Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sudanese desert, nubile nubian lasses

We're fanging along the banks of the Sudanese Nile at a bit over 170 kph in the mighty Mustang (aka "the 'stang").  Now that's fun!
The Nile's on our left, a palm-green swoosh in the dry desert, glinting between date palms.
North from Khartoum in Sudan, there's a new road, not on any maps.  Not that you can buy maps in Sudan. The military government bans their sale for "security reasons" (never heard of satellite technology, fellas?).
So we set our noses for "North" and follow them.
The roads were built by the Chinese, in payment for oil they planned to get from Sudan.  The only problem: the oil's mainly in the south of Sudan, which had the gall to split itself off into a separate country of South Sudan in July this year, so the Chinese may have to start all over again.
Meantime, we enjoy their handiwork.
Immediately out of Khartoum to the north, the road starts rail-straight to Karima, 200km distant.  Gordie's at the wheel, takes her up to a touch under 3,000 revs, powers her to 175 kph and we sit on that, for just over an hour.  We're there.
Have we missed anything by this desert haste?  Not a bit of it, for it's so vast, this Bayuda Desert, it rolls by in slow motion, changing colour and shape imperceptibly, from dun-yellow, to ochre, to orange-red and black stones, then a vast vast white, flat to the horizon, where flat curves with the earth.  We miss none of that.  And we don't miss people either, for there are no people.  No cows, no donkeys, no camels (well, a few, ugly brutes), and almost no other traffic: just the odd bus every half hour or so.  It's an unusual bit of driving, deserted, deserty, but fine.
Next day, it's my turn at the wheel, to Kerma, 330 km further north and again it's a new road.  More subtle desert colour and consistency changes, more rapid than yesterday and then a mountain range in the distance.  We must go through this, so the road must twist more; but no, it manages to find a way through by long loops, drop down to 130 kph for the swooping corners, see the straight away ahead, and off we go again.
Gordie says these stages are like a fast ski run and he's right: coming round the corner you expect the snow to end, but it goes on, no crud, no ice, no nasty things, just nice white (macadam black) stretches out in front and more fine driving.
At Karima,  we take off with our Sudanese guides to look at a couple of Nubian tombs.  Nubia was a kingdom, often under Egyptian suzerainty, from the second millennium BC to the early AD's, fighting the Egyptians back and forth on land between the south of Egypt down to Khartoum in Sudan.  It gave rise to the nubian Kingdom of Kush.  We see their ruins today.  Kingdoms of thousands of years, now dust and sand.  It makes you think of today's kingdoms, and of recent empires, and think "this too shall pass".
There are virtually no tourists to Sudan.  There are none like us, independent western visitors, in cars, Classic cars at that.  We have to be accompanied by guides, who get us the various permissions we need, just to travel in the country and to visit any sites.
In Karima our guide Mohammad -- who travels with us for our whole stay in Sudan -- takes us to the tombs of Haton and Nor, around 700 BC.  We wait for the man with the key to open them up.  I visit just the one, as it's down precipitous steps, to a dank cavern at the bottom, with Egyptian Nubian paintings on the wall and some hieroglyphs, hottish (it's 45 degrees outside), and on the whole rather unprepossessing.
Chris and I decide to cut the second tomb and head back to the car.  Where we're met by a group of giggling kids and their women -- mothers? elder sisters?  It's never quite clear.  But they're young, bright, interested to talk to us, or try to, and to have their photos taken.  They're beautiful, nubile nubian lasses, and they're coquettish, un-chaperoned by any men-folk.  Their interest in Chris and me, possibly, may have more to do with what they want from us, than from our natural charm: they want my iPhone (but jokingly, in swap for their ancient Nokia), my sunglasses -- which I confess are innately and undoubtedly cool -- Gordon's little koala bear from the car....
The kids want pens.  I have only one, which they scream and scrabble for, so I have to toss it in the air for one of them, Ikena, gets it, delighted.  (My mate Pit was right: if you travel in Africa by car, you have to take boxloads of pens -- they've been a hit from the South to Sudan).
The kids jump all over the 'stang, in a cacophony of screams and squeals, happy, bouncy, they pick stuff off the 'stang, the headlight covers, the wheel covers, our "Cape to Cairo" sticker.... I'd better protect them, or Gordon won't be too happy.  The sticker's gone; the rest retrieved.
The nubile nubian babes chase them off with a handed sandal.  The kids part like a school of fish, and regroup.