The day we had set to leave Khartoum, we got up at 4:30ish and rolled out of the gates of our Youth Hostel at 6am. The roads in Khartoum were eerily empty – lucky for us also void of rainwater by now – and we rolled through town relatively fast. We reached our destination for the day, the Begrawya pyramids and Royal City, at around 10am. Stomping around the smaller of the pyramid fields on the left side of the road, Anne bought a hat-like-thingy from two kids, and Jan lost his sunglasses. The latter led to us spending another hour at this spot, searching the sand around the pyramids two times, assisted by some guys who came around to have a look at the pyramids, too. In the end we also offered money to the finder, but it turned out nobody, including the kids, had found or could find the glasses. So we set off for the Royal City compound, which is found after a short sand-track from the pyramids. Mostly rubble to see here, but also some of these beautiful sheep-guards (don’t know what they are called). The Roman Bath was unfortunately closed, and at the time when the guy with the key turned up, Anne was already beaten by the heat and could not venture out into the sun again (though the locals said it was not that hot!). We packed up and made over to the other side of the road, where the larger pyramid field sits – and also the Meroe Camp, according to our guidebook, a luxury safari-tent place. Jan had a little swerve-and-drop on the way in the sand, which resulted in his rear brake lever being bent and one of his saddlebags being split open. The anger of having lost his favourite sunglasses and now broken the saddlebags in one day led Jan to bend the break lever back with pure muscle force (and a lot of grunting and swearing). All this of course under the intense sun, which by now was burning down on us in a way that can only be described as merciless. We felt we were in need for some shade and a cool coke, before heading out to see the big pyramids and then find a place for our bushcamping.
So we left the pyramids for now on our left and headed where our GPS told us the campsite was. Only it was not the Meroe Camp, but a place were apparently people had camped before – right in the desert. To get there we had to ride offroad for real, meaning no tracks, but stonefields and sand stretches in between. We were grilled inside our gear when we got there, and on realizing our mistake, decided to call it a day. We put up our rain sheet as sunsail, put the rainponcho underneath and laid down, trying to get some rest. The heat, the sand blowing in our face and the flies attacking us made this a bit difficult, but it was way better under the sunsail then outside. Two friendly Sudanese guys on their camels passed by, trying to sell us a camel ride down to the pyramids, but we kindly refused. No chance we would stirr again in that heat, just venturing two metres to get something from the saddlebags felt like walking into an oven. The heat finally lessened around 4:30pm, and with that our brain cells also started to work again – kind of. We set up the tent and prepared a huge spaghetti dinner, which we ate on top of the hill, watching the sun set over the pyramids. Yes, it was fucking hot and sandy and all, but this moment will stay for us forever. The night in the tent was a sweaty-itchy affair, as we could not spare much water to wash of the sand – we had brought 17,5 liters of water with us from Khartoum, and were down to 1 liter after this day in the desert (you can do the maths yourself or look at our calculations at the bottom of the page).
The next morning we got up at 4:30 and were ready to leave at 5:48. We drove in the semi-dark back through the sand and rocks, waved goodbye to the pyramids and hit the tar.
With 400km to go that day, and wanting to arrive before the heat at noon caught up with us, we had to make good pace. A stop at an excellently stocked gas station just shortly before Atbara was used to fill up the tanks, the desertfox petrol bags and our water supplies (and buy some cookies). From that point on, the surroundings just got more and more void of people and recognizable life, while the colour changed from dustbrown/red to sand/ocre. In between we’d once and again seen a few huts, and even a school with kids waving at us. But that was it. The wind was pretty strong, which was tiring but also good because it helped keeping the heat at bay. At 11:30 though we started to feel it. Luckily, we reached our destination at noon. Took us a while to find a place to stay that we could afford AND that had air condition, but once we had it (Ahmed Mousa’s Homestay, if you want to know), we felt like the happiest people ever. The shower head spat out hot, mud-brown Nile water which made us only merely less dirty than we were – the water in the bucket next to it which we then used to clean ourselves was cleaner, but equally hot. The AC was old and barely managed to cool down a spot of the room with the help of two fans, but all this was blissful luxury after desert-camping.
We stretched on the bed next to the AC and fell asleep. In the afternoon, we first had to register with the police (fairly common here in Sudan if you stay in low-key places), then went on to buy some food and water before heading out to explore the Temple of Mut. Ahmed, our host, fortunately also works at the local museum and has the keys for the temple, so we could arrange with him to meet there. The temple has amazing murals/frescoes – whatever this is called in English: paintings on the wall. Pharaohs, hieroglyphs, the whole thing that we would earlier have called “Egyptian“, but now we know better, because here it was the Nubian Pharaohs. Great stuff anyway. The Temple is built right at the bottom of a mountain that was holy to the old Nubians, called Jebel Berkal, just a hundred or so metres from the banks of the Nile. We walked around the mountain afterwards – it’s not that big – together with Enda, the Irish guy we had met at the border from Ethiopia to Sudan (and who we ended up meeting all along the way and sharing accommodation and tours with).
We looked at the pyramids on the other side of the mountain (already getting used to them, so no longer completely awestruck), and then wanted to walk back. An elderly Sudanese in the typical white Djellabah picked us up then. We did not understand properly what he said – because he only spoke Arabic and we do not – but figured after a while he wanted to show us the way home. And then we also understood why, because what had earlier looked like a rainstorm coming up over the Nile turned out to be a sandstorm. Not a big one, probably, but big enough that it frequently forced us to stop and stand together, to minimize the effect of the sand blasting us. Even though we all covered our faces, the sand got everywhere. The old guy just used a piece of cardboard he found and got very amused when Anne wanted to cover him with her scarf as well. When we were nearly at the wall surrounding the historic complex, the sandstorm ebbed away and the first drops of real rain started to fall. We stopped at the museum where our white-clad guide washed his mouth with some water from the huge potted jars that stand around everywhere here in Sudan for public access to water. He accepted our thanks laughing, and then we went off for our hostel, still bewildered at our first sandstorm (and happy it had not hit us up on the mountain, as we had thought about climbing up earlier). The rain was a blessing and a curse: It was so hard that the electricity in town was turned off for security reasons – which meant the AC was turned off – but on the other hand it cooled down the air enough to enable us to sleep outside. So we went to bed very-much Sudanese style: using the woven bedstands in the open courtyard, which let the air flow below you and help cool you down in the heat. Lying there and looking up into the night sky, with a gentle breeze above us, was a beautiful way to fall asleep. Unfortunately it started to rain at some stage, so we had to resettle into the dorm (where the AC was on again, so did not matter).
The next morning we went to explore two more sights of Karima, the tombs at Kurru and the Nuri Pyramids. There is a tar road leading nearly directly to both sites, but as our map was veryvery old, we still took the sand track – leading along the Nile, between crumbling Nubian houses, what a sight! The first one was a deserted place with several excavations, but all the tombs were locked, and nobody in sight. But when we were already packing up, a guy came walking up the hill, dangling some keys in his hand. He only could open one of the tombs, but that one was fantastic, even compared to the temple the day before. Two small rooms, filled with nearly perfectly preserved wall paintings, depicting (we guess) the life and after-life journey of the pharaoh. You could even still see some of the colours, like the blue that was used to paint a starry night sky on the vault’s ceiling. The second sight of the day was less exciting, as the Nuri Pyramids are just that, a bunch of not too well preserved, though relatively large pyramids. We only strolled around the place once, and then the sand-filled wind led to our quick departure. When we stopped in Karima to buy food and water for our next days trip to Dongola, we once again got invited to a glass of tea. We were again a bit exhausted by the heat and the ride, but nothing is a better pick-me-up in that weather but a hot, strong, sweet Chai-bi-Nana (black tea with mint). Sitting there and chatting (with hand and feet) with our host, we felt at once relaxed and comforted. Jan concluded the evening by hiking up Jebel Barkal together with Enda, while Anne, who felt a bit flu-ish (due to her brilliant idea of sleeping in a wet shirt the night before, for cooling reasons) rested at the hostel. After a courtyard-cooked dinner of rice, beans and veggie stew, we packed and went to bed.
*How to use up 17,5 liters in 15 hours:
1 liter lost in the drybag (bottle cap broken)
2 liters for cooking
0,5 liters for washing up / washing face / brushing teeth
6,5 liters each for drinking (and the last liter for drinking during the night and the next morning)