…continued from: Travels through Sudan VI – Dune
The next morning we wake to an uncomfortable chill in the air and the rising sun. It’s amazing how cold it feels at night relative to the heat of the day, with the temperature difference last night dropping 70° F: 120° during the day to 50° during the night. Looks like we had some foxes in the camp last night, which is becoming a common occurrence during the last month. As the sun rises so does the heat, and within an hour of waking the temperature has climbed at least 20° or 30°. A quick breakfast, pack up, and we’re off for another day of sand and sun.
We skirt the dune of the night before, I wave goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Scorpion, the kids are probably off to school by now. This will be day five without a shower or bath. It’s not so bad, it’s a dry heat. Ha.
We head back to The Nile and make a left, easy as that and we’re on the right track. A few hours of skimming the banks of the river, passing through palm forests, around irrigated fields of green, over sand dunes and in-between rock walls and we start to go through a few villages. By noon it is scorching and we are wishing for the chill of the night before.
The dust is all-encompassing and never-ending. We start to play tic-tac-toe in the dust on the table. By the time we wipe the game clean we are able to start another. A short lunch break allows to see the cause of all this dust, as we jump out of the truck only to sink up to our knees in “bull-dust” – dust so fine and airy it’s like walking through a cloud, with a bit more coughing probably. We spot a few local people by the river and talk about the dust, the rain, the heat. It seems it’s been eighteen months since a drop fell from the sky. Anything not fed by or within a few feet of The Nile turned to dust by the scorching sun. A quick bite to eat and a short drive to the town of Wawa and we cross The Nile (by very small boat) to the Temple of Soleb and town of the same name.
As for the Temple of Soleb, I have to say, it was a bit lost on us, having just driven from Istanbul,and seeing just about any and every temple, ruin and building of history on the way including, but not limited too: The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Troy, Ephesus, Petra, The Pyramids of Egypt, Luxor, The Citadel of Aleppo, Damascus, Krak de Chevalier, Palmyra, Goreme, Termosses, etc, etc. Not that this Temple is anything less, but a bit “templed” out at the moment. That said, an ancient Temple in the middle of the Sahara, next to The Nile, designed for Amenhotep III, at the time the King of Nubia, is nothing to take lightly, so at least we knew that. That said though, the town next to the temple looked to be a bit more interesting at the time.
Below is a picture I found (see link above) from an expedition in 1907-1909. I took the color picture right below that in 2007. Hmmm. These things are built to last, no doubt. …also, great minds think alike :). If nothing else, the comparison shows, if just a little bit, how far this area has come in the last ninety years. Almost negligible.
The people of Soleb (the town right next to the temple) still get their water from the river, they still live in the same houses their parents and grandparents have. They still subside on crops watered by The Nile. The town, honestly like nothing I have ever experienced. Mud houses surrounded by big, thick mud walls. Front doors painted with the brightest colors possible. There aren’t many people around but those that are are mostly too busy trying to eak out a living that they don’t have time for the visitors. The Temple is but an endpost to their town, they have more important things to worry about. You could pick up a stone here, inscribed with petroglyphs, that would make The Met, The Louvre, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, jealous. Now that would be a nice souvenir. No one does though. The Temple belongs to the town and its people, and as they are loading up bags of dates to help the people of Darfur, you can’t help but think how they are giving away what little they have, even though that little is almost nothing. To steal something from these people would truly be despicable.
We meet a group of kids as the wind picks up, a grandmother and grandchild. Those that have time to stop, do. The kids in a mish-mash of clothing, winter jackets, pajamas, unicef shirts, sweaters, t-shirts. I take a few pictures, none too good with the harsh light, the kids see their faces on my LCD and scream with joy. Grandmom points out the strange people in town.
A few minutes later and everyone is gone, the wind picks up, the sand blowing in swirls all around town. We head back to the Temple only to be cut off by a shawl covered young woman. She takes us by surprise, walks right over, extends her hand, says “Hello”, and invites us to lunch. She explains that a sandstorm is coming, the wind foretells its coming.
We are a bit taken back, women are subservient here, never even looking at a man, let alone talking to one or touching one. She speaks perfect english and carries herself with an air of confidence almost never seen in this part of the world for a woman. Its refreshing actually, and a reminder of how small the world is getting. She learned English in Khartoum, came back to her village, works in the fields and interprets between visitors and the town people. She says she doesn’t care about what others think, what the religious law says a woman can or can’t do, or what her peers think of her. She is Nubian and she does what she wants. We have a short conversation but unfortunately can’t stay for lunch. Another opportunity missed, in my mind, but a meeting I will always remember and a woman I could never forget.
The sandstorm comes and everyone disappears, we make our way back to the river to continue on our way. The Temple experience turned out to be a good one, rising above the edge of town in sight but overlooked by the people there. The people actually being the real surprise and enjoyment of the day. The woman explained a bit, the thinking of the people. The Temple has always been there and always will. A rock will always be a rock. Your neighbors and family, they move, they die, they disappear. There will always be time for a rock, but the time of your family and neighbors is finite and limited, so best to spend time with them. Plus, they talk much better than a rock.
We head off, down the Nile again, but not without the thought that the town and people of Soleb will be there for the next few thousand years, with the temple simply being a photo opportunity for the passing tourist every ninety years or so.
…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Sudan VIII – Nomads