The road from Khartoum to the border of Egypt is not as remote as it used to be. Both the direct route from Khartoum to Dongola and the route along the Nile are now new modern highways. Locals told me it is possible to drive from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum in one very long day. Even the eastern route along the railway is mostly paved due to all the mining in the area. Fortunately, it is still easy to get off the highway and just keep driving into the desert.
A few hours north of Khartoum we found some tracks going off from the highway heading south. According to our GPS, this looked to be the direction towards the old temples of Naqa. After almost an hour on a dusty track we found the ruins. A guard came out of a shack and sold us two tickets, and then went with us to open a gate in the fence surrounding the temple. We were the only people there, other than the guard.
As we were quite a bit off the main road, we discussed if we should find a place out here to set up camp for the night. Normally we don’t like to bush camp to close to a main road, and we didn’t know how easy it would be to get off and away from the road further on. This would also be our first real bush camp for months! Is was still early in the afternoon, so we decided to keep driving for another couple of hours, and perhaps reach the Pyramids of Meroe. As we drove north, the landscape became more and more desert-ish, and we saw we could drive off the road and camp almost everywhere. We reached the pyramids, and after looking around for a while, we drove up a hill behind them where we set up camp. Great views!
With such a nice camping spot we were not the first ones to camp here. The local sales people knew about it. As we woke up the next morning the marked had arrived to our camp and they had even taken our shade. Three boys and a man had laid out their merchandise next to the Patrol and were just waiting for us to get up. Espen climbed down the ladder from the roof top tent, had a 4 minutes look and told them we would not buy anything. They packed up and left. We got our shadow back and could eat breakfast without spectators.
The next morning we went to play around the pyramids. We didn’t last long in the sun, though. Way over 40 degrees Celsius. It was great to get back into the car, turn on the air-con, and drink some water. While in Sudan we drank at least 5-6 liters of water each every day, and still felt dehydrated.
It is really nice to be able to just pull off the highway and drive a kilometer into the desert and set up camp. As the Sudanese upgraded the roads, they also put up a mobile network, giving almost a 100% coverage all the way from Khartoum to the Egyptian border. This means that as long as you are not more than a few kilometers from the main road, you’ll have excellent internet connection through your mobile phone. Both good and bad, I guess…
Crossing the Nile after driving for hours and hours through the dessert is kind of surreal. The Nile is a narrow band of fertile land snaking its way for through the desert to the Mediterranean Ocean.
On our way north we also visited Jebel Barkal in Karima, and just outside Dongola, the oldest man made structure south of Sahara. The Western Deffufa was built of adobe bricks about 3500 years ago.
Not really sure why, but on many of the temples we see traces of earlier explorers’ marks. Most are quite old, though, but it is still difficult to understand why it is so important to carve your name into a 3000 year old temple.
Wadi Halfa is the final destination in Sudan for most overlanders. The authorities on both sides have promised now for years that the land border will open soon. Perhaps next month. That the barge owners make more money shipping goods across the border than trucking it is clear, and I have a feeling that somehow parts of this profit find its way to the authorities making the final call as well. If this is the case, it is sad that a region is held down by such a slow and inefficient transport service, especially when the roads and the border have been finished and ready for a long time.
And of course we’ll let you know all about the shipping (barge’ing) process, but not in this post.