Friday, 17 August 2007

The pyramids of Meroe

Meroe is not so far from Khartoum, and we didn't need a travel permit to get there. These were good enough reasons for us to make an overnight visit. We are getting better with the minibuses and successfully managed to get one over the river (the Nile that is) to Mogoff Shendi, departure point for buses to Shendi and Atbara (Meroe is pretty much halfway between these two towns). We arrived at 12.30 and the bus left only about an hour later. Somehow or other we had stumbled upon a superior bus line, and we were served water, soft drinks and cake along the way, and there was air conditioning. We mentioned to the guy that stowed our bag, to the driver and to the bus conductor and to anyone else who would listen, that we were only going as far as Bajarawiya, the village where the pyramids are, and made lots of pyramid shapes with our hands. This seemed to have absolutely no effect as I happened to see them out the window and got the bus to stop and let us off. Luckily they are only a few hundred metres from the road, an easy walk which was a shame for the donkey cart and the two camels that came bursting out of nowhere as we got off the bus, offering us rides.

We hadn't known what to expect, but the site was really nice, and it was good to arrive late in the day. We forked out our $10US each (fortunately we were able to pay this at the site, till recently it was a requirement to buy an archeological permit in Khartoum - which would have meant yet another visit to yet another office), and wandered around taking photos in the late afternoon light. There were apparently around 100 pyramids in total, all part of the Royal Cemetery of Meroe, built smaller and steeper than those in Egypt, and in their heydey they were plastered and painted. There has been some restoration, after an Italian gravedigger decapitated most of them in the 1800s, but many are still as they were then.

Sarah left to hitch a ride to Atbara, and we prepared to spend the night. It was really hot, and we sat in the porch of the vistor centre eating our oranges and biscuits wondering whether we could stand to be in the tent. In the end we decided not to put it up, and instead slept in the porch. Somewhat amazingly it rained briefly at one point, but the wind was much more of a problem and we ended up sleeping in a bed of sand. We were quite a sight in the morning.

The trip back to Khartoum was remarkably straightforward - we were on the side of the road before 7.30 and had got a lift with a truck to Shendi within a few minutes. The truck driver dropped us at the crossroads, and within a few minutes more an empty Khartoum-bound bus arrived and on we hopped. It couldn't have been easier. We were back in Khartoum by about 11.30, and then things went a bit wrong. One of our fellow bus passengers motioned us to share his taxi. We're going to Souq-el-Arabe we said in our best Arabic. Not sure what his response was, but we ended up going miles out of our way to drop him off, and then getting the taxi to take us back to where we wanted to go. We were prepared for a bit of a discussion about the fare, but five pounds seemed to cover it, luckily.

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