The Nuba Mountains
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Wed 14 Apr
Sudan into Nuba villagesFrom El Obeid I get another bus, south into the Nuba Mountains and the outpost town of Dilling. I arrive about 1:00pm and ring the number that Midhat has given me. I order a tea but before it’s served a man called Adam arrives on his motorcycle. I explain what I want to do. His English is good. He listens patiently but then tells me before we do anything I must register with the Security people. "Then I’ll take you to my house where you can wash, change, sleep, whatever you want, while I go and sort out your programme". Marvellous, I’ve landed on my feet yet again?

I patiently wait for Security to read my passport and travel permit several times, and answer all their questions.

Sudan into Nuba villagesFrom the town of Dilling the local transport gets decidedly Spartan, you can stand in the back of a Land Rover or lorry, leaving maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe. It’s better to make your own arrangements. One can hire the same Land Rover privately but this would be for the standard journey, rather than a sightseeing, photo-snapping tour.

Back at Adam’s house I take a shower and settle into a programme on the BBC World Service. I can’t imagine my guidebook-writing friends acquiescing so willingly. Adam rings from town. "How would it be to go on a motorbike?" It's fine by me. "We’ll take an engineer on a second bike in case we get a problem." Excellent. "We’ll leave tomorrow at 6:00am".

Thu 15 Apr
Sudan into Nuba villagesIt's still dark when we get up and prepare for our journey. I am not sure if we'll be away overnight so I pack my toothbrush, sheet sleeping-bag and torch in case. We set off as the sun is coming up. I see beauty everywhere: in the smoke rising dozily from the thatched huts, the precariously balanced rock, high on an outcrop, just catching the early sunlight, the blue sky, a mighty baobab. The Nuba Mountains actually amount to little more than random rocky outcrops on an otherwise dusty plain. They are interesting, as are the Nuba people in the villages around, but mountain climbing and trekking they offer not.

After 20km we reach Mandal. We walk part way up the hillside to a suspended valley, apparently a site of an ancestral settlement. We are shown, cut in a smooth rock path, ancient toe-holes for ancient cattle. Above us the hill is wild. It’s home to the thieving baboons that continually raid the smallholdings. No one ventures up there.

We journey on 12km to Karko, a village with a very colourful market. I follow Adam into a grass hut, almost literally on my hands and knees, to find ourselves in the village eating-house. We enjoy a second breakfast. Back outside we're introduced to the village chief who promptly invites us into a different eating house. We insist we’re not hungry and settle for a coffee. He’s very friendly. I tell him I have some pens for the local school. He's a bit put out that I insist on giving them personally to the head teacher. Eventually we make it into the colourful market and I snap away freely. When it’s time to go we realise how hot it has become. At the edge of the village we find an enormous shady tree. The ground is covered with animal droppings so Adam, the mechanic and I all climb into the tree and go to sleep for an hour.

Sudan into Nuba villagesWe're awakened by an old man with a photograph of his daughter. Apparently she had got involved in politics and been forced to flee the country. He thinks she's living in London and asks if I can find her. I take a picture of him and his photo, not really sure what I can do to help, but I promise to keep an eye out for her.

We travel on a further 7km to Fanda, now the day is really really hot. Only mad-dogs are about, the place is like a ghost town. We meet two bakers on pedal cycles with empty baskets who insist on being photographed. I ask them pose, facing each other and talking as if they have just met. Adam laughs at their conversation and how seriously they take my instructions.

Sudan into Nuba villagesAt Tundia we stop to have a break from the motorcycles. We sit inside a hut, out of the sun and drink sweet tea. Then we wander around the village looking in several homes and disperse bags of un-roasted coffee beans and sugar as thank-you gifts. It's interesting to see how they keep their valuables and foodstuffs, and how they use kitchen gadgets like a grinding stone.

On the journey back we pass through Kelara, Kumitil and Nitill and narrowly miss getting invited to a wedding.

The sun is beginning to soften. The countryside and people are looking wonderful; I am keen to linger. Adam is keen to go. Our drive back is fast and hard. The wind and dust in my eyes tests my patience. I’m getting cold. We see the sun go down, still 30 minutes from Adam's home. It's been an exhausting, but brilliant day.

The Nuba Mountains
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