The second stretch in Sudan, from Khartoum to the Ethiopian border, was eventful and in the same time quite slow and calm. And when I say eventful I don’t mean it in a particularly good way. This week was marked by big losses, both in terms of inner tubes and manpower. I’ll let you know how, but first I’ll start from the day we cycled out of Khartoum.
We left the Sudanese capital the first Sunday in November. Although we started in the early morning the road was already heavily trafficked with courageous bus drivers, donkeys and youngsters in tuck-tucs. It was a clear contrast from the quiet desert road where we had spent the last two weeks cycling without paying attention to no other vehicles than our own bicycles. Simply because there had not been any need to. Well, until now.
For the first time in Sudan we realized that a cyclist has got no real value on the road. We are at the bottom of the food chain. Therefore, it is up to us to stay away from the ones above. ”Don’t for a second believe that a truck driver will make any effort whatsoever to avoid hitting you when speeding past you”, I was told by a friend who has traveled through this region. Fortunately, this warning is exaggerated (so to you possible worriers at home; stay calm!), but you’d rather be too cautious than the opposite. Therefore, it’s better to just surrender and leave the busy, slim road for the unpaved sidewalk – even though you might get a few flat tires.
And we did get flat tires that week. In total I think we repaired about 15-20 punctures in 3-4 days. A majority of those were due to the thorny bushes that seemed to be growing everywhere, especially around our camping spots. As we moved south of Khartoum, the landscape naturally got more and more lush. The first days we were surrounded by farm land everywhere, and ended up camping in the fields since there was not really any other option. Fortunately, the farmers did not mind us sleeping on their property. They were all lovely and helpful, although their friendly intentions sometimes could be mistaken. Like that morning when I woke up at 5 am with three men dressed in traditional clothes standing outside of my tent looking down on me and saying something in Arabic. My first reaction was screaming, but they only wanted to offer us some fresh goat milk. Later on they absolutely wanted us to ride their donkey. I’m pretty sure the farmers enjoyed the donkey ride more than the poor donkey. They kept laughing and taking photo after photo until we finally managed to sneak away and hit the road again.
But the flat tires were not our only bicycle related concern this week. Sam’s chain broke, Tom’s back wheel got more and more wobbly and his front rack was falling apart. Not surprisingly, the bicycle Tom had bought cheaply a few weeks before leaving for this trip, was not really made for such a tour. With big, slim wheels and tires you might roll fast but it doesn’t make your bicycle very solid. Besides, the handlebar was not ideal for touring cycling, since it was too low. Tom got back pain from the bad posture, which naturally resulted in him not enjoying the cycling as much as Sam and I do.
You got to admire Tom’s courage though. Going from a lifestyle with nearly no cycling at all to a touring cycle life where you’re supposed to spend most of the day in the saddle is brave. And maybe he was too courageous for his own best. Already after some tough days in Egypt Tom had declared that he was done with cycling. But the following day he would always carry on as usual. So when we arrived in the city Wad Madani three days after leaving Khartoum and Tom said that he wanted to get on a bus back to the capital we first thought that he was only joking around. Tom is a funny guy, but this time he was being totally serious. It felt surreal and sad to say goodbye to his there at the crowded bus station. Suddenly there were only two of us. We miss our friend and companion, probably more than he misses cycling and having sore legs. A few days after he left, left, we got a message from him saying that he has left Africa and flown over to some friends in Bangkok. Apparently he’s having a great time over there without his bicycle crew.
One man short Sam and I continued cycling towards the Ethiopian border. There is not so much more to tell about this last week in Sudan. We had some slow days with a lot of coffee- and tea breaks. One day we met a couple of Swiss overlanders coming from the Emirates, who had been on the road for over one year. They had some good stories to tell about driving through Oman and Saudi Arabia, and definitely managed to give us inspiration for future tours.
Before passing the last town, Al Gadarif, we found a great camping spot where we were surrounded by hills, mountain goats and big trees. Then camping got harder again since the southern part of Sudan was more crowded and there was agriculture everywhere. We were surrounded by sugar cane plantation and sesame seed fields. The roads seemed to be trafficked by a bigger number of goats than engine vehicles. But the Sudanese farmers kept helping us out. We got a camping spot in the middle of a sugar cane plantation, with free access to the sweet snack and a whole orchestra of cows keeping us awake half the night. When cycle touring you got to give up the idea of 8 hours solid sleep night time. You’re happy with what you get, and who would not be happy with an afternoon siesta under a tree?
After the border crossing to Ethiopia those quiet afternoon siestas would soon become nothing but a sweet memory, though. You can probably guess why. Anyway, I’ll tell you more about that in next blog post!