14th April, 2009
Actually it’s the 15th today (in the morning), but I’ve noticed I’m always a day out from when I’m actually writing, so that’s why you see the 14th date. Of course, it’s not all that important, but I have time to kill. Lucky for you!
Sudan is awesome! It has been a great visit so far, but to tell the story so far, we’ll hve to go all the way back to the:
9th April, 2009
I arrived safely in Khartoum without any of the hassle many people had predicted, other than the taxi driver not knowing where the Blue Nile Sailing Club was. We eventually found it after he took me to a Hilton type place on the Nile, and then a cheaper place that wasn't as cheap as I wanted. Thankfully the desk people there knew where the Blue Nile Sailing Club (BNSC) was (on the banks of the Blue Nile). The BNSC is only $5 a night, and there’s a toilet and shower there. It seems kinda weird that in the middle of Khartoum they should have camping at a Sailing Club, but it was great. There’s not a lot of camping space for sure, but most people staying there have a Land Rover or Toyota Land Cruiser or whatever.
I am though the only person camping there right in the Kid's Playground. But the breeze at night cooled the place down and keeps the temperature down to about 27 C. I am camped under a tree with beautiful purple flowers, and when I woke up this morning, the ground around my tent was covered with purple blossoms.
Which means I’m now talking about:
April 10th, 2009
A guy from Austria called Gernot showed up this morning, and thankfully he had downloaded the Sudan Guide from the internet. I left my photocopy of it on the airplane. Anyway, today is an Islamic day off so we can't do anything. We went for something to eat and are at an Internet place. High Speed Broadband. Tomorrow I have to register at the Alien Registration Office (big surprise) and then I have to get a photo permit to start taking pictures, and they may not be open till Sunday. Hopefully by Monday I'll be in Meroway looking at pyramids.
So, the long and the short of it is I'm camped under a purple flowers on the banks o the Blue Nile (I can see it from my tent) and its sunny going up to 35.
Gernot emailed me the Sudan Guide and I'm printing it out, so things are looking up! The shops all closed at 1PM and we couldn’t get a drink or food anywhere. Eventually I bought five oranges from the juice guys at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, but because I’m mathematically dyslexic, I paid them 10 guinays (Sudanese pounds) for 5 oranges.
Figured it might be a do nothing day. But there’s a guy from Berlin staying here as well called Markus and he was going to the Hamed El Nil Mosque to watch the music and dancing they have there before the prayers at sunset. We got a free ride in a pickup and took a couple of buses there. People were very helpful. We stopped for a drink and a bite to eat. Got surrounded by kids, and then headed over to the mosque.
I was interviewed by a lovely lady who was actually a veterinarian, but was moonlighting as a television reporter for a TV show. She had interviewed Markus the day before and kept calling me Markus, necessitating quite a few takes. That was kinda neat, but I can’t even tell you how many people came up to me to welcome me to Sudan. The singing and dancing was pretty cool. A newspaper reporter interviewed me through a Sudanese guy (I can’t remember his name) who had lived in Toronto for a while.
We stopped on the way back to the Blue Nile Sailing Club (BNSC) and all in all my first day in Khartoum was fantastic!
April 11th, 2009
Saturday, Gernot and I went to the Alien Registraion Office and registered. You have to regoister within 3 days of arriving. The whole process took most of the morning, and I left Gernot and went to check out the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife to get a photo permit. I couldn’t find it, but stopped at a café and had some tea. Eventually I found an office that seemed official, and stopped in to ask if they knew where the Tourism Ministry was. Turned out it was the head office of the national Intelligence and security Service. Kinda like stopping at the CIA headquarters in West Virginai to ask if they knew where I could find a McDonald’s. They assigned a guy to me and he walked down to the other place with me. It was closed. Stopped and drank a a Pepsi and headed back to the BNSC.
Sat around the Blue Nile Sailing Club, then went down to the dock at the BNSC and chatted with a guy called Ras Mohammed, who had lived in Toronto for a while and drove taxi in New York City. He swam in the river, then some other guy from the BNSC told him that a 3 meter long crocodile had been seen in the river aross the way. Ras says there aren’t any crocodiles in the White Nile where the BNSC is upstream from where the Blue and White Niles meet, but sometimes they swim up from the Blue Nile. Still, he swims in the river every day. Later Gernot came down and we went to Ras’ house for supper. He has a big house (three stories) in North Khartoum and lives on the top floor. He rents out the bottom two, but they were empty. He has a whole bunch of bass guitars and drums, actually all the intruments needed to make a band, and 43,000 reggae songs on his computer. His frind gave us a ride back to the BNSC around 12AM. Another great Day in Khartoum.
13th April, 2009
So first thing, Gernot (finally convinced I wasn’t insane in asking for a permit; nobody else I talked to had one) and I went to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife to get out photo permits. It’s free, so I just basically went in, filled out the form, attaching a photo to it, then going out to find a photocopy machine to copy it. They take the photocopy and we kept the original. Here’s a hint: If you just put in a couple of places, you have room to add others when you arrive somewhere you want to take a picture (though because I didn’t know that when I filled it out, I named every town along my route from my map). At first Gernot was going to stay another day, but then he decided to go to Shendi. That way there was a chance to go to Naga and see the Lion Temple from there instead of going to see the pyramids at Begawariya right away (which was what I was going to do). So that plan seemed to be pretty good, so I decided to do the same thing. Only thing is when we got to Shendi there was only one hotel and one lokanda (a multi-bed waystation). We took and autorickshaw and went to the lokanda. Gernot seemed to think it was OK, but there were basically just beds in an abandoned building, and even the shutters were kinda hangin on one fringe. I was for going to the hotel. The autorickshaw guy said it was 60 pounds (1 pound-1 guinay). Gernot was horrified at the price. It was kinda steep compared to India and Ethiopia for sure. He decided to go on to Begerawiya (I still can’t figure out the name. For some reason I want to say the “w” before the “r”) and check out the pyramids. I was holding back for the hotel to see if there was a chance to get to Naga, but things happened right away, so we ended up on the bus to Begirawaya (I can’t spell it if I can’t say it). I kinda realized that the pyramids were before the town, so I told Gernot I was going to jump out at the pyramids, and he decided to jump out with me. Luckily, we got the bus driver to stop. It’s not a long walk to the pyramids. You can see them from the highway, though there’s no sign until you get to the gate.
Now I gotta let ya know this. The main thing I wanted to see in Sudan are these pyramids, so already the trip was a success, but the actual experience of being there was more than I could have anticipated. A greta moment of contentment. But before that moment, this is what happened:
As we walked from the road (Gernot was ahead of me. He is a very FAST WALKER. I on the other hand, like to stroll. The only person slower walking than me was Lee when he was three. And my mum, but she had a walker.), some camel jockey galloped towards us, yelling and shouting. OK. Every pyramid has camel jockeys. They make money giving people rides. I hated the camel jockeys in Cairo, and the very sight and sound of this guy coming at us made me shiver. Sure enough, he caught up to us, and started talking to us in arabic. Not a word was intelligible (remember, I can’t speak arabic), but he talked incessantly and completely spoiled the whole atmosphere of the place. We got to the guard shack, and a donkey guy wanted us to take a donkey, and three camel jockeys were trying to convince us to take a ride. 20 pounds. Thankfully Gernot is very frugal, and he was the one who bartered with the camel jockeys. Apparently he knows the arabic for “no”. I still don’t know it yet.
The only sign for the pyramids here is at the gate. Turns out all the other sites are like that too. Except at Naga and Musuwarat (but that’s another story). So, we paid 10 guinays to get in and went around the sand dune to see the pyramids. They’re not large in comparison to the pyramids in Egypt, but the setting and the isolation of the place affected me far more than Giza. I think because they are still largely unvisited. Gernot was blwon away too. He’s an architect, and I think the place was more than he expected. Anyway, the gatekeeper left at 6PM and said we could camp by the hills. We headed for a group of pyramids on hills across from the main group as I wanted to sleep inside one of the pyramids. Gernot got a better idea. Sleep on top of the pyramid. There was one that had a flat top that had been sealed by cement, and there was enough room for us to stretch out on top of it.
Even though the pyramids are great, the restoration work is basically to complete the pyramid shape in concrete. It’s unfortunate (and Gernot, who is also an architect, concurred) as concrete is not all that durable, and eventually (and quite quickly) the concrete will crumble and the pyramids that have been restored will simply collpase again. Not to mention the chemical deterioration caused by contact with concrete. I think the best bet would be would be to bring in some masons, say from India to fashion new stone, or train locals to cut stone and lay it, so the tradition can be carried on and preserve the monuments. There’s grafitti carved on the rocks of the more undisturbed pyramids. And I can tell you this: By the time you read it, I’ll be out of the country, but I wrote “Richard Kellie slept here 13 April, 2009” on the concrete pad at the top of the pyramid in felt pen. As it doesn’t rain here, It should last as long as the concrete cap.
Once it got dark, the stars were amazing, though the moon didn’t come up until about 2:30 AM. It was fabulous!
It is warm enough at night you don’t need a sleeping bag, though at some point Gernot crawled into his. And because it’s in the desert, you don’t need a mosquito net! So, I just lay on the rock and slept there. At some point, I was just staring out t the sillhouettes of the pyramids, a meteor flashed bright green across the sky above and behind them. I can’t say there has ever been such a moment of pure surreal contentment as that.
14th April, 2009
Later the wind picked up and started blowing pretty hard. Gernot climbed down and slept on the roof of the chapel attached to the pyramid, and after the wind blew my water bottle onto the sand below, I decided to join him. Sometime around 6AM, we were woken by camel jockeys hunting us. The chapel roof had a wall around it so we peeked over it and there they were! Infernal camel jockeys! They shouted at us to go for a ride, and we ducked down. There was nowhere to hide. We were trapped. Cause on the other side was the donkey cart guy! We were surrounded!
I jumped ship first and headed for the other pyramids to take some more pictures before the sun rose too high. Gernot joined me, and he was going to Port Sudan, so he headed out and I decided to stay behind and wait for the gatekeeper to get directions to the Royal City of Meroway with a plan of going back to Shendi to visit the temple at Naga. So, the camel jockeys gave up and the donley cart guy went home and I as left along in the desert. It’s very quiet. A worker from an Itlaian chemical company came by and sat with me, though we couldn’t talk.
The gatekeeper arrived and pointed towards another pyramid across the other side of the highway, and said the Royal City was over there. I missed seeing Gernot get a ride, and as I was crossing the highway, I though I saw him still sitting beside the highway and I waved. Unfortunately, it was hard to judge the size of things in the desert, and it turned out I had waved at a camel jockey! He immediately galloped over. Luckily he had been very far away, and I almost reached the pyramids on the plain by the royal city. His name was Sulieman. Quite a nice fellow, and I finally agree he could carry me from this group of pyramids to the royal city and then for another 10 to the “cafeteria”. I put quotes on it as that was the name everyone around the pyramids called it. I was sure it wasn’t like any cafeteria in any sense I had used before. So I rode into the Royal City of Meroway on a camel. Gernot, frugal as he is, had told me I might as well take my first camel ride here (he hates camel rides) where it would be cheaper.
OK, I don’t know if you know this or not, but deserts are VERY VERY HOT. In the end I was thankful sluieman had agreed to take me. The Royal City was further than I though (and so was the cafeteria) and if he had waited until I had visitedd the seconf group of pyramids, he could have probably asked for all my money to get to the cafeteria, and I would have seriously considered it.
The Royal City was interesting. The only structure I recognized was the temple of Amun, and unfortunately the Temple of Isis is outside the complex at the Royal City, so I didn’t get to the gatekeeper at Meroway had a lot of water in covered clay jars and I drank about three litres right there. I filled my plastic water bottle. Sulieman got to me to the cafeteria. It was really a truck stop. No fuel, just tasty tea (shai), really good fuul (refried beans) served with a side dish of salt and cayenne which you can sprinkle on to taste, bread and a side dish of raw onions and limes. It was delicious! I drank three Pepsis (I’m kinda addicted to cold Pepsi/Coke since I got here). I sat for quite a while before I headed out to the highway to catch a ride back to Shendi. I had decided to go to the hotel there and try to get to Naga from there.
OK, did I tell you the desert is VERY VERY HOT? Well, it gets hotter than that. And seeiing as I haven’t hitch hiked for years, deciding to hitch hike through the desert wasn’t the best of times to start again. Standing on an asphalt road in the middle of the desert is REALLY REALLY HOT. But anyway, here’s the thing: All the buses passing me were full. I though about it later and realized that as they don’t leave until they’re full, its not surprising they all passed me by. Full. Eventually a truck stopped. All the trucks here have double 48 foot trailers, so to stop and start again was quite a slow process. I was extremely grateful, but as the passenger window didn’t open and it was on the same side as the sun, it was QUITE HOT. Still, I enjoyed the ride. We stopped at a truck stop (with fuel) just outside Shendi and had Pepsi, shai and some kinda dish that’s a cross between porridge and Halva. I had some shai, but the truck driver guys wouldn’t let me pay for the food.
I took a Toyota truck to the EL Kwather Hotel (10 pounds) in Shendi and he said it would cost 150 pounds to go to Naga. As he didn’t seem to friendly I decided I would ask at the hotel to get a car to take me there. OK. The rickshaw driver the day before had said the hotel was 60 guinay, but when I got there it was really $60! Gernot would have passed out! I would have had dinner there as it was included in the price, but I fell asleep. The hotel isn’t all that great and the power went out a few times, but I washed my clothes. One of the nioce things about it being SO VERY HOT is that you can wash your clothes and have them dry in about three hours!
The next morning I had breakfast. Plain omelette. Some kinda weird white juice. And shai. Not great, just like the hotel. Got a taxi to go to Naga for 140 guinay. Now, the fact that my taxi driver couldn’t speak ANY English, and I don’t know the Arabic for “No” should have been enough for me to get someone else, but after we left the hotel, he needed directions to get to Naga. I know I should have got out and asked one of the guys explaining to him how to get there to drive me there, I didn’t, so in a way, the fact that we got lost in the desert was partly my fault.
As soon as we left, I got the feeling we were headed the wrong way. According to my map, the morning sun should have been to the drivers side of the car. It was directly behind us. I took out the map and carefully explained to the driver that I thought we were headed the wrong way. As far as I could tell, He said he knew a shortcut, though I could have been wrong. Finally we reached the Atbara-Khartoum Highway (which we should have taken in the first place instead of taking the short cut over sand and gravel roads. SO we cut back a few hundred metres and followed a dirt track which put the morning sun on my side of the car. Totally the wrong direction! This time we argued for a while, which was kind of stupid cause neither one of us knew what the other was saying!
After stopping at a police station in the middle of nowhere, we followed the new directions and ended up on the Atbara-Khartoum highway again, only closer to Shendi which is where I got in the taxi. We had another argument and I demanded he take me back to Shendi so I could get someone who knew where he was going vould take me there. But, I think he said now we were on the right road and we should keep going. Never having been lost in the desert before, I decided it would be a new experience and told him to go ahead.
Luckily the sign for Mussuwarat and Naga is also in english so I could point out the road to him. If you ever go there, take the road directly south of the gas station, not where the sign is. Its more direct. Also when you get to the sign that points out Police Security stations left and right, take the one to the right to Naga. Here’s how I know that:
On the map Naga and Mussuwarat are about a quarter of an inch apart. In reality it’s 35 km. As Naga was north of Musuwarat, and I was so successful with the first sign, the driver relied on me to pick this road as well, which ended up in us going left. This road doesn’t go to Naga. It follows the telephone wires and then veers off. I don’t know if you’ve ever been lost in the desert, but there aren’t a lot of people to ask for directions. Which means you can go for miles in the wrong direction before you realize you took the wrong turn. And there are very few signs. Most roads just split without any indications as to their destination. We saw some kids, but they weren’t sure what a Naga was. Finally someone who traded chewing tobacco for directions and rode a way with us, and I got the strange feeling he had just told us Naga was that way to get free tobacco and a free ride home. Still, I was wrong, and the general consensus was that we should keep going in the same general direction and we would find NNaga.
Here’s a small detail I left out: Every time I demanded that the driver turn around or change direction, he just laughed at the end of my argument. Eventually I had to give up and laugh with him (I was not in the mood to laught at him). Apparently taxi drivers find irate foreigners quite amusing. And I digress here: In Sanaa there’s a candid camera show that features people getting into a camera equipped taxi and the driver uses his cell phone, wrong turns an other such tactics guaranteed in getting the passenger so irate they attack the driver. In the end, the driver shows the totally insane passenger the camera and everyone laughs and laughs and laughs. I was beginning to think I was on the show, and that at any moment he would show me the camera.
No such luck.
By now, we were on a road badly rutted by vehicles a lot larger than the little 10 inch wheeled Hyundai we were in. The engine dug into the sand quite often which was kinda concerning. It was very bumpy and EXTREMELY HOT. I have to say this though: the driver was very good. He drove like a seasoned rally driver, and racing through the desert, this way and that, was actually kind of fun! I decided if I was lost in the desert I might as well relax and enjoy the ride. Which I did, until I noticed the gas tank needle was barely above “E”.
Needless to say after three hours (35KM) we arrived at Naga, and I think I overpaid the ticket. By about 40 pounds. A guide went with us and as he only spoke Arabic, the taxi driver (Rashid, I think was his name. The driver I mean.) got a great tour with explanations of what everything was. I followed along and took pictures. I wanted to see the Lion Temple with Aminatare on it, but also took pictures of the Amun Temple. The altar there was a cement and plaster replica.
There is a well at Naga, and that was really cool. People come from all over for water. Goats, sheep, donkeys, cattle and camels. All in all the camels take it kinda cool at the well. They stand at the edge and just chew cud and watch the others nilling about. The buckets are attached to ropes and wrapped arounf a pulley thin and donkey teams walk from the well pulling the rope and about five guys dump the bucket into different things including a covered cistern nearby.
So, pictures taken, we headed straight back to the highway. Took about 20 minutes. Stopped for gas and Pepsis and the driver dropped me at the Atbara bus. I had already paid him at the gas station so we could buy some gas, but for some reason (he did say something, but I have no idea what he said) he gave me a picture of himself. I use it as a bookmark in my little black notebook. Here’s something that impressed both Gernot and I on the first bus to Shendi. They serve toffees, then ice cold water, and an orange soda. All Free! The windows are all covered in curtains to keep out the sun which is VERY VERY VERY HOT.
Here’s another thing: The Security Police have regular road blocks quite often, and they always want to see the foreigner’s passports. At one stop they asked me to get off the bus and everyone stared at me like they would never see me again. They musta all been wwondering what sort of crimunal they had been sharing the bus with. They took me to a oradside tent shelter and asked me if I thought it was HOT, and a few other questions about where I came from, where I was going and seemed very impressed I knew so many town names and what was at each of them to see, and then walked me back to the bus, and waved as we drove off.
So, I arrived late afternoon in Atbara, and the rickshaw driver said there were no hotels in Atbara, and his other friend should take me to Atbara to catch the microbus to Karima. I had no wish to arrive in Karima late at night, but as there were no hotels I agreed. Autorickshaw 3 guinay. Taxi 10 guinay. His friend the taxi driver said there were hotels and I told him to take me to the Nile Hotel (in the LPG) which turns out to be a wonderful little hotel. 40 Guinay. There’s flowers in the courtyard and a nice little garden and I have a roon on the roof. The bathroom is shared, but it’s clean and quite large. It seemed there was no kitchen, so I went out for a walk but there’s nothing nearby and the shops that were there were all closed. So I drank cold water from the drinking water machine here and fell asleep watching TV.
I decided if there was food here avaiilable, I would stay another day and leave first thing on the 16th. Had a great breakfast. Freshly baked bread. Fresh orange juice. Omelette with cheese tomato and cucumber. I think I’ll update the travel journal, make it web ready. Then I’ll try and get some tanning in. Should take about a half an hour as the sun is VERY VERY HOT…
OK, so I went for a walk. I’ve decided I want one of those visor things that women golfers wear and then I can use it to keep a turban thingie on my head in the desert. So I went out looking for one, and surprisingly, the only shops in this neighbourhood are clothing stalls. It’s pretty bare here. Maybe I should have headed for Port Sudan, especially after complaining that places where I have to wait should be beside the ocean. So I found out the head covering thinng is called a shawl. Duh!
It’s PRETTY HOT right now, so I think I’ll wait till later hoping the shops stay open in the evening like in Khartoum. I’m gonna go out and tan. It’s close to 40 degrees here. So I should last about 10 minutes. I hope I’m not gonna break any taboos by tanning on the roof. According to my calculations I should be the only person tanning in Atbara, and I probably won’t run into anybody outside my door. Why? Cause its SO HOT!
Just a short note: It was so hot I couldn’t sit on the metal seat. I lasted like 10 seconds.