Oct 26 12

Which civilization is older – Sudan or Egypt ?



Nubians and Northern Sudan
rock engravings like those in Twfelfontein are to be found in Sudan


Burning flags, setting cars on fire, another rally, another protest.  The ‘Americans’ had made a film supposedly depicting the prophet Islam as a womaniser and party animal.  Muslims around the world were upset.  Americans and other white ‘pseudo Americans’ were now targets.  What to do?  We had survived the death of two presidents in the countries we had travelled so far; was this going to be a game stopper.  The playing fields with a 7 and 10 year old are different.  This part of the trip was not particularly moving to me.  There were no exciting endangered carnivores, or hectic special endemic birds.  This was almost purely for the rhinos and completing the C2C route.

Blue-breasted Bee-eater

And so we entered a decrepit border office.  Really stuffy, time warp stuff.  “just wait a minute …” having no Arabic other than ‘thank you’, body language becomes default.  The immigration official disappeared and within minutes the sound of a 1965 Massey Ferguson type engine started up, and then a rattly ceiling fan and spluttering lights – we had power.  I was to learn that paperwork in Sudan is important, very.  I filled in one typical form and handed it over, we already had Sudanese visas.  This was then extrapolated into 3 other forms filled in in Arabic, photographs added and photocopied twice (this was why the official needed power).  The family looked at me, I looked at them, we tried to smile.

Customs was similar, writing upside down and the wrong way, forms paperwork, “sit down sir …”

We were in, and made our way from our border post at Galabat.   We were due to overnight at Gedaref and then reach Khartoum the following day. 

old meets new with this friendly driver & his Bedford. Diesel is about R5/l in Sudan

In our guide book, we had been warned that this was a two day affair. However we were pleasantly surprised at the road condition.  Reaching Gedaref around 15h00, we estimated Khartoum to be about 4-5 hours.  There was little to attract us to Gedaref and the ‘overnight’ places seemed dreary and unattractive.

This was essentially breaking our golden rule of not travelling at night.  It was only about half way into the final leg of this stage that we got a range flash on the dash board and a message ‘check fuel system’.  This message had reared itself once before in Ethiopia but we had filled up and all had been ok.  The fuel gauge was reading just over half a tank, normally we could do 500km from here.  Perhaps the vehicle was just not reading the fuel supply amount correctly?

Pushing on we ‘ran out of fuel’ with half a tank of diesel 150kilometres out of Khartoum.  It was dark and approaching 20h00.  Trying to start, Staffie sparked, but there was no fire.  Fortunately we had run aground in an area which was between towns.  There were cars bustling about and in the distance I could make out a light system that could well be a filling station.  There were even tuk-tuks (3-wheeled motor bike taxis) going by, I hailed one down, another walker-by also joined us.  Without English I charaded out the scene of needing to get some fuel.  After numerous repeat gesticulations, he pointed out the jerry can on the roof, ah the jerry can.  I embarrassingly remembered as my coin dropped.  The 2nd person on the scene was an engineer and he disappeared, returning whilst I was still undoing the roof straps, hands full of drinks for the children.  He then continued to help as we emptied the jerry-can’s contents into the fuel tank.  Staffie started second turn.  Mr ‘Kind’ would not accept payment for the drinks nor for his assistance.  We left each other in smiles, and the family hugely impressed with Sudanese people.      

We got into Khartoum close to 22h00, arriving at what was to become an oasis for us, the Acropole Hotel.  Mike his two brothers and family members run the hotel.

Sudan National museum, a new world awaits

As a guest, one immediately becomes part of the family.  Nicolai felt at home with some DSTV to watch and the friendly eyes of Mike and his team, they even had home-made ice-cream.

 In Sudan, Friday is their Sunday, all government offices and businesses are shut.  Saturday is like a Saturday, with some businesses & government offices shut.  We had to be registered with immigration in Khartoum, find out about a possible re-entry visa into Ethiopia, get a permit to allow us to travel into the north of Sudan, as well as obtain photographic permits. 

The national museum of Sudan was open on the Friday and we opted to catch up on some Sudanese history.  My eyes were opened. I did not realize how beautiful and prominent Sudanese culture was.

well preserved frescoes depicting the christian period in Sudan

Displays cover the rise of the empires Kerma and Kush in great detail.  The Kushite displays show the wide variety of cultural exchange in play throughout the kingdom.  Egyptian culture is the strongest influence, shown in the royal statues found at Jebel Barkal, dating from 690 BC.  There are also frescoes from Christian Nubia which are drawn from the Christian Kingdoms which lasted for over 700 years in early Sudan.  Although the Sudanese government seems to have little interest in promoting this aspect of their history, the frescoes have been magnificently preserved.  They depict Christ, Mary,

Archangel Michael - Faros Petros Cathedral 11th century

along with a host of Archangels, saints and apostles.  The style of the frescoes is distinctly Byzantine, reflecting Nubian links with the Roman empire in the east.  Many paintings were taken from the cathedral at Faras, now submerged under Lake Nasser.

There are also the remains of three Egyptian temples, rescued from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in the 1960s when Aswan dam was built for hydo-electricity.  The temples from Buhen, Semna and Kumma all date from the 18th Dynasty (1550-1295BC) a time when Egypt was consolidating its southern borders with Nubia.  Also outside are two rams with a figure of Tarqa between their front legs from the temple of Amun at Kawa, and the massive granite statues of temple guardians from Tabo from the Kushite period.

King Taharga (690-664 BC) Sudanese ruler during 25th dynasty mentioned in bible Isiah 37:9 & Kings 19.9

The Blue and White Nile join at Khartoum and it is astonishing how the vegetation is so lush along the Nile and within 100metres from the river bank, the desert has re-established itself, almost threatening to swallow up the Nile too.  One cannot escape the heat, and the day we travelled north towards Egypt, it reached 49 degrees centigrade.  Dongola was our overnight stop, 500km from Khartoum.  From there, it was another 400km or so to Wadi Halfa.  The only reason to go to Halfa was to complete the Cape to Cairo trip.  We did not have a carnet for Egypt. Having to pay 200% deposit on the value of the vehicle for entrance into the country was unaffordable.  Instead therefore, we would drive to the Egyptian border, return to Nairobi and fly into Cairo.  Then we would complete the journey by travelling south to Aswan at the north of Lake Nasser (the Egyptian end of Wadi Halfa).  Some detour, but for rhinos …

The car air conditioner did not cope particularly well, and finding a place to overnight in Dongola proved a challenge.  On the third attempt, we found … well for R400, we got four beds in two rooms.  They were not clean, but the room had a sort of working, dripping air conditioner.  Bathrooms were a smelly affair, down the passage, a hole in the ground.  The shower spout was part of the toilet ‘room’.  We slept fully clothed, with our towels on the pillows.   

arriving in Wadi Halfa

The road trip to Wadi Halfa and back, 800kms was long, dusty and uneventful.  Halfa is really crappy and unrecommendable.  We arrived, tasted juice & chicken and left without looking for a t-shirt.

Arriving back in Dongola, the owner of the hotel, Ibrahim Sikra (meaning trust) insisted on us having tea together.  Ibrahim was engaging in his argument that Sudan was severely undersold to the tourism industry and that She had so much to offer.  The beginning of the ancient civilizations as the world knows it was to be found in Sudan.  We were offered his home and motor vehicle in Egypt when we get there, and please to “… tell people to visit Sudan”, and so it is and was that we visited Kerma the following day. 

Kerma was the Capital of a Kingdom stretching more than 1000 km along the Nile.  This lay at the crossroads of Central Africa, the Red Sea and the Southern Sahara.  Its enormous necropolis located in the eastern desert numbers 30 000 tombs.  Chapels or temples built near the burial site of high-ranking individuals indicate the practice of a funerary cult. These mud brick structures or deffufasdating from the earliest Kushite period are over 3500 years old. 

the western defuffa

The western deffufais 50m by 25m and over 48 metres high.  Bodies, along with the owner’s possessions and food offerings for the afterlife were buried in oval pits and covered with a low tumulus.  The body was always laid with its right side aligned east-west, with the head to the east looking north and the hands covering the face, and the whole under a shroud of cowhide.  Royal tombs were more elaborate. With a corridor leading to a vaulted chamber, all lined in brick and sometimes covered in paintings. 

view showing Nubian architecture and some of the 30 000 tombs

A large marble slab covered the ground mound.  Sacrifices were common, with royal bodyguards, servants, wives and even children being buried along with the ruler.  When excavated, one royal tomb contained over 300 sacrificial victims accompanying the king to the afterlife.  Cattle were also sacrificed in large numbers; it seems Kerma was a fantastically bloody culture when it came to giving their rulers a bloody send-off.

We arose from Kerma and took the route south, and then the left asphalt fork in the same direction the Kushites did, towards the Holy mountain of Jebel Barkal, flea bitten, pensive and weary …



15 Responses to Which civilization is older – Sudan or Egypt ?

  1. comodikes says:

    I marvel at the difference btwn our trips. i take my hat off to your adventure. i would have folded on many of your before challenges. keep it up guys

    • Marcelo says:

      Thanks China, at times I have drooled at the places you guys have visited. If you check Lance in the streets on your taining rides, ask him what’s going on … ?

  2. Ilona says:

    Sudan looks wonderful, I am still jealous! Enjoy Egypt, lose the guides and just go on your own! When you planning to get back to SA? Travel well…

    • Marcelo says:

      Hi Loni,
      I think I enjoyed Sudan more than the rest of the family. Fascinating, and friendly people even without a common lingo. Homecoming is scheduled for end of Dec 2012. xxxx

  3. Roger says:

    Hi Guys. Have you thought of leaving the car in Sudan and finding a ferry or some type of river transport to travel through Egypt?

  4. Nick Turner says:

    Hello Bud, Happy Birthday, wishing you a blessed year ahead. Just read this piece and your journey is just the most inspiring thing for me. Wishing you all safe travels and cant wait to sit around your fire and discuss some of your adventures with a cigar and wiskey in hand. God bless and all our love, the Turners.

  5. colin says:

    Happy birthday marcello! Loved the picture of the old bedford and your car. Looking forward to seeing you guys. Have a safe trim.

    • Marcelo says:

      Thanks Collin, you know the bloke was so proud of his Bedford, which was his only possession, home & transport. Be good. I hope your folks are ok.


    Hi Guys<
    We are in Tembe Elephant park at the moment, where your journey started, wonderful place!Tom sends regards.Pascale and Derek are with us,as well as a British visitor who came out to help us with the IV cannulation and Contrast injection course we convened for radiographers, a great succes. Google Dr Donald Peach sometime, very interesting wonderfull guy. We sent you SMS birthday greetings, but maybe you get this message -HAPPY BIRTHDAY! We are amazed at your determination in the face of adversity. Looking forward to your next episode, lots of love and hugs, Dominique, Christo and Co. P.S. Juan has been accepted for Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at DUT so far, hold thumbs.XXXOOOXXX

    • Marcelo says:

      Hi Dominique, awesome that you are at Tembe. Thank you for the birthday messages and kind wishes. Did you see Neergaard’s Sunbird, this is the best time to see him on those dunes? Its a beautiful corner of our country, enjoy.

    • Marcelo says:

      Hi Doms, Tembe is special, isn’t it. Pity you couldn’t join us there. Thanks for the birthday message. All the best for Juan. Glad the course was a success. I look forward to hearing more about your new position etc. We are still having a great time, new people and places and experiences every day. Love to all, Celeste and family xxxxx

  7. Brad McDermott says:

    Happy Birthday Marcelo.. Can’t believe you guys are already on the final leg to Cario, albeit with wings. Enjoy B

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