A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Land of the Pharoahs


After a daytrip to see the awe-inspiring temples of Abu Simbel on the banks of Lake Nasser and a visit to the beautiful Phillae Temple, which involved some hard-nosed negotiations with a boat owner since the temple is on an island, we crossed to the west bank of the Nile and headed North.


The Beautiful island temple complex of Phillae.

We had not been looking forward to Egypt. Everyone we met travelling North-South terrified us with horror stories of being robbed hand over fist, of children hassling travellers and men exhibiting inappropriate behaviour to female travellers. Our experience on arrival in Egypt where we were held in an arrivals enclosure for hours on end and an incredibly frustrating interaction whenever we wanted to buy anything in Aswan added experience to our bias.

Us, newly arrived in the country and wanting to buy a bottle of water: “How much for this litre bottle of water?”
Shopkeeper: “How much you give me for it?”
Us: “Well how much does it cost?”
Shopkeeper: “No, you give me a price.”
Us: “OK. 1 Pound.”
Shopkeeper looking annoyed: “No!!”
Us: “OK so how much?”
Shopkeeper: “No, you give........ etc..


A memory of waiting in the arrivals compound on arriving in Egypt.

But then we crossed over the Nile and cycled along up its’ west bank and we discovered a wonderful world full of kind, generous people living their lives where the tourists never go.


The West Bank - not at all touristy

On our first break we slipped into an orchard of date palms by the edge of the Nile to find some shade, carefully avoiding the neat rows of fresh green vegetables as we went. We hadn’t been there long when a young man approached us on his snowy white donkey. He spoke no English but he conveyed to us that it was his land and we were very welcome. He invited us to pet his donkey and go for a refreshing swim in his stretch of the Nile. Sensing from us the resistance that we had acquired as a result of being all to often lured into seemingly friendly gestures which ended up with a hefty price tag he reassured us earnestly; “No backsheesh, no backsheesh, it’s OK.” (Backsheesh meaning money and being the word the touts cry at you after posing and begging you to take their photo!!)


Our next destination was Luxor with its’ wealth of temples and tombs. The journey there was a pleasure. We were pedalling along a beautiful tarmac road which weaves it’s way through the agricultural belt passing back and forth over the ingenious network of canals to which the lush vegetation owes it‘s existence. I was ahead of Rob until the rumbling of a tractor intensified, passed me and died again. When the whisps of sugar cane from the tractor’s trailer blew passed me and out of my vision I saw Rob pedalling along at an impressive speed in the wake of the trailer. “Unbelievable” I thought to myself self-righteously, with perhaps a touch of envy, as I pedalled hard against the wind and he sailed into the distance “A dead-flat, tarmac road and he’s cadging a tow!!”

When I Rob caught up he was glowing.
Waiting in a patch of shade he said “Did you see me? Did you see me? It was awesome”
“It was a bit fast” I said “wasn’t it scary?”
“No, no. I was just slipping streaming!! It was awesome.”

We then saw two more sugar cane tractors approaching in our wing mirrors.
“You take this one. I’ll take the one behind” said Rob.
And we did. It was incredible. I never would have believed what a difference it makes. We spent the next two hours pedalling hard behind the tractors which kept a very steady 30km/hr. We did have to dodge the odd stick of sugarcane which came darting off the trailer like a spear but when the tractors pulled off the main road and we had covered 60km in 2 hours and were only a stone’s throw away from Luxor we definately thought it was worth it.


Sugar Cane Train!!

Luxor was incredible. We spent a few days in absolute disbelief as we visited some of the many ancient places there. We were amazed not just by the extent and quantity of the ancient architecture, it’s age, it’s beauty, the intricate carving but also by how much of it is still in tact and how much we can learn from the work of the archeologists and the texts that have been found about the Egyptian empire, the daily life, their religion and customs.


HypoStyle Hall - the columns represent papyrus stems.

After visiting the massive Karnak temple we felt rather foolish as we recalled a conversation with some travellers we had met in the border town of Wadi Halfa in Sudan. They were entering Sudan, we were entering Egypt. We had told them about a very remote temple remains which had impressed us greatly and insisted that they must go out of their way to visit it. The temple we were describing had no more than a handful of standing pillars which we had found incredible. Karnak temple covers an area of about 4 square kms and has perhaps even hundreds of huge standing pillars and a couple of enormous obelisks!!!!


The main entrance to Karnak temple, rams showing the way.

Leaving Luxor very early one morning our attempts at making good progress before the heat kicked in were thwarted when 25km into our day we hit a police road block. Politely but firmly they forbade us to pass. We earnestly explained where we were heading. Knowing that the security on the west bank was very tight we had cunningly picked a temple, Abydos Temple, to say that we really wanted to visit in an attempt to persuade them. We could see that they regretted being unable to let us through but never the less they were resolute so we turned around to back track the 25km - a 50km detour!!

Although disappointed at having lost our early start we were pleasantly surprised by the East bank road. It was very quiet and beautiful. The tourist traffic heads east at luxor and travels to Cairo via the Red Sea - they are banned on the Nile roads for this stretch of the river. At least they had been until last year. We even found a "Sudan-style" lunch stop where we joined a couple of lorry drivers for bread and beans served with sliced tomato and raw onion.


Beautiful Egypt!!

Convinced by our own performance at the road block earlier in the day we decided we would go via Abydos Temple. We headed over the river and sped along the West bank as it was beginning to get dark. By and by we hit another police block. We attempted our usual "smile and wave" strategy but we were stopped in our tracks by a man holding a very big gun. He wouldn't let us pass and we didn't know why. He was unable to explain to us. We had no arabic and he no English. Men gathered around, many of them with guns, each one attempting to communicate with us. It was a little scary. We had to wait for something but we didn't know what.

Eventually it became clear. A police van pulled up. A couple of officers jumped in the back and they beckoned us to follow. Our first police escort!! It seemed pretty exciting. We were quite pleased as we didn't know exactly where the guest house at Abydos Temple was and we figured the police would take us to the door. Alas it wasn't to be. 10km before the guest house they abandoned us because they wanted to go home which was in a different direction!!! Hence we fumbled around in the dark for the next hour until we eventually found our way to where we were staying!!


Colourful carvings inside Abydos temple.

The next morning we took some time to look around the temple. It was very beautiful. We were the only visitors and a lovely dutch lady staying at our guest house showed us around. She knew a lot about the temple and made our visit very interesting.


The godess of the Nile and of water.

Posted by robandpol 02:52 Comments (3)

We're Famous!

(well in the Middle East anyway!)

sunny 27 °C

Hello people.

MSN Arabia just published an article about us. Check out the link at the bottom right of the page or use this address:


Posted by robandpol 08:22 Archived in Egypt Comments (4)

Into Egypt

Crossing the border

Halfway between the convergence of the waters of the White and Blue Niles in Khartoum and their fusion with the waters of the Mediterranean at the delta in Egypt the waters bulge, forced over their banks, pushing far into the desert beyond as they jostle, fighting for a chance to make it over the wall of the high dam in Aswan and continue their journey to the sea.


The deep blue waters of Lake Nasser sit in the middle of the desert bordered by rocky peaks and hot sand, veiling the border between Sudan and Egypt. A weekly ferry gliding between the upper and lower shores provides the only link between the two countries and consequently we hurried our bikes through the desert to reach the Lake in time for the Wednesday departure. The idea of missing the boat and having to sit out the week on our already expired visa in the sleepy town of Wadi Halfa did not appeal.

Making our way into the “ferry terminal” we were pleasantly surprised to find a well organised, spacious, air conditioned building. The formalities of extricating ourselves from the country were overwhelming but thankfully a friendly and very professional Sudanese employee guided us expertly through. Having processed all the paper work we got ahead of the crowds on the shuttle bus by bombing down to the boat on our bikes and we managed to secure a perfect position on the top deck sheltered from the scorching sun by the lifeboats.


We really appreciated the shade as we then sat on the deck for six hours before it set off on the 18 hour crossing. There was plenty of time for reading and making new friends.


These Sudanese girls were on their first trip to Egypt from their home in Khartoum.

Eventually everyone was on the boat and we pulled away into the open waters. At one point we were quite alarmed when all the male passengers congregated on the top deck to face Eastwards and pay their respects to Allah. We were a bit concerned the boat might topple!

After a stunning sunset we sailed passed a flood lit Abu Simbel on the Western bank. The huge temples carved into the cliff face had to be relocated piece by piece in the ‘60’s when the dam was filling up to save them from being drowned.


Arriving in Egypt at the North of the Lake things were not as stream lined as they had been in Sudan. We first had to idle in the waters whilst a boat drew alongside and 2 customs officials came aboard to scrutinise everyone’s passports. When they were done we pulled into the port and slowly the boat emptied as everyone was channelled through the very small exit. We popped off the boat and pedalled up the hill to get to the front but it was pointless. We turned right at the top of the hill, channelled by the tall metal fence, to see a huge crowd of people. We quickly found what looked like the end of a queue and joined it. We were completely enclosed by a tall metal fence in which there was one small gate which was being held resolutely shut by an official on the other side. Nobody was moving, though everyone was pressing forwards against the gate trying to get through. We stood next to our loaded bikes resisting the intermittent surges from the crowd by blocking the people pushing passed with our bikes. Standing in the full glare of the sun the heat was unbearable. We were sweating profusely and I was beginning to feel faint. Agitated children were fidgeting and babies began to cry. All the while no-one was moving either way through the gate. Looking around I saw a sign attached to the fence; “Arrivals Compound” - very appropriate I thought, like some sort of torture compound.


The gate was so small that we began to wonder if we would even fit through with our bikes when the time came and we were allowed to pass. It seemed that others were having the same thoughts as people were pushing forwards with all their luggage to the fence at the front where the men were helping each other lift the suitcases and boxes up and over the fence. We watched incredulously for 5 or 10 minutes. Why are we shut in this compound unable to go anywhere. Why are we being held here for security and yet people are chucking their luggage over the fence and no-one is battering an eyelid. Why don’t we chuck our bikes over and cycle away. Away from the sweating crowd and crying babies, away from the compound. We can’t. We’ll never get away with it. We can, we might, we should!!! So we did. We went over to the fence and unloaded the bikes. Pol managed to slip between two of the upright bars so she was on the other side and could receive the bags from over the top. Then the bikes. The very heavy steel framed bikes. Rob managed to lift them up one at a time until they were resting on top of the fence and then slowly he tilted it down so Pol could grab the wheel. It was not easy. The second bike got over and then Rob climbed over. We were out. We were FREE!!! We loaded up the bikes and prepared to speed away and through the gate. But then an official came over.
“No, no, this is wrong” he said.
“No, no, THIS is wrong” Rob said, gesturing at the heaving crowd. “Why are we waiting. We have been waiting 4 hours. We have a visa and a stamped and our passports have been checked.”
How were they so unprepared? The boat comes through on the same day EVERY week. “No” the man said “you cannot go.”
“Yes we can”.
“You cannot go. We will arrest you.”
We didn’t believe him and we were considering calling his bluff. Then a white guy who had been standing watching from beside his 4X4 piped up; “They will.” he said “They’ll arrest you. Did it last week to some guys who climbed over. They’re still in the cell. Had to stay there for a week.”
Interesting!! A very timely interjection. We back tracked a bit. Could we just walk our bikes and all our luggage back round then to save us lifting everything over the fence again?
“No. You cannot go any further. Go back. Go back.”
The entrance to the building was 15metres behind the guy but he was adamant that we would go no further. We looked at each other exasperated and once again unloaded our bikes. Bungies off, bags off. Pol through the gap. Bags up and over, bikes up and over. Rob over. Back in the compound. EXHAUSTED


When we eventually made it through the gate we had another surprise in store. The angry official who had accosted us earlier saw us coming and rushed over to security. “These ones. These ones” he said. “Check them. Check everything. They were trying to run away.” With that our fate was sealed. Bungies off the bike, bags off the bikes. Bags open, bags emptied.

It had been an 18 hour ferry ride - 18hours on the water moving. The whole transition however had taken 28hours. 6 hrs waiting for the boat to leave and 4 hrs getting through customs on the Egyptian side. Apparently we did quite well!!

It was a short 20km from the ferry through the desert to the town of Aswan and we arrived there in the evening and found somewhere for a good night’s sleep. We were immediately struck by how much wealthier Egypt is than Sudan as we cycled into the fully developed town - a huge contrast to the little towns we had passed through along the Nile in Sudan.


Feluccas - local sailing boats cruising along the Nile at Aswan.


Posted by robandpol 06:17 Comments (6)

More Hot Weather and Cool people

North Sudan

sunny 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.

"Which map?"

"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?"
"Yes, yes"
"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

Posted by robandpol 10:27 Archived in Sudan Tagged bicycle Comments (19)

Khavorting around Khartoum

Camels and Pyramids


500km into Sudan we were reunited with the Blue Nile at Wad Medani having left it ten days previously at it’s source in Barhir Dar on the edge of Lake Tana. We saw the faint green line marking the path of the river as we drew closer and before long were on the bridge looking down at the mass of water which would beat us to Cairo. We followed the river, more or less, for the next 200km until we reached Khartoum. Cycling the final stages of this road was like playing a game of Russian roulette as we risked life and limb dodging the high-speed coaches and juggernauts who appeared to be completely oblivious to our presence on the road. Journeys from anywhere in Sudan seem to be planned to reach Khartoum by dusk.

On the day before we reached Khartoum, as the sun was setting on our hope of finding a decent place to camp we were thoroughly fed up with dropping off the edge of the tarmac as another coach screeched passed, deafening us with it's "horn" - an obnoxious 100 decibels of fairground noises. Just as we were resigning ourselves to the fate of an inconvenient camp spot the houses began to disappear and there were less people around. The road drew close to the river once more and we spotted a secluded area where we could drop down out of sight to the river below. The perfect end to a hectic day!!!


We had heard that there was a camel market in Khartoum that was not to be missed. On arriving in the city we made a few enquiries and discovered it was somewhere to the west. In our eagerness to reach the market at it’s peak before all the camels had been sold and ridden away we rushed off, poorly equipped for our mission, with just the phrase “souq al-naga” to help us find our way. It seemed like an appropriate phrase - souq being a market and al-naga a camel. Leaving our luggage and bikes behind we went to the end of the road to catch the bus. One went passed, and then another - full. A third and fourth - full, full. The sun blazed down. The camels were being sold. Another arrived “souq Libya, souq Libya” - we squeezed in. Through the traffic lights, over the Nile, into Ombdurman the bus crawled. We passed through a market, more traffic lights and plenty of housing. Impatiently we watched the city go by. It was bigger than we'd expected. Then amidst table tops of bric-a-brac and stalls full of fruit the bus terminated at souq Libya. We jumped out. A few inquiries informed us we were still far from the camels but some deft negotiations secured for us onward passage in a tuctuc (explanation). We chugged along dodging pedestrians and other tuctucs out of the city hustle and on, to an area where the sand claimed the ground back from the cement. The houses became sparse and then in the sand ahead to our right we saw row upon row of cars and we knew we had arrived. The tuctuc driver confirmed it; “souq al-naga” he informed us as we hopped out his vehicle and he turned around and pulled away. The market was huge and beyond the cars the first thing we came to was the eating area. Carcasses hung and red-faced women tried to draw customers in. The men cubed the meat with big blades for the women to cook in large dishes over open fires. Coffee boiled in the traditional coffee pots over smaller fires accompanied by the aroma of gum arabic wafting up from saucers. We wandered on by resisting the exotic smells. We wanted to see all the camels. We traipsed along the wide sandy path beside the "restaurants" either side for another 2 or 3 minutes then asked for directions; "al-naga? al-naga?" We'd thought it would be easy to see the camels and head straight towards them but the market was vast. Various men in their long white robes pointed us in various directions which we followed arbitrarily. Another 5 minutes and we reached the sheep/goat area but no camels. "al-naga? al-naga?" - some blank faces and some arms gesturing different directions, some excited men trying to negotiate the price we wanted to pay for their sheep. We picked a direction and wandered some more. Turning behind a sheep stall we saw a large high-walled enclosure. This must be it. The camels must be in there. We walked around until we found the entrance and peered around the wall. Nothing. We carried on in. Perhaps we were too late. Maybe they had all been sold. In one of the corners was a row of shelters with men inside hiding from the sun, drinking chai and in front was a token of what we were after - a single camel.

A Single Camel

A Single Camel

The men beckoned us over to join them. We did. We tried to find out about the camel situation and as we tried one of the chai-drinkers, a camel trainer, dusted off his English and together we put the pieces of the puzzle in place.

"Where are the camels? al-naga, al-naga?"
"No camels."
"WHERE are the camels?"
"No camels."
"When camels?"
"No camels."
"Camels this morning?"
"No, no camels."
"Camels yesterday?"
"No camels. Never camels."
"Never camels?"
"Yes, yes, never camels."

We were bemused and sceptical. We moved the conversation on and managed to learn many camel facts.


The chai was good. The men were excited to have our company for a while and eager to share their thoughts and ideas and to extend to us a warm Sudanese welcome. An older man with no English smiled and left after a while, shaking our hands warmly as he went, and when it came time for us to leave it transpired that he had paid for our drinks. During our time in Sudan there would be very few drinks that we would pay for ourselves; as guests in their country the people were eager for us to feel welcome.

We said our goodbyes and wandered back through the market until we reached the eating area again. By now it was late afternoon and we stopped for some food. We motioned at one of the carcasses and were ushered into the tented room. We wound passed other diners and around a central fabric "wall" ending up inside it in what you would describe as a room in a room. The inner area was enclosed by fabric walls with a small door sized gap for the entrance. It was calm and peaceful. Woven-string beds were positioned around small tables and although we had been unable to see into the room from outside you were able to see straight through the fabric to watch the people on the other side. We lay on the beds and waited for our food. 10-15 minutes later a young girl in a long red skirt came over carrying a large, round, metal tray. There was meat in a bowl in the middle and rolls of fresh bread all around the edge. She put two large metal mugs of cold water on the table and lay down the tray. The meat was still sizzling.

"What is the meat?" we asked "Is it sheep, or goat....?"
"The meat?" she said.
"Yes, goat......?"
"Al-naga." she said.
"Al-naga? Camel?"
"Yes, yes, camel, al-naga. All the meat al-naga."

We looked at each other. We had found the camels. The image of graceful camel chains walking around arenas whilst eager potential buyers bartered for bargains evaporated. This market was for camel meat!!!

The next day we left our bikes in Khartoum and caught a bus for the celebrated pyramids at Meroe 300km North East of the capital. Our plan was to get there for sunset, sleep over next to the pyramids in the desert and then catch a lift back to Khartoum the following morning. It was not to be!! 250km and a good few hours into our journey there was a lot of commotion at a police check point. It turned out that we were the cause of the commotion. We had failed to get a travel permit for this area of the country. The firm but fair chief of police was not to be swayed and we were bundled off the bus with all our bags into the scorching sun in the middle of the desert. The policeman was very apologetic and assured us he would stop the next bus to get us a ride back to Khartoum. In the meantime we just had to wait. He found us a nice shady spot and hauled over his bed for us to sit on so we could wait in comfort.


By and by, after the policeman had bought us several cups of tea and many sweets to ease our wait, a bus came past and we were returned to the place we had started from 6hrs earlier!!

The next day we tried again. We found the tourism office - not as easy as you might think since the tiny backstreet building was signed in arabic - and got ourselves travel permits - a very simple procedure which took about 5 minutes - then headed again for the bus station.

It seemed we were walking into a fortune teller’s bazaar not a bus as we climbed the steps and pushed through the string curtains into the heavily decorated bus. Every spare inch of the windscreen was hung with gaudy disney characters leaving a gap the size of a small tv screen for the driver to pick out his way. We now understood why the coaches whistling past had been so oblivious to us on the road. A dark red pelmet with gold tassles ran the whole way round the ceiling and not a ray of sunlight could sneak in past the thick velvet curtains. We sat on board watching the Disney characters dance in unison to the gently idling engine which fuelled refreshing bursts of cold stale air. One by one the seats filled and the ambient temperature rose until sweat started to bead on our foreheads. And then we were off. Mickey Mouse and co lurched to the side and we pulled away and out of the bus station.

A few hours later on our way through the police check point we opened the window and waved at the cheif of police. He came over to see us and was very pleased that we’d made it back again with the travel permit.


The pyramids were definitely worth the effort of getting there. The bus stopped on the road at the nearest point and we hopped off. We stood amidst our bags and as the bus pulled away we felt strangely deserted. We had been alone in the desert before but it felt very different to have been left there by a bus.

Sleeping with the dead

Sleeping with the dead

The pyramids were built in 300AD and though much smaller than their Egyptian counterparts proud Sudanese tell us they are where the Egyptians had learnt the art. Seems as they are 2000 years younger we doubt it! They had survived in pristine condition until about the 1950’s when an Italian treasure hunter came along and chopped off all the peaks. He struck gold with the first hit unearthing a wealth of ancient treasures and though he never found anything else he became unstoppable smashing off all the tops in a treasure hunting frenzy. Shame!!


Bored of Bikes!!

Posted by robandpol 07:27 Comments (4)

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