We left Aswan, our final destination in Egypt on the morning of the 22nd, climbing up towards the dam wall, a convoy of about 40 bikes and police cars all competing with the tourist buses and regular traffic. The 40km ride turned out to be about 20km ending with us arriving at the “chaos” that was the port as it was the only day each week that the ferry sailed to Wadi Halfa. There were fully loaded trucks competing with market sellers, competing with people, competing with a million boxes of TVs and fridges and finally competing with the Tour D’Afrique contingent and their gear and 40 bikes – all to get aboard the ferry. If you didn’t get on it would mean waiting until the following Monday!
After clearing through the official process, aided by our trusty guy on the ground we started loading the bikes. That was the easy part as everyone gets out of your way when you have a bike but things changed dramatically when you only have a bag and there are another 400 people trying to get on board. If you were left guarding the load of gear on the port…people offered 1000 Red Camels for you which apparently is a compliment as Red Camels are considered to be the pedigree of camels in this part of the world. When we were finally on board and off (3 hours after the scheduled departure…patience is a necessity here), we were able to enjoy the view of the stars from the upper deck and the sound of the water against the boat. The fact that every second person smoked inside the ferry (despite the “no smoking” signs) and there were only 4 toilets (non flushing) for 400 people, didn’t matter too much as it was just nice to rest, read and listen to music.
Part of the process also involved the crew taking turns in “watching” the hallways where all our cabins were as there were no locks on the doors and our gear is still in it’s shiny and new stages…not for much longer though! The arrival in Sudan was somewhat similar to the departure in Egypt – chaos, but the immigration authorities were all friendly and although the process was long, after 16 hours on the ferry…what’s another couple of hours? Once that was all over and we’d paid our entry fees and collected our stickers (on every item of luggage, including the bikes), everything was loaded onto the big colorful trucks and we were off for a 3km ride to our first campsite in Sudan…an unused football field on the outskirts of the port town of Wadi Halfa. There, we were greeted with our company and support for the next few months down to Cape Town, a company called “African Routes”. The crew consists of Vimpy, Rory, Errol, Hank, Thor – a group of guys so at home here in Africa and so familiar with the Tour it’s almost like a holiday! The other person to meet up with us was Miles, our resident chef and Tour D’Afrique staff…now, this is starting to sound like a luxurious package!
After a delicious meal, the rush began to clean and prepare the bikes for our first leg in Sudan as well as pack our “Red Box” – a large red plastic container that stores “our life” for approx a week…you think trying to read Arabic was hard!…try to pack a red box with everything you may need for a week – needless to say, there hasn’t been a person who hasn’t said”I accidentally left it in my permanent bag!”. The permanent bags stay under a tarp on the roof of one of the trucks and the African Roots boys are firm in their sanding of “no access” until our rest day in Dongela – a mere 5 days away!
Day one in Sudan began with the 6am call to prayer by the dozen or so mosques in the town…this went for about 30 minutes and the excited “eager beavers” and “last minute packers” were up and moving early! After breakfast, the race began and the first difference between Sudan and Egypt was apparent – no tarmac!…..the second difference..increase in temperature (it was hot!) and the third…dust (and lots of it)! Gone were the tourist buses, the cars, the donkeys; all replaced by sandy, bumpy roads and a landscape of rugged mountain outcrops that made you feel like you were on another planet but still the racers raced on and the expedition riders pedaled on to lunch and the welcome sight of “Betsy” the lunch truck and loads of peanut butter sandwiches complete with “Guns and Roses” playing from the stereo – where else would you rather be? Although, the distances each day have been cut by half, the bumps (big enough to swallow any bike and rider), the sand, the rocks and the heat mean that the going can be quite slow even for the support vehicles. Needless to say, people are beginning to use their spare tubes! The sunsets and sunrises are amazing as well as the stars in the night sky. You definitely have a feeling of remoteness out here. The Sudanese people are a friendly, happy bunch who are only too willing to offer you help, a big smile and a “hello”. I mean where else can you flag down refrigerated truck carrying yoghurt and the next minute have 40 people lined up buying cold yoghurt in the middle of nowhere?
Tomorrow brings another day…of sand, dust, bumps and more African sun. The riders have all disappeared to bed early…tired, suntanned (we have amazing tan lines happening here) and full of food (and yoghurt). Words cannot do justice to the experience that we are having here…you just have to be here!