Small town Shendi seemed the perfect place for exploring the Pyramids of Meroe and the archeological site of Naqa and Mussawarrat. That was the plan, it did not materialize, but staying in Shendi was a unique experience and it turned into one of those unplanned adventures that will always be remembered. Set right on the Nile, it was almost heartbreaking to watch the enormous potential of Shendi not being used at a gateway to the Pyramids of Meroe and Naqa and Mussawarrat nearby. Day trips from Khartoum to these places are US 260, only to visit the sights at the height of the heat.
The idea was to stay overnight in Shendi, so we would not have to stay at the costly tented camp next to the Pyramids of Meroe, since Shendi is close enough to enjoy the spectacular sunset at the pyramids and drive back. Also, the visit to the archeological sites of Naqa and Mussawarrat seemed more attractive from nearby Shendi, since this can be done either early morning or in the evening. Driving up from Khartoum gets you there in heat of the day, not a good time to wander around this spread out sites in the middle of the desert, not to mention taking photos.
Luckily we had visited Naqa and Mussawarrat on the way to Shendi, since we managed to get a ride with Dominic, a widely travelled English guy we befriended in our hotel in Khartoum. This was an extreme wise decision since as it turned out Shendi has no touristic infrastructure what so ever and we would not have been able to organize the trip to Naqa and Mussawarrat from Shendi without any local help and language skills. Both places can only be reached in a private vehicle, if possible a four-wheel drive or a car with high clearance not to get stuck in the sand.
So actually there was no need staying in Shendi since Dominic continued to Meroe with his driver, but having my mind set to it, we asked to be dropped off. On our map Shendi seemed to be right on the Khartoum-Atbara Roads, which it is not. Another bad judgment. It is a good 15 minutes drive off that road, but there are small taxis waiting at the junction that take you to town for SDG 20 (€1).
The only real hotel in Shendi is El Kawther (€30 room/per night, it has no email, no website and for days nobody picked up the phone when I wanted to make a reservation. Once we arrived two girls were sitting on a desk with a telephone next to them and we wondered what this was all about.
The reception area looked quite strange, but once we saw the view from our large room (the clean bathroom desperately needs to be overhauled) we fell in love with the place, even though we seemed to be the only guests in a large hotel, where nobody spoke English. The Nile was slowly moving by our window, bordered by small green fields, farmers were plowing the soil with oxen, a paradise-like setting.
Feeling like aliens
During our stroll around town and the market area the two of us drew so much attention that we felt like aliens, at first we hardly dared to take photos since we felt so exposed. Only when a shopkeeper invited us to take photos of him and his ware we relaxed a little.
Being the center of all the attention became so strenuous that we returned to our hotel and sit i in the garden, but that also attracted people. To our great surprise we found another European sitting in the lobby: Patrick, an Irish consultant for farming projects, who had been working in Shendi for a few months. He was stunned to see two European women on their own travelling around, in particular to Shendi.
Patrick insisted on taking us out for dinner, needless to say he had a driver who took us to local restaurant packed with families, talking loudly to each other or watching the prayers on TV.
After dinner we had tea in a small park, the Sudanese small town thing to do” in the evening. The tea business is a women’s business only. Their little stalls like a bit like a mobile pharmacy with all the herbs and bottles and spices.
After this evening out we saw Shendi with different eyes. Only to be topped by the good news that we discovered Wifi at the hotel, which Kelly immediately used to call her boyfriend to report on our latest adventures.
Our appearance at Shendi bus station the next morning caused quite a commotion, resulting in comments, invitations for tea and we even received a gift, a calendar from a bus company. Luckily a young girl spoke English and once everybody knew who we were and where we were going, requests for photos poured in. We were the first people for the bus to Atabra and it left after 45 minutes, when it was full. You had to pay the price all the way to Atabre although we got off at the pyramids, but the ticket was only SFG 50 ($2,5)
Once the ice was broken requests poured in to have photos taken from literally everybody at the bus station.
The next difficulty was buying a ticket. Once I said “Mereo” and gestured “pyramid” hell broke loose, everybody around me started shouting the very word, I was getting confused and started worrying that the bus was not going there. Eventually the men surrounding us came to a conclusion and we were given our tickets. Only days later I learned there is also a town called Merowe, also famous for its pyramids and what the men were asking was whether I wanted to go to Meroe or Merowe, which to me sounded the same.
Once the bus approached the Pyramids of Meroe all the passengers pointed out the pyramids at the distance. We were so excited, about one kilometer away the pyramids were clearly visible and also the tented camp where we were going to stay for the night. How we got to the tented camp is another story, so please keep reading….