“Allah Wakbar,” the muezzin woke me up at sunrise.
The night had passed without incident, aside the mysterious ceremony, and I had enjoyed a restful sleep. I hopped outta the hammock, packed away everything and grabbed my camera to race across the desert to the Pyramids of Jebel Barkel.
Jebel Barkal served as a royal cemetery during the Meroitic Kingdom. Which might explain the cemetery at its base. That’s when my brain clicked. The ceremony I had witnessed from the shadows of my hammock during the night was a funeral.
The earliest burials here date back to the 3rd century BCE and the pyramids pre-date the infamous Egyptian ones.
Jebel means ‘mountain’ but at 98 meters, the sand and rock point looked more like a mound. It used to serve as a landmark for traders back in the day. At its baseת the historical city of Napata is located and in 2003, the mountain, together with the city were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The pyramids shone golden as the sun came up behind me. I raced across the desert sands to beat the sun as it would heat up to 30 degrees in no time and then I also had to race back to get my packs and hike it to the highway.
The road was only 200 meters away but in 30+ degrees it may as well be 200 kilometers away.
There are about 15 pyramids in the area which date back to 1450 BCE when the Egyptian Pharaoh, Thutmose III, extended his empire south and considered Jebel Barkel its southern limit. He had campaigned near the city of Napata which would become the capital of the independent Kingdom of Kush about 300 years later.
The ruins around Jebel Barkal include at least 13 temples and three palaces, discovered for the first time by European explorers in the 1820s. But it wasn’t until 1916 that scientific archaeological excavations revealed more. The larger temples, such as that of Amun, are considered sacred to the locals.
I snapped some photos and raced back to collect my gear. The sun, already heating this desert oven to its baking capacity, rose up fast behind the Nile. Hittin’ the road I managed a ride but the driver misunderstood and dropped me at the bus station in town.
I explained to the bus folk what I was trying to do. “Groosh mafi,” I said.
“No problem,” grinned the driver.
After an hour I was told to place my bags on the roof of the bus and presented with a seat.
I was not enjoying this. I wanted to hitch hike, to find that person that would stop with good intentions in their heart. I mean, yes, these folks had the most amazing kind-heartedness about them but they were missing my point.
Or I was missing the way to express it properly.
The bus took us through the desert for three hours until we hit Dongola where I called up Ahmed from some guys in a street-side restaurant. He explained to them where I could meet him and they escorted me a half-hour through the backstreets of Dongola.
They didn’t ask for money. They didn’t say they were too busy. They simply hung up the phone, told me to follow them and off we went. I thanked the guys and Ahmed directed me to get into his Hilux. He put me in a hotel by the airport and disappeared for the day.
“I have to go to Karma for work,” he explained. “It’s 60 kilometers away.”
“No worries, mate,” I said. I was tired, hot and couldn’t be bothered to do anything.
“I’ll come back in the evening and we catch up.”
I stayed in the room with the fan on full and spent the day showering and catching up on some photo editing. I was offered an omelette and dinner but Ahmed never returned. I guess he was out late and was just as knackered as I had been.
I figured in the morning he’d arrive and maybe he could take me to the highway.
Wadi Halfa was next on the map.