Off the Beaten Track – Sudan

The trip got off to an auspicious start.   I was on an Lufthansa flight from Munich to Addis Ababa with a stopover in Khartoum.  As I tried to disembark in Khartoum, the hostess blocked my exit and double checked my boarding card.  “Are you sure you want to get off here?????, I am ok if you want to stay on until Addis, as I really don’t think it is safe for you here!!!!”.   In her defence there were only about 10 other people getting off and they all looked like wealthy local business men!!!        Sudan definitely has a reputation, but it was probably one of the most interesting and friendly places I have been, and there was lots to see.  Highlights of the trip were!

Pyramids of Meroe

Meroe has more pyramids than Egypt!  And I didn’t see a single tourist the whole time I was there.  I barely saw any people, just the guardian, and an opportunistic young boy who wanted to sell me some jewellery.  I actually bought some too as wanted to applaud his entrepreneurialism.   I had a glorious two days wandering up and down the ruins here.  The light was magnificent in the evening and the morning, and it was a totally different experience to seeing the pyramids in Egypt.  Blissful solitude, just me, the sand, and the pyramids which were tombs to the Nubian Kings and Queens.

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I treated myself to a night at the tented camp at Meroe.  I was the only guest.  Apparently they occasionally get Italian tour groups  The food was great (enough for four people), but it wasn’t cheap.  Worth staying though, as unless you have your own camping gear, this is the only place near to the pyramids, and they are worth seeing at sunrise and sunset

Whirling Dervishes at Omdurman on Friday

Head to the  Sheikh Hamad-al Nil Tomb in Omdurman to see the whirling Dervishes – Sufi Muslims who wear patchwork robes and dance to the beat of drums twirling and stamping their feet until they go into a trance.    Apparently the dancing helps them communicate with Allah.

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Lead drummers

I had a blast here talking to locals, enjoying the ambiance.  No-one bothered me, though a few of the women came for a chat.

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Temples at Naqa

These temples are the largest archaeological sites outside of Meroe, and are still being excavated.  It is a bit like going to luxor, but before it was excavated and without any tourists.   I had all of the temples around Naqa entirely to myself, and the only humans I saw were goat herders sleeping under the trees.  I am not sure I would make a special trip to see these, but they were lovely, and they were en route to Meroe

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Additional tips
  • The best (and only) place I would ever stay in Khartoum is the acropole.  These guys were amazing, they sorted out my visa, had a fixer at the airport to help me navigate immigration and they sorted out a driver and all the permits tourists require to take me to Meroe.  It ain’t flash, and it isn’t that cheap either, but it is good.  They also serve a decent dinner, where you will meet lots of other crusty travellers, archaeologists and aid workers.
  • There are no ATM or credit card processing in Sudan.  Take cash!  lots of it!  I ran into an american couple who had had an accident, and they were stuck without anyway of paying their hospital bill, and they couldn’t leave the country without payment.   Eventually they worked out a solution of wiring money to the foreign account of a third party and getting cash – but it was complicated and took weeks!
  • Its hot here!  really hot! As I was travelling alone with a male driver, I started off wearing a headscarf and sitting in the back seat of the car.  I gave up on the headscarf on day 2, and moved to the front seat (closer to the aircon) after a bout of heat stroke of day 1.  Would still bring light loose clothes and keep your legs and upper arms covered.
  • I am not the only one who liked Sudan, check out this guardian article

Visited November 2013