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Journal Entry:

Friday, November 08, 2013 06:36:25

BLACK SEA, SUDANS, ETHIOPIA 2013: 8 Port Sudan to Khartoum, Sudan

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

I didn't mention that last night there was a 63% eclipse of the sun just before sunset. Viewed through sun glasses and the heavy sun protection at the top of the windshield it was possible to look right into the sun.

Port Sudan is a good sized city, with the container port being the major employer. There are a couple of large Christian churches, something we also noticed in Khartoum,. Hadi says there is no conflict between religions.

Hadi went searching for a dive shop, but apparently there are none in Port Sudan, so he drove about 30 km north on the coast road to the Red Sea Resort. There were checkpoints along the road, and Hadi had a stack of photocopies of passports, visas and other permits that were handed to officials each time. There were 12 sets of papers to get through the trip. Officials were friendly, but it would be very difficult without the right copies.

The Red Sea Resort is on a small island with a causeway across tidal flats. There was no one staying there, but construction crews were working in a number of areas. The dining room and patio are finished, as are double cabins that use shared bathroom facilities. Almost finished is one of half a dozen new units that have a small living room, kitchen and bathroom. Covered comfortable round seating areas line the seashore. For electricity they have a high tech windmill plus an array of solar panels, and are looking to instal a desalinization plant for water.

The lady who owns the place was keeping an eagle eye on the builders. Her designs and finishing are well up to western standards, as is the cleanliness. She is Sudanese, but lived in Holland for some years. Her son, who assists in running the hotel, was raised there - both speak fluent English. .

They have a major dive shop with tanks, vests, compressors and all other dive accessories. I was provided with weights and fins to go with my mask and snorkel by an employee. Generally I use 6 kg of wight, and the fellow getting the weights for me said they were 1 kg each so I put 6 on the belt.

There are number of reefs right in front of the hotel, the first of them no more than three minutes by boat. After anchoring I went over the side and straight to the bottom, to find I could stand there. With effort I swam back to the boat where the dive fellow said the weights were not 1 kg, they were 2 kg. Once he took off half the weights it was fine - I headed for the reef in quite cloudy water, but when I swam around to the ocean side it cleared up. The sun had burned off the clouds, improving visibility to see the vast profusion of fish. I stayed in the wonderfully warm water for an hour and a half before heading back for lunch.

Dinner was at a local restaurant where I had meat on a skewer cooked over an open fire. Along with a bottle of water it cost less than $4 - food and drinks here are very reasonably priced.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

We got an early start, as we had to covered more than 700 km today. We were making fairly good time when the large cattle catcher type bumper fell off on one side. Hadi had some rope in the car, so we were able to rope it to the frame and carry on. At Atbara, where we turned off the road from Khartoum to get to Port Sudan, we turned the opposite way towards Karima across the Bayuda Desert. Hadi was getting tired - it is excellent road, quite straight with no traffic, making driving monotonous, so I drove for the next couple of hours. Truck traffic had all turned off in the direction of Khartoum at Atbara.

We pulled into the very upscale Merowe Tourist Village. This is a quite new place, with separate buildings containing 6 rooms. Each building has a sitting area with giant screen TV, however programming is only in Arabic. The designer knew the hotel business, and the owner obviously intended it to be 5 star, however it came up short on details. The toilet seat fell off, remote controls had dead batteries, the base of the sink leaked, the floor shower curtain was much larger than the area where the drain is, light bulbs were missing, pipes leaked above the toilet showing the user and turning the toilet paper into a soggy mass and so on. All amenities were provided, including toothbrushes, so the intent is obviously to do everything right.

The hotel is isolated, so dinner was in the hotel restaurant - as is usual with all meat I've had in Sudan it was cooked until totally dried out and tough.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

There are four important archaeological sites around this area. Our first stop was at Deir Ghazali, a Coptic Christian monastery eventually abandoned in the 11th century. Some sections are quite well preserved, including the floor and alter in the main room.

Hadi then drove to Nuri, a burial ground of the Kush Empire in the early 9 th century BC. It was founded by Taharqa, probably the most powerful king Sudan ever had, whose empire went from Khartoum north. He was also Pharaoh of Egypt and controlled the Mediterranean coast from Egypt up to part of Lebanon. There are 19 pyramids, his and several of his ruling descendants.

El Kurru was the next stop, dating from the 9th century BC Kush Empire as well. It was a necropolis for the Kushite royal family members. We stopped in a narrow lane in the partially abandoned mud hut town of Karima to pick up the keeper of the keys for the tombs, located just outside of the Nile River town. There are many underground tombs, each with a long stone flight of stairs leading down to entrances that are open, but not in good condition. Others are not open to the public, but the ones the key man showed had locked gates at the bottom of the stairs. Inside there were two rooms, each with beautiful original paintings in wonderfully preserved colours. Egyptian gods and royal family members were painted on the walls, and the curved ceilings of both were done in a pattern with stars to depict the sky.

The final stop was alongside Jebel Barkal, where there are a number of very well preserved pyramids of the Napatan kings from the 3rd century BC on the shoulder of a large sandstone outcropping looking over the Nile River and the strip of green vegetation along its banks. After exploring the pyramids we stopped for lunch at a very humble cafe in the village. Good Sudanese bread was provided with tasty chopped lamb accompanied by a bowl of beans, followed by tea on a small stool outside the cafe with some local people.

We returned to the hotel where I did a bit of research on what we had seen, as Hadi does not come to the sites and has little knowledge of them. Late in the afternoon we returned to Jebel Barkal for sunset, this time below the sandstone cliffs where there had been a Kush Empire temple. The mountain was considered to be holy, as it was thought the god Amun lived there. The first temple was built in the 15th century BC by Egyptian kings and then taken over by Kushite King Piye about 720 BC when he was conquering Egypt. He expanded the temple to 150 meters long, the largest in Sudan. He captured the big temple to Amun in Luxor (then Thebes), giving him claim to being the king most favoured by this god.

Hadi arranged for the guard to open a steel door into the part of the temple built right into the cliff, where there were various carvings of gods and kings. The setting sun on the temple ruins gave everything a warm red colour, and various people hiked to the top of the mountain to watch the sun set. I talked to a number of people at the site - there were about a dozen in total, and all lived there - no other tourists. As always, the Sudanese were very friendly, curious about where I was from, and anxious to know what my impression of Sudan was.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

After a pancake breakfast Hadi drove the 160 km to Old Dongola, which was the capital of the Christian Kingdom of Makuria from the 7th to the 14thcenturies. Christian rule ended in 1323 when a Muslim ruler took the throne. There are the remains of a number of churches, and one more recently abandoned that became a mosque. There is broken pottery everywhere, more prevalent that stones. Nearby is a cemetery with unique high mud dome buildings containing about 4 graves each. The rest of the cemetery is in Sudan tradition - no grave markers, just a piece of stone six inches to a foot high. As the stones at the head of each grave look alike, locating a specific grave would be difficult. There are no flowers, ornaments or written markers, and the only was to tell a grave is by the slight mound.

It was another 8 hour driving day through desert, once again on new pavement. Apparently China has put a lot of money into roads and railway tracks, and in return have tied up mineral and oil production. I was glad to arrive back at the Corinthia Hotel, however things were not as efficient as the last time. The room was wrong, the room key wouldn't work, there was no internet, the room I changed to hadn't been fully made up and so lacked a number of things. On the other hand it was great to get into a decent shower to remove the desert dust.

Hadi told me that Ahmed, the owner of Raiden Travel, would be in the lobby to meet with me at 8 PM. I'd planned to get emails done, and the desk said they would send the IT guy right up Half an hour later I phoned as was told he'd be there in 15 minutes. He never did show up. I went to the lobby for my 8 PM meeting, but no Ahmed. I phoned him and he said he was coming, so I said call my room - I'll wait. Hunger was setting in, as I'd not eaten since breakfast. At 9:30 I phoned him again, and he finally showed up at 10 PM with 4 US $100 bills dated before 2006 that the bank wouldn't accept. My office had wired funds to replace them. I told Ahmed no services would be required tomorrow,

After I finished with him it was 11 PM, so I headed for a restaurant where I had two non-alcoholic beers - they didn't taste bad, and I"m getting desperate! I ordered lamb chops and it turned out to be a quite good rack of lamb, so things didn't end too badly.

Friday, November 8, 2013

After a lazy start a local mini-bus provided transportation to the Presidential Palace, a couple of kilometres from the hotel. I hadn't asked the price when getting on, and the driver wanted 30 pounds at the palace. (About $5 for a 10 minute ride). I did serious battle with him and the price eventually came to 10 pounds.

Armed police prevented any passage on the river side (front) of the palace, but after a walk along the side and behind the palace on the next street the Republican Palace Museum was located. This is near the spot where General Gordon was killed when the city was taken by the troops of the Mahdi. In spite of being Friday, Holy Day, it was open. It had been a Christian Church, and now is a depository of gifts given to presidents of Sudan since independence. There was no admission charge, and it was deserted except for the guard.

The church was built by the British, and is full of wall plaques dedicated to various army officers killed in action. The stained glass windows were donated by the families of fallen officers. It also had an illustrated history for the Sudanese struggle for independence, and photos of the various leaders of the time. Outside in a glassed in display area were four vintage Rolls Royce cars, a Lincoln limousine and another old car I couldn't identify. Most were used by the British governors of Sudan. Everything, including the stained glass windows, were in mint condition.

My legs were done in by a hike through the market area, past the Grand Mosque, and back to Nile Road. A stop in the Holiday Hotel for a cold drink was a great relief. The Pakistani restaurant manager who has family living in New York was interesting to talk to, and the hotel very nice with balcony rooms overlooking the Nile. Back at the Corinthia Hotel it was into the pub-like restaurant for a couple of near beer and ice cream before meeting with El Hadi, who had money for me from Ahmed. Arrangements were made for an airport pick up in the morning. Dinner was in the same hotel restaurant.

Tomorrow the idea is to fly via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to South Sudan, the only country I have not previously visited.