Once you cross the Nile River and head north out of Khartoum things turn desolate. Come to think of it riding into Khartoum from the south things were pretty desolate. But strategically located at the confluence of the Blue and While Nile rivers, Khartoum is capital to the largest (in size) country in Africa. And while north of here by many days riding is the rich Nile River Valley that is home to some of the oldest and very interesting antiquities of civilizations long ago, it’s no wonder that before these lands were divided by political boundaries that kingdoms stretched for thousands of miles in all directions. So wandering the blistering hot Nubian desert, and with less than five days on my Sudanese visa I embarked my “test” ride of this mind boggling land.
While the most famous pyramids and those we immediately think and visualize when we hear “pyramid” are located in Giza outside Cairo in Egypt, Sudan is home to the largest collection of pyramids in the world. And like Egypt there are ancient temples, tombs and ruins of palaces long ago diminished by the raging sand storms that wreak havoc on the nomads wandering these lands. So it was with much angst and excitement I embarked into the sands of Nubia.
When one thinks of Nubia typically it is the region between Aswan Egypt, where I’m headed in five days or less, and Khartoum where I’ve been for the last couple days. Moving north or south along the Nile, Nubia’s landscape changes frequently and rapidly, largely due to the regions proximity to the longest river in the world. According to online dictionaries, the region of Nubia is in “the hottest and most arid region of the world” and civilizations that live and have lived there depend “wholly on the Nile”.
The gnarly task ahead of me was not only to find some remnants of cultures dating back to 6,000 BC but trying to grasp some concept of the rich history of the region all along trying to make the nearly 1,000-km trip — nearly half of which is paved or in some sort of paved condition – in four days or less. I stopped in Shendi a few hours outside of Khartoum for fuel, a cool drink and to get out of the sun. So far Doc was holding up, but we’d been going at speeds sufficient to keep the 650cc single-cylinder motor cool.
Not more donkeys than Ethiopia but seems much more donkey darts.
In Shedi even the donkey cart pilots use mobile phones.
Something I never saw in Ethiopia nor Botswana, here in Sudan they ride the mules and donkeys.
An hour north of Shendi temperatures were already pushing 42º C (nearly 110º F). I needed more water. Another couple hours and I was ready to head into the desert off the paved road. This would be the first test of my endurance, the bike’s ability to stay cool and the condition of the corrugated and sand roads I’d contend with further north.
Desolate desert calls for extreme measures in home architecture and construction.
With temperatures pushing 110º, I stocked up on more water here. I especially like the sole chair sitting in the sun.
Nomads with dozens of donkeys cruising the desert.
It wasn’t so bad. I big squirrelly here and there. My plan was to get to the base of some of the pyramids and set up camp. The Nubian people, like the Sudanese, earn Best of Class and Gold Medals in the WorldRider competition of most friendly, selfless and hospitable. But there weren’t any people out here. Yet. I crossed over a couple sandy parts that were sort of like washes. I’m not an experienced desert rider nor do I have much confidence when it comes to riding in deep sand, but I attack it with zeal and each time I gain more confidence and learn more — often the hard way.
Sand. And lots of it.
The road seems okay. I can do this. But let me think. Let’s see. Hmmmm.
I came across some ruins – pyramids – and set my sites on a camp site on the back side of them. Then the track got sandy. Deep. And tough. The “hot” engine light started glaring as I kept my bike in lower gear but at mid to high revs as I trudge through the stuff. I didn’t want to stop in fear of not being able to get going again. But the bike was getting hot. I kept on figuring this couldn’t last more than a few more kilometers. I didn’t have to wait too long. I was proud of myself. I’d rode the sand damn well without falling. But then it happened. I simply got stuck. The more I tried to go, the deeper I’d get. Shit. I tried the ole trick where you topple the bike over, fill up the hole you’d just dug and get the bike up again. Amazingly cause I of the panniers and the relatively deep hole, I actually got my bike up straight. That was encouraging. But wasn’t good for my confidence nor my now sweating and heart-pumping body. It had to be 45º C. I started undressing. It was so hot. There was no one around. Though I knew I was close the pyramids where a gatekeeper and likely some locals would be hanging. I could walk there and get help.
Things took a turn. The first time I got stuck, I managed to get out. But….
Well Ewan & Charlie fell numerous times in this desert, but they had a crew following them. Me? I guess I had a few nomads and a camel as my guardian angels?
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea???
These wandering Nubian Nomads – where do they come from: where do they go?
Things weren’t looking good until I popped my head up from the mess the bike and I got myself into. A camel and three nomads were approaching. I’d heard that you’re never alone out here, but this proved the point. It’d been less than half and hour. I was happy. I was lucky. We got the bike up and they helped push me (key to getting up and over that sand) and I finally toiled my way through the sand to the pyramids. When I got there I was told there was an easier way with less sand. A few 4×4 trucks sat at the entrance, one with UN markings and a handful of other camels and a few locals selling trinkets. I got the nod to ride my bike closer to the pyramids, albeit through more sand — hey, nothing like practice — and began to set up camp.
The night was bliss. As the sunset casted amazing light on the pyramids. It was so quiet and the stars that enveloped the black sky were the perfect show to watch as I lay quiet in my tent. And save the unfortunate windstorm that filled my tent up with sand and made for a rather tough night of sleeping the morning sunrise and a walk around the pyramids with a friend and his camel made this night one of the most memorable on the trip.
Sitting out here in the Nubian. Pyramids. Tombs. These are estimated to be from around 200-300 A.D.
I’ll stop and camp here.
Looking at Doc as the sun rose through the sheer screen of my tent.
Buried in sand after one night’s sleep.
I was up earlier than I’ve ever been on this trip. With that sunrise and the vast desert and it’s moonlike landscape and ocean of sand glowing orange and red. There were two ways to get out of the pyramid area. The deep sandy way and the slightly deep sand and corrugated 4×4 track. I chose the track. But found myself locked in. There was a gate by the now abandoned guard shack. And a big chain and padlock on the gate. There was a big wall and then an ocean of what looked to me like hungry quick sand — at least when it comes to 500lbs. of heavy metal trying to cross it. I jotted in my journal and waited. First a couple camels showed up. I took a walk and a bit of ride on one. Then the first gatekeeper showed up. He didn’t have the key. The other guy would be there in thirty minutes. I waited. After an hour the gatekeeper picked up the cellphone and called someone. Yes. With no obstructions even way out here in the desert, there is cell coverage. After hanging up he walked over to the lock and chain and pulled the lock off the chain, opened up the gate and let me out. The lock was never secured. Just goes to show you. Perception is everything.
I squirreled out and continued on.