“The Old Zoo Campsite” Dongola
Yesterday, we enjoyed a “Rest Day” in Dongola, a relaxed little village town on the Nile River, complete with yummy pastries, exceptionally good falafels, palm groves and friendly, friendly locals. Our place of residence is the old zoo…with old cages, old toilets and an old turtle!!! Someone forgot to tell him that the zoo had closed down. Everyone has been enjoying the easy going nature of the day, cleaning themselves (the zoo has a great outdoor shower – a pipe hanging over an old light post that spills out water at least 18 hours a day), their bikes, their clothes (after 5 days in the dust everything was pretty filthy) and enjoying the food and atmosphere that Dongola has to offer. Darryl, one of the riders even found a bike shop that sells bike parts and bikes for $20 US so the riders have been making the most of it!
Yesterday, we completed our desert crossing on probably the hottest day we have experienced so far. In preparation for the crossing, we had an earlier start than normal and crossed in a convoy. Only a few 100m into the crossing it was clear enough to see how easy it was to get lost out there. For us though, the sun hid behind some clouds for most of the morning and although the soft sand sometimes wreaked havoc, it was a smooth crossing…and no one got lost! Afterwards, we had a simple twenty something km ride through several villages to the ferry that would take us across the Nile River and put us a final 25km from Dongola. Abdul, our Sudanese guide must have decided that the Desert Crossing was far too easy, so he took us an indirect route through several villages, hoping to skirt all of them. (and another few kms longer than the intended route) What a sight we would have seemed…40 something bikes, complete with brightly colored lycra outfits, crisscrossing canals, getting bogged on sandy tracks and taking photos. After going a few kms out of our way, we landed in a busy market square and it was decided that this was a good spot to have lunch…can you just imagine a 4WD full of peanut butter sandwiches, energy bars, staminade and water plus riders, support staff and bikes taking over the square…then…the big surprise compliments of Shanny, cold pepsi delivered via donkey and cart!!!
After lunch, and a trek though winding sandy streets and locals calling out “Welcome” and “How are you”…we hit the ferry, loaded up, made room for a donkey and set sail for a quick 30 minute trip to the other side. Dipping your hot sweaty feet into the Nile was a pleasure and the ride was over far too quickly so it was back on the bikes in anticipation of meeting up with the tarmac in Dongola – a hot afternoon, lots of water stops, a few spills and finally seeing Betsy (the African Routes lunch truck) and the boys telling us 3kms to go to camp. Yay! Unfortunately, Doris, the other truck had gotten a bit stuck in the crossing so she was late getting in and it was decided that we would order dinner in that night. While riders showered and cleaned, Miles and I headed off into town and bought the whole place out of Beef Shwarmas and falafel sandwiches and pepsi – needless to say we did make friends with the local cafe owner after an order that big.
Stage 14 began this morning…cold and brisk but with tarmac so the racers were ready; everybody a little excited and the bikes clean again and running smoothly. While most of the racers are doing last minute checks on their bikes and getting sorted, Gunther who is currently in 3rd position overall for the men’s division, sat casually on a camp chair, lycra on, camel back full of water, bike ready…smoking a cigarette and tying his hiking boot laces (he prefers to wear these rather than bike shoes)…but despite this each day he is one of the first in…the other guys cannot believe it! For today’s stage, we had 50km of tarmac (riders’ bliss after the previous bumps and sand) then we hit the dirt roads again, a few sandy patches and a herd of camels, for another 50km. A fast day with the whole contingent in at camp by 2.30pm. Unfortunately mother nature decided that she would whip up some good crosswinds that are exceptional at covering everything in a fine layer of dust and filling your tent with sand so here we sit…in an open desert camp, bikes trying to be cleaned, people reading their guide books, Sudanese villagers bringing bags of oranges to sell, playing cricket with a wooden spoon and shovel and trying not to get your eyes filled with sand (too late for most of the tents). Bumps, grazes and injuries being cleaned up as well as a few saddle sores. Elaine, the tour nurse is started to get busy. Another day in beautiful Africa!