Sudan - Meroe
Sun 14 Dec
Up at dawn, dropped the tent at the Department of Tourism because the chap who had kindly lent it to me didn't want his boss to know. Caught a bus to the coach station and by 0930 was on board a luxury coach heading north. Several hours later, after the first "in-flight" video, a fellow passenger told me to keep an eye out for the ancient pyramids we'd be seeing shortly. I suddenly realised this was where I intended to get off and I hadn't told the driver and hurriedly got my things together. It was only 700m from the road to the archaeological site but carrying my backpack across the desert in the midday sun I wouldn't have wanted it to be any further.
When I first arrived I rested in the shade of the wall much to the confusion of the souvenir hawkers who are used to the few tourists that there are turning up in Land Cruisers, breezing in, whizzing around, and racing away. I asked to see Mustafa, I conveyed greetings from Khartoum and showed him the handwritten letter from the lady at the Department of Antiquities "authorising" me to stay overnight. He invited me into his office and I answered those congregated about who I was and where I'd come from (and why I hadn't got a wife). I think this was a novelty for them, if not a treat as most tourists push through the bureaucracy and dash out to see the site as quickly as possible.
I wondered if I was the first visitor who seemingly had come for a chai and chat and was happy to while away an afternoon. I said I preferred to wait till it was cooler. Perhaps by 1600 it would be cool enough? So I happily sipped chai while we watched an old lady mend the shopping basket I had brought from Ethiopia. Later I sat outside in the shade with some locals. One guy called Abbas had completed a university education and had good English but he said there were no jobs so he had turned to carving sandstone souvenir pyramids. I had a go myself and realised that the skill (or luck) was in not breaking it. At my suggestion Abbas ambitiously attempted to carve a camel but sadly the neck snapped off the body before he finished, oh well, so much for diversification. The other guys were camel drivers hoping to take tourists for a ride but while they waited they took to sleeping or shouting or twanging a local lute. The older, fatter one had 10 children so he must have found the work pays well enough somehow.
Mustafa joined us and took a turn at sleeping, he only had eight children. I liked him a lot. He reminded me of a Bedouin guide I've worked with many times in the Sinai desert. He seemed unfazed that I wanted to sleep in the desert, it had obviously been done many times before. Even so he wanted me to know I could stay at his house if I wished. At the end of the day I watched him ride off home on his donkey and contemplated a blissful evening on my own in the sandy desert. It reminded me very much of Sinai, the hot wind, soft sand and shooting stars.
I listened to the radio for a while. The BBC World Service had a special news programme as Saddam Hussein had finally been captured. I made a cheese sandwich and ate some fruit. Later I listened to a radio adaptation of TS Elliot's "Cocktail Party", an exploration of relationships, what people expect from each other sometimes at the expense of taking responsibility for their own lives, I didn't understand it completely but I found it consoling and strangely pertinent.
I'd intended to get up and pack before dawn but remarkably I overslept. The sky was already light and the sun about to rise when I awoke. Even-so I quickly got myself ready and set off to photograph the pyramids from every conceivable angle before the light got too harsh. By the time I got back Mustafa and his companions were "at work". He kindly brought me a chai and I fixed some breakfast.
Sudan - Meroe