Sudan... the largest country in Africa remains veiled in mystery.

Few Westerners in our generation have visited this nation which for decades has been disrupted by strife between Islamic fundamentalists in the North and traditional animist and Christian revolutionaries in the South. Now the country seems on the verge of a new era of peace. Like Egypt, Sudan is bisected by the Nile and was center of a great ancient Nilotic kingdom called Kush, which became a periodic military and political rival of Egypt. There are more standing pyramids in Sudan, for example, than in Egypt (all tombs of the rulers of Kush between 700 BC to 350 AD).

Sudan was the place where the ancient Egyptian, Greek and African civilizations met and formed a unique syncretism, visible in the art of the walls of the spectacular temple ruins in the desert where few tourists tread. Kush was the last place on earth where the Egyptian gods were worshiped, and in the sixth century AD the Sudan ("Nubia") became so devoutly Christian that its rulers were able to resist Islam for 800 years. In 1821 the Sudan was conquered by the Egyptian Viceroy Mohammed Ali who made it his slaving colony and founded the city of Khartoum ("the elephant's trunk") at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. This city became an outpost of civilization at the edge of central Africa, the goal of 19th century explorers. It was immortalized by the heroic nine month siege between British General Charles Gordon and his tiny garrison of loyal Egyptian troops and Mohammed Ahmed, the self-styled Mahdi or "Messiah" of Islam and his hundred thousand fanatical followers. The final fall of Khartoum to the Mahdi in January, 1885, and the death of Gordon ultimately invited an invasion of the Sudan by the British in 1898, resulting in 58 years of colonial rule. The Sudan achieved independence in 1956.

Despite terrible press in the US, Sudan nevertheless is home to some of the most hospitable people on earth, who embrace everyone who visits with a kindness and welcome never to be forgotten.