Backpacking Sudan - Meroe Pyramids
The Meroe Pyramids, the best pyramids in Sudan, are near the town of Shendi, possibly one of my favourite places in North Africa.
Flashback to November 2015 and I am backpacking the iconic overland trail, Cairo to Cape Town.
10 countries, 19,000km, fucking awesome.
The Meroe Pyramids near Shendi in Sudan, while clearly Egyptian in inspiration, are quite unlike those at Giza. The most notable difference is in size and pitch. The largest pyramid at Meroe is just under 30m high (or would have been, were it still intact) with an angle approaching 70°.
The smaller size allowed the pyramids to be constructed much faster and with less manpower, using simple cranes. Tomb chambers were dug directly into the rock below and the pyramid then erected above – a marked difference to Egypt, where the tomb is enclosed in the body of the pyramid. The pyramids have a rubble core encased in local sandstone (or brick towards the end of the Kushite period). The pyramids were then covered with a render of lime mortar to give a smooth gleaming surface, and the bases were simply painted in red, yellow and blue stars.
On the eastern face, each pyramid has a funerary chapel where offerings could be made to the dead.
In the weak early morning Khartoum light, I was already on the road, literally. A 5km walk to the bus station. I was shown the bus for Atbara. Within 20 minutes, we were rolling out of town. The first hour the radio blared out some Islamic broadcast. And then the video switched to an Arab 'Cowboy and Indian' film which was cool for I rarely enjoy in-bus entertainment.
At Shendi, 40km from Meroe, a coffee break. Fellow passengers invited me to join them. Sweet coffee, oh I love this coffee here. They speak great English in Sudan, police officials excepted and was told that there was accommodation just south of the Meroe Pyramids and that's where I was dropped.
I bargained the 15 dollar room down to 10 and rested in the dark interior of the on-site cafeteria, so intense is the glare outside.
Senses recovered I walked up the highway to the pyramid site.
Most of the pyramids have been decapitated. Their sorry state is largely the work of an Italian treasure hunter, Giuseppe Ferlini, who passed through in 1834. Ferlini was convinced that the pyramids contained great riches and proceeded to pull them down. He struck gold on his first attempt.
Days end and I consider the next few days.
Tomorrow I will stand on side of the road and wait for any vehicle going north, hoping for a ride, free or otherwise.
Atbara, is around 100km away and then Port Sudan, another 500. I should manage that in a day, the roads smooth and straight thanks to the Chinese who have paved most of Sudan. They are waiting for the situation in South Sudan to improve and then they will move in and extract all the rich pickings there, connected with super-fast roads, straight from the mines to Port Sudan and a cargo boat to China.
In the end, it turned out to be quite a mission. I waited ages for a ride, a slow minivan to some other town, going off into the sands to avoid the police roadblocks, another minivan to Atbara, a 15-minute walk, and more than an hour wait for the big bus. More roadblocks.
As dusk fell, I felt anxious. We were still more than 2 hours from Port Sudan. I hate arriving anywhere at night.
On arrival I was frog marched into a small office within the bus station compound, where my details were taken. In Khartoum I had hastily added a few more place names on to my travel permit before leaving it in the sun for a bit to lighten the ink and am pleased to say, it passed its first test.
They were friendly but I was dog tired and just not in the mood for endless questions about my motives for journeying all the way out here.
I headed into town, stopping at one place marked on google maps but the price was 25 USD a night... and a place across the road was full and then near the market, a 3 share room, just for me. Costing just peanuts, it's not very luxurious. In fact, it is a decrepit as they come but I shake the sheet, string my mozzie net up and suddenly the room becomes my home for 2 nights.
Mileage in Africa, so far: 5159km.
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Travelling the world solo, since 1992, as a low-budget backpacker.