Sudan is the country in the world with most pyramids and visiting those are one of the most fascinating experiences the country offers. It was one of the reasons why I a late November night landed in Khartoum Airport.
After a Nile boat ride, where I sailed where the Blue and the White Nile met, I jumped into a Tirhal Taxi (the Sudanese version of Uber). He took me to Jabal Aulia. We became good friends on this short trip and I asked him if he could take me to the Pyramids of Meroe the next day. We agreed on a price, which was equal to 150 dollars. On Google Maps I could see that the pyramids were 230 km away.
Where are we going?
The next morning we were on the road. He told me he needed to make few stops first just to make sure the car was fit for the journey. He stopped at some pit stops to buy oil for the engine, taking away a little air from the tires and changing the oil. He also made one more stop, that I only later discovered what was about.
It took an hour or so before we again were on the road. However, not the right road according to Google Maps. I thought… Google is an old clever friend, I can trust him. So I discussed it a bit with the driver, who was sure his way was the right one. We asked around a bit and he made some phone calls to friends who had done this trip before and everyone told him that he was right. I wasn’t convinced, but I thought.. fair, let us do it your way – at least it will be an adventure.
The drugs in the car
After 70-80 km we did pass a rare sign on the road saying this was the way to Meroe in Arabic. This calmed me down, but the car did not. We kept stopping to add oil to the engine that consumed concerning amount of oil. Musab (his name) also used these breaks to smoke his cigarettes which I asked him kindly not to do in the car, as the smell annoys me. After having driven 250 km we still had no signs of Meroe. We kept driving trying not to take many breaks to make it there before the sunset. I was also wondering why he not once had to fuel his car.
We had now passed 300 km and still no sign. I noticed Musab started to take something green from a small bag and put it beneath his upper lip, just to spit it out later. It turns out this is some kind of drug (I assume it was Qat). That was the last thing he went to buy, before we headed out. Specially when not smoking he needed it to calm down.
He was a very chill guy already, but I told him he could smoke. The distance was much longer than any of us anticipated and I would rather he was comfortable.
Taken to the police station
After 450 km there was a check point. The officer looked at me and asked me if I am Syrian (Sudan has many Syrian refugees and I look Arabic). I said no, I said I was Arabic but from another country. He asked for my ID and after a long wait, he told us we need permission to continue. Tourists are not allowed in this area without a permission. Musab and I tried to talk sense to him, saying I am not a real tourist. I was his friend visiting him personally and staying at his family’s place.
While the officer was making some calls, Musab told me all of his family’s names so I could answer if they asked more into our relationship. In the end, they told us to go to the police station and get a permit. Another officer offered to go with us there both to show us the way to the police station.
So we drove to a little village and I could see the signs saying Police district of Meroe. The building was very small and with a tiny office, a TV and a back garden with a small mosque. There was only one guy sitting there who took my ID again, asked few questions and then told me to wait. After waiting for a while, I asked what was going on. Apparently, they were only waiting for the chief officer to arrive so he could give the final permission.
The wait was long, and I honestly started to get scared. They had my ID, I could not go anywhere, we had lied to them and Musab still had his drugs in the car. It was already late afternoon and they invited me to pray with them in the mosque in their backyard. So we prayed and I was trying to make as little notice of myself as possible.
The white man arrived
Finally a big car arrived. There was no doubt this was the chief officer arriving here. Out came all the other policemen and they opened the car door for him. And out came, surprisingly, a white man (not european white but middle eastern-like white). For some reason, I was not in doubt that he was actual Sudanese though. He gave us all a strong handshake, looked for 2 seconds at the paper work and told me, that I was a dear guest and this is as much my own country. And we were free to go.
However, the officer that showed us the way here offered to come with us and show us the way to the Pyramids. They were near. We couldn’t say no.
The Pyramids of Jabal Barkal
The feeling of relieve was exceptional when I first laid my eyes on the Pyramids. I was seriously feeling an accomplishment. Not only had we driven across the Sahara, we had overcome lots of issues, we forgot even to eat and the best part: We had the whole site for ourselves.
Musab had to drive on the sand to get all the way to the pyramids. We parked and we could run to them. Climb them (after kindly asking the officer). Musab even carved his fiance’s name on the pyramid, which I got really mad at him about.
There was a holy mountain there, Jabal Barkal. This mountain was sacred to the Farao’s and inside was a temple cave. And from the outside, from a certain angle, a cliff was naturally shaped like a cobra.
The car sank into the sand
Is is never a good idea to park your old front wheel driven car in the Sahara. We had to dig some sand away from the sunk car and push. I managed to lose my glasses in this process so out was my vision as well. But eventually we pushed the car free and off we went to the next site.
The Pyramids of Nuri
The officer (Ahmad was his name), told us about another site with pyramids only 20 km from this place. He took us there too.. and this place was at least as impressive. It was during the sunset, so the photos I got from this place were incredible. But the first thing I noticed was the skeletons of dead goats around the area. The next thing was the large amount of pyramids there. And the third thing, unfortunately, was how many of those pyramids were destroyed do to western treasure hunters.
Again we had the place for ourselves. Later, I visited the national museum where I learned, that this place was were they found Taharqa, the most famous of the Sudanese Pharos.
Did we finally run out of Gasoline?
Before going back, the car’s alarm sensors asked for a change of oil. Musab found a place near a gas station and started to work. I had the chance to sit with Ahmad and talk about everything from life to politics to the differences between arabs and africans, colonization, hopes and dreams. I have to say, as much as I was scared at the police station, as much he and everyone else in Sudan were kind. Musab had troubles with his car, so I went to help him fixing it. And at the end the gas station closed down but Ahmad made them open it up again for us to fuel as the last costumers. I noticed how thirsty the car was, and I assume he had the gas tank enlarged. I have never seen a car running as long without needing fuel.
Peeing in a hole and eating by a dead rat
We drove Ahmad back to work and head home. We stopped few times. One to use the toilets which were basically just a hole in the desert. Musab prefered to walk a distance and do it in nature. There was a small house there with open doors and few men sitting outside watching TV. They offered us to sleep with them and head out in the morning. We declined politely.
The second stop was to eat.. there were a stop for truck drivers were they could have something to eat. It was also outside and dirty. We sat on plastic chairs and table, but had to move them after I discovered a dead rat just besides me.
We had some of their food. We hadn’t eaten all day so I did not care what it was. We talked about how amazing Sudan was and where else we should see next time I visit. I understood that there is two places named Meroe. One is the one we went to, and the other one is the one on google which Sudanese call Bejrawiya. We made plans to go there together 2 days later.
The car broke down a couple of times on the road. My family back home was worried as well as we arrived back at 2 am.
What happened at the Bajrawiya? That is gonna be for the part 2 of this tale.