. But all in a good way and he actually joked with himself when he said that he is going to get married in a week and he must talk now because after marriage a man does not get a word in. At the end, he waved us good-bye and wished us all the luck in his country.
The city is buzzing at night as well and I have never felt safer in any place in the world than here. There is no maliciousness or anger to be seen and although the people follow the Muslim faith, it is not in your face as in countries like Egypt.
We will stay another night and then head back north to the desert.