09.05.2010 40 °C
At dawn we waved goodbye to the pyramids and headed to the road to hitch a lift back to Khartoum. After 3 minutes we saw a little yellow bus in the distance - almost double it's true height due to the piles of luggage on the roof. 'Looks full' we thought... 'but if there's that much stuff on the roof they won't mind another couple of bikes'. Sure enough the bus ground to a halt. The driver soon had our bikes tied precariously on the top of the bags, on top of bags, on top of the roof and off we went. 20km into the trip we all piled out - coffee time - and the special guests (us!) were not permitted to pay!
3 hours later we were in the outskirts of Khartoum where we stopped to meet the bus driver's sister and drink delicious cold juice.
"Where are you staying? "the driver asked
"oh - just drop us at the train station. we'll find our own way home."
"certainly not! Where are you staying?"
On arriving at our front door the bus driver refused any payment.
"No, No, you are my friends! no need for money!" Fortunately we remembered the big box of chocolates stashed in our room - which our new friend accepted with an embarrassed smile!
Before we left town for the desert again we had time for a very special Easter day celebration - spent with our new friends (and hosts in Khartoum) Ayman and Aziza and their family. We also squeezed in a quick zoom around the Museum of Sudan - spending most of the time gazing at the magnificent pagan temples and early church artefacts removed from the lower Nile valley before it was flooded by the Egyptian 'Aswan High dam' in 1964.
Polly standing in the doorway of a 3500yr old temple rescued from the rising waters of the Nile
Did you know that Sudan - the archetypal Islamic state - ruled by Kushite monarchy for centuries - was converted to Christianity in the mid 6th century AD the kingdom was Christian for a full 800yrs - enthusiastically building churches, cathedrals and putting up an impenetrable military defence to the invading Muslim armies of the North. Eventually though the national religion did change, not through bloodshed - through the peaceful evangelistic efforts of Muslim traders and settlers - The first Muslim ruler came into power through a military coup in the 16th century.
We eventually tore ourselves away from the capital... Unfortunately our sudan Visa was for 2 weeks only so time was short - also the road North cuts a huge bend in the Nile so there is a 250km stretch with no water at all - so we went for the soft option and sat on a bus until we saw the miraculous green strip arise out of the sand to the right of the road.
Our little fast forward still left plenty of desert cycling to go - 500km to the ferry port. sometimes we were on the green edge of the irrigated land and sometimes the road would leave the river and we had a sense of the vastness and dryness of our environment.
Not all desert is the same.
Some days were misty - not with water vapour but dust - a blessing in disguise as the full power of the sun could not penetrate.
Other days were clear and crisp.
Sometimes it was flat and sandy.
But in a world of sand - one starts to notice that there are many types of sand - sand as fine as cement dust - with a thin crust that breaks when you step on it and instantly finds it's way deep into your shoes. It feels rather like powder snow but turns to muddy goop in your socks rather than water!
There is sand like the fine sand in your egg timer. Bright white sand, yellow sand and red sand, and finally gravely sand.
This was the only evidence of wildlife of any sort we saw in Nubia - We attached him to the back of the bike. The plan was to remove his crown and mount it on the front of my bike - until we noticed a very bad smell and brown fluid dribbling onto my bags... although he looked clean and dry - clearly the remnants of his brain were still in situ!!
At times it felt like we were in the middle of a Tibetan mountain range and the sand gave way to hot black rock.
In some of the more remote and rocky areas we were surprised to find several small camps just in sight of the road.... we were even more surprised when we saw their inhabitants wandering around swinging what looked like metal detectors!
"Why are you here" asked a suspicious man in a truck stop nearby.
"We are on holiday - tourists"
"What kind of tourists"
"What different kind of tourists are there? We have just come to see your beautiful country and meet your good people"
He spies our 'Sudan' guide - "Let me see your book" he says rather assertively.
We hand it over - "Show me the map" he directs us as he flips through the pages.
"The map of where to find the gold - of course"
"Gold?! there's Gold in Sudan?"
"Yes, of course - very much - that is the reason people come to the dessert."
"Oh.... I see - that's why they are wandering around with metal detectors!"
The Geology did alter dramatically as we headed north but one thing remained constant. The wind.
In the sections that branched away from the Nile (longest section we rode was 170km) water and vegitation of any sort was in short supply - Shelter from the baking sun is not easy to find with out any friendly trees to offer their protection.
We slept almost every night in the desert while in Sudan - but on approaching a sizable town we decided to treat ourselves to a night in a bed. while unpacking our things in our rather gloomy room (no electricity until 6pm and no windows - to keep the heat out) Pol exclaimed.
"There's maggots on the bed"
"No" I reassured her - "there can't be."
Shining the head torch onto the mattress we were only partially reassured to see that I was correct - there were no maggots - just very large and rather lively white mites! After making use of the shower and thanking the young hotelier we headed off into the desert again for another good night's sleep gazing up at the magnificent stars
Rob on a dusk camp spot recce
There are many ancient ruins the whole way along the Nile. Most of Sudan's offerings have been severely damaged by warfare/neglect/treasure hunters and locals quarrying them for their valuable stone. We had heard that one still stands tall though -Soleb- so we went in search. Eventually we found the correct village and a willing skipper to take us over the river. We knew it would be most beautiful at dusk and dawn so took our camping things with us - planning to sleep in the beautiful barley fields nestled under the prolific date palms.
As usual it was a HOT day - so while crossing the river we asked our pilot if it was safe to swim? Any crocodiles? in sign language. On landing on the far bank we also checked with another local - they both agreed emphatically - "swimming good! - yes - no problems - not get eaten"
The boat disappeared and we were left alone to while away the afternoon - waiting for sunset
Pol thought there were no crocodiles - but she was in 'De Nile'!
Sitting on the bank drying off Pol noticed a shape on the sandspit on the far side.
"A crocodile!" she stated firmly...
"no, no, it can't be - the locals said it was OK to swim"
Later on however the original 'piece of wood' had moved and 3 others were basking in the afternoon sun.
Seeing another local - we asked him - "Is it safe to swim?"
"But there are crocodiles?!"
"Oh yes - of course" beckoning us to his front gate and showing the evidence attached above it!
"But don't the crocodiles eat people?"
"yes of course... but not usually on this side of the river!"
Soleb temple was beautiful - The 3200 yr old pillars towering above us - some still supporting the huge stone beams - it was especially exciting as it felt as if we were the first westerners ever to lay eyes on it,
but we were reminded not to get ahead of ourselves by seeing the grafitti of tourists from 170yrs ago!
Mohammed Ali - an old man and temple guardian was very upset with the prospect of us sleeping in our tent explaining non verbally that we will certainly be eaten by snakes in the night... and we must sleep at his place. We reassured him. Although clearly unhappy with the idea - he granted us permission to sleep al-fresco. Later he came to offer us tea. We initially refused - but seeing his saddened face we quickly changed our minds and followed him to his home. We enjoyed our lovely chai communicating in sign and sometimes with the aid of his son who had a few words of English. After tea - huge plates of food were presented - which were for us all to share.. and of coarse - then it was too late to sleep in the tent and he ushered us to his very pleasant spare room! Su