A Travellerspoint blog

April 2010

All of a sudden we're in the Sudan

Goodbye to the Ethiopian highlands, hello to the deserts of Sudan

sunny 39 °C

The 15th century castles, palaces and monasteries of Gondar were impressive indeed but they will not be our lasting memory of the Town.

As we cycled in the usual scruffy young men tried to latch on - “You! You! Hotel?” “You! You! Marijuana?” We ignored them all, but one was different. Well dressed, intelligent face, and nice a nice manner about him. He helped us find a very nice and very cheap hotel and made a show of refusing payment for his services. After finding out that we needed Sudan Pounds he offered to help - “I have many friends from Sudan”


The exchange rate he gave us was slightly worse than the other hustlers….
I said to Polly “lets change money with him - he’s a nice guy and I trust him.”
“You remember the last Ethiopian ‘nice guy’ in we trusted” said Pol.
“Yes” I remembered glumly… “you can never tell someone’s character by their face.”

The deal went ahead… 560 Birr for 100 Sudan Pounds… then of course he asked for a few extra Birr “because with this exchange rate I get no commission” at which point I tried to give him back his pounds in exchange for my Birr, but not keen on that, the exchange finished and we went our separate ways.

5 minutes later recounted the Sudan Pounds - there were only 60.… pockets checked 3 times…. But the remaining 40 pounds were nowhere to be found. The transaction replayed in my mind many times to work out where I got cheated by guy with the bad exchange rate but the honest face!

But soon the Summerhayes crime fighting duo had a plan.

The following morning we bumped into David again. Smiley faced and friendly - offering to change more money! We also remained smiley faced and had a nice little chat. Pol asked to take a photo of David and me, which she did. We both smiled jollily at the camera…. Then the mood and the facial expressons changed:

“David - you ripped us off - you owe us 40 Sudan pounds”
The expression on his face was heart breaking - “No, no.you guys are my friends. You gave me 560birr, I gave you 100 pounds, I did you a favour.”
He was so convincing that for half a second I considered aborting the plan.
“No David - you only gave us 60 pounds. You ripped us off, you know it and we know it. Have you heard of the lonely planet website? Well every farangi that comes to Gonder checks the website to see where to go, what to do and WHO TO TRUST. We are going to put your photo on the website….. And then your little business befriending farangis and then ripping them off will be over. YOU’LL BE FINISHED!”
“You crazy man!”
“No David - you’re crazy because if you don’t give us back our money you’ll be FINISHED”
A police man walks up, David starts protesting. Insisting that I have taken his photo and the police must make me give it back. His protesting stops when I start yelling that he has ripped me off and must pay me back if he wants his photo… the policeman who doesn’t speak a word of English looks bewildered but uninterested.

That breaks David. The cops aren’t gonna help him so he’s gonna have to help himself…

Tears well up in his eyes “OK, OK but you don’t understand. I have no mum and dad… my family”
“David - I don’t care about your family - I just care about my money - now give it back or you are finished” Wow - this farangi is mean!

“OK - take my mobile phone - it’s worth 3 000Birr (£150 sterling)” (it is a very flash phone)
“No David - I don’t want your phone - I WANT MY MONEY - 60SP or 200Birr (£10sterling)”
“But I don’t have it. I spent it”
“Well go and un-spend it, borrow it, sell your phone… but get it to me - you have 15 minutes before I post this photo on the web”

And so the arguing and batering went on. But within the 15 minutes David had found us the money and the photo had been deleted. The Summerhayes Duo had won but remained heavy hearted. Fed up as being viewed as fat cash cows ready for milking. Still unable to wholeheartedly trust anyone. It was time to move on.

The following day we planned a monster ride off the Ethiopian plateau and into Sudan. It was 200km to the border, with a drop of almost 2000m. The day didn’t start well. We hadn’t slept well during the night and rob was starting to develop a cold so getting out of bed was a challenge. We left an hour later than planned.

We were expecting a long gradual height drop over the next 200km but after 80km after some sizable down and up-hills we found ourselves back at our starting altitude. But then we saw it - a huge cliff to our left and right and all of a sudden we were speeding down the steep escarpment. Switchback after switchback, ears popping, breaks squealing and a wall of thick hot air coming up to greet us to our new environment.


Buffeted by an ever strengthening, hot, throat parching headwind and challenged by many steep sided hills we battled on. Re-evaluating our plan of getting over the border we opted for the closer option of ‘Shedi’ spotted on our map - 30km short of the border. “yes - nice town. Has very big hotel with many floors” said a young man working on the road. We slogged on motivated by the idea of the ‘big hotel’ - shower, crisp white sheets and good food.

The sun was setting as we approached town. Asking a policeman (using mime rather than language) where the biggest hotel was we pushed on. Exiting the south end of town we realised there was no ‘big hotel’. Rob started the laborious process of visiting all the little ‘hotels’. Required criteria was a cleanish room and a shower. 8 ‘hotels’ later rob had found that there was only I actual guesthouse in town. All the others being brothels that were doing a brisk trade with the dozens of overweight truck drivers in town. The most stomach churning detail was the blank looks that I was given in 6/8 of the places visited when I asked if there was a shower or a bucket of water with witch to wash.

We settled for the guesthouse run by the sweet looking old lady. Small windowless (window hole but no glass) mozzie netless, stiflingly hot cells with a dirt floors… but no moaning whores and a functioning shower. We slept like babies and by 7am the next day were over the border and in Sudan. After registering with the very friendly policeman we decided to sample our first Sudani food. The locals offering to share their food while we waited for ours to arrive: Fried liver, scrambled egg, dhal, chilli, bread and coffee. YUM.

We set off again at 10am - a bit late really as the desert headwind, that we were going to become very accustomed to, had started in earnest.


We had been warned. The strong dry northerly wind blows until the monsoon rains push it back in August. It sucks all the moisture from your body, saps your energy, drains your willpower. Pol and I were so thankful that we could slipstream each other.


Little dusty villages slipped quietly past as we plodded on. Truck stops provided welcome delicious filling bean stew ‘ful’ and a place to shelter from the blistering afternoon sun and wind.


After food, cold water and coffee we would stretch out on the string bed in the corner and have a well deserved siesta happy that our bikes and all worldly possessions were safe propped up against the wall “because if anyone steals, he will have his hand cut off”


We travelled happily on in this fashion for 5 days. 2 days out of Ethiopia we passed our 10 000km mark:


Along the road we received constant kindness and hospitality from the Sudanese. Outside every small settlement are rows of huge earthenware pots full of cool clear water for travellers as they pass by. Stopping at one to top up our bottles we found it was empty. An apologetic villager came to greet us -

“sorry, sorry, no cold water. Very busy day. No water left… but many bananas. Here, have these (bunch of 10 bananas) and these for your wife (another 10 bananas)!”



One day, noting that the moon was going to be full we decided to try some night riding to escape the punishing sun and wind. On we peddled into the half darkness - long shadows cast by the moonlight, rapidly cooling air soothing the skin, kilometers falling away behind us. Seeing some lights on the horizon we decided to push on until just the other side if the small town and then set up camp.

We had almost slipped through the police checkpoint when excited shouts rang out from the darkness.

“YOU YOU! YOU MUST STOP” not wanting to aggrivate the authorities we pulled the breaks on.

“now dark - you, bicycles, stop sleep”
“what here?”
“yes, here in police station”
“please we would like to go 1km and camp outside town.”
“No. You, bicycle sleep here in station. Tomorrow morning afternoon you go”
There was no use protesting. These guys were not going to change their minds.

Setting up camp in the dusty courtyard the curious policemen came to inspect.
PC: “You need food? We can cook for you”
Us: “No no, we just ate thanks”
PC: “You need bed - we have bed for you”
Us: “No we have bed and blankets and small house inside these bags”
PC: “But Sudan very, very cold. 3am. Very very cold. You need more blanket?“
Us: “We are from England. There it is even colder than Sudan“
PC: “Ah yes. We love England. Manchester, Wayne Rooney! You want coffee?
Us: “No thanks - very tired. Must sleep now”
PC: “In the morning - we cook breakfast for you?”
Us: “No, no you are too kind, but we will leave very early - before you are awake.”

We slept very soundly - knowing that we were guarded by 10 heavily armed and extremely friendly officers!


Bikes packed and ready to go at dawn at the police station.

Sleepy, but still offering coffee - police officer at dawn!

Posted by robandpol 07:53 Archived in Sudan Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

Leaving Addis

A cruise accross the Ethiopian Highlands

sunny 25 °C

We were thoroughly refreshed and revitalised after our time in Addis Ababa which was just as well since leaving the city meant a day climbing 2000m as we started out up the northern escarpment. As we left behind the morning city rush we passed many laden donkeys making their way into town with fodder for the city livestock and fuel for the many coffee makers, in the form of piles and piles of dried-out cowpats! As our altitude increased we found Ethiopia's strongest and fittest rigorously training on the high ground and up the steep slopes. Both cyclists and runners were out in force covering the ground at great speed. After the ascent the land stretched out on all sides and we were surrounded by pasture dotted with homes.


A day's cycling took us to a vast gorge dropping down to one of the tributaries of the Blue Nile - the perfect spot to spend the night.

Don't jump!

Don't jump!

The following day we continued to climb and although we reached our highest point in Ethiopia the climbs were a lot less severe than they had been the day before.

Us - cycling hard!

Us - cycling hard!

Our number increased again when we met a fellow cyclist, Graydon, heading our way. We were on route to Bahir Dar on the southern shore of Lake Tana. We had not only many kilometres to cover but also the Blue Nile gorge to traverse. The gorge is a traditional tribal boundary and it is easy to see why when you gaze down the drop of 1500m over 20km. The drop is mirrored by the climb on the other side of the river.

Feeling high at the top of a 20km descent, Graydon aka the HGV

Blue Nile gorge

Blue Nile gorge

Our first glimpse of the Blue Nile as it winds its way from Lake Tana into southern Sudan before joining the White Nile in Khartoum.

We punctuated the beautiful scenery west of the Blue Nile (as elsewhere in Ethiopia) with plenty of stops to drink coffee and eat oodles of spaghetti, a few evenings listening to Graydon strumming tunes on his guitar (he doesn’t travel light) and hearing about his many adventures on his various bicycle travels throughout the world, and of course the inevitable emergency breaks whilst Graydon or Rob vanished over the horizon accompanied by the tortured cries of a small, very badly behaved child. There was also the occasional awkward stand-off with significantly larger, equally badly behaved boys!!! We also had an amusing mis-understanding whilst negotiating the price of a room the night before we reached Bahir Dar. Graydon had asked the price and been told 25 Bir. We decided we would stay and take a room each since they were very small but the girl then said the price was 45 Bir. We argued for some time; her insisting it was 45Bir, us annoyed and insisting the total should be 75 Bir since she'd told Graydon 25 Bir per room. Eventually we realised that 45 Bir was the total for 3 rooms - 15 Bir (70p) each - and 25 Bir was the hiked-up price so we had been trying to haggle the price up!! Happily we accepted the rooms and slept very soundly.


Views between the Blue Nile gorge and Bahir Dar:


He was one of a troop on their way to market. He was quite anxious that we were taking too long taking the photos and ran off to join his friends as soon as we'd finished.

Uniquely Ethiopian wares. The balls are stuffed rigid with shredded sacks and make a comfy portable stool (a lot heavier than Rob's little wooden Turkana stool) and the pointy things are picnic baskets used for taking your injera (savoury pancakes) into the fields with you.

Remnants of the war, a Russian tank.

Warm, friendly faces greeting us in Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar was everything we'd hoped it would be with it's palm fringed streets and innumerable fruit juice bars. We drank a lot of juice!! We couldn't quite bring ourselves to try the strange murky green juice which we kept on seeing everyone drinking and we were quite relieved we didn't when we discovered it was avocado juice - yuk!!

On the water's edge we spotted countless varieties of exotic birds including hoopoes and lovebirds whilst we watched the numerous pelicans float by.

Rob visited a branch of the famous ‘Fistula Hospital’ with our host Dr Andrew who runs the unit.

Well over 80 million people live in Ethiopia, most of whom reside in hugely remote areas with few healthcare facilities. Consequently if a mother suffers obstructed labour she and her baby will most likely die. If she survives she will be left with a permanent connection between her bladder/rectum and vagina (Fistula) from the immense pressure exerted by the dead foetus’s head over several days. This trauma will leave her not only suffering the stigma of having been unable to deliver a live baby but also with the horror of incontinence in a society where water is rarely available for luxuries such as washing.

The hospital provides a the utterly life changing procedure of fistulae repair with a success rate (return of continence) of 95% in combination with education (healthcare, numeracy, literacy, theology) rehabilitation and a new clean dress to return home with.

Graydon greeted us very excitedly one evening when we met up for some delicious pizza. The cause for his excitement turned out to be a very sturdy, solid wooden stick that he had purchased at the market. Swept along by his excitement we were never the less slightly bemused until he clarified it's purpose with a little demonstration. "look, look" he said. "If I keep it on the bike I can clear a good space all around me when the kids come" - he swung the stick around him from side to side causing a few of the waiters to jump out of his way.

We were never to witness the impact of the wooden stick as our paths parted at Bahir Dar. Graydon pedalled on after a single day's rest whilst we waited a day longer to fit in with the weekly ferry.

The Lake Tana ferry

This looks like it fell, quite literally off the back of a lorry! Thankfully it's only used for loading and unloading the ships cargo!! Our bikes were spared the ordeal since in Barhir Dar at least there was a jetty for the ferry to moor to and we were able to walk straight on.

Papyrus fishing boats!!! Skill-fully constructed at very little cost it's a brave man who dodges the hippos on one of these. Allegedly it can carry a cow with ease although we didn’t see any cows floating around on them so we have to take his word for it.

We passed many little islands and stopped off at one on our way to stock up on fish.


Arriving in Gorgora on the northern shore we clubbed together with one of the other passengers to stay in a 3 bedroom lake view house at the port hotel since the price was the same as for two rooms!! The views across the waters, particularly at dawn, were stunning. The house was the holiday home of the former communist president Mengistu, the dictator who instigated the “Red Terror” in which thousands of Ethiopians were killed. We slept in his bed!

A day on the bikes from the Lake took us to Gondar.

Gondar; Africa’s Camelot was a mixed bag. It has some well-preserved castles from the 1600’s and some elaborately decorated churches from the same era.


But as a tourist in Gondar you can be sure that wherever you go and whatever you do there’s someone not that far behind who wants something from you, and they’re watching you.....



Posted by robandpol 10:02 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged bicycle Comments (4)


before reading our next blog entry consider this:

sunny 28 °C

We don’t want you to subsidise our adventure. We are simply asking you to give generously to one or both of the charities that are changing lives in the area that we have been living in over the past 2 yrs

So far we have raised about 2400 pounds for our 2 charities.. but we need more!!

Maybe you could give a lump sum of £10 or £20 or sponsor us per km – how about 1p/km? If you don’t think we’ll make it all the way home we dare you to sponsor us 10p/km!
(We will peddle an estimated 13,000km)

We have 2 nominated charities that we'll be raising money for.. it has been a struggle to set up donation accounts as both are South African and not British.

However we have now managed it.

Now a little bit about both:


Two widespread problems we have encountered while working here are fatal gastroenteritis amongst children and chronic neck and back pain in women.

Over 90% of Africans still do not have access to running water and survive by carrying relatively small volumes (usually 25litres) on their heads. This directly causes 2 huge problems:–

• Soaring rates of fatal childhood gastroenteritis: With water as such a scarce commodity, washing the childrens’ bottles is rarely a priority. The HIV epidemic is fueling this problem: HIV is transmitted by breast milk so bottle feeding is increasing.

• Chronic pain in females: 25 litres does not last a family long but it does do untold damage to posture, necks, shoulders and backs.

We will be raising awareness and funds for a local project - HippoRoller.org, a charity that aims to improve access to water for needy households by making it possible to collect 90 litres of water (4 times the amount possible using traditional methods) in less time, with greater ease resulting in better health and more time for other activities – like school!


Women and children bear the brunt of responsibility for collecting water, spending 4-7 hours per day walking, waiting in lines to fill containers, and carrying them home. This prevents many children (especially girls) from attending school and completing even a basic education.

Hippo Rollers are barrel-shaped containers that roll like wheelbarrows with little effort making it easier for villagers on foot to transport life-giving fresh water to their homes.

A Hippo Water Roller typically lasts between 5 and 7 years yet some of the originals distributed over 10 yrs ago are still functional. A roller currently costs £55 to manufacture.

The Hippo Roller improves lives instantly. An African solution to an African problem.


For UK Taxpayers who want to use Gift Aid:
It’s a little more complicated, because HippoRollers is a South African Charity.
We have a UK registered charity who will be collecting donations on our behalf for HippoRollers.

If you want to use Snail Mail:
email Beth Sutton at haveahug@hotmail.com and she will forward you the giftaid form to complete.
Please write a cheque payable to Winchester Vineyard
Write on the back and include a slip stating, Ref: HippoRollers Longwayhome
The Winchester Vineyard will then collect the cheques and transfer the money to HippoRollers. The Winchester Vineyard is a church that has agreed to do this on our behalf, as there have been some difficulties with making donations to this charity as it is South African.

Please send the gift aid form and cheque to:
Beth Sutton
Gardeners Lane
SO51 6AD

For an online money transfer Please email Beth Sutton for the bank details of the Winchester Vineyard, and she will forward them to you, along with a gift aid form.
email: haveahug@hotmail.com
please reference email: longwayhome

For Non UK Taxpayers (or those who don't want the hassle of claiming Gift Aid)
This is DEAD EASY!
Scroll down the home page of the blog
Look down to the right hand side column until you reach Favourite Links
Click on Hippo Rollers,
On their webpage click on Donate, in the top right hand corner
You have to convert the amount you want to donate into US dollars
In the box: 'Please leave a note to us with your Donation' www.longwayhome.travellerspoint.com

Thanks for all you interest and support, it is very much appreciated.


This means 'reach out to the children' and is a brilliant organisation that supports over 4000 vulnerable children in the local community that Pol and Rob lived in South Africa.


The catchment area for Lulisandla holds a population of 190 000 - 4000 of which are orphans or vulnerable children - such is the devistating impact of HIV/AIDs and family breakdown. Lulisandla supports the these children in the community. When mum dies they will usually end up with Granny or Aunt or family friend. This carer is elegable for a government grant for looking after an orphan. However the chances are the carer is illiterate and needs help to jump through the legal hoops. Lulisandla supplies this technical help along with helping with emotional and material needs through the 400 church volunteers that it coordinates.

We would dearly love to buy a 4x4 for the charity to help workers access vulnberable children - most are far from any paved road and the the current 2x4 is forever getting stuck in the deep sand or breaking down.


Scroll down the front page of the blog, and look to the right hand side column, under favourite links and click on the link to DONATE TO Lulisandla Kwmtwana (foster care project).
This takes you to SIM’s website: Serving in Missions, a Christian Missions Organisation, under the wings of which Lulisandla Kwmtwana sits.
Click on the link: Donate to SIM-UK, on the left hand side
Fill in your details, and amount to be donated.
Fill your donation amount in the box for Projects
In the box stating, If you are donating to specific missionaries or projects please provides names, write Lulisandla Kwmtwana, South Africa.
For the box stating Any other information you would want us to know about this donation please write: Reference – longwayhome

Posted by robandpol 09:42 Archived in South Africa Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

The bikers go rafting!!

Seven conquer the Nile

Pol and Rob are currently sans internet somewhere near the Sudan Ethiopia border so this week's blog entry is reminiscing about a time with ample fun and water.

Pol, Rob, Ben, Beth, Vicci, Ben and Ronel peddled their bicycles around Uganda ending up at Jinja - "the adrenaline capital of East Africa". Jinja boasts "the source of the Nile" as it sits on the edge of Lake Victoria where the waters spill Northwards on their journey to Egypt via this, the Victoria Nile.

The tremendous Victoria Nile

The perfect number to fill a raft with one space left for our helm, Henry, the biker team could be spotted a mile off with their padded shorts and peculiar affinity for wearing a helmet!!

The team!!

The team!!

The day was perfect - clear skies and hot sun. Plenty of sun cream liberally applied - many times - as we acquainted ourselves with the water.

Water Baby - In DeNile

Water Baby - In DeNile

The team looked promising with strong arms and thighs and a fearless approach to danger.

Adrenaline Junkies!!

Adrenaline Junkies!!

But when they saw what was in store even the bikers began to tremble..

Not easily deterred they courageously paddled forth - to their peril....

No-one was spared as the boat dramatically flipped and several of the bikers were sucked down into the depths of the mighty river. It was very illuminating that in the chaos that followed it was the female contigent who remained clear sighted enough to haul themselves back into the correct raft!!

Survivors after the first capsize!!

Survivors after the first capsize!!

Plenty of fun was had by all with sunshine and laughter and lung-fulls of river water and the lads were left feeling a little bit weedy after posing next to Henry's pecs and biceps!!

The bikers go rafting

The bikers go rafting

Posted by robandpol 10:14 Comments (3)

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