JP

Travels through Sudan VI – Dune

…continued from: Travels through Sudan V – Into the Desert

Northern Sudan.

     The sun is slowly sinking, the temperature getting almost bearable after a day of unrelenting heat. I can almost take a full breath again without having to worry about burning my tongue on the desert air. Every minute and every inch the sun sinks, the temperature goes down a degree to match. It was an exhilarating first day of driving down the Nile from Wadi Halfa and I think we’re already at day four without a shower. We start looking for a spot to camp, ha, “looking” really not being the right word, but more like choosing an area out of a million perfect campsite areas. We just head left for a few minutes, figuring the further we get from the Nile the better we’ll be. Around a mountain we run into a sand flat that must be five, maybe ten, miles across, head to the middle, and park on the flat. Surrounded by black mountains, tipped here and there with dunes carried by the winds like reversed waterfalls of caramel moving up the cracks of the black rock, this place is truly amazing.

     As this point you ask yourself, “What do you do in a spot like this?”, a spot on earth surrounded by such stark beauty without another soul around for miles, maybe a lot more than just a couple actually, with the sun going down, the temperature just perfect, and the mind imagining and remembering any and every desert adventure movie you have ever seen. Well, we headed to the biggest dune on the biggest mountain we could find. What else are we gonna do?, right. …certainly not take a shower.

     Distances are skewered here. What looks like a short distance is actually much farther than you think. What looks small is big, what’s short is long. The biggest dune is pictured in the background above, no problem, the first thing I do is kick off the flip-flops, take a deep breath, and eventually reach the bottom of the dune and mountain only to look up and say “wow”. Markus heads up first, JP behind (pictured on the right →). The sand is so, so, fine, cool on top, yet warm in-between the toes as you dig in. Moving with the wind, almost alive, crawling up the mountain before us as we follow it up. The finest sand gathered by the winds of the desert from probably hundreds, if not thousands, of miles around, only to be deposited here, where we stopped, in the middle of nowhere. We watch it move up the mountain in front of us. A scorpion skitters out of our way, most definitely mad that we would even think of messing with his dune. The Sahara in all it’s glory, in a single dune, colors changing with the falling sun. It gets steep, we are huffing and puffing now, only to turn around and absorb the view. The Sahara, sun setting behind the mountains in the distance, not a building, person, or any other sign of man in sight except for what we brought into this place. There’s no sign of Coca-Cola, no sign of an iPad. Not a light to be seen, not a piece of man-made equipment to be heard. You can hear the sand moving, creating a little whirring around your feet. I look down. Footprints, slowly fading in the wind. The sun is headed straight down now. We head to the top…

     It looks small in that picture above, doesn’t it? Pictured below is halfway up, our camp is the group of little black splotches in the upper right, about an inch down from the top. Things are skewered here, there is no man-made reference point, there’s only sand, sun and rock…

     We keep going, almost to the top now, a few feet to go. Another Scorpion, a little lighter than the last. This must be Mrs. Scorpion, her husband the fellow we met down below, coming home for the night from a tough day at work. She looks at me for a few seconds, inquisitive almost, “Who or what is this big pink thing?” she thinks, or I imagine. Mrs Scorpion turns nonchalantly, not really caring to find an answer. She turns for another look, I imagine her head shaking in an “I don’t know what their doing” kind of way. She heads to her house a few rocks over, hoping her husband is ok, and starts to sweep the front patio of the never-ending sand that continues to keep her busy, not even giving us another thought. It’ll be dark soon, need to tuck the kids in soon.

     We finally get to the top. A mountain conquered. A landscape laid before our eyes like we have never seen before. A sandy moon type setting changing color every second with the setting sun. Its cool now, probably around 30° (F) cooler than when we started. There’s a breeze up here. We take a break, sit down, take some pictures, watch the sun fall. I think back to where we started from, Istanbul. Over two months of driving to this point. Istanbul, Gallipoli, Troy, Termosses, Damascus, Aleppo, Krak de Chevelier, Cairo, Palmyra, Luxor, Aswan. Towns and cities we have been through on the way. Not one can compete with this dune. This dune is almost immortal. The rest will be built, crumble and fall. This place will still be here. It was probably here before the Pyramids of Egypt, and it will probably be here when they fall, smiling, embracing the wind, not worried, just being.

     I see Mrs. Scorpion below. She has stopped sweeping, it’s no use. She’s watching the sunset at this point, soaking up the last rays of the sun and preparing for a cool night. I don’t think she’s worried about us, she doesn’t even turn around. We follow her lead, ignoring all but the sun, cursed during the day, missed during the night. It’s getting dark, it’s getting cold. Time to head back. The first day of many. Unforgettable. This place brings things into perspective. You can’t fight it, no matter how hard you try. You are insignificant relative to time, the sun, and the wind …and Mr and Mrs Scorpion and family. Enjoy it while it lasts, because you won’t outlast any of the aforementioned, even if you try, but, sitting here, there is no reason to try, just reason to be. To be here now, and see this sunset, on this day, at this point, with Markus, JP and Mrs. Scorpion. Nothing better in the world and nowhere better to be.

     We head back down, I wave farewell to the Mrs., we pass Mr. Scorpion again, still on his way up. The footprints we left on the way up are already gone, Mother Nature not liking the blemishes left on her perfectly sculpted piece of art. I find my discarded flip-flops, we start a fire. Talk turns to Mr. and Mrs. Scorpion as we eat laughing cow cheese sauce over already rotting fresh tomatoes. I wonder how long her family has lived here. I wonder if she is a direct descendant of great great great great great great grandma scorpion who saw King Tut walk this dune. Cleopatra, King Solomon, The Queen of Sheba. I wonder if grandma just shook her head, swept her porch, waited for the mister to get home as she watched the sun and wondered what these big pink and black people were trying to do…

     The shot below ↓ of Markus and JP from the top. I have hundreds of more photos from a period of about a half hour here. It’s insane how quickly the setting and color changes with the falling sun and changing light. The background you see in the distance, it goes on for hundreds of miles. The sun comes up, it gets hot, real hot, the sun goes down, it gets cold, real cold. The Nile weaves in and out of the picture, the people jump in from time to time. The Sahara presents itself as an environment that doesn’t tolerate humanity, yet humanity eakes out a living throughout. It’s insane, its nature, its the Sahara. I’m sure Mrs. Scorpion smiles at the stupidity, goes back to sweeping, and chuckles a quiet thought as she watches the sun…

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Sudan VII – The Temple of Soleb

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6 comments on “Travels through Sudan VI – Dune

    • Thanks TO …I’m not too thrilled about the narrative. Seems a bit choppy, with a bit of happypopilosophy mixed in, but, it works… Thanks for commenting,
      John

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