Published: February 18th 2012February 12th 2012
Did you know some of the oldest pyramids in the world are in Sudan? How about volcanic landscapes, unexcavated tombs and sand swept temples? With the dunes of the Nubian Desert reclaiming archeological sites and petrified forests before your eyes, you soon find yourself on an Indiana Jones adventure, hunting for lost treasures and exploring the final frontier. A frontier of secret chambers and hidden passages. A frontier of lost cities and ancient civilizations. A frontier of national treasures lost in the sands of time.
As pyramid after pyramid scatter the sand swept deserts of Sudan, archeological treasures emerge from the dunes like rocks breaking through a powerful tide. With temples half submerged in sand and unexplored tombs rising above the dunes, locals don’t seem to realize their importance. Free to explore, you can’t help but stagger around, digging, admiring, searching for treasures from the past. With so many unexcavated sites, who knows what secret treasures lay within?
Without a 4x4 or guidebook you soon find yourself hitch-hiking into the desert and hiking alone, Depending on only your compass to discover unexcavated pyramids and tombs you quickly become consumed by history. Following secret tunnels and climbing over crumbling ruins.
With only your footsteps in the sand, you are amazed to be left alone, free to explore and take photos of archeological wonders few westerners have seen before.
Eventually stumbling across a team of German archeologists excavating a tomb, they are surprised by your presence. Left wondering how you arrived, and clearly uncomfortable with you clambering around, you are invited to join the excavation. Surrounded by excited historians amidst an important discovery, you quickly find their theories are beyond your personal comprehension. You hang around for a while, watching their patients and skill, accepting a top up of water before heading off into the desert unknown.
Stumbling across a Petrified Forest is an unexpected turn of events. Finding fossils and lava rocks scattered across the orange desert amidst ancient tombs is a spectacular sight. You can’t help but stop and stare at the fossilized trees. Left for millions of years and waiting for your arrival, they are the size of cars. You climb on them, roll them over, feel the texture, admiring the ageing rings of time on the broken trunk.
Wondering around the outskirts of a local town, a village elder approaches. Shouting in Arabic, you
soon realize you are wondering around on his piece of desert. Eventually obvious that he is deaf. He pulls out a key. He is trying to show you a tomb locked away for decades by archeologists. Up for the adventure and surrounded by inquisitive locals, you go deep into the chambers, followed by a group of new found Sudanese friends, all demanding photos of themselves on your camera.
As you travel in a 14 seat minibus carrying 24 people in 40 degree heat, its easy to become distracted from the 6 hours of deafening music by the stunning pyramids. As you take a moment to sit back and realize you’re the only white face on the bus, the goat on the roof decides to urinate, giving everyone a shower through an open window. Stinking of urine and covered in dust, a breaking down in the desert becomes a welcome relief. A rest from the logistics of sitting on half a seat without an inch to spare.
Being lost in translation makes traveling rural Sudan difficult. Dealing with extreme heat and malnutrition is a serious concern. As your sugar levels begin to crash, it is easy to become frustrated
with people that speak no English. With a culture completely different to your own, the game of charades and drawing in the sand becomes useless. With the occasional local taking advantage, it’s easy to find yourself in a situation of escalating arguments, both sides shouting louder and louder in different languages through cultural differences, misunderstanding and communication.
Being one of only a handful of intrepid travelers exploring Sudan, you quickly find yourself invited into the homes of local Muslims and immersed into the Sudanese culture of kindness and tolerance. With everyone shouting 'welcome' as you wonder the streets of mud brick houses, confident locals reach out to shake your hand while others stare at you with curiosity. With everyone in town watching your every action, you could be forgiven for becoming self conscious as children run away in fear, sometimes crying, often laughing at the strange white man on their land.
Eventually arriving in Khartoum, you are awe-struck by six star hotels littering the skyline. While business men working in the oil industry rush around, you hang out in the parks, walk over modern bridges, chill out at coffee shops and take in the confluence of the Nile.
An extreme difference to war torn Sudan portrayed in western media. With temperatures usually in excess of 50 degrees Celsius, you are relieved to retreat from the heat, back to your air-conditioned room.
Accidentally stumbling across the Mohammed Birthday celebrations is a massive event on the Sudanese social calendar and spectacular stroke of luck. With thousands of pilgrims arriving in the city for the celebrations, you wonder around, stopped every few meters by inquisitive locals. At first its fun, then frustrating as you duck for cover from hundreds of people scrambling to meet the only foreigner in town.
While men dress in white robes, women wear the most beautiful headscarves. With everyone dancing, singing, and preying, you take in the electric atmosphere. With thousands worshiping Allah against a stunning background of mosques, you feel like you have walked into a spectacular movie set, witnessing a culture and sincere dedication to religion you don’t fully understand
Sudan offers more than you will ever imagine. Untouched archeological treasures, stunning landscapes, petrified forests, spectacular celebrations and the worlds most welcoming and friendly people. For those who manage to get past the harsh traveling conditions, visa difficulties and permit madness, you
are truly rewarded with a unique travel experience found no where else in Africa.
Sudan - The Sands Of Time. The Travel Permit Joke
How to travel Sudan: Northern Travel Permit, Eastern Travel Permit. Northern Photography Permit, Eastern Photography Permit. Permit to travel a specific road. Permit to travel on a boat. Visa, Entry Stamp, Registration Request stamp, Sudan Registration Sticker, Sudan Registration Stamp. Registration in Each Town. Yellow Form, White Form & Green Form still unclear what it’s for. Lots of photocopies to give to military checkpoints. It’s crazy!
How To Get Travel Permits: In Khartoum get pointed towards a government building. Discover it has been closed down. Almost get arrested by military for trespassing! Go to another government building, discover they don’t issue permits. Go to a tour agent and pay to get wrong permits. Try to leave city, get turned around! Visit another government building, met with confusion, its homeland security. Finally arrive at Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities office in middle of nowhere. Discover no one speaks English. Play charades to receive permits. Time wasted: 2 days, Taxi Journeys: 14, Stress Levels: High
Purpose of Travel Permits: You need it for your
personal security (is it bullet proof?) The permit is written in English, police speak Arabic. Security always look at wrong visa in passport. You remain confused, police are confused, everyone is confused. Military check points: 7, police checking incorrect visa: 4, police understanding English: 0 Highlights
Being invited to stay on a farm with a local Sudanese family.
Hitchhiking lift with guy who turned out to be Sudanese Presidents Nephew.
Meeting US Embassy Convoy while hitchhiking desert. Shock on their faces at me being there was priceless.
Hitchhiking lift with UK Rugby in Africa team.
Being shocked by the modern Khartoum skyline.
Exploring Meroe Pyramids, alone. Lowlights
Going without food for a couple of days!
Being urinated on by a goat on the bus.
Being eaten alive by bed bugs.
Using the worst toilets in the world.
Spending 2 days to arrange travel permits.
Getting involved in a brawl on the Nile cargo ferry.
Dealing with parasites in my feet.
There are more photos below