Monday, January 1, 2007

So, if you're camping, I have two suggestions for you. If you find yourself sleeping on one of these and it's cold out, you will also be cold unless you happen to have insulation underneath you as well as atop. Also, as soft as you might think sand is to sleep on, it isn't. At least, not if its compacted under your tent.

Day the first: We depart Khartoum in a northerly direction, through much desert, stopping at the sixth cataract. The SC is somewhat smaller than I expected (don't blink!), although the Nile continues to be huge. Apparently flooding last year erased a village that would have been on the left-hand side of the picture (bear in mind that that's an increase in level of maybe 10 ft). We spent the night at a "hotel", under a thatch-roofed awning on the riverbank, wherewithin we slept upon aforementioned cots. It was really quite pretty (the stars were fantastic when I was stumbling around the camp at 4AM). Excitement included refilling the battery cells the next morning and push-starting the car.

Day the second: We veer 30 KM off-road, through desert and... more desert, for to explore Kushite ruins at Naqa and Musawwarat es-Sufra. Many ruins, lots of carvings and inscriptions, several camels. Some of the architecture is decently-well preserved, which is cool (and there's been some good restoration work, as well). It's also really interesting to see the very Egyptian-style carvings, with our good friends Isis and Ra interacting with characters who have distinctly black-African facial features. Apparently the carvings at right are of interest as the queen (at right, if you can't tell) is portrayed in the same size as her XY-bechromosomed mate. Apparently this is an indication of her relative influence, and should be regarded as some sort of early proto-feminist event. Kewl.

Day the third: New years day. We wake up on the desert sand, sore but warm, to a spectacular sunrise and a decent view of some pyramids (as referenced last post). Also a bunch of camel-riding locals who stick around to watch us break camp and offer us camel rides (for a fee, of course). The pyramids are somewhat smaller than the three I'm familiar with, but they have their own quaint charm. They do get points for quantity -- there are more pyramids in Sudan than Egypt, if'n you didn't know (we saw 20-30 in various states of disrepair). They would also be somewhat more impressive if some asshat archaeologist hadn't decided to get his teehees by knocking the tops off them. As a silver lining, I guess I got to learn a bit more about the inside construction of a pyramid (darker, smaller, less well-hewn rocks, if you were curious).

And then we drove home, stopping only for foul and coffee (Sudanese style, strong, with ginger, cardimum, and lots of sugar) at a roadside restaurant. And now we're at home, having just watched a few episodes of MASH. To bed with me!

PS I've allowed anonymous posting, if anyone cares.

PPS More images forthcoming, as I get my gallery up-to-date on my website.

PPPS Still no bags!


  1. You know who I hate? I mean, really, really loath? Erik von Daniken. He's the fucktard who wrote Chariots of the Gods, the book all about how the Pyramids, Stonehenge, etc. were actually constructed by aliens. Total fucktard.
    His basic reasoning is that "primitive people" were too dumb to build stuff, therefore it had to be aliens. I don't know about you, but I don't think that you can get more bleak and cynical than that. In addition to being ridiculous, his argument is also rascist and dehumanizing.
    I mean, really- Here's a guy, who, when confronted with all the cool shit, beautiful art, and wonderous architechture that humans have made over the course of history, refuses to believe it. The coolness and niftyness of humanity was right there, in front of his face, and he refused to put any stock in it. Instead, he wrote off our own ancestors, and externalized all of the cool stuff that we can do. Pretty sad, really.
    I didn't know that Isis, Ra, and Co. made it as far south as Sudan, that's interesting. It's also cool to see the Egyptian-type artwork remixed Sudanese style. Keep the pictures coming!

  2. Yeah, I've heard of Herr von Daniken. I haven't read any of his stuff, but I'm familiar with the general theory. I'm boggled that somebody finds it more plausible that aliens would travel countless light years to erect enormous stone edifices for no apparent reason (and not leave more obvious traces, like, oh, I don't know, advanced technology or something), than that ancient civilizations were somewhat more organized and technologically adept than he personally can conceive of. It's no weirder than the people who generate the oddball conspiracy theory, I suppose.

    I was really interested to learn about the Kushite empire, as well. I had heard the name before, but that was it. They were an entirely separate civilization from their northern neighbors, but there are obvious cultural overlaps (same pantheon, etc.). Apparently they conquered Egypt around 800 BC, and Egypt's 25th dynasty was actually Kush. They outlasted the Egyptians as an independent empire, too, disappearing ~600 AD, I believe. I love learning about stuff like this, albeit only with the depth of rigor that Wikipedia or similar is able to provide.

    One final little note -- I've been a little confused by the race in Sudan. Its considered an Arab nation, and the majority of the people in this area are Arab. Arab people here, however, tend to have much darker skin here than in most Arab countries I've lived in (to the point that they would be called "black" by anyone in the US, say, who didn't know better). There is a definite racial difference between southerners ("black") and the northerners here, however, as well as the Ethiopians and Somalians who also live here. Just another example of how malleable and complicated issues of race can be, I suppose.

  3. I didn't know that Sudan was considered an "Arab" nation. I did know that it had a prominent Muslim population, but I always assumed that as a country it was considered "African" or whatever that means. I suppose this is symptomatic of the Western tendency to monolithize Africa.
    I think we monolithize both from a "white" perspective in which we group together an entire "black" continent as if it were a monoculture, and from a "black" perspective in which Afrocentricism occasionally idealizes and unifies Africa in an ahistorical fashion.
    I didn't know that Kush conquered Egypt, or outlived it. Truth be told, I don't know much about Kush at all. Which is too bad, really. From all appearances, it seems that they had all the trappings of an active ancient civilization, yet I've not heard of them.
    I don't think that racism is nearly as malignant as it once was, but it's still odd that we in the west are oddly incurious about African history. Or most ancient history outside Europe in general. Africa in particular, though, seems uniquely ignored. From conventional historical discourse, you'd think that humans evolved there, and then absolutely nothing happened on the entire continent until slavery began. I wouldn't call this perspective rascist, but I would call it very intellectually lazy.
    Well, that was a weirdly political tangent.

  4. Yeah. I don't think the Kush were ever exceptionally powerful or influential beyond their own borders, which is why we don't remember them all that well. I'm kind of sad that I don't know that much about African history, either. I know a fair amount about ancient East-African history (Egypt through Ethiopia, basically), and colonial stuff onwards, but not too much about the rest of the continent.

    It's not just African history. How much ancient Australian or North-American history do you know? (I recently learned that there was apparently a fairly large and well-developed Mississippi Indian civilization until it got wiped out by smallpox).

    Guns, Germs, and Steel has an interesting chapter on sub-Saharan Africa. It describes there being three primary racial subtypes, with the Bantu ("black") group that is now predominant expanding out from western Africa and gradually displacing the existing Pygmy and Khoisan ("bushman") population. I don't know that this has any connection to our increasingly off-topic conversation here, but I thought it was an interesting historical note.