Sunday, 4 November 2007

Going Solo

With the Dutch contingent safely on their way to Ethiopia, and the French back at the campsite after a few days at the hospital, Catkin and I headed north to see the narrow pyramids of the Royal Necropolis of Meroe. It was quite strange at first to be back on our own again, having to find our own way after spending most of the last few weeks following the Land Cruiser of Louis the Dutchman.

We had first heard about the Meroe pyramids on BBC radio programme ‘Excess Baggage’, and seeing as we were passing through Sudan, thought it would be rude not to visit. Although much smaller than the more famous pyramids at Giza, the setting is far more atmospheric. These really are out in the desert, windswept with drifting sand, and not a tour bus or Russian tourist in sight. We camped that night in the area behind the pyramids, and by the morning we were also slightly windswept and covered in a light coating of drifting sand.

While we were there, a man on a heavily laden little donkey came over to see us. He told us he had a ‘supermarket’ and started listing what he had for sale. In reality he had more of a ‘little souvenir shop’ so we politely explained that we were not interested in buying anything. He continued his sales pitch, and despite her new found hard-nosed resolve to refuse to purchase anything when hassled, I could sense Catkin beginning to weaken toward this chap, who, she thought, was obviously just working hard to make a living. He completely blew it, however, when he whipped his mobile phone out of his pocket and asked if he could plug it in to our car to charge it. We waved him away, and he trundled off into the sunset.

Coming back from Meroe we took an excursion to have a look at two temples, Musawwarat and Nagaa. We didn’t know anything about them, but they were marked on our map and we felt like some more desert track driving. Permission is required to visit the sites, and this can be arranged at the entrance, but the US$10 per person price tag to see a pile of stones with little or no explanation was a little steep for us. We did have a good drive though, and even managed to get stuck in the sand briefly, so the big shovel got its first use (we have another small folding shovel for other more delicate “desert operations”, if you know what I mean). We did manage to drive out, and eventually made it back to Khartoum.

In Khartoum we have visited a big supermarket, but it turned out to be a big disappointment. We had been anticipating stocking up on a few of the harder to get items on our shopping list, but although there was lots of shelf space there wasn’t actually much there, and what there was is very expensive. A 1kg box of Kellog’s cornflakes was US$12.50! On our first visit, the Dutch Boys noticed how Catkin’s face lit up when she saw the shelves of cornflakes, and how disappointed she was that they were too expensive for us to justify buying. They decided to buy a box for us all to share for the few days that we were together, which was very kind of them. The carpark is always full of big white four wheel drives with various UN and aid agency logos on the doors, so I guess that explains the high price tags. Back to the local markets for us…

We are staying at the Khartoum National Camping Residence, which is a big complex with lots of dormitory rooms, bathroom facilities and an athletics track. At the moment there is a large group of students and teachers from all over Sudan staying for a two week English camp, so we have had lots of people coming to practise their English with us.

Yesterday, Bernard and Maria, a German couple who we first met in Aqaba, also arrived at the campsite. It has been interesting to catch up with them, compare experiences and find out how their journey has gone since we last saw them about six weeks ago.

The National Camping Residence is at 15º 31’ 13” N, 032º 34’ 22” E. Sunrise for us at present is at about 0645hrs, and sunset at about 1820hrs. The temperature during the day is typically around 35ºC-40ºC, and it hasn’t been dropping much below 30ºC overnight, although last night was much cooler. When we are on the road, we tend to get up early enough so that we can be on the road at sunrise, when it is still relatively cool. We try to stop at least an hour or two before sunset to allow some time to do our daily chores, relax with a cold drink etc. Of course, we stop during the day for breaks as well.
We have travelled 21870km since leaving London. Yesterday we carried out our third oil and filter change of the trip. We are changing the oil every 5000 kilometres at present, to combat the effects of the poor quality diesel available. Also yesterday, we had another puncture, bringing our total for the trip to 11 so far. The Hi-Lift jack is now mounted on the roof rack so that we don’t have to unpack the car every time we need to change a tyre. We are still searching for a new tyre to match our barely used spare, but still no joy. We are hoping for luck in Addis Ababa, where perhaps mud tyres might be more common. I have even asked Michelin to tell me where I can buy their tyres on our route, but so far they have not responded!

We plan to depart Khartoum tomorrow, spending another night in Sudan before crossing to Ethiopia. Although we’ve been told that Islam is gaining popularity, the main religion in Ethiopia is Christianity. We will be looking for a Bible so we can read up on the events associated with the places we have been to in the last few months, and we are looking forward to being able to buy beer again!

Once again, we’re not sure if we will be able to make contact until we reach Addis Ababa, so if you don’t hear from us for a while, don’t panic!