The overland journey began in Khartoum, the sand-blown Sudanese capital set at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers. It ended after 2,000 miles on tracks of packed sand and paved roads in Cairo, with more than 16 million people among the world's most populous and congested metropolises.
The route between the two cities, though traveled for millennia, is still rugged, dangerously hot, and dry, especially in June, when the trip was made. In order to cover distances quickly, allowing more time among the people in riverside towns and desert oases, a 4-by-4 with driver was rented in both Sudan and Egypt. Passage between the two countries was made aboard the weekly ferry from Wadi Halfa, Sudan, to Aswan, Egypt.
How to get started yourself
Though neighbors, Sudan and Egypt are at vastly different levels of development. Egypt is one of the world's leading tourist destinations, with tour operators and luxury hotels catering to the thousands of visitors to temples and ancient ruins along the length of the Nile Valley.
Sudan is much less developed and offers a more authentic desert experience, with locals offering hospitality matched by few other cultures. Though far less developed for tourism, Sudan has significant ruins, such as the temple at Jebel Barkal, and the Pyramids of Meroe.
The State Department has issued strong warnings against travel by US citizens in North Africa. For the latest, detailed accounts, visit www.travel.state.gov.
The regions visited in this trip are stable, and during two weeks of travel we did not experience a single expression of anti-American sentiment or aggression. To the contrary, people in both countries were hospitable and eager to speak with Americans.
The route through northern Sudan runs far from both the violence in Darfur in the west, and the recently ended civil war in the south. Still, travelers should consider safety issues carefully before undertaking such a journey.
Visas are required for US citizens to enter both Egypt and Sudan.
Egyptian tourist visas can be acquired in a matter of days; those for Sudan can take days, or months. For details, also visit www.travel.state.gov, or the websites for the Egyptian Embassy, www.egyptembassy.us, and the Sudanese Embassy, www.sudanembassy.org.
Travel in Sudan is much more an individual endeavor and is best arranged with the help of a local operator (see below). For a general overview of some attractions, visit www.sudanair.com/tourism.htm.
Or, an easier way...
In January, Rhode Island College anthropology professor and African specialist Richard Lobban will lead a 10-day trip to several of northern Sudan's key archeological sites, including those at Meroe, Jebel Barkal, and Kerma. The tour group will travel by 4-by-4 across parts of three deserts (the Bayuda, Nubian, and Libyan) and will overnight in desert camps. Cost, including airfare, will run approximately $3,000 per person. There is an option to add time at a field school at a site near Shendi for $250 a week. Those interested should contact Lobban as soon as possible.
In Sudan, George Pagoulatos, at the Acropole Hotel in Khartoum, is experienced at arranging drivers and guides for trips along the Nile and to archeological sites. Contact:
Zubeir Pascha Str.
In Egypt, Dabuka Expeditions can help travelers get far from the touristed Nile Valley and into the Western Desert. The company, based in Germany but owned and operated by Egyptians, also offers tours in the northern desert of Sudan. Contact:
For those who prefer to stay at home...
Consider the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' Nubian Collection, considered among the best outside Sudan. The collection includes artifacts -- a granite coffin, gold and silver vessels, ceramics and jewels -- from many ancient sites of the upper reaches of the Nile Valley between the 1st and 6th Cataracts.
Museum of Fine Arts
465 Huntington Ave.
Adults $15, seniors and students $13, children ages 6-17 weekdays before 3 p.m. $6.50, under 17 all other times free. Open daily.
About the team
Tom Haines has been the Globe's staff travel writer for 2 1/2 years. Over the past decade, he has reported in 30 countries and five continents, on topics ranging from coal to cricket, art to revolution.
Haines, 36, a native of Pittsburgh, was last year named the nation's top travel journalist by the Society of American Travel Writers. His story about facing famine in Ethiopia appears in the 2004 edition of The Best American Travel Writing" (Houghton Mifflin). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Essdras M Suarez has been a staff photographer at the Globe for 2 1/2 years, covering a range of assignments, from local news to the war in Iraq. He was previously on the photo staff of the Rocky Mountain News, where he shared in the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Columbine school shootings. A native of Panama, Suarez, 37, was also the winner, in 2000, of the Robert F. Kennedy International Photojournalism Award. He can be reached at email@example.com.