(39) Sand in Sudan
Tuesday 18th December
Can you spot Shaz??
It was a cold windy night on the ferry and we remained at the front under more stars than we knew existed. A couple of times the wind picked up so we were worried about losing stuff over-board. Sharon woke with flu like symptoms and stayed in her sleeping bag as long as possible. The sun started to rise and in the distance we could see Abu Simbel – an ancient Egyptian temple that was raised from the valley floor and re-positioned above the waterline when the Aswan Dam was built. The ferry went past very close and we were sad we couldn’t have cycled to it but were also secretly pleased as it had saved us 200 miles of pedalling!
On deck with all our kit
A couple of hours on and we finally reached the port at Wadi Halfa – we were in Sudan! With heaps of luggage to come off the ferry and a frenzy of people we decided to relax on deck until most of it had gone. We chatted to the other travellers and discovered that there was no bank in Wadi Halfa and no ATM machines until Khartoum (at least 10 days ride away). We knew that Sudan didn’t accept Visa because of the strained relationship with America but didn’t think we would have a problem because our cards aren’t marked Visa. With only about £70 in cash on us and knowing that most of this would disappear with port charges and registering with the police, we were stuck. We were however, overwhelmed by the number of people who offered to lend us money – people we had only known since the day before. We gratefully accepted Anna and James’s offer as they have an English bank account making it easy to do a bank transfer.
Feeling more relaxed, we sat on deck watching TV’s, blenders, pots and pans cushions etc being loaded onto buses at the port. After a couple of hours, 2 bike shaped objects appeared and we pushed them off the ferry and headed to customs. The customs officer looked in one of Sharon’s panniers and realising it would take a while to search all the bags stuck a sticker on our bar bags and let us through. We changed the money we had and rode on a dirt track into the town feeling like we were finally in Africa. We photocopied our passports in preparation to register with the police only to find they had finished for the day – it was 3pm. We would have to return the following day.
Shaz leaving the port
Feeling despondent, homeless and skint we were truly British and put the kettle on. Sharon went off to find Anna and James to collect some cash and while she was gone, Tim spotted a Polish motorcyclist called Romaine who was looking vacantly towards him. He had ridden his BMW motorbike up from South Africa and looked like he had been sand blasted in a tumble drier. Naturally Tim made him a cup of tea. Sharon returned now armed with enough cash to get us to Khartoum and we felt so relieved. We loved listening to Romaine’s stories and were sorry to hear that he wasn’t aware of the new tarmac road that went from Khartoum all the way to Halfa. He had spent the past 3 days fighting the sand on a parallel desert road following his sat nav. He was gutted. Romaine was a great bloke and we decided to wild camp together that night to save us some money. We headed to the edge of town and found a good spot. Over dinner we chatted about how Sudan felt much friendlier and hassle-free than Egypt. It was so refreshing to have people genuinely wanting to help, without the motivation to gain some money. Sharon still felt unwell so snuggled into her sleeping bag while Tim packed up after dinner.
Wednesday 19th December
A herd of goats passing our tent in the morning
We had slept well until some dogs barked at us in the night – waving our sticks at them did the trick and we drifted back to sleep. We woke hearing Romaine packing up. Sharon stayed in bed as long as possible as she still felt dreadful. We said our goodbyes before packing up ourselves.
Romane and his trusty steed
We headed into town to register with the police which was a requirement of our stay in Sudan. Sharon sat in the shade with the bikes while Tim went to various offices, getting various stamps and was delayed at one point as the chief wanted to have his breakfast. Fortunately Tom and Richard, the 2 English motorcyclists we had met on the ferry kept Tim amused and they were done midday.
We decided to have lunch just as Tom and Richard heard their bikes had arrived by barge. This was great news for them as the previous barge had broken down during its journey. The propeller had broken off and it was such an expensive part, the ferry company had commissioned divers to retrieve it from the bottom of the river. This delayed the barge for weeks. Tom and Richard headed off happily to collect their bikes and we found a café to have lunch. We ate deep fried fish, bread and salad washed down with delicious mint tea and coffee. We went to the market and picked up supplies as the next 80 miles would be just desert.
A market seller in Wadi Halfa
The road was brand new thanks to Chinese investment and the surface was amazing. We had a tail wind so the going was good. We stopped a few times to help Sharon get her strength back and it felt noticeably hotter than Egypt.
Taking a break from the heat
A brightly painted truck
We covered 45 miles before the sun went down and Sharon fell asleep as soon as Tim pitched the tent, still not feeling well. Tim cooked and packed up before heading to bed. We were both hoping for another day of tail wind.
Thursday 20th December
One of many great camp spots
Sharon got up first feeling a bit better and Tim chatted about the dreams he had had. They’d become quite vivid since starting to take Larium, an anti-malarial we were both taking. This was a common side-effect and was going to keep Sharon amused for months to come no doubt. We had bread and jam for breakfast and with limited water we made sure we had enough drinking water before putting on a brew.
Tim on the desert road
We got on the road and continued in the cool morning temperature and were pleased to still have the tailwind. We heard a vehicle behind us and turned to see James and Anna pulling over. They had picked up their truck and were heading south. We stopped to chat for a while and they gave us some water, it was great to see them again. We said our goodbyes, thanking them once again for lending us some money.
James, Anna and Tim and their awesome Toyota Landcruiser!
We rode on for several hours into the heat only to find we had cycled past the small town we had been heading for. It was only a cluster of shacks and hadn’t looked like a village.
Riding into the heat
Annoyed we hadn’t stopped as we were running low on water, we found a place to sit in the shade to sit out the worst of the heat. Just as we were heading to a big rock, out of the corner of our eyes we saw some buildings in the distance. It turned out to be a temporary Chinese camp that housed a team who were working on the power lines. They didn’t speak much English but indicated we could help ourselves to water and a shower. They even filled our fuel bottle. From having little water and fuel, we were now washed, topped up and ready to go. The heat had eased a little as we got back on the road.
A village mosque
As we rode along, we heard the rumble of some motorbikes behind us and smiled as we realised it was Tom and Richard. We found a nice spot to have a cup of tea and after a while of chatting we wished them a safe onward journey.
Richard (above) and Tom – great blokes on great bikes
We continued for about an hour and a half and with the sun setting over the desert we spotted a sign for a town where we could pick up supplies. We heard someone shouting and saw them waving so waved back as this was not unusual. A few minutes later we heard the familiar motorbike rumble and it became clear that it was Richard waving at us. Tom was chasing us down on his bike and invited us for dinner at their camp spot back up the road. We happily accepted and joined them at their spot which was next to an old runway. We spent the evening chatting about our respective trips and life back home. During the evening’s conversation, we realised we had seen them before whilst in Turkey. We had travelled a similar route and were about to do a long climb when 2 English motorbikes had passed us and not stopped. When we mentioned this, one of them said ‘we passed 2 cycle tourists that day’ but hadn’t realised we were English. It’s a small world!
Friday 21st December
After having more bizarre dreams, we got the kettle on as the sun rose. We said our goodbyes and headed into the dusty village to find a shop. We found a couple that didn’t sell much but between the shops, we got what we needed. We rode on and with a strong tail wind it felt great. The road direction changed after a while and we then gained a side wind. We spotted at a busy road-side café and stopped to have something to eat. We wolfed down deep fried fish and bread and were surprised how hungry we were. With a limited number of places to eat and choice of food, we had both been struggling with our appetites.
A friendly lizard crossing the road
The temperature was rising and so after another hour or so of riding we found a great spot where palm trees gave us ample shade. We dozed out of the wind and after a good break we got back on the road. We were soon hot and wind-blown again so stopped for a cuppa in the shade of a cool building. We both felt shattered. We went to pay but the tea was on the house – a very kind gesture for 2 weary travellers.
Colourful doors to a house
The wind remained on our sides until we finally turned south and we had a tailwind once again giving us a well needed push. We stopped for water on the way at a small village where a young guy filled our water bag.
One of many Sudanese villages we passed through
Stunning colours against the desert
We started to look for somewhere to pitch our tent as we had returned to the Nile valley where the settlements were more frequent making it more difficult to find a good spot.
Riding into the cool evening
We finally found a great spot in an old river bed a few hundred metres off the highway. It was like camping on the moon. The wind was strong which made putting up the tent difficult but we were grateful we no longer had the Hilleburg tent which we were sure would have blown away. We cooked tea and sat under a bright moon in this amazing landscape, it was so peaceful. We sat enjoying the moment.
Saturday 22nd December
Sunrise and we are up!
The wind dropped completely in the night, leaving it very quiet. We couldn’t hear a thing, not even an insect, just the odd bus with its accelerator seemingly screwed to the floor. The first signs of the sun helped us get up before it got too hot. Checking the thermometer on Sharon’s bike we saw it was a cool 7 degrees. Knowing it would soon be in the 30’s we got going planning to stop for breakfast further down the road.
Shaz climbing a rare ‘hill’
We rode for an hour and stopped for a cup of Chi (tea) at a ferry port. The place was soon buzzing with a hive of activity.
A wasp looking bus!
Keeping those pedals turning in the heat
We continued on, Sharon was starting to feel unwell again and had an upset stomach and the town of Dongola was still 30 miles away. We knew if we made it there however, she could rest for a couple of days. She had to keep stopping to dart behind sand dunes which slowed our progress. We stopped for some lunch at a road side café, Sharon managed some bread but was feeling really nauseous.We headed on and found another spot to relax away from the heat – it was 35 degrees – and a lady bought us some cold drinks. Tim spent time showing some kids his bike while Sharon rested.
The lady who kindly bought us a drink, with her young son and brother
The only way to travel in Sudan
We limped on, and finally arrived on the outskirts of the town hours later. We briefly stopped for a cold drink (and toilet stop) before riding the last few miles. We asked for a hotel and the second one we saw was good enough; the guy behind the counter was lovely and spoke great English. We checked in and Sharon headed straight to bed, finally feeling like we could relax.
Sunday 23rd December – Tuesday 25th December
We spent the next 3 days in the hotel. Sharon slept most of the first day and started to feel better, getting her appetite back to the point that she couldn’t stop eating – good timing with Christmas day on the horizon. We studied maps for the next part of our journey and Adif, the guy who worked at the hotel lent us his Internet dongle so we could email and Skype. This was great as it meant we could catch up with things. Dongola was a great town, people were really friendly and we felt really welcome. It had loads of shops selling all sorts of goodies, including a great bakery and a shop that sold fudge!!
We spent Christmas day chatting to family at home. We had potato, onion and tomato omelette for Christmas dinner and ate Bert and Ernie our Christmas puddings for tea. Sharon’s mum Wendy had sent them out with Tim’s mum and Fred to Cyprus. We had also bought one and a half kilos syrup soaked pastry, our favourite Sudanese food. We really missed home, especially being with everyone but really enjoyed chatting on Skype, laughing at Christmas jokes and generally getting in the festive spirit.
Getting into the Christmas spirit – enjoying our Christmas puddings!
Towards the end of Christmas day we started to pack our things, excited to be heading off into the desert once again, the following day. It would be our longest stretch yet, with no inhabitants for 110 miles.
Thanks so much for reading!