A Travellerspoint blog

Sudan

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North Sudan

sunny 40 °C

At dawn we waved goodbye to the pyramids and headed to the road to hitch a lift back to Khartoum. After 3 minutes we saw a little yellow bus in the distance - almost double it's true height due to the piles of luggage on the roof. 'Looks full' we thought... 'but if there's that much stuff on the roof they won't mind another couple of bikes'. Sure enough the bus ground to a halt. The driver soon had our bikes tied precariously on the top of the bags, on top of bags, on top of the roof and off we went. 20km into the trip we all piled out - coffee time - and the special guests (us!) were not permitted to pay!

3 hours later we were in the outskirts of Khartoum where we stopped to meet the bus driver's sister and drink delicious cold juice.

"Where are you staying? "the driver asked
"oh - just drop us at the train station. we'll find our own way home."
"certainly not! Where are you staying?"

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On arriving at our front door the bus driver refused any payment.

"No, No, you are my friends! no need for money!" Fortunately we remembered the big box of chocolates stashed in our room - which our new friend accepted with an embarrassed smile!

Before we left town for the desert again we had time for a very special Easter day celebration - spent with our new friends (and hosts in Khartoum) Ayman and Aziza and their family. We also squeezed in a quick zoom around the Museum of Sudan - spending most of the time gazing at the magnificent pagan temples and early church artefacts removed from the lower Nile valley before it was flooded by the Egyptian 'Aswan High dam' in 1964.

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Polly standing in the doorway of a 3500yr old temple rescued from the rising waters of the Nile

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Did you know that Sudan - the archetypal Islamic state - ruled by Kushite monarchy for centuries - was converted to Christianity in the mid 6th century AD the kingdom was Christian for a full 800yrs - enthusiastically building churches, cathedrals and putting up an impenetrable military defence to the invading Muslim armies of the North. Eventually though the national religion did change, not through bloodshed - through the peaceful evangelistic efforts of Muslim traders and settlers - The first Muslim ruler came into power through a military coup in the 16th century.

We eventually tore ourselves away from the capital... Unfortunately our sudan Visa was for 2 weeks only so time was short - also the road North cuts a huge bend in the Nile so there is a 250km stretch with no water at all - so we went for the soft option and sat on a bus until we saw the miraculous green strip arise out of the sand to the right of the road.

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Our little fast forward still left plenty of desert cycling to go - 500km to the ferry port. sometimes we were on the green edge of the irrigated land and sometimes the road would leave the river and we had a sense of the vastness and dryness of our environment.

Not all desert is the same.

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Some days were misty - not with water vapour but dust - a blessing in disguise as the full power of the sun could not penetrate.

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Other days were clear and crisp.

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Sometimes it was flat and sandy.

But in a world of sand - one starts to notice that there are many types of sand - sand as fine as cement dust - with a thin crust that breaks when you step on it and instantly finds it's way deep into your shoes. It feels rather like powder snow but turns to muddy goop in your socks rather than water!

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There is sand like the fine sand in your egg timer. Bright white sand, yellow sand and red sand, and finally gravely sand.

This was the only evidence of wildlife of any sort we saw in Nubia - We attached him to the back of the bike. The plan was to remove his crown and mount it on the front of my bike - until we noticed a very bad smell and brown fluid dribbling onto my bags... although he looked clean and dry - clearly the remnants of his brain were still in situ!!

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At times it felt like we were in the middle of a Tibetan mountain range and the sand gave way to hot black rock.

In some of the more remote and rocky areas we were surprised to find several small camps just in sight of the road.... we were even more surprised when we saw their inhabitants wandering around swinging what looked like metal detectors!

"Why are you here" asked a suspicious man in a truck stop nearby.

"We are on holiday - tourists"

"What kind of tourists"

"What different kind of tourists are there? We have just come to see your beautiful country and meet your good people"

He spies our 'Sudan' guide - "Let me see your book" he says rather assertively.

We hand it over - "Show me the map" he directs us as he flips through the pages.

"Which map?"

"The map of where to find the gold - of course"

"Gold?! there's Gold in Sudan?"

"Yes, of course - very much - that is the reason people come to the dessert."

"Oh.... I see - that's why they are wandering around with metal detectors!"

The Geology did alter dramatically as we headed north but one thing remained constant. The wind.

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In the sections that branched away from the Nile (longest section we rode was 170km) water and vegitation of any sort was in short supply - Shelter from the baking sun is not easy to find with out any friendly trees to offer their protection.

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We slept almost every night in the desert while in Sudan - but on approaching a sizable town we decided to treat ourselves to a night in a bed. while unpacking our things in our rather gloomy room (no electricity until 6pm and no windows - to keep the heat out) Pol exclaimed.

"There's maggots on the bed"

"No" I reassured her - "there can't be."

Shining the head torch onto the mattress we were only partially reassured to see that I was correct - there were no maggots - just very large and rather lively white mites! After making use of the shower and thanking the young hotelier we headed off into the desert again for another good night's sleep gazing up at the magnificent stars

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Rob on a dusk camp spot recce
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There are many ancient ruins the whole way along the Nile. Most of Sudan's offerings have been severely damaged by warfare/neglect/treasure hunters and locals quarrying them for their valuable stone. We had heard that one still stands tall though -Soleb- so we went in search. Eventually we found the correct village and a willing skipper to take us over the river. We knew it would be most beautiful at dusk and dawn so took our camping things with us - planning to sleep in the beautiful barley fields nestled under the prolific date palms.

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As usual it was a HOT day - so while crossing the river we asked our pilot if it was safe to swim? Any crocodiles? in sign language. On landing on the far bank we also checked with another local - they both agreed emphatically - "swimming good! - yes - no problems - not get eaten"

The boat disappeared and we were left alone to while away the afternoon - waiting for sunset

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Pol thought there were no crocodiles - but she was in 'De Nile'!

Sitting on the bank drying off Pol noticed a shape on the sandspit on the far side.

"A crocodile!" she stated firmly...
"no, no, it can't be - the locals said it was OK to swim"

Later on however the original 'piece of wood' had moved and 3 others were basking in the afternoon sun.

Seeing another local - we asked him - "Is it safe to swim?"
"Yes, yes"
"But there are crocodiles?!"
"Oh yes - of course" beckoning us to his front gate and showing the evidence attached above it!

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"But don't the crocodiles eat people?"
"yes of course... but not usually on this side of the river!"

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Soleb temple was beautiful - The 3200 yr old pillars towering above us - some still supporting the huge stone beams - it was especially exciting as it felt as if we were the first westerners ever to lay eyes on it,

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but we were reminded not to get ahead of ourselves by seeing the grafitti of tourists from 170yrs ago!

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Mohammed Ali - an old man and temple guardian was very upset with the prospect of us sleeping in our tent explaining non verbally that we will certainly be eaten by snakes in the night... and we must sleep at his place. We reassured him. Although clearly unhappy with the idea - he granted us permission to sleep al-fresco. Later he came to offer us tea. We initially refused - but seeing his saddened face we quickly changed our minds and followed him to his home. We enjoyed our lovely chai communicating in sign and sometimes with the aid of his son who had a few words of English. After tea - huge plates of food were presented - which were for us all to share.. and of coarse - then it was too late to sleep in the tent and he ushered us to his very pleasant spare room! Su

Posted by robandpol 10:27 Archived in Sudan Tagged bicycle Comments (19)

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”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

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

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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)!”

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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!

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

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

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

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