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Published: April 28th 2010
On the Way out of Khartoum
This entry is now over a week overdue. My apologies, I blame it on my fellow Canadian who figured he should give me all the video games he had.
As is popular amongst the UNMOs that come through Khartoum, 5 of us along with one of the Canada house security staff (brought for language assistance) made plans to visit the ancient Meroe Pyramids. The adventure begins days before we even leave. First we must get permission from the UN to travel within the country, this requires several documents to be signed and stamped by various people who don’t actually care. Then we were required to get permission from the Tourism Police and the Ministry of antiquities to visit the pyramids and take pictures. A quick aside, taking pictures of anything other than yourself and your personal property is strictly controlled; permission must be given to take pictures of anything outside of your own house. One of the fellows at the end of his tour was able to run around Khartoum to get this done with our security and language assistant Rambo.
We started the day off early in order to arrive at the pyramids before the heat
Me taking a pee on camera with an unknown army camp in the background
of midday. As the planner for the trip I ended up driving the lead car with Rambo sitting in the back seat giving directions. Having been there with dozens of Canadians before I think Rambo figured I had a clue where I was going. I say this because his directions were always at the last minute before I needed to make my turn. I gave one surprised Sudanese driver enough of a scare to lock up his brakes after one such last minute direction.
The drive from Khartoum to the pyramids is about 3 ½ hours and is on paved roads the entire way. By Sudan standards it is a fairly simple drive especially with the assistance of a guide who knew the route. Our journey was uneventful until we decided to take a roadside pit stop. Of course all being Canadian and doing one of the few “touristy” activities of our time in Sudan, we quickly pulled out our cameras. We took pictures of the vehicles and each other and our surroundings, fairly typical yes? Well maybe not, the mud huts in the back ground were cunningly disguised army barracks. We were just getting ready to leave when a
Mike with top secret army camp in background
group of about 6 men some armed with AK-47 rifles and in various forms of military dress, approached us. Fortunately for us Rambo is a quick talker and had us moving down the road again in short order. Lesson for future do not take pictures of your friends with army barracks in the background in broad daylight. Other than one routine security stop as we left the Khartoum area, the remainder of the drive was uneventful.
The pyramids are easily seen from the highway, the route in not so much. So in good Sudanese style we drove across the desert making our own road. Considering the pyramids are one of the Sudan’s oldest and best preserved archaeological sites it is amazing how little has been done to protect or share it. There is a small hut which houses the manager, and a simple fence which would hardly slow down somebody who wanted to cross. Just in from of the Entrance is a small market which is empty until the tourists(few as they may be) arrive. At which point it immediately has about 10 local merchants ranging in age from 5-85 peddling their assortment of trivial knickknacks.
our way through the entrance, paying our 10 SDP entrance fee which is roughly 4 dollars CDN. Immediately past the entrance is a group of men who offer their camels for the arduous journey (300 meters) to the pyramids. We of course took them up on the offer. For 20 SDP they give us a ride to the two sites at the pyramids and then back to the entrance, given that by then it was pushing +45 C we were more than happy to take the rides. I went for the youngest lad in the crew he looked about 15-18 years old and I can’t for the life of me remember his name. I found it strange that the guides that did not get picked came along with us anyways rather than wait for the next group of tourists as few as they may be.
The pyramids were impressive, but not amazing. In the 80’s the ministry of Antiquities had started doing restoration work on them. This took some of the authenticity away from the site, as I could clearly see where modern work had been done. At the same time much of the pyramids were untouched along with
All trying to win our business
the hieroglyphics inside the temples at the front of the pyramids. Rather than going on about the pyramids I will let the pictures tell the tale.
While we were poking around the pyramids we did a bit of pyramid scrambling. Apparently this is not allowed, and evidently there is a police outpost where they sit with a set of binoculars and watch to make sure nobody does. After about 30 minutes at the first site a group of 3 police officers approached from a building about one km away. They addressed Rambo to inform us of our misdemeanour. The situation likely could have been solved with a quick apology, but instead Rambo decided to stick up for us ignorant Canadians which escalated the conversation into a yelling match between two of the police and Rambo. Meanwhile the 3rd officer came over to us and was very kind and polite and told us what the problem was (he was likely the only one the spoke English). This kept up for a good 15minutes until we finally told Rambo to let it go which he did eventually after a last few minutes of shouting. We carried on to the next site
of pyramids, again on our camels. By then we had become friends with the English speaking officer. He went along with us and was very interested in getting a few pictures with us in front of the pyramids.
When we had seen enough (and ran out of water), we continued back to the entrance. The camel guides took us for a bit of a trot on the camels which was entertaining for them as we all hung on for all we were worth. Of course this was primarily to get us away from Rambo who was walking so that they could attempt to get more money out of us (they know Rambo would have none of it). I stuck to my guns and didn’t give a penny extra, only to find out that everybody else did, making me the scrooge. So afterwards I waved down the lad that took me and gave him an extra 10 SDP.
We spend a short time in the market. I was talked into purchasing some simple wooden jewellery from a young boy not much older than Oliver. I didn’t get anything else as it all looked to be fairly poor quality. However, as
Me trying to look like I know what I am doing.
we were leaving one of the older men talking me into buying a camel whip. I got him down to 30 in the end, but I have no idea what I am going to do with the slightly used whip.
After a hydration break and a fast lunch we made our way to the Royal City. This would have been very difficult without a guide. Unlike the pyramids they are not visible from the highway. In fact they are about 3km away with no road and no signs. With Rambo we found them no problem. The site was even simpler than the pyramids, and there were no camels. The Royal City site is very different than the pyramids. There are significantly less standing structures. Which I suspect is common for ancient cities as unlike pyramids the buildings in the city would have been heavily used and likely pillaged for material through the centuries. The curator did let us into a locked building which was erected over the queen’s chambers which were the best preserved portion of the site. I could still see remnants of the colours that the walls had been decorated.
On returning to the entrance there
was again a small market set up. This time it looked like a family who brought there wares when they saw us come in. They had an interesting assortment of stones and bones, and a few household wares. By then it was getting on noon and the heat was starting to get unbearable. So we starting making our way back to Khartoum. The trip back was uneventful and I will leave you here. Stay tuned for a description of my two trips to the market in Omdurman.
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