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August 2004
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September 2004

sudanese pyramids

The sun was already up as we loaded up the land cruisers for the trip to the pyramids. We left about 730am to try and beat the Saturday morning traffic. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. We got out of Khartoum finally and were heading northeast down a paved highway. I realized it was the first time I had been outside of Khartoum since arriving here almost 2 months ago. It's strange how you get use to a comfort zone like being in a city outside of the United States and then going further to see what's beyond. Our cruiser was packed with cell phones, radios, supplies and a GPS. Before we left I did radio checks with all the gear we were taking. (Always the geek) We brought lunches also since we'd be gone all day. After we were on the road for about 2 hours, I could see where the desert was starting to take over the land. Grass was nonexistent and only small trees and bushes were found. My first glimpse of a camel was followed by the obvious tourist remark of "hey! Look a camel.". We pulled over to stretch our legs and chat with the other folks in the lead cruiser. We all noticed we had pulled off road near a small pyramid about 2 feet high. My initial reaction was "that can't be what we drove out here for". It wasn't. But it sure looked funky sitting a hundred yards from the road. I started my little photo log of the trip there. You can see all the shots I took in the photos section. (not yet, still uploading) We headed out again and with an hour left to go to get to the real pyramids. After more wide open landscape of sand and brush we finally made it. I took out my trusty digital to snap some landscape photos of them from a distance when I heard the one thing that wrecked it all. The battery alarm on the camera. I forgot to pack the second set of batteries and thought this set was still good to go. Over three hours from home and who knows how far from a photomat, I could see this was going to be a long day without a functioning camera. But fortunately, someone had thrown in some spare batteries in the glove box and I was able to get back into the tourist mode. When we drove up to the entrance gate there were a couple of ladies selling their wares. A couple of men also had an assortment of knives, necklaces and other crafts. We said we'd be back after we walked up to the pyramids. It was like something out of an old 40's movie where you see someone searching for lost treasure or crossing the desert. We walked up a large tract of sand and came around the first outcropping of stone. From there you could see several pyramids close together and still intact. Some of them better than others. I talked to who I believe was the local tour guide about the site. We used gestures and a lot of sand to draw in, but I think he explained that the tops were placed over the tombs and to get to them, you had to go inside and down the steps. When pyramids were the rage, the more regal the family the larger the pyramid. It also helped prevent grave robbing from taking place. I hear that Sudan's pyramids are being contested as the oldest compared to Egypt's. I think the jury is still out on it but I mention it here for effect. Sure made the trip seem more exciting. One of the locals was riding a camel and I think liked to hang around to see if tourists wanted to ride it. How can you come all the way to Sudan and not ride a camel. I waited till he lowered the camel before I got in the saddle. The camel sits with it legs folded under him. The joints bend outward so the legs actually have to flip out, back set first then front set. You get the feeling you're going to go over the camel's head first then get thrown back into the saddle as it rises on all 4s. Everyone seemed to miss the comedy of it until I came up with the brilliant yet unoriginal idea of poising for shots with, "hey look over there" (arm out and pointing) or scanning the horizon (with hand shading eyes) or look at me I'm 185lbs of annoyance to the camel. It was starting to get irritated by so many people wanting to get a ride so we stopped and tipped the owner. We headed out after walking around awhile under the afternoon sun. I could already feel the sunburn starting to develop. When we made it back to the gate, we could see about a dozen vendors had set up shop for us. It was hard deciding who to give money to but I did my best to buy a little something from as many as I could. The rest of the group also bought nic nacs and souvenirs. Unfortunately, I was the last one to make it back to the truck so all the vendors latched on to me for one last sale. I shokcron'd my way into the truck and we headed out. The next stop on our trip was just a mile or two off-roading to Royal City. It was a temple built around 3000 years ago. You could still see the walls of it but the roof and surrounding architecture had long since given way to time. The tour guide there and his wife walked us around to several little buildings that were for different purposes. One was for ceremonies and had stone steps leading down into where water use to be. Another was a sauna they used. One stone pedestal looked like it was for sacrifices but the guide said it was for drinking water. Sure looked like something used for beheadings to me. Even had a carved trough along the top for collecting whatever. We walked quite a bit and finally headed back as our hunger was over taking us. We got to the vehicles and drove out of Royal City after tipping our guide. A few miles later we found a spot next to the Nile where we setup to eat. We got there just as a ferry was docking with some camels. A 4x4 was loaded after the camels came off and the ferry headed back across the river. I noticed a couple men and a boy were preparing a lamb about 50 feet away from us. I won't go into detail but we did get to see it beheaded. Too cool. I'd seen my share of that around Iowa but I don't think the others liked it while they were eating. I took some shots of it and the boy noticed me taking pictures. He wanted to see it and keep saying "Pictora" So I got a good one of him and let him see what it looked like. I offered him oreos but he just wanted to see the pictures. One thing I've noticed when taking pictures of Sudanese. No one smiles. It's kinda difficult to get that point across to smile and it looks nicer. Everyone I see is very handsome or has beautiful features but they only smile when you smile back and chat with them. Guess everyone does that but it sure makes photos look like DMV pictures when you're trying to get a great shot. Well we finished eating and headed off for the next stop, Naga. They are stone ruins located about 2 hours back and south of the way we got to the pyramids. As we drove back I played with the GPS someone had and instantly became sold on having one. Not only for the geek factor but I'm worthless without a compass. You can follow the path you took back to the starting point with it. I tracked the way we went back towards Naga and never saw it deviate from the path we came in on. More on the GPS later. Well we got about 35 km from Naga and pulled off the road to go towards a range of rocky hilltops. We drove around it and I noticed a rain storm in the distance. A few drops of water later and we could see where it was going to get messy. The road we were taking was just sand and rock., mostly sand. The rain came upon us and we kept moving forward. The lead truck came upon a dip that was now filled with mud where sand had been sittling. It didn't go fast enough and the rear tires were up to the axle in mud. So remember next time you're driving around Sudan never just take one 4x4. We pulled the cable from the wench on the front of it and hooked it up to the second truck. With a little effort we finally got it out. Then the first truck almost got stuck. But with John, one of my co-workers, driving skills he was able to get it out without any trouble. While all this was going on, some of the nearby farmers came to offer assistance and check out what the strange foreigners were doing. We finally made it to Naga and it was worth it after see the ruins and looking at all the photos I took. Well, we talked to the locals there and donated to the tour guide. I signed the guest book and added my comments under all the Arabic writing. I wonder if anyone will actually read what I put down. We thanked them and headed back out. It was closing in on 500pm and we wanted to get back home. But leaving was another story. The trail we came in on was muddy and hard to tell where the puddles ended and big holes began. The lead car got stuck again and we all jumped out to help. Well, I appointed myself official photographer of the event since everyone else was busy with the wench. We freed the car from the muddy creek and no more than 50 feet later it was stuck again. I think the wench paid for itself on our trip alone. We finally were moving along again after we got the truck out. But then we realized we were off track. The GPS showed the way we came in was to the Northeast. So we started working our way back towards the hilltops. Several brush stumps and potholes later we were back on the trail. On the way out I could see several camps where people had gathered. It looked like they were taking care of camels and goats. I think they setup temporarily and then move on after the herd(?) has fed itself (what's a pack of camels? $3.00. Ok that was too easy). We made it back to the main road and stopped at a small building with Pepsi logos all over it. Everyone grabbed a soda and we sat back in the plastic lawn chairs and tables to talk about the events of the day. When we left we had a problem with one vehicle's battery. But luckily it was just a loose connector on the battery terminal. We were able to drive home and arrive back in Khartoum around 900pm. Of course we spent about an hour of that sitting in stop and go traffic trying to get back into the city. Several times you could see traffic coming towards you on the right and the left sides of the road. We stayed in our line of traffic. I don't say lane, since there wasn't really an official lane we stuck too. When I got within range of the nearest cell tower, my phone went off with several messages. I let everyone know we were ok and the trip was a success. A haboob, dust/rain storm, had come through town so it had messed with traffic. Hence the hour we spent waiting to drive the last 20 miles. When we got back into town we decided it was late and we should just eat at Little Asia, an Indian restaurant. I had been there before and it was becoming my favorite place to eat in Khartoum. After several beverages and a great meal of Chicken Tikha Masala we called it a night. So ends my story of Raiders of the lost Land Cruiser. So long from Mudtown.


streets of khartoum

I got home safely from driving a replacement car. The tracker was DOA one morning when I went to start it. Now im driving a stick shift after 16 years of automatics. Every drive is like an accident waiting to happen. The streets are bad at night since most of the lights are off. I crossed one of the biggest bridges in town tonight after a haboob and people were still driving with their lights off. I noticed this since everyone was flashing their lights at me while we passed on the bridge. The bridge of course had lights. So people turn their lights off and just use the street lamps when available. I hear its because they want to save on the car battery. No im not making a joke. I guess traffic is increasing daily here and a lot of the drivers aren't use to the rules of the road yet. Imagine a mall. Then think how everyone walks around with one objective, to get around you. Put them in a car and that's what driving in Khartoum is like. Anyway I'm tired and its been a long yet productive day. The local staff at work does great stuff when you ask them. Well time to quit and hit the sack. Gonna drive out to the ruins north of town and see the sites.


two months pass

Almost 2 months into my tour and I can't imagine where the time went. I got my photo permit today FINALLY. Looking forward to actually carrying my camera in plain site now. And just in time too. I got in on the last spot for a trip to the north this upcoming Saturday. I'm looking forward to using the camera a lot. And even taking the extra set of rechargeable batteries just in case. In'shallah, I'll be able to bring back some worth while shots. I think I finally got my bid list together for submitting in the next few weeks. I have to admit, there was a lot of thought and struggling with where I want to spend the next 3 years. It's funny how this journal will be evolving into something different all the time just by the location I'll be staying in. One minute I'll worry about how slow a Metro bus is and the next I'm trying to stay ahead of dehydration on a daily basis. You don't think about it much until you develop a headache and realize you're body's trying to tell you something. I 've been blessed with good health since I got here but that can chance so quickly. I notice other people that come to the embassy get sick their first day here. All depends on the chemistry of the body. I finally had to break down and by some canned cat food for my cat, Boo. I haven't found any dry cat food yet at any of the stores,but it's not for lack of trying. Maybe next week. Latest update, we we're approved a 2nd R&R for the time we stay here. I haven't even planned my first one yet. Oh well, good to have it anyway. I'm gonna shoot for sometime in Jan or Feb for my first trip. Possible a safaria in Kenya. The second one has got to be a trip back home. Lots to do at work for the next 3 months and very little time to do it. Gotta keep this short for the shorties. Just like M.C. Peepants use to say. Peace.


khartoum souk

24 hours later, a call to the phone guys at the Embassy and surprise my phone lines back. Listening to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the moment. I ran into Kobeil, one of the drivers, and he setup a time for me to join him for a little trip to a local CD shop. So hoping to pick up some modern and also older Sudanese music. On the way home, I had him stop by the Amarat Center to see if they had any cat litter. There were three bags left, I bought two and left the last one for another desperate soul. Each bag I find out comes to 35000 Sudanese dollars. Some stores don't use the same system of 260 Dinars to one US Dollar. So in the case of the Amarat, you have to knock off the last digit and go from there. So I end up spending $30 US for 2 bags of Cat litter. At least it's the self clumping kind. With that kind of price, I'll start using it. Today I started getting the impression from some of the Sudanese staff at work they think I'm a marine. I laugh when someone refers to me as former military and tell them, "no, I'm just a computer geek". Guess it's the shaved head. Getting late and have to finish up some stuff.


but it's just cat litter

24 hours later, a call to the phone guys at the Embassy and surprise my phone lines back. Listening to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the moment. I ran into Kobeil, one of the drivers, and he setup a time for me to join him for a little trip to a local CD shop. So hoping to pick up some modern and also older Sudanese music. On the way home, I had him stop by the Amarat Center to see if they had any cat litter. There were three bags left, I bought two and left the last one for another desperate soul. Each bag I find out comes to 35000 Sudanese dollars. Some stores don't use the same system of 260 Dinars to one US Dollar. So in the case of the Amarat, you have to knock off the last digit and go from there. So I end up spending $30 US for 2 bags of Cat litter. At least it's the self clumping kind. With that kind of price, I'll start using it. Today I started getting the impression from some of the Sudanese staff at work they think I'm a marine. I laugh when someone refers to me as former military and tell them, "no, I'm just a computer geek". Guess it's the shaved head. Getting late and have to finish up some stuff.