Because of border disputes with Sudan, the area was closed off to many “intruders” and was off-limit to foreigners who had no business being there. Perhaps only environment-related research, and a combination of nepotism and haggling can get you near that strip of land. We were lucky to be allowed into Shalateen and into the mountains to its West – both full of stories, difficulties and a different kind of magic. Badriya, the feisty 4X4 Land Rover discovery we both love, happily took us there. The 1000-km drive south was well worth it — despite losing our way, our car lights failing us in dark winding roads and in spite of getting behind on schedule a few times. And we tweeted, using Badriya’s Twitter account, about all that and more.
But in retrospect, it was all so much fun. We tried to out-smart a high-ranking army official to our failure and embarrassment, we made friends with local police officers, two of them over-concerned with “marriage and dating”, we learned about making henna and dancing with swords. We attended a tribal wedding, walked through Roman temples and past ancient water wells tucked away in the mountains of Wadi el-Gemal, home to the largest population of gazelles in Egypt, and we hunted –with our cameras– a few of those.
The daily camel market was no less remarkable, with the massive camel traffic coming all the way from southern Sudan on foot and further north into Egypt on trucks.
And perhaps the most worthwhile part of the trip was speaking with the locals, whose lives are caught in the middle of a border dispute between Egypt and Sudan.
Our trip was worth documenting, in our humble opinion, and we decided it was even worth a travel series. You can read our stories on Al-Masry Al-Youm English website. You need only to click on the Shalateen and Back Again banner to access the latest instalment of the southern adventure.
These are the stories published so far:
- A hunt for adventure, fun and facts in the southern mountains: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/26118 (A short introduction to the series)
- Married to Tradition: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/26323 (the product of an exciting conversations with young locals on issues of the heart; love, dating and marriage)
- Shalateen: Growing up between a rock and a hard place: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/36282 (a meditation on the past, present and future of this unblemished town)
- The Long Drive Down: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/37588 (The roadtrip begins here, how we went from picking a spot on the map to actually making the 1200-kilometers drive to the deep south happen)
- The Hunt for Truths in a Far-off Town: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/39212 (We finally arrive at Shalateen. Read about how we tried to play “good cop, bad cop” with the military and how it backfired, how our first (forced) friendships were with undercover policeman and security officials. We share our first impressions and show how the presence of two strangers disturbed the peace in the small town)
- Swords, Shields and A Whip: A Beja Wedding Night: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/40980 (This is where we recount our search for gold, and our memories of a very special Bedouin wedding in the mountains)
- Saying Farewell to the South: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/42541 (We explore ancient Roman lodgings and temples, we hunt deer with our cameras, sleep under the stars only to wake up to find ourselves surrounded by border guards)
Skills learned from Bedouin men and women:
- Henna-art Beja Style: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/40992 By Pakinam Amer
- Jabana: Patience in a cup of coffee: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/42546 By Amr El Beleidy
- Beja Wedding: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/41007
- Shalateen Markets: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/42359
- Wedding Dance of the Beja Tribe: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/40195 In the heart of the mountains south of Egypt, we attended a “Beja” tribe wedding. Here we record one of the Bedouin ceremonial dances we witnessed and share our impressions.
We were also inspired to write blogs posts, jotting down our own impressions of the area, its people and the common issues we both face:
- Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult: https://pakinamamer.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult/ (Pakinam Amer blogs about relationships in Cairo and Shalateen)
- Reflections on a Southern Marriage: https://pakinamamer.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/guest-post-reflections-on-a-southern-marriage/ (Amr El Beleidy talks about his own views of marriage in the capital and the south)
- These two posts are merged together with a little bit more analysis in a single piece written for Al-Masry Al-Youm’s blog by Amr El Beleidy and Pakinam Amer: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/38736
Follow the travellers on Twitter:
Amr – @beleidy
Pakinam – @pakinamamer
Badriya – @Badriya4X4