Battle of the egos
Trip Start Apr 09, 2008
138Trip End Aug 30, 2008
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Where I stayed
Bush Camp at foothills of Jebel Barkal Mountain
The day's drive was only interrupted by numerous police check-points. They all had machine guns mounted on tanks, manned by chubby officers wearing pale blue uniforms and beret hats. For the most part, they only wanted to see our papers and passports. But at some stops, we were asked to pay a 'road fee', legit or not I'm still not too sure but it's best not to argue when the guy holding your passport is carrying an AK-47.
The book I'm reading now, The Shackled Continent by journalist Robert Guest, talks a lot about African corruption and one time when he was following a Guinness beer truck deep into the Cameroonian rainforest, at one of the 47 road blocks he and his driver encountered, one gendarme accused the driver of breaking the law of "carrying passengers" and confiscated his driving license
Sometimes I'm not sure whether or not authority figures are actually out to lynch money out of travellers, or if I should give them the benefit of the doubt and simply believe that they're actually doing good honest work. It doesn't help matters when language is a major barrier now. My Arabic phrasebook doesn't give me the translation for "If I am going to pay you this supposed road fee, I would like an official receipt in return. Oh and please don't point your rifle at us."
It is really a shame that the people you should be able to trust in any society (ie. Police Officers), you have to always second-guess their intention. This is a major thorn in Africa's development. But then you think how useless and corrupt the government is, and if it is unable to provide stable and ample jobs for its citizens, corruption and crime will no doubt come to fruit.
You have two choices when you come to a roadblock. You can play Mr./Mrs. Nice Guy/Gal and greet the officer as if you've known him your whole life, shake hands amicably and ask about his health, his family, their health, etc. Calling him 'my friend' and patting him on the back is also a good tactic (although never try this if you are female). After all the formalities are completed, he might just let you off the hook and wish you a "Good Journey".
The second option is to play dumb and pretend you have no idea what the officer is saying, although it's blatantly obvious
So far, these are the two choices we've attempted, both at pretty successful rates. But the key is to pick one and stick to it BEFORE your car is stopped and you're face to face with him and his gun.
Of course there are other factors that come into play, like if there are more than two officers at a road block. If that's the case, then it's best to play nice because making buddies is far easier with a group of these guys than trying to weasel your way out of a bribe, causing them to lose face in front of each other.
The whole thing is a game, a sort of battle of the egos if you will. I wonder how the rules would change if it were female officers manning the road blocks. I'm not sure, but I think I would be more frightened by a beefy Sudanese woman caressing her AK-47, eyeing us suspiciously.
We arrived in Merowe around mid-afternoon and crossed the double-laned (amazing!) bridge across to Kerima town
Jebel Barkal, a World Heritage Site, is the Kerima's main draw. South of the main street, this mountain was sacred ground for the Egyptians at the time of the 18th-dynasty Pharaohs. There are some well-preserved pyramids and a temple around it. There was a museum as well but we didn't go in.
We wanted to camp at the Nubian Rest-House, reportedly the best (and most expensive) option in town, but it was closed during the low season of April to October. So option two was checking out the "best lokanda in town", (lokanda is the local word for basic lodging), the Al Nasser. After a quick peek we decided it was in our best interest to bush camp instead.
We met up with C+C again (they left Khartoum a day earlier and took the longer route to Kerima via the Merowe pyramids), went for dinner and after watching the Germany vs. Portugal quarter-final match, we drove out to the foothills of Jebel Barkal Mountain to set up camp.
After taking a nice bucket shower under the twinkling stars and (almost) full moon, we went to sleep peacefully
Start: Lisamin Safari Hotel, Khartoum, SUDAN. 10:30
End: Bush Camp at foothills of Jebel Barkal Mountain, Kerima, SUDAN. 16:30
Distance Traveled: 444 km
Road Conditions: smooth beautiful painted tarmac road
Average Speed: 74.9 km/hr
Max Speed: 108 km/hr
Temperature: hot all around, mid 40's at least