We have spent the last few days riding through the Sahara Desert. It’s a strange thing to say and I wonder how when I get back to Canada I will be able to explain to people what this place is like. Last night I talked for an hour with one of our Lonely Planet sectional riders. He is leaving us tomorrow in Khartoum (to be replaced by another LP rider) and the conversation was poignant, broad and quite bittersweet. More bitter than sweet. We have only been in Africa as a group for 18 days and already losing a rider, even under the best of circumstances, feels wrong. It felt as if the sands of time and chance were sweeping a burgeoning compatriot away far before his time. I can’t imagine what it will be like at the finish line in Capetown. Perhaps, only 18 days into this adventure imagining the finish line is premature.
Anyways, being a product of the Canadian public school system I am well versed in the benefits of ‘diversity’. In fact I am pretty sure that I saw a sign last year in Sri Lanka advertising positions for diversity trainers that read:
DIVERSITY EXPERTS WANTED
1. Be a Canadian junior high graduate
2. Be willing to relocate to Sri Lanka
Now let me be brutally honest for a minute. The hardest workers on this tour are not the riders, nor the staff, but rather the family and friends of riders spread around the world. Facing the crushing distances and beating sun day after day is nothing compared to having to READ about crushing distances and beating sun day after day. I feel your pain, truly. And in that vein I have decided to throw a little ‘diversity’ your way. (I bet you were wondering what that whole diversity spiel was about above; well saddle up cowboy) So today I am going to furnish you with a step by step guide to washing yourself at the zoo in Dongola, Sudan.
Step 1. Ride for days through the Nubian Desert to get yourself into the frame of mind where a wash in a zoo sounds like a prospect just short of heaven
Step 2. Realize that the zoo in Dongola is actually just a walled in field with animals carved out of stone.
Step 3. Be not at all disappointed by Step 2
Step 4. Locate the washing stations
Step 5. Collect the soap you stole from the hotel in Cairo that you have barely used
Step 6. Notice a gaggle of Sudanese men, women and children watching your every movement with bated breath on the other side of the zoo fence
Step 7. Wave happily as you take off your shorts and undies underneath a disastrously undersized towel
Step 8. Walk to washbasin with only aforementioned towel wrapped around waist
Step 9. Realize that you are about to bathe in a basin that is exactly the same as the ones used at mosques for pre prayer ritual washing. Take a minute to debate whether you are about to commit an act of minor sacrilege. Realize that you are in a city with 2 mosques per block and that these basins are likely bought in bulk. Proceed as planned
Step 10. Wave to your Sudanese fan club again
Step 11. Exchange pleasantries with fellow rider who is in the process of washing their clothes at the same basin that you intend to bathe in
Step 12. Turn on tap, squeal with glee at the fact that the sun you have been cursing and straining through for the past week has actually heated all the water to a pleasant temperature
Step 13. Wash yourself under a tap 1 ft off the ground as thoroughly as possible while retaining tenuous hold on last remaining shred of dignity
Step 14. Towel off
Step 15. Exchange pleasantries with fellow rider who has just returned from the pit toilet and wishes to wash hands in the communal bath/ laundry room/ washroom sink.
Step 16. Collect group of 10 fellow riders to head into town for falafels.