Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Out of Sudan - Day 45

Ok, well, we said we'd try to upload something to the blog every day.
And we would, if we could... but for the last seven days we have been
travelling hard across the Nubian Desert in northern Sudan. And I
know, from painful experience, that computers don't like deserts.
Now we are in Wadi Halfa, where the road north through Sudan runs out
into Lake Nasser, and where the Jangano team will be boarding a ferry
up the lake to Aswan in Egypt. We are staying in the airy, leafy
courtyard home of a Nubian family under a veranda roofed with split
palm trees and cardboard boxes - it doesn't rain often in Wadi Halfa
(the last time was in 1996!).
We moved out from Khartoum last Tuesday, after four days staying with
Shaun and Amy and their lads Oscar and Noah. Cleaned the cars,
changed oil, sorted out permits, did a ton of laundry - the four days
of "housekeeping" it seems we need when we hit a big city and set
about catching up with ourselves. Without Shaun and Amy's hospitality
it would have been a whole lot harder. Thanks guys!
Since then we have more or less followed the Nile on it's "big bend"
- where the Nile turns north, then south, then north again in a
thousand kilometer 'S' across the Nubian desert. All along the
river's length here we have seen the remains of four thousand years
of civilisation - Pharaonic, Nubian, Kushite, Roman, early Christian,
and Islamic. Strange elongated pyramids, like the ones at Jebel
Barkel and Meroe; the lion temple at Musawarrat, built by the
Egyptians two thousand years ago - and across a shallow valley, the
sprawling great compound, possibly once used as a training area for
At Old Dongola we clambered through the fortress of the ninth century
Christian kings of Nubia. And in a village on the east bank of the
Nile we passed a small, battered, forgotten Meroitic pyramid, a
memorial to the British soldiers of Kitchener's Army who died in the
recapture of the Sudan from the Mahdi a hundred and fifty years ago.
History everywhere.
Sudan is one of Africa's most brutalised countries - at war with
itself, in the South, in Darfur, and in the Khordofan region pretty
much without cease since Independence. Yet strangely it is also one
of the safest countries in Africa to travel through, so long as the
traveller sticks to a wide corridor either side of the Nile. So
almost uniquely in these troubled times it is possible to camp wild
in the desert without fear of militants or other nasties. Which is
exactly what we have done - seven days of desert driving (and on one
day, a hundred kilometer, straight-line transect across the desert,
eight hours of startling arid beauty, white dunes, pale golden pans,
hard black rock outcrops, and at the end of it a delicious wadi with
a stand of thorn trees at the foot of razor-edged dunes).
We have come into Wadi Halfa dusty and dessicated, the cars carrying
kilos of sand in every crevice, exhilarated and exhausted, with a
real sense of achievement.
And also a knowledge that we are at the end of an era. Everywhere
along the hard road north from Nairobi to Wadi Halfa we have passed
road building teams. Half the construction equipment in Africa must
be deployed here, and the snaking ribbon of black tarmac is evident
along the route. In a few months time - perhaps even by the end of
this year - it will be possible to drive from Nairobi to Wadi Halfa -
and therefore from Cape Town to Cairo - almost without leaving the tar.
Which will be excellent for Africa, of course - fast roads and
reliable cellphone signals will transform the opportunities for those
who live and trade along this route. But there is a sense of
something passing, too. By the time our children are old enough to
drive the length of Africa, they won't necessarily need a 4x4 - it
will probably be possible to do this journey in a Mercedes.
So tomorrow we take the ferry to Egypt - approaching the apex of our
trans-African parabola. On up the Nile to Cairo, the children already
excited about the prospect of the Valley of the King, "proper"
pyramids, and the Sphinx. Across the Nile delta to Alexandria -
and then the long road back home...

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