Crossing the Sahara part 1: Sudan

Sudan, north of Khartoum, is where the real desert starts. The Sahara desert, and the next stage of our journey would take us right into the middle of it. Roughly following the river Nile, and stopping off at a series of temples, tombs and pyramids leftover from the Nubian Pharaohs, we would make our way from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa, on a plethora of buses, minibuses and pickup trucks through the sand.

 

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The crazily curtained buses of Sudan were a sight in themselves

I’m not great with history but it seems the Nubian Pharaohs came after the Egyptian ones, conquered them from the south for a time, and copied much of their pyramid and temple building. Present day Sudan encompasses much of ancient Nubia and many people still speak Nubian alongside Arabic.

 

Our first stop after leaving Khartoum was the Royal Cemetery of Meroe, more commonly known as the pyramids of Meroe, built between roughly 300BC and 350AD. Our approach was surreal, the sun was setting by the time the bus dumped us in the desert, and the pyramids were lit up in the distance by a golden glow. As we traipsed through the desert towards them the sun gradually set, and we pitched our tent in the dark on a small hill just next to the pyramids, in anticipation of a spectacular sunrise view from the tent. Unfortunately the wind picked up in the night, the tent blew down, and we had to make an emergency 3am relocation to a more sheltered spot! After all the excitement we overslept the sunrise but our morning spent exploring the enchantingly dilapidated pyramids, amongst the golden dunes, was still a gem, and one of the highlights of the whole trip. It definitely helped that we had the whole place almost entirely to ourselves.

 

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Campsite number two
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Sunrise over the pyramids of Meroe
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Cheeky pyramid selfie
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An Italian treasure hunter blew the tops off most the pyramids looking for gold, which he found!

In the afternoon we slowly made our way north to Karima, a dusty Nile side town surrounded by more Nubian monuments. At one point I was almost convinced we were going to be kidnapped and I nearly left the minibus to find another. Luckily I didn’t and we weren’t kidnapped. I think a bit of the current terrorism hysteria had got under my skin.

 

With a whole day to spend in Karima we enjoyed a healthy lie in before exploring the temples of Amun and Mut and having a look at some more pyramids. The Temple of Mut was especially interesting as it had been totally carved out of the rock at the base of Jebel Barkal, and we were lucky to coincide our visit with a visiting team of archeologists uncovering the beautiful wall paintings. They helpfully explained a bit about the history of the temple for us. Still, don’t ask me who Mut is or why he has a temple, I just liked the pictures!

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Nubian art amongst the archeologists clutter in the Temple of Mut
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Outside the Temple of Mut

History done, we hiked up Jebel Barkal to take in the spectacular views of desert, Nile, pyramids, temples and the town of Karima from above. The temples were especially rewarding to view from above because we got a much clearer sense of the layout of these large, ancient structures.

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Pyramids in the endless sand
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The Temple of Amun and the Nile from above
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On top of Jebel Barkal with Karima town and the Nile behind
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The red glow of a desert sunset

Our last stop before Wadi Halfa was the village of Wawa and a boat trip across the Nile to the Temple of Soleb. Soleb was actually built by the Egyptians in the 14th century BC and the design and carvings were very impressive, even more so knowing the age. The best bit for us however was the fact that there was no one else there, only a few locals in their Nile side fields. If the temple was in any other country there would be hotels, restaurants, bars. But not in Sudan. Wawa has a roadside cafeteria, serving fuul (stewed broad beens), fuul and fuul, and a ‘hotel house’ (someone’s house tourists stay in), and not one person who spoke English. Quite the ‘off the beaten track’ experience.

 

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The small strip of Nile-side green

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The Temple of Soleb
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Alone amongst the ruins

And for another ‘off the beaten track’ experience we headed north on the final leg of our Sudanese journey. To the grotty little town of Wadi Halfa to wait for the Monday ferry to Egypt, in a grotty little hotel where the toilets were constantly filled with shit.

 

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On the road

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Hitchhiking north in a pickup truck

This leg

Days: 5

Time on public transport: 15hrs45mins

Distance travelled: approx. 1,214km

Countries visited: 1

 

Total

Days: 73

Time on public transport: 15days10hrs45mins

Distance travelled: approx. 17,258km

Countries visited: 12

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