This bike touring blog post covers my route cycling from Khartoum in Sudan to Gondar in Ethiopia. Part of my 2006 England to South Africa bike tour.
Sailing on the Nile in Sudan
Day 160 Khartoum Friday 29/12/06
In the morning, Mohammed (obvious choice of name really), one of the Blue Nile Sailing Club members, said he needed some help sailing on the Nile as it was quite windy.
I've never been sailing before, but as my job was just to pull very hard on ropes and hang over the edge of the boat so it didn't capsize. It was easy to learn, but physically harder work than I thought.It was good fun sailing along the Nile as we raced another club member, and I worked up quite an appetite. Back on shore, and Eritraen church group was using the club grounds for their meeting, so there were a lot of Halelujah's going on, but also some free food for me!
Day 161 Khartoum Saturday 30/12/06
Well, the Eid feast didn't go according to plan. Izeddin was supposed to come to the club at 12.00 to meet me, but by two, he still hadn't arrived.
I was getting hungry, and as it was a public holiday everywhere nearby was closed, so I had to walk into the centre and eat at some of the dodgy places by the bus stands. I did get to eat goat burgers though!
Leaving Khartoum by Bicycle
Day 162 Khartoum – Wad Medini
As I was packing my tent away, ready for an early start, a Sudanese cyclist who I had never seen before turned up at the club. He couldn't speak much English, but I gathered that some more members of the Khartoum cycling club would be coming shortly.
I packed my stuff away, and Izeddin and another guy who must have been nearly seven feet tall arrived.
Izeddin explained that yesterday, his kid was ill, so he had taken him to the clinic, and that he'd come by the campsite at about 2.30. Oh well, never mind.
With my bike loaded, the guys led me out of Khartoum to put me on the right road to Wad Medini. We stopped for lunch, and I wanted to pay to say thank you for finding the rim for the bike as well as all their help, but they wouldn't let me pay a single dinar even for my own share. Typical Sudanese hospitality.
Such an amazing people and far from the popular misconceptions we hear about Sudan back in England.
We parted company, and I set off for Wad Medini which was still some hundred and twenty kilometres away, and action packed, as today was accident on the road day.
The first one, I'm putting down to donkey suicide…
I'm cycling along, and I see this donkey start to amble onto the road about a hundred metres in front. I could tell this wasn't going to end happily, and so pulled over to the side.
A minibus whizzed by me and either didn't see the large, brown donkey in the middle of the road, or thought it would move. It didn't.
There was a screech of brakes before the inevitable impact, and minibus fragments and donkey bits went flying up into the air.
The main body of the poor animal did an impressive double somersault, followed by a back-flip, a twist and a half pike before landing at the side of the road with its legs at strange angles in the air.
I've passed by plenty of roadkill on this trip, many with their legs at strange angles, at least I know how it happens now.
Anyway, as I was on a tight schedule and the people in the minibus seemed ok, I skirted around the crash site and tried not to let my tyres get too wet.
Accident number two happened an hour later. Again, I could see it was going to happen and pulled over, as two hundred metres ahead, a car travelling in my direction somehow left the road and turned over twice in the sand before landing on its side.
I cycled up to the accident and helped some other people push the car back over. The guy inside was obviously injured, but their was nothing I could do and their were plenty of other people around, so I cycled on again.
It was dark when I reached the outskirts of Wad Medini, and not wanting to be a part of accident number three, I made my way slowly into the centre.
It was New Years Eve, and the hotel owners wanted stupid money for hotel rooms, but I eventually had to get one for 25 US dollars a night.
The restaurant opposite looked expensive and it was, but I managed to eat two family sized meals anyway. I was too tired to make New Years Resolutions, and was just thankful to still be alive.
Cycling in Sudan 2007
Day 163 Wad Medini – El Fau Monday 01/01/07
Another year. Wow! Not sure if this is the best way to start a new year, but on checking out of the hotel, there was a bit of a muppet working. I left him 20 US dollars, and later discovered I also had the key, so I hope the hotel owner has learned some vital lessons in a fair trade policy for all, and more importantly, getting the money up front.
As for the day's cycling, the wind was horrible to me all day, which combined with a slight incline did not make me cheerful. There were lots of drink/eat/swear stops and progress seemed slow.
I stopped for the night at a truckstop, and the owners showed me where I could sleep outside. Does that count as wild camping?
Day 164 El Fau – Gedaref Tuesday 02/01/07
I didn't get much sleep, as another guy sleeping outside had his radio on alt full volume all night.
When asked why, he said it was because he didn't want his face to get bitten off by hyenas. Wimp.
Progress was slow and hard work again against a cutting wind. I made Gedaref for five, and got into a shower which was much needed. Very aching legs.
Day 165 Gedaref – Bush (nr Gallabat) Wednesday 03/01/07
I really wanted to stay another night in Gedaref to give my knee a break, which had been aching since I swapped from clips to normal pedals. After an hours fruitless walking around the town trying to get money changed, it became obvious I wouldn't be able to due to the seemingly never-ending holiday period.
I had just enough dinar left to get me to the border, so I decided to cycle on. Starting at 9.30 isn't ideal, but never mind. The road was good, and the wind nothing compared to what it had been.
The nature of the land has changed too, and now resembles what in my mind African bush should look like. I couldn't quite get to the border before nightfall, so I camped wild for my last night in Sudan in the bush.
Cycling over the border from Sudan to Ethiopia
Day 166 Bush (nr Gallabat – Shehedi) Thursday 04/01/07
A pretty good night's sleep, and eating the last of my food, I left towards the border. This final twenty kilometres was on an unsealed gravel road, so I took it slowly as I don't really want to cause the bike any more injury!
At the border, there was the usual exercise in visiting three different buildings to complete various checks and paperwork.
Building number three was a bonus though.The passport control guys were having breakfast, and invited me to join them. As I munched on bread and goat, I realised how lucky i am to experience such hospitality, and I hope the world doesn't change the people of Sudan.
On the Ethiopian side, things were a little bit different.
First, my passport had to be checked by a man in a wobbly lean-to shelter, and then I had to go to a building that looked like a farm house to get my passport stamped.
Then it was back to the lean-to for the passport to be checked again, before I had to go to a man sitting at a table by the side of the road. Apparently he was customs, but he just looked at my bike, grunted, and I was on my way.
Welcome to Ethiopia !
My goal was the town of Shehedi some fifty kilometres away, and the road was a pretty terrible gravel track.
Now its been hot before, but today was ridiculous and the sweat was pouring from me. Not ideal. It took me four hours to reach the town, and although the bank was shut for lunch, there was a hotel opposite, so I checked in for 20 Birr for the night (about one pound thirty) and went on a fanta frenzy.
When the bank opened, I changed some money and had a look around the town, which basically consisted of shanty houses lining the gravel road. Stocked up on supplies.
Cycling in Ethiopia
Day 167 Shehedi – ??? Friday 05/01/07
After a breakfast of chai and a couple of deep fried doughnut things, I bought some bananas and set off.
The road was pretty dreadful all day both in quality and the number of climbs. There were actually clouds in the sky, something I haven't seen in a long time, and they helped to take away some of the fierceness of the sun but did nothing to help with the heat.
Most of the stories of read from other cyclists mention the sheer number of kids and stone throwing. Maybe things have changed, perhaps most of the kids were at school, but I had no real problems.
The kids chant of ‘you, you, you' when they see me sounds aggressive, but I waved back and said hello and they were happy enough.
If a village served chai, I stopped, and a little crowd would gather around to stare at me as I drank, and we made some sort of conversation before I carried on again.
Today, I was passed by six European motorcyclists, none of whom stopped (cheers guys). A German couple in a four wheel drive stopped to see if everything was ok which was good of them.
At about two, I arrived in a small town that I could never quite get the name of, and decided to stay the night in what is perhaps the most incredible place I have ever stopped.
Now, I've travelled a bit, and I like to think that I've stayed in some of the cheaper and more unusual places on the planet. Nothing compared to this though.
At the price of 10 Birr it was about 62 pence, making it by far the cheapest place, and the room was just spectacular. With corrugated iron roof and window, and wattle and daub walls, the room measured only seven feet by three and evidently used to be a stable, as in the room next door, they kept a cow.
The outside toilet had to be seen to be believed, being just a slit in the ground leading to a ‘long drop' with bits of poo around it which a thousand flies just seemed to adore.
The place didn't have a shower, so I washed some of the dust of with a bowl of water and went in search for something to eat. Injerra is the local dish, which is a sort of bread mad from local grass, with the look of carpet underlay but perhaps only half the nutritional value. The meat that comes with it is cooked in a red source which is as hot a lava.
After that, I had a little walk around the village, and decided to have a shave at the barbers, although when I say barbers, I mean a stick walled hut with a chair and a guy with razor blades.
Not only was there no shaving foam and only the tiniest amount of water, but a small crowd gathered to stare, which made the whole experience as pleasurable as having a tooth pulled.
Staying in no name villages in Ethiopia
Day 168 ??? – ??? Saturday 06/01/07
An extremely tough day in the saddle, although I actually spent the last two hours pushing the bike.
It seemed to be uphill for most of the way, and everything was annoying me. It's difficult enough to cycle uphill as it is on a gravel road, without flies trying to crawl into your eyes.
The dust clouds from passing lorries seemed even more choking than usual, and although the views were amazing, it doesn't stop me burning in the sun.
The last two hours of bike pushing were particularly hard work, but I reached a small village for two, and checked into their stable for the night, declining the woman on offer.
There was no water to wash with, which was a real pity as I was filthy, but never mind. The room was on a par with the one from the day before, but as it was bigger, had electricity at night, and also had a table (with four legs of differing lengths) I would say it was of higher quality.
The toilet was actually worse though.
Had something to eat in the only place in the village and got chatting to some people who asked me how their economic situation could be improved.
I knew that they were angling for me to buy books/pens etc, so I told them in my own tactful way that having eight kids per family, and that the male population chewing qat (a mild narcotic) all afternoon was probably not the way forwards.
A small clump of ‘you, you, you' shouting kids followed me around as I bought some bottled water from one of the shacks, and then I retired to the peace of my stableyard for a snooze.
Day 169 ??? – Gondar Sunday 07/01/07
I got an early start to avoid a lot of ‘you, you, you', and buying some biscuits, I was on my way. Although there was a nice downhill section at the beginning, there was still far too much uphill for my liking.
Because it's Sunday, and Christmas Day for the people of Ethiopia, there were seemingly thousands of kids today, and they swapped from being curious of the stranger to hassling me for stuff.
I would be cycling, or occasionally pushing the bike up a steep gravel track, and hordes of kids would suddenly stream down from the hills and over the fields. ‘You, you, you. Give me money/pen/book/clothes/highland'.
It took me a while to work out what they meant by Highland, and then it clicked that they meant my bottled water. Not a chance!! You've got a river, use it!
If i gave stuff to everybody that asked, i would already be on my way home penniless, without a bike and very thirsty. If I was naked, they would still want my earings.
Basically, they want whatever they see, and they want it given to them. A total reversal from the hospitality to strangers shown in Sudan. For a people to have no dignity at all is a sad state of affairs.
Don't get me wrong, by western standards these people are piss poor, but the land is green and fertile, the rivers have water, they have cattle, crops, and goats. Instead of looking at one sweaty, filthy cyclist to give them things, perhaps their own government might buy a few less fighter planes???
Anyway, enough of that! I made it into Gondar and booked into a small pension for three nights, gave my putrid, festering cycling clothes for a local kid to wash (private enterprise… that's how to spread the wealth) and went on an eating frenzy.
Day 170 Gondar 08/01/07
Had breakfast, and on the way to the bank, a kid called me over saying Leo (who I met on the boat from Egypt to Sudan) was still in Gondar. Great. I wandered over to seem him.
Apparently one of his tyres had exploded, and so he had to bus the last 80 kms into Gondar, and he'd been here five days, visiting churches and religious stuff like that.
Anyway, he left today, but I'll probably bump into him again in Addis Ababa. Spent the rest of the day typing this up and resting my legs.
More from this bike tour
Next update – Travelogue 21 – Cycling from Gondar to Addis Ababa
Previous update – Travelogue 19 – Cycling from Luxor to Khartoum
Start from the Beginning – Cycling from England to South Africa