Khartoum - 6th - 11th August 2011
We crossed the border without too much trouble and hit the road towards Khartoum. We had dropped almost 2000 metres since Gonder and it was hot. But not as unbearably hot as had been described to us - perhaps this was to come...
As we went further north the waterlogged farmland began to give way to desert. We were reminded where we were when we came upon a convoy of 20 or so low-loaders all carrying UN containers and trucks. We set off early the next morning and arrived in Khartoum and set up camp at the Blue Nile Sailing Club. This is now the impromptu dry dock for Kitchener's gunboat the Melik which is now used as the Club office and we camped alongside it.
We had heard a lot about the famed hospitality of the Sudanese and it didn't take us long to experience it for ourselves. Needing to fix the problems the car had picked up in Ethiopia we found ourselves at Far Best Auto Service Centre, owned by the charming Abdel. We were bought drinks by the receptionist and lunch by a fellow customer and were invited by Abdel to his home for Iftar (the breaking of the day's fast at sunset). We had a fantastic evening being plied with dish after delicious dish and chatting with Abdel's large extended family.
Meroe Pyramids - 12th August 2011
With all our paperwork eventually done (alien registration, travel permits, photo permits, ferry tickets, multiple copies of all of the above ...) we set off to explore Sudan.
Our first destination was the Meroe Pyramids a couple of hours out of Khartoum. The journey was "interesting". We drove through an enormous haboob (dust storm) which swept sand across the road and brought visibility down to almost zero at times. After the dust storm came the rain. It was short-lived and torrential and we drove through streams to reach our campsite. And what a campsite. We camped in a space between the dunes with a view of the pyramids. The next morning we went to explore. These pyramids are smaller than their Egyptian counterparts and steeper and many had had their tops lopped off by European treasure hunters. In some the tombs are still intact and you can clamber in and still see the heiroglyphics carved into the walls. The sky was a beautiful clear blue and the silence was deafening.
Jebel Barkal - 13th August 2011
Jebel Barkal is a holy mountain, complete with Royal Cemetery (ie pyramids) and two temples. One is now little more than a pile of rubble but the other, dedicated to Mut, the Sky Goddess, is carved into the side of the mountain. Coming from the heat and glare it takes a little while for your eyes to adjust but slowly the engravings start to emerge.
The next morning we enjoyed the relative cool in our bushcamp for a couple of hours - after about 8am the heat starts to really kick in and by 9am most of the shade has gone. When we couldn't stand it any longer we headed off for a visit to El Kurru, the site of various tombs dating back to the 4th century. Two are currently open for visitors - once you've located the ghaffir with the key. You enter through a low door and descend a flight of steps. We'd thought being underground they would be cool but they were stiflingly hot. The paintings show the king and his mother being led by the hand into the underworld by various deities and the images and colours are still amazingly strong even after so much time.
Karima to Abri - 15th August 2011
We'd been told that there was graveyard of river steamers on the shore in Karima but despite several drive pasts of likely looking locations we didn't find them. So we struck off into the desert with our only real mission today being to get some miles under our tyres and be within easy striking distance of Wadi Halfa and the ferry the following day.
After Abri, the last big town, we started looking for somewhere to set up camp and soon found a good spot in amongst some granite boulders. We checked the thermometer that evening and at 10pm it was still 35 degrees. However, it was by now a full moon and the light was almost bright enough to read by. It is also incredibly quiet in the desert without the nightly chorus of insects, frogs and so on we have become used to.
Wadi Halfa and the Lake Nasser Ferry - 16th - 17th August 2011
We arrived in Wadi Halfa, a small dusty town on the shores of Lake Nasser at around midday and handed our documents over to Mazar - our fixer. Then there was nothing left to do but wait. We found ourselves another spectacular bushcamp that evening and battened down the car as much as we could for it's two day journey on the barge. The next morning we headed to the port. It was odd to see the car chug off into the distance without us. We'd booked a first class air-conditioned cabin for the trip which meant that we did at least get some sleep - unlike many of those on the deck. So much so that we slept through the immigration procedure and had to run round trying to sort things out before we docked in Aswan the next morning.