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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

Soleb - An Egyptian Temple in Sudan

The Context - The national boundary between Sudan and Egypt is  an artifact of modernity that divides the temples and sacred sites that stretch south along the Nile from  the first cataract at Aswan, to Abu Simbel, Soleb, Jebel Barkal, Meroe and through to the sixth cataract north of Khartoum. We've been taught to think of ancient Egypt as something defined by the borders of the modern nation state when in fact Egyptian culture, power and religious institutions stretched south into Nubia along the valley of the Nile. 

But this cultural movement wasn't seamless and it's  important to note that each of the six cataracts formed a natural boundary on the Nile because they were impossible to navigate and this meant that boats had to be ported around them. Indeed they created a potent geographic obstacle  for military campaigns over millennia. 
Here's  D. on a hill overlooking the  rocky third cataract, you can see it wouldn't be navigable.
Despite the physical obstacles, trade, war, religion, culture and peoples came and went across  the Nile valley but this was not merely a movement southwards. While Egyptian power did extended south at various times, with the Pharaohs conquering or controlling outposts in southern Nubia, it waxed and waned, and  in the 25th Dynasty the Nubians moved north to conquer and rule  Egypt for more than a century. (746 BCE- 653 BCE)
Our Journey - When we went to Abu Simbel, and visited the Nubian Museum in Aswan, we knew we hadn't seen the entire story and we wanted to go south  to see more of Nubia - including the famous UNESCO listed Sudanese pyramids at Meroe. But beyond the pyramids we knew very little about Sudan. Standard tourist itineraries take you on  a comfortable one week trip from Khartoum which take in many of the major sites. They offer a visit to the Egyptian temple at Soleb as a pricey add on available only if enough people sign up. As I've discussed in the prior post we were working with a local agent and Waleed was clear about his recommendation,  we should start with Soleb.

This turned out to be great advice and I'd highly recommend doing the same. When you start with Soleb you're beginning your journey  at one of the oldest sites, the glorious Amun Temple built by Amunhotep III (1388 BCE-1350 BCE) and if you've already visited Egypt it looks very familiar. We arrived at sunset and the site was magnificent. Built on the bank of the Nile with a processional jetty, the series of pylons and pillars are very reminiscent of Luxor. This was a classical Egyptian temple and it was a fabulous site to behold. Because this was Sudan we were of course the only people there.
In a world of mass tourism it maybe hard to convey the sheer luxury of having a site like this entirely to ourselves and that was one of the great things about traveling in Sudan. You won't find any cruise ship crowds here, in fact you'll struggle to find anyone selling a postcard. Wherever we went people were genuinely interested to see us, friendly, curious and proud to share their culture and their homes. Waleed had said to us we needed to go north to experience Nubian hospitality and he was right, we only had to turn up in a village and people came out to offer us tea. 

The three ladies below came out to invite us into their home...
The temple was magnificent and the carvings of bound slaves served as a potent reminder to those on the edge of the empire as to the Pharaoh's wrath and power. 
We stayed in a modest guesthouse (basic but clean rooms and squat toilets) right next to the temple. There is no fence or no ticket booth here. The temple rises up just past the agricultural fields. There is a local guardian paid to keep an eye on things, but essentially it's just there the way it has been for thousands of years. 
It reminded us very much of Palmyra in Syria - the incredible Roman city that rises out of the desert. In Soleb (as we had done in Palmyra) we walked out into the site at night under an almost full moon without the need for a torch. If we had seen nothing else in Sudan, this alone would have justified the journey. Standing in the moonlight and taking in the beauty, majesty and the history of the temple was extraordinary, looking up at the pillars and back over three thousand years was magical. Though I must confess equally happy not to twist my ankle walking back over random historic rocks on the way back to the guesthouse!
It was a long journey to get there but it was worth it. On the long drive we passed through diverse desert landscapes and stayed overnight outside Dongola. In our four wheel drive with our driver, guide (and yes a cook!) we felt we were on an expedition. 

We  stopped in Nubian villages and drove off road following camel caravans when they drove the camels down to the Nile to drink. Sudan and Northern Nubia is an amazing place and I highly recommend taking the time to visit.