Goodbye to the Ethiopian highlands, hello to the deserts of Sudan
21.04.2010 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”
“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!