The history of Axum

We stopped to take photo’s at a church not sure if it was the Church of St Mary where the Ark is kept. A small voice suddenly said behind me that this is the church of 4 languages. I asked him where the famous Church of St Mary is and he said he will show us and be our guide if we wish. Our new guide’s name was Bahran and13 years old. He proudly told us that he passed to grade 9 and that it is now there 6 week summer holiday in Axum.   He hopped into the Hilux sitting with me in the front seat telling us that he is going to become a “famous engineer” because the country needs him to help recover the economy. He told us that he already made up his study roster for the new school year. I asked him if his mother helped him with that on which he said that she could not help him with the roster and that she does not even knows anything about his studies. His mom is baking enjera to sell to the poor people and his dad is a sheep farmer who stays on the farm while they, his mother, him and 2 sisters stays in central Axum, renting a house “ we stay in the middle house” he said. He was a total fascinating child and cute beyond words! He showed us the Northern Stellae field telling us about the Italians, took us to Queens Sheba’s bath, showed us the Church of St Mary’s where they were busy with a special pilgrimage ritual, took us to King Kaleb’s Palace and the so called ruin of Queen Sheba’s palace. We thoroughly enjoyed the sightseeing drive with him. He also took us to the Eritrea Corridor complaining about Ethiopia’s President that won’t make peace with Eritrea. He also invited us to his home for coffee which we sadly had to decline because we had to drive to Hawsen in Tigray before dark. He asked our email address because his mother gave him the previous day 10birr and he then ran to the internet café to open a Gmail address, Skype and Facebook so now he can email us with “hallo my South African father and motherSend a kissWhen we asked him what we must pay him, he said he do not want money but need a school uniform because the uniform changes for grade 9’s. He is really a very special child!!

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The Church of St Mary’s where the Ark is supposedly kept

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In front of Sheba’s supposedly palace. Bahran took the photo.

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Did Sheba really lived here…..?

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This was Queen’s Sheba’s bath

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View of the Church of St Mary and the big Obelisk 

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Axum city

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On their way to church

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The Eritrea Corridor

Now for the history of Axum…..hope it is not too boring!

Northern Ethiopia consisted of migrants from Southwest Arabia. They arrived during the first millennium B.C. and brought Semitic speech, writing, and a distinctive stone-building tradition to northern Ethiopia. They seem to have contributed directly to the rise of the Aksumite kingdom, a trading state that prospered in the first centuries of the Christian era and that united the shores of the southern Red Sea commercially and at times politically. It was an Aksumite king who accepted Christianity in the mid-fourth century, a religion that the Aksumites bequeathed to their successors along with their concept of an empire-state under centralized rulership.

Kingship and Orthodoxy, both with their roots in Aksum, became the dominant institutions among the northern Ethiopians in the post-Aksumite period. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a dynasty known as the Zagwe ruled from their capital in the northern highlands. The Zagwe era is one of the most artistically creative periods in Ethiopian history, involving among other things the carving of a large number of rock-hewn churches.

In these regions, the two dominant peoples of what may be termed the “Christian kingdom of Ethiopia,” the Amhara of the central highlands and the Tigray of the northern highlands, confronted the growing power and confidence of Muslim peoples who lived between the eastern edge of the highlands and the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. In religious and ethnic conflicts that reached their climax in the mid sixteenth century, the Amhara and Tigray turned back a determined Muslim advance with Portuguese assistance, but only after the northern highlands had been overrun and devastated. The advent of the Portuguese in the area marked the end of the long period of isolation from the rest of Christendom that had been near total, except for contact with the Coptic Church of Egypt. The Portuguese, however, represented a mixed blessing, for with them they brought their religion–Roman Catholicism. During the early seventeenth century, Jesuit and kindred orders sought to impose Catholicism on Ethiopia, an effort that led to civil war and the expulsion of the Catholics from the kingdom. The period of trials that resulted from the Muslim invasions, the Oromo migrations, and the challenge of Roman Catholicism had drawn to a close by the middle of the seventeenth century. During the next two-and-one-half centuries, a reinvigorated Ethiopian state slowly reconsolidated its control over the northern highlands and eventually resumed expansion to the south, this time into lands occupied by the Oromo.

Drought, economic mismanagement, and the financial burdens of war ravaged the economy.   The kingdom of Axum was the ruling power that ruled the region from about 400 BC into the 10th century. The kingdom was also arbitrarily identified as Abyssinia, Ethiopia, and India in medieval writings. In 1980 UNESCO added Aksum’s archaeological sites to its list of World Heritage Site .

Axum was the center of the marine trading power known as the Aksumite Kingdom, which predated the earliest mentions in Roman era writings. Around 356, its ruler was converted to Christianity by Frumentius.. Later, under the reign of Kaleb, Axum was a quasi-ally of Byzantium against the Persian Empire. The historical record is unclear, with ancient church records the main primary sources.

It is believed it began a long slow decline after the 7th century due partly to Islamic groups contesting trade routes. Eventually Aksum was cut off from its principal markets in Alexandria, Byzantium and Southern Europe and its trade share was captured by Arab traders of the era. The Kingdom of Aksum was finally destroyed by Gudit, and eventually the people of Aksum were forced south and their civilization declined. As the kingdom’s power declined so did the influence of the city, which is believed to have lost population in the decline, similar to Rome and other cities thrust away from the flow of world events. The last known (nominal) king to reign was crowned in about the 10th century, but the kingdom’s influence and power ended long before that.

Its decline in population and trade then contributed to the shift of the power center of the Ethiopian Empire so that it moved further inland and bequeathed its alternative place name (Ethiopia) to the region, and eventually, the modern state.

The Kingdom of Aksum had its own written language, Ge’ez, and developed a distinctive architecture exemplified by giant obelisks, the oldest of which (though much smaller) date from 5000–2000 BC. The kingdom was at its height under King Ezana, baptized as Abreha, in the 4th century (which was also when it officially embraced Christianity).

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum houses the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, in which lie the Tablets of Law upon which the Ten Commandments are inscribed.[4] The historical records and Ethiopian traditions suggest that it was from Axum that Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, journeyed to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. She had a son, Menelik, fathered by Solomon. He grew up in Ethiopia but traveled to Jerusalem as a young man to visit his father’s homeland. He lived several years in Jerusalem before returning to his country with the Ark of the Covenant. According to the Ethiopian Church and Ethiopian tradition, the Ark still exists in Axum. This same church was the site where Ethiopian emperors were crowned for centuries until the reign of Fasilides, then again beginning with Yohannes IV until the end of the empire. Axum is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia and is an important destination of pilgrimages.

In 1937, a 24-metre tall, 1,700-year-old Obelisk of Axum, broken into five parts and lying on the ground, was found and shipped by Italian soldiers to Rome to be erected. The obelisk is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of engineering from the height of the Axumite empire. Despite a 1947 United Nations agreement that the obelisk would be shipped back, Italy balked, resulting in a long-standing diplomatic dispute with the Ethiopian government, which views the obelisk as a symbol of national identity. In April 2005, Italy finally returned the obelisk pieces to Axum amidst much official and public rejoicing; Italy also covered the $4 million costs of the transfer. UNESCO assumed responsibility for the re-installation of this stele in Axum, and as of the end of July 2008 the obelisk had been reinstalled. Rededication of the obelisk took place on 4 September 2008 in Paris, France with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dedicating the obelisk to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano for his efforts in returning the obelisk.

Even though much of Axum’s history is still shrouded in semi-darkness, it is clear that Axum was and still is the capital of the Christianity religion, reaching it’s peak at the reign of Ezana in the 4th century and upheld its position for about 12 centuries.

Whatever else can or cannot be said about Axum, since much of its early history is still shrouded in semi-darkness. It was certainly a city known well to Greek traders as the center of a considerably large empire, which “dominated the vital crossroads of Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years” (Ethiopian Tourism Commission, Spectrum Guide to Ethiopia). Classical Greek was used by King Ezana as one of the languages of stone inscriptions, stones which were used as coins at that time.

Axum declined between the 9th and 13th centuries, notably due to the twin threats posed to it by the rebellion of the legendary Queen Yodit (also popularly known as Gudit) and the fast spread of Islam at the time, though it did not suffer a direct attack by the latter.

Axum was revived about 1270, with the renaissance that saw the expanding of the empire and the flourishing of Ethiopic (religious) literature. It started to lose its footing and, then, decline once and for all as the glorious city it had been towards the end of the 16th century, eventually giving way to different towns as seats of various kings, princes, and warlords, until, in the middle of the 16th century Gondar replaced it as the permanent capital of expanding Ethiopia. One thing that Axum had been, and still is, is Christianity’s religious capital.  

A country called Ethiopia

Travel to Ethiopia and become seven years younger…”

This much-touted slogan appears on every tourist brochure and poster that you see in Ethiopia and has its origin in the fact that Ethiopia runs on a completely different calendar system to the rest of the world. Ethiopia uses the Julian calendar and their new year falls on our 11 September each year. The year falls seven or eight behind Western time so if you consider the year to be 2013 it will be 2006 in Ethiopia, We are so privileged  to be in Addis Ababa on New Years day 2006! Ethiopian time is completely different from Western time. Both runs on a twelve hour cycle but in Ethiopia this twelve hour cycle starts at 6am and again at 6pm so when we made our appointment with our guide at Gheralda to go to the rock hewn churches of Tigray, we made the appointment for 8:00 our time which was 2 in Ethiopian time.

Driving in Ethiopia is an ongoing challenge. The first difficulty that presents itself is the fact that driving takes place on the right hand side of the road – a relatively straight forward task until you come to obstacles like traffic circles which require a complete paradigm shift from the normal driving we as South Africans are used to. The second complication lies in the fact that the roads are very narrow and are often completely inundated with pedestrians and livestock. It is not unusual for the road to be completely covered by pack donkeys, goats, horses, sheep and cattle. Pedestrians seem to be completely deaf and often do not respond to hooting

An additional dimension to the whole driving saga is what Philip Briggs (Bradt guide to Ethiopia) describes as “farangi hysteria”. Farangi is the Amarigna word for foreigner and the term farangi hysteria refers to the bizarre reaction of some locals (often kids and teenagers) to the presence of a foreigner in their midst. Mostly the hysteria involves shouting and demands for money (most commonly “you, you give me money!”). We countered their bad behaviour by waving to them which made them smile and wave back. Arno lost his temper only twice, stopping the truck and chasing the culprit who got such a fright that we think he is still running!

Ethiopia is an enormous country and the distances between main centres are huge. Ethiopia is also incredibly mountainous and our travels took us through and over the most gorgeous craggy mountains. As a result, travel is slow and it is not possible to cover great distances each day. We found that we kept calculating the distances between spots with reference to our map and our GPS and then discovering that we could not realistically travel even a third of the distance because the road wound its way back and forward over mountain passes. The GPS cannot read the mountain passes and we often drove kilometers and kilometers while the GPS recalculated and the distance between 2 towns were suddenly much longer than previously!! Often two or three hundred kilometres took us an entire day to travel. On the up side, however, the scenery and landscapes in Ethiopia are  breathtakingly beautiful. It’s certainly not the desert wasteland of popular perception. There is also always a hotel in even the smallest places where you can pull in for the night if your journey takes longer than expected.

In most cases, the main centers are linked by tarred roads in various states of repair, some are relatively new and others are badly potholed. For additional fun, the road signs are all in Amarigna and there are often not English translations, so you need to be sure of your route, especially of the more obscure turn off’s as there is no guarantee that they will be signposted in a language you will understand. Camping is a veritable mystery to Ethiopians so as a result very few campsites are available. We stayed very cheaply in hotels although we learned very quickly to inspect the room before committing ourselves. We paid 230Birr for a “single” room  with a double bed while a “double” room in Ethiopian terms has 2 single beds and will be more expensiveSurprised smile  this suits us very well!

Ethiopian food is totally different. The local standby dish is called injera and is a huge, sour pancake made of tef. The sourness comes from the fact that the dough is fermented for three days before preparation. Injera is served with a sauce called wat which comes in various shapes and sizes but is usually very spicy. You can also have injera with tips (roasted meat – usually goat) or with vegetables on traditional fasting days (Wednesday and Friday).  You can also order a wide variety of spaghetti, lasagna, macaroni and pizza.

Food is quiet cheap and we were able to buy a decent plate of food for about R80 which was enough for the 2 of us.  A pizza with the works will cost between 80 and 100 Birr. Arno’s beer of choice is St George beer although there are a variety of locally brewed beers including Dashen, Castel (not at all like our Castle) and Harar. Beer costs between 11 and 13 Birr and a cold drink (Coke, Pepsi etc) cost around 8 Birr. The Ethiopians make excellent cheap red wine which is available for about 36 Birr a bottle. The highlight of a trip to Ethiopia is the coffee which is served not only at the traditional coffee ceremonies but is a huge part of everyday life.  Coffee is served in little cups and is very nice.. We were numerously times invited to a coffee ceremony where the beans are roasted, crushed and then brewed three times and it is rude to leave before the third cup is drunk!

Ethiopians speak Amharaic or Amarigna, an ancient Semitic language made up of 200 characters and which seems closer to hieroglyphics to the average traveller. In Addis Ababa and sometimes in the provinces English is spoken but it is not widespread. Of course, all and sundry know how to say “you, you give me money!”

Petrol cost round about 19Birr which is double what we paid in Sudan but still cheap in comparison to the Southern African countries.

Night(mare) drive from Gonder to Axum

We have certain VERY specific rules when driving.

  • NEVER EVER drive at night
  • Know the route and road conditions for the day’s driving
  • Know where you are going to overnight at you destination
  • ALWAYS fill your petrol tank before leaving for your next stop

These are the top rules but as it goes, we already slipped up as you all well know. Well, yesterday’s drive from Gonder to Axum is the cherry on the cake, get’s the 1st prize and we are just glad to be able to sit here in Axum in our room (while it is raining outside), looking how the Springboks try to have a come back after Flip van der Merwe made his boo-boo that cost us 3 points. (Arno is speaking in Ge’es, the local language methinks) Ok it is better now, he’s back to Afrikaans after the try from Jean de VilliersOpen-mouthed smile 

We had our first night drive. It had all the elements for a horror movie.We made a booking at a hotel in Axum.  We asked about the road condition and we knew how far it is between the 2 towns. 353km. We were informed that although it is steep at places and winding, it is a good road. There is a pass and there will be road works on it. Otherwise a good road. The GPS said 6.5 hours. We had to change money at the bank which took longer than usual and we started later than usual. We were going to fill the petrol tank but there was not one on our route out of Gonder so the GPS said 75km further there will be one. 75km further there was one but the electricity was down, so no petrol! We still had enough petrol in the tank for the whole trip and we have 40l in the famous yellow cans that we bought for the Turkana route. Happily we drove on on a beautiful tar road……not knowing what is waiting for us. After 120km we hit a gravel road. We were 3000m above sea level and started going down a very steep winding and wet muddy pass down a valley that went on and on. It was beautiful scenery but a real scary drive. The funny thing is that we never read on anyone’s blog previously that this route is hairy scary although very beautiful. All we heard was how beautiful the Simien mountains are. To make the story short….. it took us 7 hours to drive the 120km through 7 (SEVEN) mountain passes climbing up and down between 3000m to 850m and back  to heaven knows how high through rainstorms, 2 electrical storms, road works and deep mud and very slippery in 4×4 worrying about the petrol situation while it became pitch dark outside. It looked like someone is throwing a huge disco party in Eretrea because of  the lighting that flared up lighting up the whole northern sky. We were 3 times stopped after dark by ropes blocking the road and men with guns (we think police) looking with torches into the truck, before letting the rope down to let us through. VERY scary. We were never before so glad to see a tar road again. For all of you that are familiar with Baviaans Kloof, The Swartberg Pass and Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), this drive was similar to do al three passes in heavy rain twice plus the last one (to make up the seven), in total darkness in heavy rain!  We finally arrived at our hotel at 10 at night 11 hours after starting. We will never ever again smugly call the Voetspore guys irresponsible because they drive at night. Something like this happens to everyone doing a trip like we do, but this is not what we ever anticipated to do or want to experience again.

Gonder–the Camelot of Africa

The city of Gonder dates to the 17th century AD, when it was part of the Abyssinian empire, a capital city founded in 1634 by Emperor Fasilidas. Gonder is well known for its numerous beautiful castles with architecture derived in part from medieval Spanish and Portuguese traditions. It was a real privilege to stay for a day opposite the Royal Enclosure at the Fasil Lodge seeing the old stone wall, thinking about how they lived and loved back then. We had a rest day lying around in our room, me updating the blog, Arno looking TV, just relaxing. It was raining and quite cool, so we found our room very comfy and cosy.  I went on a tour to the Royal Enclosure while Arno opted out (he will rather do a rally through a desert than walk from castle to castleSmile 

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Wad Medani to Gonder

We had a much better trip to Wad Medani than the previous one. We stayed over at the Imperial Hotel (250SP) a bit expensive but with a usable en-suite  bathroom, clean beds and aircon.  We took of to the border at Matema early next morning, stopped for  breakfast next to the road, waving for every vehicle that drove past and hooted for us. The Sudanese are crazy about waving to Farangi’s shouting “welcome” while all the passengers hang out of windows waving frantically. Very amusing both ways. We specially spend time relaxing because we did not want to get to the border during lunch. At Qallabat fixers tried to deviate us but we told them to get lost. At customs it took this time only 1 hour to stamp our Carnet out and we got the nicest mint tea to drink. We still had to go from office to office but it was a different guy that helped us this time. it was still painful to look at how disorganised they are. forever looking for a pen, a book, the stamp, making 1 copy when they needed 2, but we calmly and friendly sat down when ordered and waited.   We went quite smoothly through Immigration and arrived at 2.30 at the Ethiopian side to be told we must wait because it is lunch until 3!!! I sat swatting flies (I am very good at it now) while Arno and a guy that wanted to change money for us, were chatting and negotiating up and down whichever way suited both the best. The very capable customs guy stamped the Carnet in and then inspected the truck asking silly questions like what is this when he can see it is a chair, and what are these for when looking in the drawer seeing it is food. The whole border crossing took 2 hours. We immediately started climbing mountains in Ethiopia and had our first thunder storm within half an hour. It is as if a line is drawn between Sudan and Ethiopia. Immediately before the border it was hot, flat and desert while immediately entering Ethiopia you drive into the highlands and rain. In Sudan you do not see people and animals on the road but in Ethiopia it is a struggle to drive through all the donkeys, sheep, goats, children and in general the whole flippen Ethiopian population! We arrived at our hotel in Gonder before it was really dark thankful to be here and looking forward to a days rest in the cool atmosphere coming up for breath after our 2 week desert adventure.

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Making ready to hit the road

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This road was under water the first time

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The desert is now green after the heavy rains

 

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Gunboat Melik

The MELIK, a guide-blade gunboat, was ordered by the Admiralty for service with the Egyptian Army in 1896, from the Chiswick shipyard of John I Thornycroft. Construction was rapid, and she was delivered the following year, with two sisters, the SHEIKH and SULTAN, built by Yarrow’s at Poplar, also on the Thames.

All three ran contractor’s trials in Britain, and were then dismantled into carefully marked sections and shipped to Ismailia in Egypt. From there the sections were shipped up the Ismailia Canal to the Nile and then southward to Wadi Halfa on the Sudan frontier. There they were loaded onto railway wagons and conveyed across the Nubian Desert on the newly built Desert Railway to Abu Hamed. In the summer or 1898 they finally reached the point or re-assembly at Abadieh, near Berber. Under the supervision on Major W. S “Monkey” Gordon (a nephew of General Gordon) they were finally re-assembled and launched on the Nile.

The new gunboats joined a flotilla of seven older gunboats, but their formidable firepower gave them a great advantage: 12-pounder (76mm) guns, 5-inch (127mm) howitzers and rifle-calibre Maxim guns. These were manned by NCOs of the Royal Marines and Egyptian Army gunners, but the crews were a remarkable mixture of naval and civilian personnel, including Sudanese, Egyptian, Maltese, Greek and British. The flotilla was commended by a British naval officer, Commander C Keppel RN, while six of the remaining gunboats were commanded by lieutenants, and three by Royal Engineer officers attached to the Egyptian Army. No fewer than three future flag officers commanded Nile gunboats, of which one, David Beatty, became C-in-C Grand Fleet and ultimately First Sea Lord.

Keppel’s gunboat, the ZAFIR, foundered while attempting to ascend the Shabluka Gorge, but the rest of the flotilla passed through the last Cataract and kept pace with the Anglo-Egyptian Army right up to the battle of Omdurman on 2nd September 1898.

The MELIK was almost certainly the first warship to carry a cine-camera in action. It was brought on board by the correspondent of the Illustrated London News, Frederick Villiers, but it broke down, so no cine-film of the battle was shot.

Two days after the battle, on Sunday 4th September, the MELIK transported Kitchener and his staff form Omdurman to the ruined Governor’s Palace in Khartoum.

In 1926 when the Melik was retired from government service and leased to the Blue Nile Sailing Club (BNSC) she had a long career in front of her as its club-house. By the early 1980s rust was seriously corroding her bottom plates. In spite of the efforts of the Club to keep her afloat she was in grave danger of sinking at her moorings. In 1987 she was swept ashore by an exceptional flood – an event that undoubtedly saved her from an ignominious end.

Up until then, apart from in 1938 participating in the Alexander Korda film, The Four Feathers, and the war years when she was used for transport by the Sudan Defence Force, the Melik lay moored to the river bank. Here, for many years as part of the BNSC boat yard, she was a landmark and focal point for many generations of boat owners and their crews. The unmistakable silhouette of her tall funnel, high upper works and long straight-stemmed hull, set against the green of the mahogany trees lining the avenue behind her, providing a welcome sight to all those afloat.

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Now

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Gunboat Melik

Then

Gunboat Melik

The MELIK, a guide-blade gunboat, was ordered by the Admiralty for service with the Egyptian Army in 1896, from the Chiswick shipyard of John I Thornycroft. Construction was rapid, and she was delivered the following year, with two sisters, the SHEIKH and SULTAN, built by Yarrow’s at Poplar, also on the Thames.

All three ran contractor’s trials in Britain, and were then dismantled into carefully marked sections and shipped to Ismailia in Egypt. From there the sections were shipped up the Ismailia Canal to the Nile and then southward to Wadi Halfa on the Sudan frontier. There they were loaded onto railway wagons and conveyed across the Nubian Desert on the newly built Desert Railway to Abu Hamed. In the summer or 1898 they finally reached the point or re-assembly at Abadieh, near Berber. Under the supervision on Major W. S “Monkey” Gordon (a nephew of General Gordon) they were finally re-assembled and launched on the Nile.

The new gunboats joined a flotilla of seven older gunboats, but their formidable firepower gave them a great advantage: 12-pounder (76mm) guns, 5-inch (127mm) howitzers and rifle-calibre Maxim guns. These were manned by NCOs of the Royal Marines and Egyptian Army gunners, but the crews were a remarkable mixture of naval and civilian personnel, including Sudanese, Egyptian, Maltese, Greek and British. The flotilla was commended by a British naval officer, Commander C Keppel RN, while six of the remaining gunboats were commanded by lieutenants, and three by Royal Engineer officers attached to the Egyptian Army. No fewer than three future flag officers commanded Nile gunboats, of which one, David Beatty, became C-in-C Grand Fleet and ultimately First Sea Lord.

Keppel’s gunboat, the ZAFIR, foundered while attempting to ascend the Shabluka Gorge, but the rest of the flotilla passed through the last Cataract and kept pace with the Anglo-Egyptian Army right up to the battle of Omdurman on 2nd September 1898.

The MELIK was almost certainly the first warship to carry a cine-camera in action. It was brought on board by the correspondent of the Illustrated London News, Frederick Villiers, but it broke down, so no cine-film of the battle was shot.

Two days after the battle, on Sunday 4th September, the MELIK transported Kitchener and his staff form Omdurman to the ruined Governor’s Palace in Khartoum.

In 1926 when the Melik was retired from government service and leased to the Blue Nile Sailing Club (BNSC) she had a long career in front of her as its club-house. By the early 1980s rust was seriously corroding her bottom plates. In spite of the efforts of the Club to keep her afloat she was in grave danger of sinking at her moorings. In 1987 she was swept ashore by an exceptional flood – an event that undoubtedly saved her from an ignominious end.

Up until then, apart from in 1938 participating in the Alexander Korda film, The Four Feathers, and the war years when she was used for transport by the Sudan Defence Force, the Melik lay moored to the river bank. Here, for many years as part of the BNSC boat yard, she was a landmark and focal point for many generations of boat owners and their crews. The unmistakable silhouette of her tall funnel, high upper works and long straight-stemmed hull, set against the green of the mahogany trees lining the avenue behind her, providing a welcome sight to all those afloat.

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Now

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Gunboat Melik

Then

Khartoum for the second time

We decided to camp at the well known Blue Nile Sail Club in central Khartoum. We heard that the ablution facilities are non existent and this was the reason we decided previously to camp at the Sudan National Campsite about 10km out of the city. Well, you can’t have it all…….our tent overlooked the Blue Nile that was flowing 20m away but the ablution is not usable. We are long past that something like that disturbed us. Did you know that you can wash your hair, rinse your hair and wash yourselves from top to toe with 3l of desert sun warmed water?  It is a 2 man job though. We have this cute plastic wash basin (cost R100) on a stand. You bent over it and Arno pours water over your head. (his skills became better the more he does it….the possibility of drowning because of too much water too quickly became less) you shampoo your hair and then the pouring of water starts again allowing you to rinse your hair. Did I mention that the water is coming from a 1 and a half liter water bottle that was left in the 42 degrees desert sun? Now you have about 3l of soapy water in the basin that can be used to do the body part of the bath. After lathering your body, your partner takes another bottle of desert warm water and pours it over you and viola…you are clean from top to toe except that you are still in you crocs witch is now full of soapy water. So assistance is needed to first dry one foot putting it in another shoe and then the other foot doing the same. Now you do exactly the same for your partner. It is huge fun!! I complained about the state of the bathroom and the manager sent someone who cleaned the floor….and that was that. We used our bottle technique in the bathroom helping each other. Khartoum was VERY hot. We were so tired after driving back through the desert that even the heat could not keep us awake. I woke at 5 the next morning and decided to start doing the washing. That was a good thing because at 8 the desert wind started blowing and by 10 the whole city was under a red blanket! The fine red dust goes in everywhere. Poor Arno partly unpacked the bakkie and brushed away some of the desert dust that accumulated at the back just to have a new storm of dust settling in front of his eyesAngry smile I sat with him in the shade of a tree updating the blog, frequently cleaning the laptops screen when I realized that it is no good…not for me or for the computer, so I packed it away, Arno closed the truck and we just tried to outlive the temperature and red hot desert wind. The Blue Nile Club is also home to the Melik, the gunboat used by Kitchener in what is called the Battle of Omdurman.

We walked later on to the Al Waha Mall about 2km away and enjoyed the aircon in the building buying only a few things that we needed. When the storm subsided, the air cooled down and we had a very restful night awakening  with all the guts needed to go through a border post! We left the campsite looking for the Family Park to see the confluence of the 2 Niles. It was about 3km along the Nile in the same street that we stayed in, so it was quite easy to find. Everyone tells you that you can actually see the different colour of water mingling as the White and Blue Nile gets together. Well it is true. The White Nile is light brown and the Blue Nile red brown. Both are in flood and very full, so it was a sight to delight the eye! While driving out of the city we were stopped in our tracks in a huge traffic jam that was caused by some water pipe burst we think. We sat in the street for a long time. We passed the time by taking photo’s, reading our book on the Kindle, Arno brushing away dust with his pet paint brush and talking Afrikaans to the people who spoke Arabic to us. When finally on our way again, we stopped to buy fresh veggies on the outskirts of Khartoum and were on our way to the Ethiopian border.

 

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Before the storm.

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Gunboat Melik

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Sorry state it is in.

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They were on the White Nile with the Blue Nile in front of them.

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White Nile left, Blue Nile right

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Omdurman in the background

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Making a decision

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Negotiating

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Waiting

Wadi Halfa and reality

We drove 15218km in 4 months and 24 days, lost 12kg both in weight, endured joy and hardships, planned the trip over many years and yet here we are a mere 900km from our goal at the Egyptian border knowing we cannot cross the border. When the unrest and riots became worse in July, we already decided to leave the truck at Mazar’s house in Wadi Halfa, take the passenger ferry and do a Nile trip from Aswan to Luxor. Maybe rent a car to drive to the Red Sea. The ferry just started going to Aswan again 2 days ago after the border has been closed for a while when the riots started in Aswan. So, we both felt sad when we turned the trucks nose south heading back to Khartoum. We already decided against going to the Red Sea and Port Sudan and rather spend more time in Uganda and Rwanda. We are a bit before our schedule so we can take our time enjoying the adventure of driving down the length of Africa! Sad that things like this happens….but now the new adventure starts.

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The motorbike Mazar got for a present from a South African

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Mazar’s garden and house

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Our roomOpen-mouthed smile

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Street in front of Mazar’s house

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Brushing teeth in the middle of the streetWho me?

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Nassar dam

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Beautiful tar road through the desert

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The previous day’s route!

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Temple of Amara

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Picnic next to the Nile

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More ancient temples

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Sleeping outside

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When in Sudan sleep like the Sudanese!

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Sunset in the desert!!

We drove leisurely back towards Khartoum, stopped to take photo’s of all the temples on route, enjoyed the Nile, picnicked next to the Nile, wild camped again in the desert and at Atbara treated ourselves to the luxury of sleeping in the Al-Asfia Hotel in an air conditioned room with an en suite bathroom, ordering chicken and chips to be delivered to our room!! Arno had to change the aircon’s temperature from 2 degrees to 28 degrees because the room was just to cold for us!

Sudan often takes a back seat to the much more publicized treasures of Egypt. However, Sudan actually contains a much richer historical record than that of her heavily promoted neighbour. There are more ruins and relics in Sudan than anywhere else in Africa. More than 50 pyramids still stand tall after 7,000 years, a testament to Sudan’s rich heritage. Similarly, negative publicity has more recently obscured the current cultural treasures and legends of Sudan.

Sacred Hills, Temples and Tombes
South of the town of Karima is the 100 metre high Jebel Barkal, a hill regarded as sacred by ancient Egyptians. From its summit is a commanding view of the Nile and at its foot lies the Temple of Amun, second only in length to the famous Egyptian Karnak Temple. Lying west of the temple are the Jebel Barkal Pyramids, similar in style to those at Meroe. Farther south in Kurru are other interesting antiquities containing underground tombs with paintings.

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Jebel Barkel the sacred mountain

On the east bank of the Nile northeast of Shendi, and not far from the Temple of the Sun are the ruins of pyramids, temples and palaces. This past kingdom was once influenced by Egyptian art and religion, but over time became isolated and developed its own method of writing and painting. Eventually the independent city was destroyed by the Christian kingdom of Axum which descended from Ethiopia.

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Sandstorm in the desert

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Water drinking points along every road

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Happy we had this desert storm while on the tar road and not on the other route!!!

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Bridge to Atbara

Our Nubian desert adventure

We decided to drive from Meroe to Abu Hamed and drive the 369km through the desert to Wadi Halfa and return later via the tar road that follows the Nile. For some or other reason we never realized that this is only a route showed on a map……without a road.  It is the real deep desert with sand valleys. Serious 4×4 area, very remote……! The GPS, as said, does not work in Sudan, so when it took us out of Abu Hamed and the road ended, we turned around and scolded the GPS of letting us down (Arno swore at it) and look for someone who could give us directions. Our Arabic is not so good and the Sudanese people as friendly as they are, can’t speak English, so it went with a lot of hand signs and name throwing. The gentlemen told us that we must follow the railway line. Stay with the railway line. At the end of the line will be Wadi Halfa…369km away.  There will be 10 stations. Wadi Halfa is on the other side of station 1. Start at station 10……next to the railway line. We were shooked (shocked)! We can turn around  to Atbara 244km back to take the tar road or we can do this utterly crazy off the beaten track endurance 4×4 drive through the deep desert. (The children would not approve) The friendly men  eventually jumped into their Toyota to show us the way. As it was becoming late, we decided to drive on to find a place to camp and make our final decision which route we will take, the next morning. We had another fantastic wild camp under the stars.

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Sunset in the desert

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Sleeping under the stars night 2

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The next morning Arno said that he wants to do this challenging drive through the desert. We have enough petrol, water and food. I was a bit worried but if the driver is fine then I’m fine. So we had 320km of deep sand waiting for us. We started driving and I must admit, I was watching the kilometers and boy, was it becoming less ever so slowly. Station 10 were already behind us. Station 9 came and we drove past. I started to relax taking photos of the stations counting them as we drove past. At some of them there were even a few living souls. Station 6 were actually a mini village and we really started to relax. Up to then 1 or 2 vehicles came past (very ensuring) but then the tracks became less and less. the sun climbed higher and our eyes couldn’t focus. It is totally weird but the colour of the desert confuse your eyes and it became more and more difficult to see the tracks. We had to deflate the tyres even more to 1.2 front and 1.5 at the back. And it was HOT! We drank liters of water. It took some serious 4×4 driving to get through the sea of deep sand before station 4 but we made it. It was then that I started thinking that just maybe we must turn around because there was still another 100km of this type of driving in front of us. I was totally freaked out! Arno stayed calm although he admitted that this is becoming a bit frightening. At station 4 there were 2 old men. The one took me on a hike to show me where we must drive (next to the railway line) but I was busy telling him in pure Afrikaans that I want to go back to Abu Hamed but he just shook his head and showed forward to Wadi Halfa you white livered Infidel woman! Arno came around the building with the bakkie and the old man insisted with both hands forward. He tapped the bakkie and said in Arabic that the Hilux can do it! Between station 4 and 3 it was really like the Dakar race. The sand became deeper but we never got stuck. From station 2 to Wadi Halfa the tracks were so deep that the bakkie’s bottom scraped on the middle. After 6 hours of serious desert driving we triumphantly left the railway line and arrived alive and well although utterly tired and hot in Wadi Halfa. We looked for Mazar where we wanted to overnight and sort out what’s happening with the ferry because we heard the border were closed and that riots broke out in Aswan as well. We had to wait a long time for Mazar in front of his house so we relaxed in the shade of his wall.  We know it was a crazy thing we did and everyone that heard we came through the desert asked Arno how many times we got stuck between station 3 and 4 because it is a “sand valley”. Well, maybe someone else with his vehicle….but not ArnoSend a kiss with his Hilux.

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More than a bit worried

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Station 7

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Station 6

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Because of deep sand driving ON the railway line

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Finally….! Station 1.

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One very tired brave white Infidel man

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and a very brave Hilux making us very proud!!!