Thursday, 31 January 2013

Leaving Egypt and making our way to Wadi Haifa, Sudan...

The rest day in Aswan was absolute bliss. After an informative riders meeting, a few of us made our way to the famous Old Cataract Hotel, 5 Star and truly luxurious. We were all staying in a very average 2 star hotel just down the road, but the Internet wasn’t working. All the locals kept saying was that Cataract has the best connection, so we went through. Even though we weren’t guests, it didn’t mean we couldn't have a coffee at the hotel… We walked in as though we belonged, and when security asked if we were guests, we pretended to be in deep conversation. We sat on the hotel's front patio and had the most delicious (... and most expensive) coffee, which we sipped ever so slowly in order to take advantage of a good Internet connection. After sipping the same cup of coffee for over an hour, we thought it only fair for us free loaders to splash out a little and have lunch at the hotel. Besides, then we could remain online longer. Video Skype was a treat, so we all connected with family and friends back home. I took them all on a tour of the hotel using the good quality skype and joked this was the hotel I had booked into for the night. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Some TdA riders, however, did spend lots of money at the Cataract getting spa treatments and massages. Once we finished the biggest Gourmet Burger ever, we joined them at the pool, being treated like royalty. The luxury was worthwhile, because thereafter was the ferry ride to Wadi Halfa, Sudan.

The Old Cataract Hotel, truly breath taking
Enjoying the luxury of fast internet at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan
The ferry to Sudan... well it was a hurry-up-and-wait situation throughout the entire experience. We cycled in convoy to the ferry which was 17km away, which also marked the first 1000km mile stone. Once at the ferry, it was chaos. Locals were crowding on, loading boxes, food, luggage... and there we are trying to load almost 70 bicycles into the top deck, and then the TdA luggage was next. It took me a total of 5 trips to get my personal belonging onboard, because taking more than 1 item at a time was impossible in terms of space in the passage ways. There is no system, only push, push harder and try not to fall over. Once bikes and luggage were safely on the ferry, it was just after lunchtime. We had cabins assigned to TdA riders, which were groups of 3. They had 2 beds, but so dirty and disgusting it was actually a fight as to who would sleep outside and who would stay inside and keep watch over the belongings. I was lucky. My group wanted to stay indoors, and I happily set up camp outside on deck amidst other TdA riders and locals who were still squeezing in. Even when you think the ferry is full and there is no way any more can be loaded, another truck arrives full of people and each one pushes on. Only at sunset did we begin moving, and finally we where en route to Wadi Halfa, Sudan. The first class passengers, meaning us in the cabins, got food, but while wandering around the ferry I stumbled across the Galley where the cooking happened, and the state of that area was enough to turn anyone’s stomach… so I didn’t have much of an appetite when the meal arrived. I did warn everyone, but most seemed okay with taking the risk and eating the provided food. It seems no one actually had any problems, to my surprise.

The 1st class Cabin

The Ferry Foredeck

Top deck, storage for bicycles and outdoors sleeping area

Organized Chaos as the Ferry gets loaded

Arriving in Wadi Halfa was a process. Immigration came onboard and then the paperwork began. One can imagine the difficulty a single person has with immigration, now imagine 85 foreigners trying to get through immigration with limited English. A few of us watched the entire Eat, Pray, Love movie in the cabin on someone’s laptop while waiting, and still had to wait a few more hours. Finally with the paperwork sorted, it was time to unload bikes, bags, TdA equipment, people, etc. Offloading was definitely a faster process, as everyone was just so happy to be on land, in a new country with new experiences and challenges.

Wadi Haifa locals welcoming the TdA riders to Sudan, the guy with the knife was just playing around.... Promise! The Sudanese have been very kind, warm and friendly
At the end of a very basic dock were the rest of the TdA crew and the proper TdA trucks and equipment. It felt like we had upgraded to 5 star camping. The TdA trucks are super organized, with a mobile kitchen and lockers system for all our goods. The lockers... this was a scary thing for me. I had a lot of stuff and looking at them, they didn’t look big enough for my wardrobe. On arrival at camp, about 10km away from the ferry dock, we began the process of assigning lockers. I went into Wadi Halfa with a few friends to grab a local dinner, because the rush to sort out the locker wasn’t something I wanted part of. I through it best to let others do their lockers and when everything was less busy, I’d get my chance. After a fun tuk-tuk ride and a yummy falafel dinner, it was time to tackle the locker. To my surprise, I had one of the neatest lockers and everyone was just as shocked that everything I brought with actually fit inside... but only just just, I must admit. I couldn’t have fit a spare pair of socks if I wanted. My locker is filled to its MAXIMUM capacity…. So no shopping for me the remainder of this trip.

First day cycling in Sudan was very pleasant. They didn’t start us easy either… 149km to desert camp, but to everyone’s delight it was near the Nile and swimming after a day cycling 5 hours through the desert is basically heaven. With a my bikini on, I rush to the rivers edge. It was incredible; I washed my hair, shaved my legs, did my laundry and felt like a million bucks. Everything about Sudan has been an absolute pleasure. Friendly locals, beautiful terrain, but the bugs are terrible, especially near the river, which is exactly where we want to be, but the bugs make it fairly unbearable.

Lunch Stop on route to Camp, smoke helped keep the bugs away

Almost at camp, stopping for a quick water break
Bathing in the River Nile

Trekking back to camp feeling fresh as a daisy
The second day of cycling in Sudan was another 145km, however this was not as pleasant as the day before. Thus far I consider it the toughest day yet and was the make-or-break for a lot of TdA riders. Conditions were hotter than hot, and straight from the start at sunrise the sun baked us alive. Stopping wasn’t an option because the bugs are to irritating and the heat too intense. Dehydration was the biggest risk, because without realizing it, you're sweating as fast as your drinking… The 69km to lunch was doable, but the second part was a hard push on everyone's part, especially when the final 20km to camp had a strong head wind sucking every last bit of energy out of your body. That afternoon around camp, everyone was pretty dosile. I was so exhausted, I feel asleep mid-conversation while sitting in my seat. I almost didn’t make dinner, because all of me was just so tired. Once in bed I felt my body getting rundown. Waking up with the sniffels and sore thought means it’s time to bulk up on the vitamins and keep my meds handy… Can’t be getting sick because there is much more to come from Sudan, and I got the feeling it’s not getting easier or cooler…

The last desert ride of the week into Dongola was only 117km, and started of with a fun team time-trial race of 25km. I was part of The All Africa team, which included myself, South African Bridget, Alan from Tanzania and Ahmed from Egypt. That morning we were very eager to get going and turned out to be the first team at the starting line. We pushed it hard taking turns doing 2km pulls. With a slight incline and head winds we tried to maintain a 33km/h average speed. At maybe 18km, the All German team caught us and so the tactics began. We hung back and sat on their tail until a short distance from the finish when we would make our move and sprint for the finish. However, Ahmed's speedometer was not spot on, so he began sprinting far too early. Our tactics failed us but it was still a close, fast finish that made the team time trial competitive and super fun, ending with hi-fives, hearts racing and chests burning.

1 comment:

  1. am respecting your courage,sure it is very good experince,cross africa and meet with different people with different cultures ,,that is so amazing and wonderful ,for sudan ,you will see the people ,they are some meddlesome but friendly ,,if you know them you will respect them wishes .
    Mohamed Ali
    Sinnar state