africa – sudan 2012.
When a cut down landcruiser with a anti-aircraft gun goes past filled with waving soldiers, you wave back – as experienced many times in numerous variances in the north of Sudan.
Landing at the dock it was soon evident that Sudan wasn’t doing quite as well in the economic index as Egypt, although this said they did now have a lot more white goods. With our bikes eventually off and loaded we followed the tracks of others through the sand before arriving at customs. As expected this wasn’t the most seamless process as evidenced by having to walk back and forth between offices several times over for our various entry stamps. By the end of this process and having formed a friendship over our 4 visits with‘El-Capitan’ I felt that he wouldn’t mind me putting forth some suggestions to assist the process. I held back my comments when I realized it might do ‘official stamper no 1, 2 and 3’ out of a job. During this process we got to meet a NZ girl (Danielle) who was doing a similar trip on a motorbike and two French (ies) cycling. Over the entire trip we did occasionally bump into other wheeled travelers where in most instances we just took in each other’s bikes or in the case of a motorbike felt a little envy.
Rather then staying in the border town of Wadi Halfa due to the worldwide-shared character of border towns not being tremendously nice we opted to cycle out of town for to camp in the surrounding and at this stage unique desert. It was this short ride out of town that allowed me to reflect on Sudan, a country most well known for its genocide, corruption and just recently getting divided into two. For me it was always a country of intrigue whether to obtain an understanding of the above factors or just the fact that it seemed so (so) foreign, a place I could comfortably say several years ago that I would never get a chance to visit. It was partially due to these reasons that we had to sign Australian government waivers to accompany our visas stating we knew the risks of the country and that the country has no Australian representatives.
The first few days in Sudan where a mix of straight roads heading predominately south, long distances (190km days), teasing glimpses of the Nile and a lot of the surrounding desert. This environment perfectly sums up the word ‘barren’ with only rocks of varying sizes and our friend the tailwind to break up the scene. It was like this for the first few days with each day broken up by visiting a local community for lunch and eventually finding a hidden open space for camp the former being the harder of the two. These days weren’t really an opportunity for site-seeing due to the whole heap of nothingness so it was where we were fortunate enough to pass a town or more frequently a store that we got to stop, engage with the locals over a warm soft drink or three and avoid the sun. These were opportunities to experience the renowned Nubian hospitality whether it was a meal purchased for us, a tour of a town or vacating a room so we could spend the night indoors. It was these moments that showed me the other side to the people besides those commonly mentioned in the media.
Due to the lack of towns or settlements our camp destination was commonly an approximate distance, often defined by the renowned fast setting African sun and/or a seemingly private place off the road i.e. behind one of the many dunes. Countless nights were spent around the ‘kitchen’ (boiling water) sheltered by our tents with the deafening silence of the desert only interrupted by the first season of ‘The Wire’ on Gavan’s ipad. The mornings in this environment was quite the opposite of a relaxed atmosphere as it was a rushed affair to pack camp up, clothe appropriately and finally eat breakfast whilst avoiding body extremities falling off due to the near zero temperature. Quickly getting on the bike was evidently the only way of warming up. My daily journal of these days doesn’t offer much indication of our locations as it reads desert camp to desert camp, desert camp to desert camp etc… several times over.
Arriving into Khartoum was a bit of a joy and marked by securing a nice hotel, a place that over the years has been known as a base for journalists and NGO workers. A shower was one of the more comforting options, a gush of water that quickly turned us from brown to only partially brown. Other main luxuries besides us all now being mildly presentable were actual beds (no sleeping sheet required), restaurants that offered varying options and a television. My rest day in the city was as per my normal rushed affair, forcing me to query the benefits of rest versus taking in the sites. In the end I won’t be back in a hurry so figured I should see all I could whilst possible.
Our days following our departure from Khartoum were filled with some actual greenery (not much), heat (a lot) and the absence of our friend, a tailwind due to our now easterly direction. The heat was well hot, amplified by the lack of shade, temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees and the simply fact that you had to cycle through its entire daily duration with the suns effect evident by the beautiful looking cracked and peeling lips and nose that I was now sporting. This was all despite putting numerous layers of sunscreen, pawpaw cream and our locally bought shemaghs. On the plus side it was good for our now impressive ruler straight tan lines. As for the change of direction and the resulting headwind it definitely resulted in some harder days on the bike, ones that are quickly forgotten on reflection although at the time made it a bit more difficult to continual push for 10 hours per day for continuing nighttime arrivals. The lights on our bikes, which were a last minute purchase, were certainly proving to be worthwhile.
Our bikes throughout the country did really well along with our bodies. Shane broke some more spokes but considering the long distances and lack of bike shops we came out really on top. Occasionally, when seeing other cyclist’s bikes ours certainly stood out with each part seemingly the optimum selection for this type of trip. Whether this was the internally geared Rohloff rear hub, the dyno-hub on the front wheel to charge USB items and to run our lights or the simple inclusion of the stand that proved a worthwhile addition everything just worked so well. It should be noted pretty much the entire bike was black, nice vibrant aesthetics. With the bikes performing so well (and looking good) the whole getting up ride and do the same the next day was simply our life at this stage. A very good one I should add.
The main constant throughout the country besides being woken early due to the call for morning prayers was the food, named fool. I will never again critique my diverse culinary choices at home considering that each day featured fool (mashed up fava beans) in slim choices whether this be with egg, our own tomatoes or onions which we passed onto the chef (man mashing beans) or if it was mashed with an empty coke or pepsi bottle. Pretty much the only variance to this meal was our own desert camp cooked meals (2 minutes noodles with or without tuna) and the non-Sudanese dish of bibimbap provided to us by a Korean family we stayed with.
The last day in the country was what we labeled a ‘mad dash’ with a late start and a long distance we aimed to cross the border that day. The naming of the day certainly gave us an extra 10% mainly because it sounded like a fair reasoning. Made it we did and we left behind the numerous border-stamping employees of Sudan to be meet on the Ethiopian side with finger scanning… The difference an arbitrary line on a map can make.