I just arrived back in Chicago, having experienced one of the most extraordinary journeys in my history of exotic travels!
Returning to Egypt after almost 4 years, I was struck by how it has recovered from a tumultuous few years of ‘revolution’ [term used by locals]. I saw vast areas of Cairo bustling with activity and new buildings sprouting up everywhere. In Giza a massive Egyptian Museum is under construction and hopefully will be opened in 2017 – and the Pyramids still stand quietly, attesting to the reality that Egypt has been there for thousands of years and will be teeming with tourists once again.
I traveled down to Luxor where tourists were seen visiting the stunning Luxor Temple, Karnak and the Luxor Museum, assuring me that tourism is returning! The highlight of my tour through Egypt was a visit to the city of Aswan, where the Old Cataract Hotel stands perched on the banks of the Nile River. This hotel has recently undergone a major restoration, returning it to the elegance it was known for in the era of King Farouk and Agatha Christie. With its Moorish arches, ruby chandeliers and plush Persian carpets, one could almost hear Hercule Poirot asking for his ’tissane’ as he sat on the Promenade terrace surveying the Nile River. It is ‘luxury personified’ and not to be missed when touring Egypt.
This quote sums up my feelings about returning to this ancient land: ‘Egypt is not a country we live in but a country that lives within us’ [Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria]
From Egypt I embarked on my ‘adventure’ to Sudan, touring this mysterious country with my colleague, Hugh Fraser. And, what an ‘adventure’ it was!! From our arrival in Khartoum until our departure for home, it was a memorable journey through a country virtually ‘unknown’ to most. To say that ‘tourism’ is in its infancy is an understatement; one did not encounter a single McDonald’s or Pizza Hut anywhere! The people were friendly and excited to meet an ‘American’! It was amazing to have young people want to practice their English and have their photo taken with me — I had not had that happen since my days of traveling through Libya!
Before continuing, I must say that April/May is not the ideal time to visit Sudan, weatherwise – the average daily temperature was 45 celsius [113 F!]. One could easily crack an egg and before it hit the ground it was fried!! The best time to visit is November thru February, when temperatures are at a comfortable level to enjoy the desert and its treasures!
While touring Khartoum one realizes that a great deal of its history is tied to the British time of ‘General Gordon’ and the siege of Khartoum – vestiges of Generals Gordon, Kitchener and other great names of British Military ‘colonial days’ can be seen along its avenues and riverbanks. Of course, one cannot visit Khartoum without viewing the convergence of the Blue and White Nile Rivers – lifeblood of Sudan and Egypt!
Leaving Khartoum we drove through vast desert regions [by 4-wheel Landcruiser], the only mode of transportation if one wants to see the magnificent Nubian pyramids and other remnants of ancient Pharaonic civilizations.
The desert regions of Sudan are a wondrous sight – miles and miles of desert landscape and sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see, interspersed with wandering camels and goat herds. Although the heat was intense, it did not keep us from enjoying UNESCO World Heritage sights including the pyramids of El Kurru, Jebel Barkal with its nearby Pyramids of Napata, and the stunning Royal Necropolis of Meroe. The Nubian villages in the old Dongala region that we encountered on our drive revealed colorfully painted houses and its villagers who welcomed us into their homes for a cup of tea. One of my personal favorite sights was the ancient temples of Naga and Mussawarat, standing in silence, frozen in desert sands! One cannot tour Sudan without enjoying a cruise on the Nile, and we did so at the 6th Cataract, enjoying the Nile River’s last cataract upriver from Khartoum. Observing daily life as we cruised one imagines very little has changed along this ‘ribbon of life’ since Pharaonic times!
A recent New York Times article noted that one should visit Sudan and its ancient pyramids before crowds descend! My travel adventures over the past 40 years have left indelible memories to be forever savored – but this latest journey is truly the ‘frosting on the cake’ and I am in complete agreement with the New York Times assessment of this ancient kingdom!
It is always good to return home, but already my ‘feet are itching’ for the next adventure, and where that may be I am not sure as I am running out of ‘off-the-beaten-path’ destinations………………………
Nicole (Niki) Beattie