The library of the Deutsches Archäelogisches Institut used to be one of the most pleasant hideaways in Cairo, I've spent may hours there digging up obscure publications to supplement my Egyptology reading. It was there that I first heared about the Meroitic civilisation, and the remote sites in the desert immediately caught my imagination. A couple of months later, thanks to the liberal foresight of my father who stuffed an airplane ticket and a wad of dollar bills in my pocket with an encouraging 'off you go' (much to the dismay of my mother), I was sitting on a rattling and probably badly overloaded IL-18 of Balkan Airlines on my way to Khartoum...
Late June, Khartoum. 52o C in the shade - but there is no shade to be found... In such weather nothing and nobody moves fast, Khartoum was about the quietest backwater town I ever saw - it's probably much the same today. I've spent a couple of days visiting the Museum, the Mahdi's tomb in Omdurman, and sorting out the ways of getting up north, to my main objectives.
One of the trip highlights was the traditional dance of the Sufi dervishes, that takes place outside a small mosque in Omdurman every friday evening. Though a very private religious ceremony, everyone was very happy to have me, an infidel there, and noone had the slightest problem with photography. Some years later I was delighted to see the same faces in the famous japanese photographer, Kazuyoshi Nomachi's book, 'The Nile'.
With an unusual spell of luck, when going to the Sudan Antiquities Service to enquire about the ways of getting to Meroë, I was told that a group of inspectors will leave there the next day, and I was summarily invited along. The next day in a good old Landrover with a 200l fuel drum in the bach, we were bumping merrily along Sudan Highway No 1. - a set of recognisable tracks in the sand and gravel that barely qualified as a piste in places.
After a pit stop at the Wad' ben Naqa "rest house" we turned off the tracks, heading accross the bush and wadis towards the well and temples of Naqa - my first true desert experience.
Later that afternoon we continued to the huge meroitic palace complex of Musawwaret el Sofra.
Next day was spent at Meroë. While Mr Yussef and his companions went of for some official business into the nearby village, I walked the 6 kilometres accross the scorching plain from the rest house to the famed pyramids. As I walked, a little speck started moving along the same plain from somewhere - we reached the pyramids together. A little boy of about 11-12 was the guardian of the site, carrying a large visitors book with entries dating back to the early seventies. The last visitor was sometime in February, some four months earlier. On our way back, I was invited for a cup of tea to the 'house' of his father, the real guardian.