My journey to the Pyramids of Sudan (part II)

This is part 2 of the story of my journey to the Pyramids of Sudan. In Part 1, I visited the Jebel Barkal pyamids and the Nuri Pyramids. For part one click here.

I was back in the capital Khartoum and I had planned with Musab, my driver and now friend, to go to the Bejrawiya pyramids the day after. The Bejrawiya is the arabic name of the pyramid site, that Google called Meroe. That day I was visiting the national museum in Khartoum and checking out some markets. I also had to call the airport to check up on the missing bag.

Going to the museum allowed me to see some of the treasures and mummies found inside the tombs I had just visited in Barkal and Nuri

Upon arrival to Khartoum I did not receive my luggage so I of course reported it and convinced the lady working there to give me her personal Whatsapp in order to contact her, as I did not have a Sudanese phone.

The luggage had arrived and was stored in the airport, but the problem was, that it was not possible to pick it up until the next day at 8 AM. Because it was also my last day in Sudan, it was my last chance to pick it up.

Airport first and then we are off to the Pyramids

It ruined my plans a little, because I was intending to go to Bejrawiya early morning to be able to make it back in time for the Mawlid celebrations that was going to happen in Omdurman later that day.

At 7:50 I was with Musab at the airport asking for my luggage back. As expected everything took lots of time to sort out, but 45 minutes later we were heading towards Bejrawiya.

The first bribe

On the way there are many checkpoints awaiting you. As soon as they see me they of course ask for identification. It should not be a problem, but they keep complicating it by saying we need some permit or that the car needs to be searched. Musab could feel the bribe vibe and gave a handshake with some money between his fingers. We were off again.

The distance to the Pyramids were 230 km, but we havent even completed 50 km before we got pulled over again.

Another bribe or a speed ticket?

This time a police officer pulled us over for a speed ticket. He wanted 200 sudanese pounds for exceeding the speed limit. That is the equivalent to 1 dollar at that time. Musab got off and talked to him for few minutes and when he came back, he told me that he negotiated the price down to 100 pounds. I could not help myself laughing, but it was great for him.

Third bribe, Musab got cocky

So third time we were stopped on our way there, and this time the officer wanted to know if we had a tourism permit to go see the pyramids. If you have read part one of the story, this was a huge issue when we went to Jabal Barkal.

This time Musab was getting confident and he said with conviction:

“No we don’t need a permit, our honored leader has announced it is open for everybody now”

To put this in context, this happened just few weeks before the uprising of the Sudanese people, that resulted a successful (and still ongoing) revolution, where they got rid of their dictator Omar El-Bashir, who had been ruling the country for 30 years. It was El-Bashir Musab was refering to here.

I honestly was surprised by his courage, and the officer was obviously confused as well. After a little pause, the officer said: “Yes yes, I know he did, but if there is a permit we still like to see it.”

Eventually he let us continue.

From 40 dollars to a fraction of a dollar

So we finally made it to the Bejrawiya, or Meroe, as it was signed in English. We parked by the entrance as the only car and only guests there. There were few kids trying to sell us souvenirs already and a small entrance office.

I was wearing a T-shirt saying “TOKYO” and my fancy sunglasses. I walk in and greet the lady at the counter. She looks at me for 3 seconds and says in English:

“40 dollars!” 

I take my sunglasses off to expose my dark Arabic eyes and smile to her. I answer her in perfect Arabic: “What would you take from a local?” 

I don’t know if she is disappointed in my ethnicity, but she says:

“Fine, of course as long as you are Arabic, we will treat you like one of our own. 300 (Sudanese) pounds please”

I say: “Really? Do you take 300 from Sudanese?”

Her: “Okay, just 50” 

And that is how it is done!

The sight

The sight of these pyramids though are like nothing I have ever seen. It is not just 3-5 pyramids on a row like the Pyramids of Giza or the Pyramids of Jabal Barkal. No.. here is tens of pyramids all very close together. How many Pyramids where there at the Meroe site? Somewhere around 60-70 pyramids, in addition tens of ruins that may have been pyramids at some point.

Where else can you touch two ancient pyramids at the same time? The answer is: In the Sudan only! 

The craziest car ride ends up with an accident

The way back was very hectic. We were trying to get back in time for the Mawlid celebration in Omdurman in Khartum, but it looked like we were gonna be late. Musab was driving fast on this two-sided bumpy road. When he slowed down, others would overtake him, and one van did smash into Musab’s side mirror.

Of course this is the Sudan, so you do not stop op and exchange ensurance information, the van driver slowed down to let Musab overtake him again and while he did that he put his hands out the window and apologized.

But the craziness did not stop there. A huge truck was fallen sideways on the road and that lead to a massive line of cars. So do we wait in line, or do we drive on the opposite side of the road?

You guessed right, we drove on the opposite side of what is supposed to be “the highway”. Now.. it is a one lane each way road. So of course cars came at us, and Musab was forced down the sandy sideway. There were few Jeeps following Musab’s example but in general this was not good for the car.

The good news is though, that we made it to experience the end of the Mawlid celemony which was so amazing! But that is for another post!

My journey to the Pyramids of Sudan (part I)

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.

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Musab (the driver) fixing his car

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.

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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.

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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.