From Wadi Halfa we drove in convoy with the Aussie couple Ray and Avril in their Land cruiser and South African Rob-Roy, American Rob and British Rich, all on their motorbikes. (It wasn’t always easy getting the names right hanging out with Ray, Rob, Rob and Rich!) We had already said goodbye to Hannah and Diarmaid (from Scotland and Ireland) who ride their bicycles from London to Cape town and Chris (from the UK) who’s walking from Cairo to Somaliland. They left a day before us and we soon passed them on our way south so we stopped and chatted and gave them some snacks and cold water – feeling pretty lazy in our motor driven vehicles… When you meet someone who does the same trip but adds the enormous physical challenge to it, our trip all of a sudden didn’t seem like that much of a challenge anymore… Quite good to get some perspective on it. It was sad saying goodbye after having spent some time together, not knowing when we will see them again.
So the motorized part of the group headed south, past Dongola where we made a quick stop and bought a juicy water melon, and we camped wild outside Karima that night. There was a historic site we wanted to visit but it turned out to be a scrabble of rocks in the middle of a sandy field – nothing to see really! But we had a good campsite nearby where we cooked pasta, sausages and bolognese for dinner and ate all together and had a good night’s sleep. To our surprise a few men passing by quietly on their donkeys were the only spectators, the group of kids we had just passed in the village never came to the campsite. It was very nice being left alone after weeks of hassling and little privacy in Egypt.
The following day we drove east and had a lunch stop by the Jebel Barkel (Holy Mountain) and its pyramids – I can honestly say I’ve never had a sandwich sitting on a many thousands year old grave before! The pyramids were in pretty good shape and there were no other tourists in sight. We then moved on to Begrawiya, another pyramid site. We got there just before sunset and put up camp nearby to go and see the pyramids in the morning. We had another good camp night with dinner and stories and laughs. In the morning we walked up to the pyramids and had a look at them. They were also in fairly good shape, but some had been restored into what they presumably had looked like originally, which made the historic atmosphere fade a bit. Some of them had some really well preserved carvings and hierglyfs though. Brian stayed back attending to some little problems with the car meanwhile and he also got to use some stuff out of our first aid kit. A man working nearby had cut his hand open and seemed to assume that Brian would have the remedies. So Brian got to act nurse for while, helping his guy wash and tape up his hand.
We moved on and driving through Sudan was pretty much going from one historic site to the next. It was interesting but at the same time a bit frustrating, prices would vary from day to day, it was quite expensive if you wanted to visit several sites and there was hardly any information in English. At the end of the day we stopped at Naqa and Musarawat and I and Ray went in as representatives while Brian, Avril and Rich waited at the gate. By then I think we had covered most of Sudan’s historic sites! I enjoyed the Lion’s temple in Naqa though, with greatly preserved carvings – lots of elephants since there used to be loads of them in the area back in the day!
We drove the rest of the way to Khartoum where we managed to find the Blue Nile Sailing Club. It is another one of those places where a lot of overlanders go, unfortunately this isn’t one we would recommend though. But not that many options of camping in Khartoum! After a few days in the desert we were looking forward to what the city had to offer and had heard about a Steer’s restaurant (a South African grilled food chain) so we all crammed into a minibus and were driven in the crazy Khartoum traffic all the way there, just to find it wasn’t entirely what we had fantasized about. The next day Brian and I went to the Ethiopian embassy to apply for visas since you can’t get them at the border and that took most of the day. That evening the group went to a shopping mall. It was a weird feeling coming from weeks in the rural areas and the desert and then finding yourself in this super lit up, super clean shopping mall with escalators… The mall had four floors but only about five shops, two cafés and a food court on the top floor, so it’s clearly growing slowly into what it’s meant to be.
The next day we left Khartoum, this time Brian and I and the bikers only since Ray and Avril had left earlier. We did another long day of driving and camped wild near Doka, about an hour from the border. Despite the ground being covered by camel dung and the evening bringing thousands of annoying insects, we had another nice evening. It was really nice being able to camp wild so many nights in Sudan.
Driving in Sudan was pretty good, especially now that the northern stretch from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum – called the Nile route – has been tarred. It clearly would have taken weeks instead of days going on the old gravel road, which we saw on the side. The landscape was mainly desert plains but going green and lush close to the Nile. As we came towards the eastern part of the country the landscape all of a sudden changed. Now there were fields and trees and lots more cattle and donkeys roaming around. I even spotted a baobab tree, reminding us we were leaving the desert behind us.