Out of town: Begrawiya & Sabalooga

We had only returned from Medani at midnight, and yet I was due to travel again the next day to Begrawiya. After a few hours sleep I was up again at 5.30 to get a bus along with the students from my university department’s international exchange. It was strange being on a real tour bus full of khawajas; I had never felt like such a tourist! After a 3-hour-long journey, we left the tarmac road and continued on a bumpy desert track which led to a hilly area. In the centre loomed a collection of sand dunes, on top of which the pyramids were perched. As the rest listened to a dry account of the site’s history, my eyes wandered until they located what I was looking for: camels! I had heard that you could ride a camel around the site and was not about to pass up on this rare opportunity. As soon as the talk was finished, I raced ahead and began bartering with one of the shepherds. We finally agreed on SDG20, and I climbed up onto the traditional wooden saddle. The mighty camel rose to its feet and suddenly I was at an astounding height. It was a lot higher than sitting on a horse, and what with its long neck and humped back, a little like riding a miniature brontosaurus. The shepherd yelled and tapped the camel with his whip until it broke into a trot, and soon I was being vigorously bounced up and down. Just as I was about to ask the shepherd to slow him down, he uttered some inhuman sounds and the camel sunk to its knees. He immediately demanded my garoosh – I told him to hang on a minute, as I wanted to take a photo, but he had already galloped off. I had never seen a camel run so fast. Clearly the shepherds had spotted a good day for business, and the reason for his haste was to race back for more tourists to rip off. I was deeply disappointed by this 30-second ride on a camel at such an outrageous price. I could see what Sudan would be like if the tourist industry was more established and realized it would lose a lot of its charm.

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Back on two feet, I began clambering up the sandy slope until I reached the first pyramid, and peered inside. These ancient ruins had been reconstructed and a bit shoddily at that. Ancient stones are mixed with concrete to achieve a semi-authentic effect. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the intricate carvings of Nubian princes and pharaohs in the rock. I had a glance in a couple of others, by which time I was literally sweltering. The dunes were like the surface of the sun, and I yelped as the red-hot sand burned my feet. Returning to the bus, I was ecstatic to discover baby wild watermelons growing in the sand. We carried on to The Royal City, of which not a lot remained save for a few crumbling walls and statues of sacred sheep. Another speech was made in the full sun, by which time many of us were approaching heatstroke and didn’t take much of it in.

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I was relieved to get back in the air-conditioned bus and there had been talk of lunch at a surprise location. This was Sabalooga, a gorge and cataract on the Nile and an area of geographical interest. Out the window we could see rocky hills (apparently volcanic), and a lush green valley with farmland. It was stunning. About half a mile along the river, we came to an area that could have been paradise. Rustic cafes had been set up underneath typical Sudanese shacks made from drift wood and canvas, which blended well into the landscape. We ate our lunch by the water, taking in the dreamlike view, and were then ushered into one of the boats awaiting us. We drove through deserted waters upstream. As the sun began to set and the hills turned orange and the sky and water pink, some of the boys were moved to strip off and jump from the boat to cool off in the river. I followed suite in all my clothes. It was heavenly feeling the water extinguish the fierce heat of the day, though I was slightly unnerved to experience the tug of the current at my legs. I was then hauled back on board by two men, and to my embarrassment the whole boat applauded my stunt.

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We chugged back downstream and across some rapids, until we reached where we had parked the bus. There was just enough time to hike up one of the hills and watch the sun’s rays fade across the silhouette of the landscape.

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On the way home, we somehow ended up driving through a small village, where we managed to get stuck on a particularly tight bend. At this point, there was no moving backwards or forwards, and what seemed like the whole village’s population emerged to help us negotiate our ridiculously large tour bus. I wondered if anything larger than a donkey cart had ever passed through their village. The whole performance took about 20 minutes and resulted in a lot of red faces.

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