This blog post covers the section of cycling between Luxor and Khartoum when bike touring in Africa. This was part of my bicycle tour from England to South Africa, and was one of the most fun and adventurous sections of the journey. Cycling through the desert, my rack collapsed, there were hyenas, oh, and plenty of friendly people!
Bike Touring in Africa – Cycling from Luxor to Khartoum
Leaving Egypt, it was time to venture into a country many people of heard about but few have visited. What would bike touring in Sudan be like? There was only one way to find out! Here's my diaries written during this section of my bike tour from England to South Africa.
Day 138 Luxor – Edfu Thursday 07/12/06
The guys manning the checkpoints on leaving Luxor were so relaxed, it was pointless them being there, so all my worry about being stopped by them was pointless! Pretty uneventful cycling all the way through to Edfu.
Day 139 Edfu – Aswan Friday 08/12/06
Another uneventful days cycling, with no hassle from military or police, but I arrived at long last in Aswan. Booked into a hotel for three nights at 25 Egyptian pounds a night…. not bad.
Day 140 Aswan Saturday 09/12/06
I went over to the Nile Navigation Company to buy my ferry ticket for Sudan. The ferry, which crosses Lake Nasser only leaves every Monday, so it was important to make sure I had one, as I didn't really want to wait another week in Aswan if the ferry was full. There was a little crowd of Europeans waiting in the office to buy their tickets. The driver from the Dragoman company was there, as was the Dutch/Belgian couple from Cairo who are driving a 4 wheel drive, and a couple of German doctors, who were travelling overland to their new jobs in Ethiopia. Got the ferry ticket no problem, changed some money into US Dollars, and bought some supplies, most of which I had eaten within one hour.
Day 141 Aswan Sunday 10/12/06
A nice day off, consisting of eating, sleeping, eating, buying food and eating.
Day 142 Lake Nasser Monday 11/12/06
On the way to the port, I met a Swiss cyclist who had started his trip in Alexandria. To get to the port, we had to bribe a policeman to take us over one dam in his car as the soldiers wouldn't let us cycle, and then had to pay 10 Egyptian pounds to cycle back over another dam. It left a bad taste of another wise good experience in Egypt. At the port, I bumped into the Dragoman overlanders again, as well as the doctors and belgian/dutch couple. The Dragoman driver said he didn't mind taking a bag of mine on to Khartoum, which means that without the laptop, city clothes and book i will be about 6 kilos lighter for the desert crossing of Sudan.
To get onto the ferry took a bewildering amount of queuing and paperwork, but I got through and was on the ferry for 11.00. I staked out a corner for myself and the Swiss man, (who hadn't bought a ticket in advance), and over the next six hours, the ferry was loaded with more things and people than you would have though possible. The Swiss man made it on-board, and we agreed to do the next section from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum together. I had some reservations, as he didn't seem very organised (no ferry ticket, no food or water for the journey, no money to buy any), but on the positive side, he did have a map!
Day 143 Wadi Halfa Tuesday 12/12/06
Quite a good night's sleep on the deck of the ship. I'd defended my little corner well, so I had plenty of room to stretch out. We arrived at the port at 12.00, although it would have been earlier if the propellers had got tangled up in a fishing net. Unloading the ship was just as crazily chaotic as loading it, and customs and passport control took quite a while. It felt good to be on dry land, and then pedal the first few kilometres across the sand to the town of Wadi Halfa. I'm in Sudan at last!!
The hotel was extremely basic, but there were more shops and places to eat than I had thought there would be, and more importantly, bottled water was available. I bought nine 1.5 litre bottles which is the amount I estimated I would need to reach the next major town of Abri. There was no tarmac in Wadi Halfa, just sand, and it gave me an idea of how difficult this next section of cycling might be. I sorted out the bag for the overland crew to take, but as its weight was replaced with water, the bike is actually more heavy than usual.
Day 144 Wadi Halfa Wednesday 13/12/06
I got up reasonably early, as there was some paperwork to do before we could leave the town and get underway. It would have been nice to have left the same day, but unfortunately, things didn't work out that way. I was doing well with my paperwork, but the Swiss guy kept doing a lot of dithering (which I absolutely can not stand). At 10.00 I had finished, but it took Leo another hour and a half, which meant that it was far too late to leave as it would be the hottest part of the day. There's not a lot to do in Wadi Halfa, so I ate, drank and asked about the roads ahead.
Day 145 Wadi Halfa – El Bir Thursday 14/12/06
A nice early start, and we ventured into the unknown. Getting out of Wadi Halfa was probably the most complicated part of the day, but certainly not the hardest. Once out, it was into the middle of nowhere – no real roads, no people, no life, only sand. What the hell am I doing ???!?!?!?
This route in Sudan is famous in the cycling world for being one of the hardest to tackle, and it certainly wasn't easy going. Sometimes the corrugations in the rough track would shake every bone in your body, and then without warning, I'd snake wildly and end up pedalling to nowhere in a sand trap. Not very easy or pleasant, but I knew what i had let myself in for before I had started, so it was no use moaning, and I just got on with it.
Leo proved to be pretty good at picking lines, and I was content to let him cycle ahead, as he had a much lighter load than me. (He'd decided to bring only 5 litres of liquid… I preferred to carry the weight and not be thirsty!) The day went on, and at about five o'clock the brackets on my rear rack decided to snap. Bugger. Fortunately, we were only ten kilometres away from the only settlement for 70kms in either direction. (By settlement, I mean truckstop with three buildings). I limped the bike in, set up my tent out back, and had two plates of fuul and a fanta before calling it a night. As Leo didn't have a tent, he had to sleep in the cafe.
Day 146 El Bir – Abri Friday 15/12/06
After helping to push a twenty tonne truck in order to jump start it, I asked the guys at the truckstop to weld my rack back together. Here's a tip for other cyclists thinking of cycling from England to South Africa via Sudan … Get steel racks. I could have sworn mine were, but they turned out to be aluminium, something than can not be welded. I was about to go all ‘ I think I'll give the bike a good kicking' when I came up with the idea of a support bracket. Sketching my idea in the sand, and trying to explain in English and Arabic what I meant, the guys got the idea, and knocked up a bracket out of a bit of scrap metal and some wire. I'm not sure that it will last all the way to Cape Town, but it certainly got me out of the brown stuff for the time being.
During the day, the Dragoman, 2 four wheel drives and three motor cyclists passed us by, and I'm sure I'll bump into some of them later on during my travels. The cycling was just another long, hard slog over the roughest tracks imaginable. Quite tiring, especially in the blazing sun, but we carried on, and eventually reached the town of Abri just gone dark, where we found a dodgy hotel where you had to take a torch into the toilet to use the squat loo. After something to eat, i went to sleep almost straight away.
Day 147 Abri – Nile Camp Saturday 16/12/06
The long sleep did me good, and I awoke feeling refreshed and positive. I've read a few other peoples travelogues, and some of them didn't reach Abri until day 3,4 or 5, and we'd done it in two. After stocking up at the shops, we set out for another hard days cycling, over the same tough terrain. It's a real test of man and metal this section, but we just kept going on, stopping for the night next to the River Nile… do they have crocodiles here??
Day 148 Nile Camp – Nile Camp Sunday 17/12/06
The roads just seem to get tougher and tougher. Today was Leos turn for his rack to break, although it didn't just break, more like disintegrated into 8 different parts. We managed to stitch it together with cable tie and brake cable, and it held until we reached a small village where a bed maker welded it back together. Because of the delays and the condition of the roads, we were 20 kms short of our goal of Kermah, which was our destination, so it was another night of sleeping by the Nile. The mosquitoes seem to love eating me, so there was nothing left for the crocodiles.
Day 149 Nile Camp – Dongola Monday 18/12/06
Today, the sand was starting to take its toll on us. We seemed to spend a lot of time pushing the bikes out of deep sand, which wasn't fun. At this point, everything I own is covered in dust and sand, I'm filthy and haven't had a hot shower in over a week. We stopped for lunch under a tree at some nameless Sudanese village, and a family came over to give us tea and talk. Leo has this excellent way of shouting when he talks to the Sudanese, which is a trait I thought only the English possessed when talking to a foreigner. We made the ferry crossing across the Nile for five despite us both having flat tyres, and found our way into Dongola, which had tarmac roads…. Amazing!!
Day 150 Dongola Tuesday 19/12/06
A well deserved day off, consisting of bike fixing, cleaning, eating, washing and resting. It was at this point that getting to Khartoum for Christmas looked a real possibility.
Day 151 Dongola – Desert (nr Debah) Wednesday 20/12/06
We were in luck on leaving Dongola, as we discovered that Sudan is under going a road building phase from Dongola to Khartoum. Whilst the roads weren't finished, and cars were not allowed on them, it was fine for cycling along, and far more preferable to the bumpy, sandy tracks leading through the desert. We had to make the occasional detour around drainage trenches and avoid the odd steam roller, but we made good progress all the same, despite Leo having two punctures along the way. We did a bit of cycling in the dark, but it became obvious we were not going to reach our goal, and so we pushed the bikes into the desert using the stars for light and camped underneath a very thorny tree.
Day 152 Desert (nr debah) – Desert (middle of Sudan) Thursday 21/12/06
We had an early start, and kept a good pace, although I hit the wall because i hadn't had enough to eat. At Abu Dom, we feasted on fuul, and then bought supplies for the rest of the journey to Khartoum. We both discovered that we had a slight monetary crisis, in that although we had US dollars, we only had 3000 dinars each left, which is about seven quid, and it had to last two days. Leaving Abu Dom, we hammered down a tarmac road with the wind behind us, stopping for an expensive drink along the way. I managed to get a flat tyre in my increasingly wobbly rear wheel, but a quick change, and we carried on. Another night of sleeping in the desert.
Day 153 Desert (middle of Sudan) – Desert Friday 22/12/06
With a strong wind behind us, and good roads, we raced along. Even with a few fanta stops, we easily covered 200 kms. Leo has a problem with his front tyre, in that its bulging a little, and my rear wheel wobbles a bit. The roads have taken their toll on the bikes… and us. My lips are chapped, I'm sunburnt and filthy.
Day 154 Desert – Khartoum Saturday 23/12/06
Another race through the desert, and we reached the outskirts of Omderman, which is a small city on the outskirts of Khartoum. There were quite chaotic scenes as we tried to negotiate the way through the cars, tuk-tuks, donkeys, pedestrians and other moving and staionary objects. Asking directions along the way, and using the compass that served me well in the desert, we somehow entered Khartoum from completely the opposite end than we thought we were.
Reached the Blue Nile Sailing Club for three, and after ten nights of sleeping in the desert, we must both have looked a right state! The club let us camp on their lawn (it has green grass!!!!), there is water to have a shower and everything! All for $1.50 a night which can't be bad. So I made Khartoum for Christmas, and with time to spare. As I originally though I would be in Cairo at Christmas, I'm well ahead of schedule.
Day 155 Khartoum Sunday 24/12/06
Had a big breakfast, and changed some money first thing. I got talking to the Scottish lad and Kenyan girl who I had first met on the ferry over from Aswan as they were also staying at the Blue Nile Sailing Club. Then, I got to cleaning my bike, and noticed a problem. A BIG problem. There were several bad cracks and splits around the spoke holes on the rear wheel rim. This was not good news. The chances of getting a rim of the right size, number of spoke holes and quality is almost nil in Khartoum, and getting one sent out from England would be problematic to say the least.
I was not a happy chappy. That, combined with the fact that the bag I had given the overland crew had not turned up at the Blue Nile Sailing Club was not giving me a good day. I took my rear wheel to the huge souq in Omderman, which is just a crazily chaotic market place with everything you can imagine. I somehow managed to track down a bicycle repair man, who as luck would have it, is also a keen cyclist and member of what is probably the only bicycle racing team in Sudan. He said that he would phone around his friends, and see if anybody had a rim of the type that I needed. Still, Christmas tomorrow!!
Day 156 Khartoum Monday 25/12/06
Merry Christmas world!! To be honest, I'd never felt so bored. Last night, there was a huge celebration until the wee small hours at the Catholic church almost opposite the Blue Nile Sailing Club, but today, there's nothing happening. I couldn't use the bike, and by 11.00 I'd already eaten my own body weight in dates. Still, the Club had a TV with English language films.
Day 157 Khartoum Tuesday 26/12/06
A more positive day today! I got my video clips from my camera burnt onto cd, and then I uploaded them to the TV company's server. (Don't know if I mentioned it, but a tv production company had been intouch with me wanting some clips. Not sure what will happen, but it was good fun shooting them!). After that, it was on to Omderman again to sort the wheel situation out.
I met up with Izeddin again (tel – 0922589970 ), somehow finding him once more in the maze like souq. The rim wasn't there yet, but I had a couple of things to buy, so I wandered around for a couple of hours, buying myself a new pair of trainers, as my cycling shoes had died when one of the clips got stuck in the pedal in the desert and I had to twist it off. When I went back to Izeddins section on the street, the rim was there and it looked ok. Joy!! I am such a lucky bastard.
For the size wheel I have and number of spoke holes, the rims are almost non-existent outside of Europe, and yet somehow, he'd managed to find one. It was used, but in good shape. Marvelous! Note to self – 26 inch wheels would have been better! As Izeddin built the wheel up using the hub and spokes from my old one, his friend tried to persuade me to help him sell ox gallstones in England. A bit odd. It was quite interesting sitting on the bicycle street of the souq, watching the guys build bicycles up which had been imported from China. Anyway, the wheel was rebuilt. Result! On the bus back to Khartoum, a cross-eyed man with lots of scars tried to sell me a machete and axe through the window.
Day 158 Khartoum Wednesday 27/12/06
I tried to fit the wheel in the morning, but it just wasn't having it. The pedals also needed changing, as I wanted to give the clip pedals to Izeddin and get normal ones for the bike, so I put the bike in a taxi, and went back over to the souq in Omderman. He had to restrip the wheel and build it up from scratch which took a while, but it's perfect now. He also replaced the pedals and re-tied the handlebar tape. Sorted!
Somewhere along the way, I have also been invited to an Eid meal on Saturday. I'm not too sure what it is, but I think it's a religious holiday which involves killing and then eating a goat. Good, I'me getting sick of hamburgers now. I was in two minds in what to tell Leo the Swiss guy. It was good that we cycled together from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum, but now I really want to carry on by myself again. Plus, although he's was fine when cycling, he's just a little too odd when he isn't for my liking. Anyway, I told him I was going to stay, and he decided to move on the next day. In the evening, my bag turned up… Marvelous!! I now have my clothes back as well as guide book and of course laptop!!
Day 159 Khartoum Thursday 28/12/06
Well, somehow, I managed to get a wireless access in the grounds of the Blue Nile Sailing Club. There's a lot of government buildings around, and again, I'm not sure of the punishment for hacking in Sudan, but too late now! I visited the souq in the afternoon to sort out the Eid feast on Saturday and generally farted around on the internet. The next day it would be time to push on again!