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The Promised Land

but grazed by Gaza

sunny 34 °C

We struggled out of our seaside chalet and back onto the road. We were starting to get travel weary and getting back on the bikes to head into another hot windy day didn't really fill us with joy. We followed the surprisingly hilly coast road past mile after mile of windswept concrete skeletons and parched gardens of abandoned half built hotels and villas overlooking the turquoise waters.

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(We only took photos of the picturesque bits!)

This coastline had been a rapidly expanding hub of up market tourism catering for Egypt's wealthy Israeli neighbours - that was until 2006 when some young Arabs drove a truck full of explosives into the foyer of Taba Hilton (The Israeli/Egyptian seaside border town) and detonated themselves killing scores of people and destroying most of the front of the hotel. Tourism to this coastline stopped overnight.

A week previously we had been sitting in a smart bar in Cairo talking to an Egyptian friend. We mentioned we would soon be in Israel.
"Don't say that word in public" he said. "You must refer to that place as 'The Jewish State'. In Arabic we refer to them as 'The Enemy' "
"But this is Egypt!" I protested - "The most moderate Arab nation in the world! You are friends with 'The Jewish State!'"
"No" He said firmly. "Only our government, and then only on paper"

As we neared the Israeli border we could see the dry hills of Saudi Arabia over the sea, the smart high-rise flats of Eilat, the strategic Israili town jostling the Jordanian port of Aqaba for a tiny but immensely important portion of The Red Sea coast.

You can see why Israel is security conscious. Most of their neighbours are oil-rich and openly hostile and their only 'friend' in the Middle East refers to them as 'the enemy'!!

We were expecting tight security at the border but that was an understatement!

There were a lot of mean looking male and female soldiers wearing dark glasses and carrying some pretty high tech weaponry. Everything was X rayed carefully. We even had to disassemble the bikes and send them though the machine! Polly was dusted for drugs and explosives. We were both interviewed independently about why we went to Sudan and Egypt.

"Why did you visit Sudan?"
"We've cycled from South Africa - Sudan is the biggest country in Africa so it is very difficult to traverse the continent without crossing it - and it is a very interesting place."

"Did you meet any people in Sudan?"
"Yes many many people, we found the people in Sudan incredibly friendly!"
The security official looked unimpressed and increasingly suspicious.

"Did you ever stay in their homes?"
"Oh Yes, The Sudanese are so hospitable, they were always offering us cups of tea and a bed for the night, but we usually camped in the desert."
"Did any of them give you any packages or documents."
"Oh no, only cups of tea and sometimes cake!"

"Your entry and exit dates - you were in Sudan for over 2 weeks. Why so long?"
"Sudan is HUGE! We crossed at about the thinnest point we could and it was over 1500km. 1500km on a bike is pretty good going in under 3 weeks - especially as we had a headwind most of the way"

2 hours and many questions later we were begrudgingly aloud into the Jewish State. Incredibly there intense search had not revealed 2 very mean looking lock knives, a canister of MACE spray - our little piece of self defence - that is illegal to carry though any international border. A pressurised bottle of petrol and US$300 hidden inside the bike frames.

Walking though the streets of the Jewish town was as if we had just disembarked a transatlantic flight and were walking the streets of Texas. A scorching desert but all the amenities of Western life. Air conditioned malls, coffee shops, frozen yogurt stands, burger kiosks, an IMAX cinema, lots of people wandering around chatting in broad American accents. But there were no tubby Americns here - most of the young men were sporting tight tee shirts - showing off their muscles - whipped into shape by a minimum of 3 years intense military service. Those not wearing tight tee shirts we still in their khakis carrying their combat equipment and licking ice creams.

We didn't have time to do too much wandering and ice cream eating as we only had 2 days to traverse the whole country to get to the port of Ashdod where the cargo ship was waiting. We didn't know how far away Ashdod was from the border as obtaining a map of Israel in Egypt was completely impossible. There wasn't even any info on Israel on Googlemaps when accessed from an Egyptian computer!! As it turned out Israel is a tiny country in comparison with all the other countries we had travelled though so Ashdod was within 2 days cycling of the border!

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We set out across the desert. Our misconception of deserts as flat sandy places was quickly changing as we climbed and climbed away from the Red Sea and into the interior towards Beer Sheva - Where many of the Old testiment greats resided for some time e.g. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel.

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The desert was only broken by the occasional small valley filled with lush vinyards/peach/citrus/wheat/or sunflowers - all completely dependant on an irrigation pipe that we followed along the road. We assumed it came from the Jordan in the north of the country. You can see why the dead sea is dropping by 6inches/year.

For a long period we cycled parallel and about 40-60km from the Gaza strip and as evening approached we started looking for a place to camp. I spotted a lovely looking patch of trees in the middle of a huge field of wheat. We headed over. As we got closer we could see there were people in trees. Having not seen any Arabs in Israel so far - we thought it would de interesting to go and chat.

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Khumal was shoeing and lunging a beautiful stallion. We sat under the trees for almost an hour and chatted in gesture and broken English to him and his friends. After a while we asked if it was Ok for us to set camp the night - they had no objections so we pitched our tent and cooked our dinner under a tree at the other end of the copse. As darkness fell and Khumal's friends joined him for a Friday night drinking session around a fire and things became less idyllic and harmonious. We went to sleep but were woken several times by drunken shouting.

"You, English" then non descript Arabic.

Of course then you start to think - 'bugger we are 40km from the Gaza strip - Western hostages are a valuable commodity. Even if Khumal is our wholehearted friend he isn't be able to control his drinking buddies as amply demontsrated by their yelling.'

I slept fitfully, clutchinng a knife in one hand and the can of MACE in the other. Then I heard a twig snap.

I was immediately fully alert - heart pumping I looked through the tent inner to see the siluette of a large man standing over us.

"Hello - What do you want?" I said while quickly unzipping the tent to get in a less defenceless position.

The shadowy figure said nothing - turned his back and slowly walked off through the darkness. We didn't sleep very well after that!

We were back on the bikes early the next morning and cruised down down down to Ashdod - were we hoped our boat would be waiting. Excitement welled up in us as the Meditteranian came into sight. The beach felt just like Bournemouth, dumping the bikes we ran across it dodging sandcastles, brolleys, deckchairs and sunburned girls wearing too little and dived in in our undies! Still well over 1500km of cycling to go - but we felt so close to home!

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Fully refreshed and high on lack of sleep and adrenalin from the night before we headed to Ashdod port to find our passage to Europe…. But the 10 storey cargo ship was not there!!

Posted by robandpol 03:23 Archived in Israel Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

We're Home! But there are still plenty more stories to come!

sunny 23 °C

Just got home.. it's all very exciting!

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We were on the radio yesterday - check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/p008hrvq then skip 56.30 minutes into the show!

We're also in the Daily Echo - check out http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/8246148./

But we still have soooo many stories to tell and will get back into doing weekly updates soon.

Really looking foreward to telling you all about the Israel and what happened when we wildcamped 20km from the Gaza strip, our ride on a cargo ship accross to to Italy.. and how we kept fit for the 7 days spent on ship, all about the wonderous feeling of spring in Europe - the Italian icecream and vino and then crossing the alps and traversing france!

Watch this space!!

Rob and Pol

Posted by robandpol 06:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bicycle Comments (5)

More Hot Weather and Cool people

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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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Views between the Blue Nile gorge and Bahir Dar:

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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.

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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.

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Remnants of the war, a Russian tank.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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

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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.

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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.....

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Ciao!!

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

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