People usually don’t tell travel stories of how they got scared so much they ‘almost’ peed themselves.
Sudan is one of the most underappreciated countries in the whole of Africa. No wonder, though, since the government promptly charges you a lot of money for the visa and makes the process of obtaining it a royal pain in the ass.
Unless you have your own 4WD, like many overlanders, you are really limited with the routes you can take and places you can see in the endless deserts of this fascinating country. ‘So, you know, in Sudan I saw pyramids that are so much cooler than your own!’ I was bragging to my friends on Egypt. Little they knew of the horror story that accompanied this sightseeing escapade. Meroe site in Sudan is located in the middle of endless desert sand dunes, among happy gangs of camels and donkeys, on a strip of highway between Khartoum and Atbara. One of the most confusing things I witnessed in this country goes like this: bus drives through the desert, not a single shrub or shed in sight, and then this guy in turban next to me asks the driver to pull over – and gets off. Question: Where the hell is he going and how?
3 hours after I boarded the bus I found myself in the exact same position. ‘Your stop here,’ the driver smiled through his bushy moustache. I got off. A lot of sand, a thorny shrub and an old sliced tyre on the side of the road. The bus drove away.
About 1km ahead, against the backdrop of blue desert mountains, the pyramids towered above the sea of yellow sand. O those ancient marvels produced by tireless slave labour, the perfect trapezoid mausoleums of timeless kings… Wait, trapezoid? ’There was some guy about 20 years ago who figured that since the Egyptian pyramids had gold under their tops, so should the Sudanese too,’ someone explained to me later. ’So he went and got some dynamite’. This is one beautiful legend that explains why none of the Meroe pyramids has a proper triangular tip.
The clock was ticking as I was walking towards the site, hoping to get there before sunset at 6pm to take some stunning photographs. Out of nowhere, a man on a camel emerged from the sand and floated up to me, offering a ride to the ticket office. The surreal has begun.
‘Camping?’ ticket man gazed at me lazily across the concrete room.
He said I could pitch my tent wherever, just not inside the pyramids, and then disappeared, along with the camel man and a flock of children who tried to sell me some rocks. I decided to not even try to guess where they’d all gone: somewhere in the twilight horizon I could see a couple of formations that looked like houses. I pitched my tent. I was completely alone, under the most starry of all moonless skies I’ve seen, in the desert by ancient pyramids. The first thing I learned about camping in the desert is that the wind blows equally strong on both sides of the dune. My tent would have turned upside down and rolled over if I was not there with all my bags.
At midnight, my sharpened senses woke me up with the most terrifying sound one could hear in the silence of the desert. The sound of footsteps. I was alone, in the middle of the nowhere, in a tent, and someone was out there. Waiting. Walking. Add to this the sound of the zipper banging against the front of my tent, as if somebody was trying to break in – and here comes the Mummy. The battery on my phone was running low. It would take the mummy fighting squad a least 3 hours to get here from Khartoum.
I need to explain perhaps, why would a girl go camping out in the desert alone at night. I could probably say that I was brave like 300 spartans, but in fact, I was simply unable to find any travel buddies in Khartoum – not the most touristy city on the planet. I weighed all the pro’s and con’s of camping alone by the Meroe pyramids, and the biggest pro was, of course, that it will be a great story. A great story of how I almost peed myself and spent 5 minutes breathless of fear.
I spent some time lying breathless and thinking what items in my bag could be used as a weapon against the zombie pharaonic invaders. Bananas are only good to put in your ears. MacBook Air is too damn light. I could knock them out with my ukulele and run. 5 minutes later I realised what was scaring the wits out of me.
The wind. The bloody wind was blowing my tent off the dune and stirring the sand outside, producing the creepy noise that almost drove me nuts. To make sure that it was, indeed, not a mummy, I crawled out of the shaking 5-dollar tent and dug my head into the sand. Just kidding, only ostriches do that. No, really, they don’t.
Even in the desert, I had mobile internet. I checked my emails and neurotically laughed at myself.
The ghostly mummy soon left, sad and alone, because I didn’t want to play. I tweeted about it.