7 May 2011

Saharan Africa – The Sudan and Egypt

Before I begin I have a confession to make. I write this to you from Kenya, far beyond the fringes of the Saharan Africa that I visited. So now I find myself having to search within my poor excuse of a memory to find the trials and adventures that made my time in Saharan Africa the unforgettable experience it was. I hope my continuously lengthy blog posts do not bore you too much. Mostly I hope I can remember enough to give the countries the justice they deserve.

The Sudan

The Sudan, it sounds so cool doesn’t it? The Sudan, The Sudan! I don’t know if you have to add the ‘The’ in front of it but it just seems so right don’t you think? Sudan is Africa’s largest country, covering 8% of the continents surface, it’s also one of the most ethnically diverse countries with nearly 20 major tribes and well over 100 languages. But as many of you may well know these statistics are about to change, and why? Because Sudan is about to split in two. For hundreds of years now those of the South have continually battled the North in their desire for freedom and many lives have been lost in the process. With issues ranging from claims to Egyptian heritage, tribal conflicts and borderlines to farmers land rights and extreme environmental differences the struggle has been a deep one. With some of the biggest problem topics being borderlines between North and South and access to The Nile and her bright blue waters the struggles are hard enough. But then with the main cause for conflict being access to the black blood of the continent, known to many as oil it’s not surprising it’s taken so long for North and South to come to some sort of mutual agreement. So finally, the referendum has been passed and on the 10th of July 2011 the peoples of The Sudan shall be internationally recognised as either Sudanese or South Sudanese. If only the colonialists of the past had listened to the people of Africa in the first place, perhaps this long drawn out war could have been avoided. The West strikes again and I sadly inform you that in this case when I say The West, I mean Britain once more, Rule Britannia indeed!

History lessons aside I enter Sudan with an enormous sense of pride. Don’t ask me why because as in most cases I find it very hard to explain myself but there is something about Sudan that seems, well I don’t know but it seems to take a hold of you somehow. Sudan, land of mystery, land of the forgotten and land of the unexplored. It is so vast and holds so much, it has such a small population most of which reside in the capital city, which in itself holds a sense of splendour in the name alone, Khartoum. With so few people and so much space it’s hard to not experience the wonderful feeling that every day holds a whole new adventure, a brand new discovery is waiting to be found. Entering from the highlands of Ethiopia the country seems to become even more flat even vaster than I had been told it would be. As I travel along the smooth tarmac roads and look at the lunar landscape, the desert scenery, the dunes, the random mountains in the middle of nowhere, the sky bigger than you can fathom and the continuous existence of sand beyond sand I find my mind wandering back to my much loved Namibia once again. The comparisons between the 2 are similar on many levels. The landscape, the size, the population, the climate, it’s no wonder Sudan became so appealing to me the more the days passed. I spent mornings watching the sunrise over the dunes, I camped in the desert, I spent time with the locals, I smoked the shisha pipes, I learnt some Arabic and I haggled in the markets. I chased deadly scorpions and caught nocturnal geckos. I climbed the desert dunes and walked the Nile’s banks. I reached the red sea and stared at her turquoise blue waters, I climbed holy mountains and visited temples, I saw my first hieroglyphics, and I went to the first, the oldest and largest collection of Pyramids in the world, made by the ancient Nubian Egyptians. But I know I still didn’t even scratch the surface of this amazing majestic country! I lived in the wild and I stared into the horizon, I felt the sand beneath my feet and the dusty breeze in my face and I watched the shadows form as the sun set over a beautiful and thought provoking place, my kind of place, and I thought of you Chris.

I will be one of the last. One of the last to enter Sudan as a whole, Sudan as Africa’s largest country, and as one of the last I feel truly privileged. Having travelled no further than what will soon be called North Sudan I leave the south for another day and simply marvel at the North. Sudan is beautiful, an oasis after a hectic Ethiopia and before a busy and bustling Egypt. Sudan was simply one of the best visited in this my South to North adventure. It was the penultimate country and one that I was very reluctant to leave. Sudan has the history and the beauty and is without all the hassles that its age old sister Egypt suffers with. So I urge you to visit Sudan. So much to offer, so much to experience and so much to see that most surely and as definitely as I sit here and write this, one visit here simply won’t be enough!

My blog post on The Sudan is dedicated to Chris Rampe 4/10/2010.

Egypt

. . . . it’s hazy in the dark, I can’t quite see it, others are also straining to see. They flank me on my left and my right. Not too close to the edge now, you don’t want to fall in. Is it there? Where? No, we’re not there yet, wait I can see the lights, look they’re reflecting on the water. Where? I don’t see them. Ahhh, there! Wow! Silence, darkness. The slow flow of the water as it moves under the boat, the moonlight reflecting off the water. The people all leaning over the side of the ferry clinging onto the cold steel rail, all trying to getter a better view, all trying to see what I am trying to see, and there it is. In the moonlight, floodlit and facing us as we flow along the infamous Nile River, the ancient Egyptian site of Abu Simbel stands tall and proud, looking down on the people with its hundreds of years of wisdom and experience. I took the passenger ferry that would lead into my next country and as I did so the pharaohs of Abu Simbel sat, watching me in the darkness of night from beyond the grave. And here started my first night in Egypt.

So the Tunisian Revolution was the start of a worldwide uprising of ‘the people’ wanting freedom at long last. Countries all over the Arab world stood up and fought (and are still fighting) for democracy, for the freedom of choice, the freedom to live their lives the way they CHOOSE to live it. Freedom. The reasons for my love of travel are endless but the word freedom is certainly somewhere near the top of the list!

I arrived in Egypt during the time of its Revolution, Mubarak had just announced he would step down. I found myself in a country filled with people who had triumphed in obtaining there long withheld freedom. What a fantastic time to visit the country. When the trials in Egypt hit the headline news around the world I had many people contacting me telling me I shouldn’t go. “It’s not safe!” they exclaimed. Well I must say that this seemed a bit over dramatic to me. Egypt’s unrest was one of the people, not the visitor. Tourism in Egypt is one of their biggest industries, and though they were fighting for freedom, by the time I had arrived in Cairo a new fight was beginning. The fight for their livelihood depended on the money that tourism can bring, and unfortunately the tourist industry had come to a standstill. So all those considering visiting should know this, I felt 100% safe throughout my time in Egypt, and even safer when in Cairo itself!

So let’s face it, Egypt isn’t exactly new to suffering with trials and tribulations. Egypt is the oldest civilization of mankind, the first in fact! If Egypt can suffer with all its plagues, its many ruthless pharaoh’s, it being taken over and conquered by Europe and Persia and whoever else decided it wanted it. If Egypt can last the thousands of years that it has lasted I’m sure it can cope with a few weeks of kicking Mubarak out the door! Now, if truth be told Egypt is one of the biggest tourist destinations on the planet and is home to arguably the top of the list of the world’s 7 wonders. The Sphinx and pyramids of Giza attract more tourists per year than the rest of Saharan Africa put together (apparently). So who on earth gets to go to there without it being jam packed full of people? Who on earth can say they gazed in the eyes of the sphinx with no other person in her eyesight?

When I watched the sunrise over the pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx lay coolly in the morning breeze; I stood there watching over the sleeping city of Cairo with the largest pyramids in the world standing above me. When I stood, surrounded by the Great Ancient Egyptian Pyramids I was the only person there! Empty, the whole place, I must admit I felt incredibly lucky to see such a thing in the peace and quiet of only my own presence. I mean, when in history is the last time that those pyramids stood with only one man present.
I visited other sights in Egypt and the story stayed much the same. None were as empty as Giza was but many were close to it. Abu Simbel in the South, and all the sights of Luxor, the Valley of the Kings and it’s ancient tombs, the Tombs of the Nobles, Ramses Temple, the Coliseum, The temple of Hatshepsut, Luxor Temple and the very impressive Temple of Karnak! Finishing with a trip to The Egyptian Museum I felt well and truly like a tourist, but wow! I never used to be a museum person but now I’m converted!
So, after taking part (accidentally) in a couple of protests in Cairo (seriously they grabbed me as I walked down the street, put their arms around me and taught me some celebratory songs) the time finally came for me to leave Cairo, but I’d done it. I had made my way through Africa from bottom to top and east to west, and what an experience it had been.

Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt and Mozambique’s Maputo to Namibia’s Swakopmund.
The African continent.
South to North and East to West.
The half way mark.
The first half of my epic journey across Africa had come to a close and I looked back at my time spent in 15 of Africa’s countries.
Lions in Zimbabwe and storms in Malawi. The world’s highest bungee jump in South Africa and white water rafting in Zambia. Hippos on New Years Eve and summiting Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. The world’s oldest desert in Namibia and endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Ethiopian churches, the Sahara desert and the pyramids of Meroe and Giza. What an adventure it’s been.

South Africa
Swaziland
Mozambique
Zimbabwe
Botswana
Namibia
Zambia
Malawi
Tanzania
Kenya
Uganda
Rwanda
Ethiopia
The Sudan
Egypt

My time in Egypt ended in The Sinai Peninsula. First off I went to Sharm El Sheik, meeting up with my parents on their annual holiday and then on to Dahab. Dahab is a very funky, red sea coastal town with a great amount of diving, climbing, Bedouin Tea and Shisha pipes. Missing out on the diving I had much shisha and tea and climbed Mount Sinai to the summit. There were some amazing vistas from the top. It was a very surreal feeling standing on the summit watching the sunrise as pilgrims from all over the world stood together and sung songs of worship. The moment seemed to conjure up something in me I hadn’t felt in a long time, it was a fantastic experience. I kept an eye out for Moses but I must have missed him. I kept hearing voices at one point and passed this bush that was on fire but apparently that’s a normal occurrence in this neck of the woods so took a few photos and made my way back to Dahab.

I left Egypt contemplating life, Africa, travelling, my trip thus far. So much happened, so much to think about it’s a good job I’ve got a few more months to go! So now I start my journey back down Africa. Retracing old steps and making new ones along the way. Revisiting much loved countries and exploring new countries that I am so far yet to set foot in. Seeing old friends and making new ones . . . speaking of making new friends some of you may have heard I left Egypt with a little more than contemplation. What can I say, Danish girls are very pretty!

Well there you have it. Almost up to date. I left Egypt on the 9th April and with a new companion. Ethiopia along with other destinations has been and gone already and I’m currently residing in Kenya once more. And I’ll tell you all about that some other time!