The Nile Route, Days 8 and 9

Sudan doesn’t have much to offer the casual traveler, but the most famous destination in the country, the Meroe pyramids between Khartoum and Atbara, was my reason for taking the long way around on my journey north.

The pyramids are located off the road on which I had just traveled from Khartoum near a tiny village called Bejarawiya. There is no accommodation nearby (besides a $100/night Italian-owned “luxury camp”), so my plan was to make a day trip using the public buses. From Atbara, I rode to ad-Damer, then got on another bus bound for Shendi. About 2 hours into the ride, I spotted the pyramids in the distance and asked the driver to stop. I stepped out into what felt like the absolute middle of nowhere.

The bus drove off and soon I was completely alone. Not wanting to waste any time, I started walking towards the pyramids, a dozen of which were clearly visible atop a large dune about 1/2km away. For a few minutes the only thing I could hear was the sound of my footsteps. As I approached the pyramids, a young boy on a camel emerged from the shimmering horizon, riding towards me. He rode up to offer me his camel for the remaining few hundred meters - I gladly accepted, the mid-day sun was in full effect and I was already tired - and gave him 3SP. He showed me the way to the khaffir, who sold me an entry pass for 20SP.

I spent about 2 hours walking around amongst the 50 or so small pyramids and met not even one other tourist. Although they are miniatures compared to the sheer scale of the pyramids at Giza and Dashur in Egypt, they are just as impressive for their complete isolation. No touts, tour buses, or freelance guides, just the sun and the silence.

I took frequent breaks to rest inside the open pyramids - the only refuge from the intense heat of the direct sun. At one point, I sat down in one of the tombs to study the Egyptian-styled carvings that covered the walls and accidentally fell asleep. It was a bird, returning to its nest in the roof of the tomb, which finally woke me up an hour later. I was soaked in sweat. I had a confusing, surreal experience waking up alone in an ancient pyramid in the middle of the desert…

When I’d had enough sun and sand, I walked back out to the road where the bus had dropped me off. I checked the time: 12:24pm. The sun was beating down - I was a little worried about possibly having to stand by the road for more than an hour with my arm out. I had been told that hitching in Sudan was easy, but I was surprised at just how easy it turned out to be: at 12:25 I was riding high in the cab of a huge truck bound for Atbara with two smiling Sudanese guys.

We stopped at ad-Damer for a break and a tire change. They told me it would be a 30 minute wait, so I went into a small shop to buy cold drinks for everyone (I tried repeatedly to offer money for the ride, it was refused). A policeman in the shop asked me what I was doing, who I was traveling with, and where I was going. When I told him that I needed to get back to Atabara, he said “come with me,” stepped out into the road, flagged down a huge fancy luxury bus from Khartoum, and told the driver that I must ride free to Atbara.

I was back to my cheap dirty lokanda so much sooner than I had expected, I didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day!