We did not want to charter a car to get to Wawa, the gateway to Soleb, and the owner of our guesthouse insisted he accompany us, so when we learn that no minibus is heading south, we walk through Abri town. The distance to the new highway to the border with Egypt in the north could be covered in half an hour, but it takes us two, because we make several stops, are invited in for breakfast, have a tea somewhere else, visit the hospital in search of a driver, and watch a woman decorating her house with black mud with her bare hands. Now we know how these rustic exteriors are made. At the crossroads and petrol station, a minibus is waiting and it appears to be heading south. The three of us can still squeeze in, and a little over half an hour later, we walk off in Wawa. The village seems almost deserted, and well-off, judging from the beautifully painted, big yellow houses. We need a boatsman, and the few ones that turn up upon a call from our guide, quote a price that we know is too high. We still have time; Soleb is just across the river, and the sun is still high in the sky. Then, suddenly, an old Landcruiser suddenly shows up in the silence; a German couple on their way back to Europe. Instead of making things easier, the boatman now suddenly raises his price, and we walk off to have a drink somewhere. I am getting a little nervous: I desperately want to see Soleb, but I also don't want to pay too much. It is a game with the boatsmen, and the guide is confident that things will work out. And they do: an hour and a half later, the boatsman agrees with our offer, we walk to the banks of the Nile, help lift the Landcruiser out of a ditch, and cross the river.
Soon after walking up the west bank, we see some columns in the distance, and after a few more minutes, walk past chunks of sandstone that, upon closer inspection, once were sculpted rams. When we reach the temple of Soleb itself, we all stand in awe. We are dwarfed by giant columns, some still supporting lintels, all partly covered in enigmatic hieroglyphs. More pieces of the temple lie scattered around, and walking around them turned out to be fun: some of the pieces had great depictions of animals, gods, and hieroglyphs. Soleb temple was constructed in the 14th century BCE by Amenhotep III, the same pharaoh who built Luxor, and the impressive architecture of Soleb certainly shows this was no ordinary temple. An older guy showed up: the ticket man; it turned out you could either pay the full price with an entrance ticket, or pay half price - which basically was a donation to the guy. One more sign of the undeveloped state of tourism in Sudan. After walking around for a while, I just sat on one of the large pieces of stone, waiting for the sun to sink. The light was still bright, and I started to wonder if we did not arrive too early. We had agreed to spend two hours at Soleb, which is sufficient to let the impressions of the temple sink in, but the light on the white stones was still awfully bright.
Inevitably, on this day, too, the sun was following its daily course, and it was sinking faster and faster towards the horizon. I started to consider just staying and spending the night at the temple, which actually would be a great thing to do. Sunset at the temple must be a fantastic sight. But we had struck a deal with the boatguy, and the Germans had their car on the other side, and wanted to continue towards the north to catch the ferry to Egypt. With the softer light, I started walking around again, looking up the enormous columns, discovering yet more decorations on the ruined stones, wondering what the temple would have looked like when it was just built. The boatsman started to get nervous well before our two hours were up, and hinted at getting extra pay. We slowly moved back, but I lagged behind; it was hurting me to leave the historic site behind. The boatride was easy, and again, we did not spot any crocodiles on the sand banks or in the water. The Germans were kind enough to offer us a ride back to Abri in their Landcruiser that had served them for almost twenty years on adventures on the road.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Soleb (Sudan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Soleb. Read more about this site.