(41) From sand to civilisation
January 16, 2013
Tuesday 1st January
After a long day and not getting to bed till 2am (due to having wifi in the hotel) we woke shattered knowing the more time we stayed in bed the hotter it would get outside. We packed our things and joined the quiet street outside. We were heading north to an old train graveyard where all the trains in Sudan go to rest; many of them were old British steam trains. It didn’t look far on Google earth but after 5 miles in a strong head wind and the temperature now in the high 30’s, we were starting to wonder how much further it was. We turned a long bend in the road and found the turn off onto a sand track. It was another 3 miles on soft sand and feeling like we had got this far it felt defeatist giving up now. We continued along the sand track into the strong wind and finally after half an hour we spotted them in the distance. It seemed to take forever to get there and on arrival we found lots of people who were clearing the site for a new railway line so most of the old steam engines had gone, the parts being sold off for scrap and other uses. Gutted we sat down and drank tea whilst chatting to a well travelled Sudanese man.
Tim finally came off the rails whilst working out
We had to leave as we needed to get some miles done so we headed back to the highway to Atbarah on a different sandy track that ended up being much harder than the one we had come in on. We reached the junction south after stopping on the way for a satsuma break. We had covered 22 miles by now and were only 5 miles from the hotel where we had started our day which felt frustratring. With the wind now behind us we made good progress on the busy highway.
Traffic herding cows on the highway
As we rode along with no hard shoulder and the verges littered with old blown up truck tyres, we stuck to the edge of the road trying to give the traffic as much room as we could. The truck drivers were great, waving as they passed leaving us loads of room and beeping their colourful horns which always made us smile. We stopped for food at a busy truck stop. We were so hungry and sat enjoying the feeling of ‘a food rush’. We rejoined the highway and with the temperature at 42 degrees didn’t last long on the road before pulling in to a cool mud shelter and sat out the worst of the heat. It was now starting to get more humid which made the heat feel more uncomfortable. We filled up with some more water and rode on into the dark looking for somewhere to camp. We finally spotted a sheltered area away from the road on the other side of a small town. It felt good to stop early with all the late nights in the desert we both needed a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday 2nd January
We slept about 200 metres from the road behind some trees, it was a great spot but because it was between 2 small hills the sound travelled up to us as if we were right on the road. We did sleep well but both of us kept waking. We finally got up just before 8 and had a quick breakfast. We were both excited that we were going to see some more Pyramids today and covered about 22 miles before we spotted them in the distance.
We stopped at a small concrete building that housed a few water pots, filled a few bottles and noticed it was the clearest water we had seen.
Re-filling water bottles
We continued on to the entrance and rode the few hundred metres to the office. We parked the bikes and went in to get the tickets. It was 100 SDG about £10 for both of us. Our hearts sank; we were running low on cash and found we only had 150 SDG left. We had a chat and decided that one of us would go in but when they saw our concern at the price they let us both in for 30 (£3) which was amazing. We had a good look around and alongside the Giza Pyramids, were the best we had ever seen. The Meroe site is actually an ancient city estimated to have been built around 800 – 280 BC. We counted about 30 of the 42 that would have been there in that site – originally there was around 200 in 3 separate groups.
Like going back in time
We asked the staff there if we could make them all an English cup of tea in way of a thanks for our discount. Before we knew it there were about 10 people sat round sharing cups and trying our traditional cuppa. It was so nice and really made our day. We had fun showing them our stove, especially the flint which we used to light it. One of the guys disappeared and came back excitedly with some flint stone and everyone had a go at copying their ancestors.
Enjoying time together
As we rejoined the road we noticed that we had very little water and Tim decided to ride the 2 miles back up the road into the headwind to get the nice clear water from the clay pots – it would still need treating but not filtering. It took a while but was well worth it.
The temperature was starting to get to us; the sun was so intense we had to keep stopping to find shade and cool down. We came to a side road that led to the Nile and with not much food left we took the road into a small town. We went around a few bends to find it suddenly stopped in front of a railway with no crossing. We could see a couple shops on the other side so we dragged our bikes up over the embankment and over a series of railway tracks checking for trains as we crossed. We checked out the first shop where we got a coke and biscuits but it didn’t sell much else so we asked about bread and a kind looking man led us to a bakery. We bought delicious hot flat bread straight from the oven. We ordered 12, then were invited in for a coffee so ordered another 4 and ate them with a cuppa. We felt we couldn’t relax. We wanted to but there was a guy pointing his mobile at us and every so often we could hear the click of a picture being taken. Tim said to him ‘are you taking a photo?’ to which he replied ‘no’ and looked embarrassed but continued to take pictures. It was quite funny as his phone was so loud and remained pointed at us. We recrossed the railway lines and headed back out to the highway.
It remained good going with truck and bus drivers waving. We stopped at a truck stop for a tea then went on to find a camp-spot before it got too dark to see (we were missing the full moon). With rubbish decorating the shrubs and bushes we spotted a good place to leave the road. We got about 200 metres from the road and were ready to pitch the tent when we saw a group of goats and a Shepherd who looked quite nervous. We went over to say hello and he visibly relaxed once he knew what we were doing. We had both enjoyed the day but with the lack of money, heat, long days and not much choice of food in the shops we were starting to flag. We needed to be plugged in and left for a week to recharge – hopefully Khartoum would do this for us.
Thursday 3rd January
We woke just before the sun rose and as we decided to get up to make the most of the cool temperature; a bright orange disc appeared on the horizon. We had a light breakfast and were soon pushing our bikes up onto the road. With the wind starting to pick up it gave us a well needed push down the road. We continued on through the scrub land with not much changing, other than the occasional road side cafe or diesel stations selling fuel in big steel drums. We covered 40 miles before we stopped at a small seller who gave us tea and let us relax for an hour in the shade. When we came to pay he refused and said we could rest there for the afternoon but wanting to get food we said our thanks and headed on.
A herd of cows along the way
After an hour, the temperature had soared to the high 30’s so we spotted a truck stop and ordered chicken and rice. It was just what we needed. After a cup of tea, we rejoined the highway. The temperature had dropped a bit by now and as we rode on we saw a pipe with water coming out of it. We stopped to cool ourselves down when a man called us over. Amhed invited us for tea and filled all of our water bottles for us. He was a police man and we sat chatting with him and his friend. Tim even got to hold his gun to his excitement but knew better then to ask if he could fire it. We gave them some English tea bags and Amhed had a go on Sharon’s bike.
We rode on for about 4 miles and with a town coming up and only an hour of light left we decided to camp early so we could catch up on some well needed rest.
Friday 4th January
It was hard to comprehend how nice it was to have stopped cycling so early the day before. We had been so tired and even though it was only an extra hour or so it made all the difference. We woke just before the sun started to rise and Tim decided to film us getting up and loading the bikes. It was a great spot a good distance from the road. We rode back to the road and enjoyed the morning’s tail wind that was pushing us closer to Khartoum. We were now getting very low on food so we stopped to pick up bread and a huge watermelon which we called Walter after stopping for a short tea break. The area started to become more built up and we knew we must be nearing the city.
It was easy going with not much traffic and at one point we were stopped by a man with a piece of pipe who looked like he was directing traffic and said something to us. Not understanding him we smiled and continued on over the bridge and on in the direction of the hostel. After a while feeling lost we asked some smartly dressed men if they knew where we could find the hostel. It turned out one of them lived in London and was brought up in the area. He not only gave us tea, he also changed the last $100 we had into SDG and lead us to the hostel in his car. 5 minutes later we were outside and saying our thanks. We were shown to our room which was clean but the kitchen we had been excited about was disused and dirty – the photo on the internet didn’t look like the same place! The Internet which was promised on their website didn’t exist which was frustrating but at least we had made it to Khartoum 🙂
It was a night of being hot then freezing as the air conditioner would wind itself up, frightening the life out of us. It was hard to tell what time it was because we had the tent ground sheet over the window to stop anyone looking in; not that there was anyone else staying there. It was a strange place that looked like it could be great if there was someone keen to run it and people to stay. Half the doors were about to drop off from what we guessed was caused by termites. We lay in bed listening to a few chapters of Harry Potter on the computer to take us off to another world before starting the jobs from our ever increasing list. It was the usual bread and jam for breakfast washed down with a cup of tea and a dozen biscuits.
First on the list was to find a bank and then the DHL office. We got a few pointers and found the bank by accident but it didn’t open until the next day. We asked where the DHL office was and to our delight we were pointed to a building 50 metres away. It couldn’t be this easy. We walked our bikes over and Tim went in to collect the 2 parcels. One was the front dynamo hub that was now showing signs of metal filings on the outside and the other was a replacement shell that had cracked and a piece had come off. Tim handed over the 2 parcel codes and the lady went off returning with just one – the Rolhoff hub. Tim signed for it and asked for the next one. The lady checked the number again and said it was the wrong code and told him to go to a different office.
After half an hour we were outside having being told the code was wrong yet again. We decided to return to our hostel and go in search of an Internet cafe. We found one and discovered that the parcel was somewhere between Germany and Sudan via any airport and that it was sent via Sudapost which we had specified would be unreliable. While Sharon worked on the computer Tim crossed the city to find the Sudapost HQ only to be told it could be a week or maybe two weeks before the parcel arrives. This was our worst fear. We had to head to the Ethiopian border in a few days as our visas were running out but with a front wheel ready to fall apart at any moment we had to fix it before we left. Tim headed back to find Sharon who had finished the next post and returned to the hostel to try and sort out our kit. We did manage to pick up some delicious ice cream and water melon to cheer ourselves up. Something else that cheered us up was getting in touch with Huda and Yousif who lived in Khartoum, who are the Auntie and Uncle of a friend of Sharon’s and who had helped us get our Sudanese visas when we were in Istanbul. They had invited us to stay with them which was so kind; we had heard so much about them and were looking forward to meeting them. We arranged to meet the following day. We spent the evening with Harry Potter.
Next installment coming soon – thank you for reading!