Monday 19th March
Khartoum to Meroe
We left Khartoum for the north of Sudan today; ruins, desert and a Red Sea resort near Port Sudan. Because we are camping again, we had to buy quite a bit of food before we left the city. After shopping, we set off through flat sandy country, very washed out looking. There were hundreds of trucks and buses on the way, mostly headed to the largest port in the country, Port Sudan on the Red Sea. This port also serves Ethiopia as it doesn’t have access to the sea since Eritrea split from Ethiopia about 12-15 years ago. We stopped for lunch just off the road and got bogged in sand. It took over an hour to extricate the truck by digging and sand matting manoeuvres. We then headed out across the desert about 35km to visit the Temples of Naqa, part of an ancient civilisation in Sudan. These temples were built about 2,500 years ago and have been dug out of the sand and partly restored by archaeologists in recent years. However, almost no one visits any of the sites in Sudan and so they are quite deserted but very interesting to view. After we left there, it was decided not to visit a second site as the road was too sandy, so we continued on the Royal Cemetery of Meroe site a few kms up the road. It was too late to view the site today so we set up camp just near the site and will visit first thing tomorrow. After we had dinner Gino made some cocktails and we had a very pleasant evening sitting around with a drink before finally we went to sleep out in the middle of the desert. The road was about 1/2km away but it was very dark.
Tuesday 20th March
Meroe to Port Sudan
In the night, there was a sandstorm and sand got everywhere in the tents.The tent pole belonging to Patrick and Alison, (the new couple on the trip) broke and their tent was pretty much down most of the night. When we emerged from our tent we were surprised to find several camels quietly sitting nearby and their owners had set up ‘shop’ on the sand and had an assortment of crafts for sale. The best things were some knives but of course we can’t bring them home. After breakfast, we drove the short distance to the Meroe site. The royal city of Meroe had been situated about 3-4km away on the river Nile and the Cemetery was on a rise and it covered quite a large area. This site is hardly visited by anyone at all, so it looks quite pristine with a number of the pyramids having been restored by archaeologists and others being in their original state (large piles of rocks surrounded by a great deal of desert sand. It was quite eerie and beautiful and although we stayed about an hour, we could have easily stayed longer. There were inscriptions and hieroglyphics on the inside of some of the chambers. We walked back to the truck and thought what a great site, almost never seen by anyone. There are very few tourists in Sudan. They are probably put off by the reports of civil war and rebellions, but where we have travelled, the people have been unfailingly friendly and welcoming. Guess the Level 4 “DO NOT TRAVEL” by the Australian Government has something to do with it as well. After we had finished at the Meroe site we headed off towards the resort on the Red Sea. The roads have improved quite a bit in Sudan recently and so we have time to take 4-5 days out before we travel to the far northern part of Sudan and then cross into Egypt. We have been told that the ferry that operates between Wadi Halfa in Sudan and Aswan in Egypt ran aground in a sandstorm last week and has been cancelled for 21st March journey but it will be going again next week when we are due to travel (28th March). The problem is that the cancelled ferry passengers will have priority and although we are booked we may not get on. Here’s hoping – plans change all the time in these countries because of circumstances so it will be a case of wait and see. We arrived at the Red Sea Resort quite late and we were unable to see what it was like, so we went and had a meal (quite nice considering that there was no one but us staying there), set up our tents and then went to bed.
Wednesday 21st March
Red Sea Resort, Port Sudan
When the day dawned and we got up, we were surprised to find that the camping area was on the point and almost surrounded by water. A road led out to a raised spit of sand on which a “resort” mainly for diving and snorkelling had been constructed – it seems directly on to the coral reef. The Red Sea is in front and there is water behind us as well. Apart from the resort, there is nothing in sight in any direction. It is very flat and sandy. All the group except us and Nat have made arrangements to go diving or snorkelling today, but it took until 1.30pm for the dive master to come and get organised and take them all out on the boat. Meanwhile we were planning to relax for the next two days. The weather is fine and sunny but not too hot (around 25C) and windy all the time. They are constructing an upgrade to the resort and many trucks came in during the day to deliver gravel in many piles, raising dust. It seems quite an ambitious project considering there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of tourism in this country. However, there were a number of day visitors today who were all having fun, wading out to the small island off the coast about 300 metres. We relaxed and then went for a walk in the afternoon round to the furthest point to the south and back. The coral is quite exposed and in not such good shape and there doesn’t seem to be much environmental consideration about the coral reef offshore. It was our turn to cook tonight so after cooking and eating dinner, Gino made cocktails and we sat around for a while having a drink then went to bed around 10pm.
Thursday 22nd March
Red Sea Resort, Port Sudan
Awoke to another day here at the resort, same sort of day as yesterday. The group didn’t go diving today. They weren’t too happy with the dive master yesterday, but enjoyed the dives. Everyone had a day of total relaxation, reading, snoozing and taking a few photos in the area. We really enjoyed the rest from driving and the road for the past couple of days. Tomorrow we head back towards the west and north again to visit more archaeological sites and wend our way up towards Egypt. It is so quiet here at the resort, apparently the main season is June through September when the resort is full, the weather is hotter and the sea temperature is quite a deal warmer.Had dinner in the restaurant tonight then to bed at around 9.30pm.
Friday 23rd March
Red Sea Resort to Atbara and Bush Camp
Left the Red Sea Resort at 8.45am to do some shopping in Port Sudan about 30km to the south. We also visited the fish market and spoke to lots of the sellers, took photos etc. Everyone was very friendly and it was fun. Two of the cook groups bought fish for the next dinners. We then headed back the way we came 3 days ago, back towards Atbara and another bush camp. The day is warmer away from the sea, but fine and dry. After we had lunch, we continued on almost to Atbara where we set up “bush” camp just near a truck stop and roadside check point. The spot wasn’t that great but it was still in the desert and after we had dinner, we went to sleep to the sound of the trucks on the nearby highway and the generator from the truck stop restaurant humming away. The night was clear and dark and like all desert environments, it is much cooler at night than during the day, so it’s always easy to go to sleep.
Saturday 24th March
Atbara Desert Bush Camp to Karima Bush Camp including Merowe Pyramids and tombs
Up early today, had breakfast and set off again for another day’s driving through the desert. There are quite a few towns along this road and when you are adjacent to the Nile River, the Sudanese people grow many crops, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, watermelons, lettuce, among many others. Today the road cut across country and we passed through the beautiful and haunting Bayuda Desert, mostly sand with low hills, clear blue skies, and as the day wore on, the temperature gets warmer. It is hotter in the late afternoon than at midday, but this is just into spring here and in June and July the temperatures reach up to over 50C – at present they only reach up to about 35C so pretty pleasant really. Anyway, we reached the town of Karima at lunch time and had lunch in a Sudanese Restaurant where we ate fish, camel, lamb, ful (a bean dish), felafels, bread and salad like tabouli as well as ice cold fruit juice drinks. After lunch, we went shopping for the next time we need to cook (tomorrow) and we bought lamb cutlets that were chopped up by the butcher on the spot – very roughly – but with great good humour and a number of Sudanese men looking on. These people are so nice and are such a contrast to our experiences in Ethiopia. After buying our vegies, we headed back to the truck and set off to see some tombs that were originally uncovered by the Nile flooding in 1954 and are from 1,700BC. These tombs are almost never visited by tourists. We climbed down some steep steps inside and although there are no sarcophagi inside, there were paintings and hieroglyphics on the walls and ceilings. These were amazing. One tomb was of a queen and one was of a king. Who knows how many tombs are still buried in the desert sands? These were of the Kushites, a very powerful nation that rivalled Egypt and also threatened the Egyptians for centuries. After we had visited the tombs we headed back to the town of Karima (by the Nile River) and paid to visit the archaeological site of Jebel Barkal where there is a holy mountain that rises about 600 metres straight out of the desert. One of the Kushite kings had covered the top of one of the mountain spires, which bore some resemblance to a cobra, in gold – hard to believe but true. Of course the gold is long gone. There was an ancient temple nearby that had been ruined by invaders and then rebuilt into the solid rock of the mountain. We went inside and again there were paintings of Horus and other gods as well as hieroglyphics. Nearby were a number of pyramids some of which had been restored by archaeologists and others not. These were quite beautiful and had been here for about 3,500-4,000 years. The road we travelled on passed these pyramids as a road had done for all those years – almost no one comes to this country to see these treasures of lost civilisations and they are wonderful (and amazing). Everywhere along the Nile there is evidence of the past. Although the Egyptian monuments and cities are supposed to be impressive (we have yet to see them), the cities, pyramids and temples of Sudan and its old civilisations are very extensive and hardly visited by anyone. We set up camp just across the road from the Kushite pyramids and Jebel Barkal and could see them from the camp watching over us as they had done for thousands of years. This was a much nicer campsite than yesterday, less noisy, more peaceful. After dinner, we had a fire and then to bed under a dark (new moon) sky. When we drove in tonight, the truck got bogged in sand and we will all need to help get her out in the morning with sand mats.
Sunday 25th March
Karima (Jebel Barkal) Bush Camp to Bush Camp near Wadi Halfa via Wawa
Up late today because we don’t have so far to drive, had breakfast and then used the sand mats to get us out of the soft sand – two goes were sufficient this time and we were up near the road on firm ground. We then headed off on a very good road – they have all been good roads in Sudan – with not much traffic, mainly buses, utes and trucks – toward Dongola (again on the Nile as the river takes a big twist through the desert). We had lunch near the road and then continued on to Wawa where we were originally going to stay the night. Instead we met a guide and with Naser (our local Sudanese guide), we went across the Nile in a small boat to visit the magnificent Temple of Sulb, a temple that dates from 2,700BC. A lot of it was in ruins, some had been restored in the 1970s, but very spectacular with distant mountain views. After the visit to the temple, we headed back across the river then drove to the “bush” camp just off the road about 1 ½ - 2 hours from Wadi Halfa (the most northerly town in Sudan). The plans had been changed and we have to get to Wadi Halfa a day early in order to put the truck on the ferry tomorrow and all being well we will travel on the passenger ferry on Wednesday 28th. It is possible we may not see the truck for some time if ever due to customs regulations in Sudan and Egypt (the trip before ours did not get their truck back before they reached Cairo). We need to take everything off the truck in Wadi Halfa when we arrive tomorrow and take it with us. If we can’t get on the ferry on Wednesday, we need to travel back to Khartoum and fly to Aswan via Cairo – we hope not. We cooked dinner tonight and then camped on a rockier spot than yesterday. It was quite windy and a deal cooler here at this spot.
Monday 26th March
Bush Camp to Wadi Halfa
Got up early at 5.30am to pack up our bags and tent, get the kettle on and cook breakfast (our turn) and get away early – it was sunny and cool this morning. The truck had to be at the port in Wadi Halfa by no later than 10am to get on the ferry to Aswan. We only took about an hour or so to get to Wadi Halfa and went straight to the hotel – we took everything from the truck (except our blankets) just in case we don’t meet up with the truck again soon. The hotel is very basic but clean. It has 2 corridors and our group are the only ones on this corridor. As the doors and windows are metal it looks like a prison cell block! Inside the room are 2 metal single beds each with a 1cm thick mattress. The walls have scratched graffiti and the ceiling is bamboo screening through which dust and grit falls. The corridor opens into a small courtyard (no plants) and contains our shared facilities – 2 long drop toilets and 2 shower cubicles, all with metal doors. The showers don’t actually work but the purpose is achieved via a bucket of water that can be refilled from the water tank. It’s actually not too bad! After settling in we walked around the town and bought some lunch – 4 bread rolls, 4 bananas and 2 cokes. It is a very friendly place and also very dusty. We took our lunch went back to our “cellblock” hotel to sit around and relax for the rest of the day.Later we found out that the passenger ferry is running one day late and so we are ‘stuck’ here for an extra day – but we do have tickets. In the evening we all went out for dinner. At night the town is quite lively with lots of men eating dinner - all men, obviously the women are at home... Several restaurants have televisions set up outside and rows of men sit watching the programs.
Tuesday 27th March
After a reasonable night’s sleep we headed off for breakfast and ended up at a small eatery near the market. We had the most delicious breakfast – boiled eggs, a bowl of ful (beans), a plate of felafel (best we have had), a plate of rocket and tomatoes, 2 bread rolls each, and a tin cup of water – all for $1.20. And all eaten either with the bread or fingers. A local man chatted to us and invited us back to his shop for tea. We hadn’t planned on going but accidentally walked near the shop (which sold acrylic rugs and plastic flowers) and he excitedly waved us over. Yet another example of the friendliness of these people.He told us there was nothing to see in Wadi Halfa and we would have seen everything in 2 hours (which we already knew…) you mostly only see men out and about and they run all the shops and market stalls although some women have tea or coffee stalls. The women in our group are all wearing a scarf over their head when going out and of course only long pants or a skirt and are made most welcome. After breakfast we walked part way up a hill to see the view over town and then walked down to the start of Lake Nasser. We couldn’t sit as there was no shade and so just walked back to town. As our room is very dark and a torch is required for reading, we decided to walk up to what appears to be a park and see if there is any shade. The park had lots of seats in the shade, a few old swings, a sand pit, some patchy grass – but provided an alternative to the room and we sat and read for about an hour before grabbing a snack lunch and heading back to the hotel for an afternoon relax. We plan that tomorrow will be a repeat of today then we leave for Aswan on Thursday 29th March.