IMPRESSIVE RUINS OF MEROE AND JEBEL BARKAL


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Africa » Sudan » North » Wadi Halfa
August 6th 2008
Published: August 21st 2008
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Headed out of Khartoum leaving Jack and Chris who have to leave us as they cannot change thier flight date from Cairo. We drove on heading north and late afternoon we caught a glimpse of the not so well known but very impressive Meroe Pyramids. This is our first encounter with pyramids as we have yet to be in Egypt, I was so impressed though, never did I think I will see such in Sudan, the Nubian culture descended here thousands of years ago and left these mysterious ruins. It was quite a hot day, we struggled to walk in the very hot sand to get closer to the ruins, there was an option to take a camel ride but none did it in the beginning, we are the only tourists here which is quite cool, we have it to our selves.
The carvings on the walls were awesome and it looks like some had been restored but not too much. Walked the area for about half an hour then walked on the other side which has some more pyramids, these pyramids are smaller than the Giza ones but what fascinates me is the simplicity, from out of nowhere, middle of
MEROE PYRAMIDSMEROE PYRAMIDSMEROE PYRAMIDS

PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAIG YOUNG
the desert comes these structures, half buried in desert sands. From ther we drove to try and find the Nile river as we plan on camping next to it, we skirted through small settlements, everytime we see locals we are greeted very warmly, we settled in an oasis, next to gum trees. We are hoping with vegetations, the nights will be cooler and bearable and we can sleep well. It is our cook groups turn to make dinner so we started right away, the locals stared coming as we stopped next to a village road, locals coming from their fields back to their homes passing us bye and waving and greeting us politely, some evem brought some date fruits and we tried them, they are very sweet and delish. As we were cleaning up after meal a truck came and called me from the road and gave me some more dates, whole lot of bunch, and bid us good night, such hospitality is what I love about this country, nonsense those stories I hear how dangerous Sudan is. Very hot night, Craig and I took turns fanning ourselves with the plastic plate I stole from the kitchen to get some air circulating in the tent, as always he fell asleep first and soundly while I struggled.

Next morning we left the oasis, said goodbye to our gracious hosts and drove towards Atbara, we were trying to find the port for the ferry to cross the river, took us more than 1/2 an hour, going round and round the town, it does not have any signs, it was a small patch of eleveated dirt and a pier that is not obvious from the road. Waited for our turn which took forever, the Nile flow is very fast and looks dangerous, we watched as locals try to get their trucks on the ferry, animals, livestocks and what not got in as well. Hours later our turn came, took a long time to get the truck into the ferry, quite difficult to maneuver but Tony is an expert driver and did it very well. Not even 15 minutes later we are on the other side. Another very very hot day, we are consuming our liters of bottled water very quickly, and we are worreid we run out soon, the further away we get the more expensive the water would be, that is if we find them, most of the time, small stores dont sell them as the locals drink the local water placed in a ceramic(?) container and you see it all over the place, the local fridge i would think. Around 6pm we pulled over a gas station, just so happens there was this guy a Sudanese student studying in America, he spoke good forced American accent English, was very kind to invite us in his family's oasis town for the night, we follwed his pick up truck but the road are narrow in the oasis town and we struggled to get through, AZ is his name, he took us another way and when we thought we will ge through, the truck suffered a minor damage , the beach wall got hit by a stomp on a tree which Tony did not see as we try to drive through a narrow street, the tree was covered with leaves the stomp well concealed! all we remember is hearing this loud crunch. Backed out and look for another way, finally got to his family's compound but not without taking out a power cable! Anyway we settled in, we are in the middle of the street by the way, and we were camping at a private fruit tree farm. The locals started coming and just watched us from a distance, not harrassing us. A relative of AZ a middle aged man named Achmed(?) i think was his name, spoke very good English as he had studied in the UK years ago and worked as an interpreter in Saudi Arabia, now retired, he spends time going back to this village where he grows up and watched over the family grove trees. He offered us some dates and good conversation, invited to take us to see the sunset at the NIle, we followed him, through date farms and into the river banks, all along telling us the history of this oasis. Later he pulled out a wacki backi as the English lads call it, Craig and I and some people had a try, apparently it was quite good, I this is my 2nd time only so would not know, I felt good sensation though and we finished it before we know it, he later on invited us for a session in his house if interested. Back at the campsite, had dinner and watched the stars, Achmed
2ND BUSH CAMP IN AN OASIS2ND BUSH CAMP IN AN OASIS2ND BUSH CAMP IN AN OASIS

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTINA ONGLEY
took us to his house, gave us some Date spirits which is quite strong, similar to the Filipino drink lambanog or tuba. So he entertained me, Craig and Christina, telling us stories of his life, very colorful past this guy, this he tells us while rolling wacki backis, when we called it a night we had about 6! Quite mild though i might add. He offered us fuul sandwich(beans) before we left, it was delicious, they have late dinners here and it was past 10pm when we ate with him. Off to bed, slept very well despite the heat, I wonder how???

Next morning word got out whjat happened last night and suddenly I am a junkie!! Left the oasis which i think is clled Amrab in the Gonair province, that's what the Sudanese/American boy said. We are heading towards the town of Nuri the ruin were not that impressive so I did not bother to go and have a look. From there to Jebel Barkal. This site is impressive as well there are carvings on rocks with the walk like an Egyptian pose, a cave with paintings and carvings, ruins and of course the Nubian pyramids, as it was quite hot, after I walked around the ruins I decided to just photograph the pyramids from afar. When everyone got back we were told to pay at the ticketing office on the other side of the entrance so off we went, we did not realized that the tourism police was going to jump in the back of the truck to hitch a ride, Gary shooed him off and the guy was upset, when we got to the ticket office they wanted to arrest him, he refused to get out of the truck so that was the end to that, we have to negotiate for a cheaper price for visiting the ruins, we have conflicting quotes from Khartoum and the LP so we want to make sure they are not taking advantage of the tourists. After that episode we drove on again we passed small villages, we were in need of drinking water again we cant find a store that sells them, finally late afternoon we got lucky but the price was more than double, we paid for it as it takes a lot of effort for them to bring in water to these oases. Bush camp in the outskirt of a village, the locals warned us not to set tent where we did next to the bushes but we cant understand them, eventually after a thousand explanations we figured they want us t beware of scorpions. We did not move, we are used to them by now.

Trying to make our way to Wadi Halfa, the road is not paved, dirt roads very dusty, good scenery, big rocks strewn about in the desert, we got to apoint where the road ends and we could not figure out how to get back on the right way, they are still building the road here and the detours are not well marked, after going around in circles again we finally made it and eventually arrived in Wadi Halfa, it was midday, the sun was very intense, Di told us we leave at 5pm from here to bush camp outside of town to save money on hotel. We went for a walked and found this restaurant, the owner was very nice and accomodating, we were ushered in to the kitchen so we can point to the cook what we want for lunch, we had grilled meats and liver, with fuul, quite good. Sat in the truck after that we were told to get our passports as Tony and DI needed it for the ferry ticket, we sat for a very long time, Christina went to the loo and saw Tony and Di internetting, everyone was pissed as they did not even have the courtesy to tell us that the fixer is not around yet, it is becoming like this most of the time, Di not bothering to update us and is getting on everyone's nerves. 5pm came Di and Tony sat in the cafe next to the truck, people went to ask them why were still not moving, they are waiting for someone to show us where to get some water for washing and cooking, again not bothering to tell us that. The guy finally arrived and we were led to this fish processing place, as we got in to the compounds, Tony hit one of the rail gates and broke it, one of the guy who works there was libid and shouting and yelling to some poor guys who opened the gates for us, it may be their fault god knows. We quickly filled up water bottles to wash with later, we havent had proper shower in days, left the are and bush camped behind rocky hills. The boys, Craig, Cam and Sam played footie with a local who was passing by on a donkey cart, we set up tents, it was windy but hot dry wind. We packed our things for the ferry ride, the truck leaves first tomorrow on a separate ferry so we have to pack what we need for the next 3 or 4 days. After dinner the wind died down and it was another hot night in the desert.

Morning came and we checked in at a hostel in town, sharing with Sam and Craig, our first room has a wobbly fan so we moved, it is like sitting in a sauna, even when the windows are open, so we killed time at the shisha restaurant thing, the loos are terrible, but at least the showers even if it is warm water, works. That night the power came off at midnight ans now we understand why people had told us to set up beds outside of the hostel on the street! Sam, Tash and I put our beds out next to the loo inside the compounds, melly but at least breezy, the rest got out to the streets and slept there. Ap[parently one local guy got upset when one of the tourist, not one of us, was just wearing boxers, he asked that we respect their culture, but the tourist was an asshole, he did not oblige. The Belgians with their own truck that we met in Ethiopia is here as well we cross together tomorrow for Aswan.

Everyone got ready for the crossing, we got picked up just before noon and driven to the ferry, lots of paperwork and waiting for the next step, immigration, customs, this and that, our fixer is very busy, locals have huge baggages, most of the people we were told are Egyptians returning home. Anyway we eventually got in the boat, we did not book rooms, well a few of us did and it was nice, aircon and away from the crowds, our first impressions of the Egyptians were not good, the guys on the top deck where we camped out are sleazy, no surprise local girls do not stay up there, even us guys are being harassed, I cant believe some of them would have a conversation with us as if they are trying to come on to us, it may be culture differences but they are touchy feely, and they keep taking our photos, well we do that too but they seem to do it to perve.... The boat was not bad we used the toilets on first class and hang out to rooms where some people on our group booked as it is cold airconditioned.
After dinner Craig and I decided we want to sleep at the bow as there was no room on the top deck, but we got booted out, saying they flood it with water, and true enought moments later water gushed in! We went up next to the bridge, A Sudanese student befriended us and we asked him to tell the captain if we could sleep there, he said ok and so we laid our mats on the captain's bed! moments later he went out and shouted at us telling us to leave, miscommunication there, we enede up sleeping next to a box full of lefe vests, but the locals sit on it we are just below them and we are constantly being steeped on, we fell asleep pretty quickly nevertheless, long day! We went past Abu Simbel, I heard the local yell out, but i got up and saw just lights not the statues, so went to bed again. The locals pray every so often, and they use every space, even our mats if they can. The ferry took approximately 18 hours to get from Wadi Halfa to Aswan and we got held up at the port of Aswan, customs and immigration processing happened in the boat but when we got our stamps they would not let us go till all the passengers were processed, total chaos, people queuing to get out of the ferry, we just stayed in cabins in the comfort of AC and entertained ourselves until it was ready to leave the boat, all in all about 24 hours including processing at customs, we are now in Egypt...






WIKI INFO:

The history of Sudan is marked by influences (military and cultural) on Sudan from neighboring areas (e.g. Egypt, Arabian Peninsula, Ethiopia, Congo, Chad) and world powers (e.g. United Kingdom, United States). The territory of Sudan combines the lands of several ancient kingdoms, including Kush, Darfur, and three Nubian kingdoms.


Meroe:


Egypt's succeeding dynasty failed to reassert control over Kush. Around 590 BC, however, an Egyptian army sacked Napata, compelling the Kushite court to move to a more secure location at Meroe near the Sixth Cataract. For several centuries thereafter, the Meroitic kingdom developed independently of Egypt, which passed successively under Persian, Greek, and, finally, Roman domination. During the height of its power in the second and third centuries BC, Meroe extended over a region from the third cataract in the north to Soba, near present-day Khartoum, in the south. The pharaonic tradition persisted among a line of rulers at Meroe, who raised stelae to record the achievements of their reigns and erected pyramids to contain their tombs. These objects and the ruins of palaces, temples, and baths at Meroe attest to a centralized political system that employed artisans' skills and commanded the labor of a large work force. A well-managed irrigation system allowed the area to support a higher population density than was possible during later periods. By the first century BC, the use of hieroglyphs gave way to a Meroitic script that adapted the Egyptian writing system to an indigenous, Nubian-related language spoken later by the region's people. Meroe's succession system was not necessarily hereditary; the matriarchal royal family member deemed most worthy often became king. The queen mother's role in the selection process was crucial to a smooth succession. The crown appears to have passed from brother to brother (or sister) and only when no siblings remained from father to son. Although Napata remained Meroe's religious center, northern Kush eventually fell into disorder as it came under pressure from the Blemmyes, predatory nomads from east of the Nile. However, the Nile continued to give the region access to the Mediterranean world. Additionally, Meroe maintained contact with Arab and Indian traders along the Red Sea coast and incorporated Hellenistic and Hindu cultural influences into its daily life. Inconclusive evidence suggests that metallurgical technology may have been transmitted westward across the savanna belt to West Africa from Meroe's iron smelteries. Relations between Meroe and Egypt were not always peaceful. As a response to Meroe's incursions into Upper Egypt, a Roman army moved south and razed Napata in 23 BC. The Roman commander quickly abandoned the area, however, as too poor to warrant colonization. In the second century AD, the Nobatae occupied the Nile's west bank in northern Kush. They are believed to have been one of several well-armed bands of horse- and camel-borne warriors who sold their vagility to the Meroitic Population for protection; eventually they intermarried and established themselves among the Meroitic people as a military aristocracy. Until nearly the fifth century, Rome subsidized the Nobatae and used Meroe as a buffer between Egypt and the Blemmyes. Meanwhile, the old Meroitic kingdom contracted because of the expansion of the powerful Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum to the east. By AD 350, King Ezana of Axum had captured and destroyed Meroe city, ending the kingdom's independent existence, and conquering its territory into modern-day southern Egypt.


Christian Nubia

Christian Nubia in the three states period. Makuria would later absorb Nobatia. Note that the border between Alodia and Makuria is unclear, but it was somewhere between the 5th and 6th Cataracts.By the sixth century, three states had emerged as the political and cultural heirs of the Meroitic kingdom. Nobatia in the north, had its capital at Faras, in what is now Egypt; the central kingdom, Muqurra, was centered at Dunqulah, the old city on the Nile about 150 kilometers south of modern Dunqulah; and Alwa, in the heartland of old Meroe in the south, had its capital at Sawba. In all three kingdoms, warrior aristocracies ruled Meroitic populations from royal courts where functionaries bore Greek titles in emulation of the Byzantine court.

The earliest references to Nubia's successor kingdoms are contained in accounts by Greek and Coptic authors of the conversation of Nubian kings to Christianity in the sixth century. According to tradition, a missionary sent by Byzantine empress Theodora arrived in Nobatia and started preaching the gospel about 540. It is possible that the conversion process began earlier, however, under the aegis of Coptic missionaries from Egypt. The Nubian kings accepted the Monophysite Christianity practiced in Egypt and acknowledged the spiritual authority of the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria over the Nubian church. A hierarchy of bishops named by the Coptic patriarch and consecrated in Egypt directed the church's activities and wielded considerable secular power. The church sanctioned a sacerdotal kingship, confirming the royal line's legitimacy. In turn the monarch protected the church's interests. The queen mother's role in the succession process paralleled that of Meroe's matriarchal tradition. Because women transmitted the right to succession, a renowned warrior not of royal birth might be nominated to become king through marriage to a woman in line of succession.

The emergence of Christianity reopened channels to Mediterranean civilization and renewed Nubia's cultural and ideological ties to Egypt. The church encouraged literacy in Nubia through its Egyptian-trained clergy and in its monastic and cathedral schools. The use of Greek in liturgy eventually gave way to the Nubian language, which was written using an indigenous alphabet that combined elements of the old Meroitic and Coptic scripts. Coptic, however, often appeared in ecclesiastical and secular circles. Additionally, early inscriptions have indicated a continuing knowledge of colloquial Greek in Nubia as late as the twelfth century. After the seventh century, Arabic gained importance in the Nubian kingdoms, especially as a medium for commerce.

The Christian Nubian kingdoms, which survived for many centuries, achieved their peak of prosperity and military power in the ninth and tenth centuries. However, Muslim Arab invaders, who in 640 had conquered Egypt, posed a threat to the Christian Nubian kingdoms. Nobatia and Muqurra merged into the kingdom of Dunqulah sometime before 700. Although the Arabs soon abandoned attempts to reduce Nubia by force, Muslim domination of Egypt often made it difficult to communicate with the Coptic patriarch or to obtain Egyptian-trained clergy. As a result, the Nubian church became isolated from the rest of the Christian world.


The coming of Islam

Main article: History of Sudan (Coming of Islam to the Turkiyah)
Islam came to Egypt in the 640s, and pressed southward; around 651 the governor of Egypt raided as far south as Dongola. The Muslims or the Arabs met with stiff resistance and found little wealth worth capturing. They thus ceased their offensive and a treaty known as the baqt was signed between the Arabs and Makuria. This treaty held for some seven hundred years. The area between the Nile and the Red Sea was a source of gold and emeralds, and Arab miners gradually moved in. Around the 970s an Arabic envoy Ibn Sulaym went to Dongola and wrote an account afterwards; it is now our most important source for this period. Despite the baqt northern Sudan became steadily Islamicized and Arabized; Makuria collapsed in the fourteenth century with Alodia disappearing somewhat later.

Far less is known about the history of southern Sudan. It seems as though it was home to a variety of semi-nomadic tribes. In the 16th century one of these tribes, known as the Funj, moved north and united Nubia forming the Kingdom of Sennar. The Funj sultans quickly converted to Islam and that religion steadily became more entrenched. At the same time, the Darfur Sultanate arose in the west. Between them, the Taqali established a state in the Nuba Hills.

The economy of Sudan was feudally based, with a large number of slaves supporting the ruling Funj class.They traded across the region, and brought much wealth to their kingdom.


Nineteenth century

Turkish Sudan
Main article: History of Sudan (1821-1885)
In 1820-21, an Ottoman force conquered and unified the northern portion of the country. The new government was known as the Turkiyah or Turkish regime. They were looking to open new markets and sources of natural resources. Historically, the pestilential swamps of the Sudd discouraged expansion into the deeper south of the country. Although Egypt claimed all of the present Sudan during most of the nineteenth century, and established a province Equatoria in southern Sudan to further this aim, it was unable to establish effective control over the area, which remained an area of fragmented tribes subject to frequent attacks by slave raiders. In the later years of the Turkiyah, the British missionaries traveled from what is now modern day Kenya in to the Sudd to convert the local tribes to Christianity.

During the 1870s, European initiatives against the slave trade caused an economic crisis in southern Sudan, precipitating the rise of Mahdist forces.




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RIVER CROSSING FROM ATBARARIVER CROSSING FROM ATBARA
RIVER CROSSING FROM ATBARA

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTINA ONGLEY
3RD OASIS BUSH CAMP3RD OASIS BUSH CAMP
3RD OASIS BUSH CAMP

ON THE WAY TO SEE THE NILE RIVER SUNSET


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