Sudan pt. 1: Cycling through the Nubian desert

Thursday the 5th of November we arrived in Khartoum after spending ten days crossing the Nubian desert. We’ve had a great time, beeing carried by a tailwind and meeting few but incredibly friendly Sudanese people. I’ll simply start where I ended the story last time: at the border crossing. 

Monday the 26th of October we finally managed to enter Sudan. As we cycled out through the gates and left the chaotic border station behind, it was as if we entered a new world. It suddenly seemed like our three bikes where the only vehicles trafficking the straight and flat road towards Khartoum. It was a pleasure to cycle again. We all enjoyed the silence and the freedom of not being followed by any police escort or car whatsoever. Instead there was a lovely tailwind that helped us stand the mid-day heat.

You might think that all days are the same for someone who’s traveling across a desert. That there’s nothing but sand, terrible heat and monotonous cycling. I have to admit that it sometimes gets a little bit boring, indeed. But I’m still sure that we will miss the quiet road out there as we now will move on towards more populous areas. And if you just carry on for a while there will always be something more or less interesting at the side of the road. Like a bunch of camels (dead or alive), volcano-like hills or dry bushes. We all have our own ways to occupy ourselves during cycling. When spending most of the time on your bicycle you’ll have to deal with a lot of thoughts that otherwise never would have the time to come to your mind. While Sam is constantly listening to his audiobooks and podcasts, Tom hammers (and jammers) on to the beat of some cheesy music. He’s also the one who actually stops to photograph most of the interesting things at the side of the road. Like the massive bugs and the smelly dead camels. And then there’s me, who enjoy just listening to the sound of my wining chain while thinking of everything and nothing in particular. The last week I’ve been called one of the simplest human beings in Tom’s surrounding. Why? Simply because it seems like I need nothing but two things in life to be happy: cycling and food. That’s fortunately not the whole truth. I might be basic, but I’ve still not turned into a real cycling animal – yet.

For someone that finds pleasure in pedaling, life on a bicycle do tend to be quite simple, after all. Especially in the desert where the potential camping spots literally are everywhere. We usually try to set the camp one hour or so before sunset. The routine is pretty much the same everyday. If we’ve got enough of water to allow ourselves some wasting we have a refreshing water bottle shower. Next thing on the schedule is hopefully afternoon yoga (at least for my student Sam and me), followed by some kind of camping stove dinner – nine times out of ten consisting of pasta and beans. Let’s say that fava beans have been present at nearly every single meal we’ve had the last two weeks. For lunch and second breakfast we’ve mostly been eating beans and bread (called foul), which is normally the only dish that’s being served in the few cafeterias along the desert road. But who needs a varied diet when you’re hungry?  Everything tastes delicious after a day of cycling anyway. Even if it happens to be spiced with sand. 

One more advantage with camping in the desert is the night sky. The stars are even more numerous than the potential camping spots! And it is not too bad lying in your tent at night watching the stars through your mosquito net before falling asleep. 

Sometimes cycling in the desert can be quite hard work as well. We all had a few bad days last week when we felt quite miserable. Sick from drinking the Nile water, feeling weak after too many hours in sun, or simply tired after a long day on the bike. But most of the times an extra long mid-day siesta or some strong coffee helps. And now, when writing this – sitting on my bed in the hostel here in Khartoum – I feel a strong desire to get back to the road again. Luckily, it looks like I’ll only have to wait until tomorrow before we’ll continue cycling south towards the Ethiopian border.