in kharrtoum. macbook dead. no way to write or post blog at the moment. working on it. pissed off.
in kharrtoum. macbook dead. no way to write or post blog at the moment. working on it. pissed off.
Day 15, Stage 11 – 113km (with 25km team time trial)
Start: Desert Camp by Nile
Finish: Dongola, Camp at Zoo, Olla Hotel
I knew we had a 25km tram time trial today and was a little worried about recovery time. So were many others. I think 14 teams signed up but only 8 ended up racing. We put together the ‘All Africa’ team: myself from Tanzania, Bridget and Tessa from South Africa and Ahmed from Egypt. In the end I woke up feeling better than I deserved to. We decided we would race after all and left early. The idea was not to kill ourselves but to keep a steady pace of around 30kmh, which we did. About 10km from the end we were caught by the German team led by Tobias, who is running 2nd overall in the men’s race. We latched onto their tale and rode with them for the next 5 or 6 km. At this point Ahmed thought there was only 1km left so he pulled out at about 40kmh and started a sprint and the ‘All Africa’ team followed. It was way too early. Tobias knew this so happily let us pull until about 800 metres from the end. He then pulled out at speed and it was a free for all to the finish line. I sprinted forward and came third in the pack of ten. Team ‘All Africa’ ended up coming 6th on the day in a time of 50:19, or almost exactly the 30kmh we had set out to do.
After a few minutes rest we cycled at a fast pace in a large group of a dozen or so the remaining 40km to lunch. Once again I was not hungry. Racing and then working in a fast-paced group, I had not had enough to drink. I did not eat lunch, just a couple of oranges and a banana. There was only another 45km to go but I took it slowly and stopped three times for a drink. I really noticed the lack of energy. I ended up doing the last 15 or so km into Dongola with Stig from Norway and another 4 or 5 people. I felt pretty good, certainly better than yesterday. Vince had come in earlier with the fast boys and had already arranged a hotel room for us. We sorted our gear and headed into town to the Olla Hotel, pretty basic stuff and probably a brothel. But it had running water, most of the time, and electricity. For £4 a night it worked.
Dinner was a feast: flat bread, onions, tomatoes, greens, platters full of fried fish, a half chicken stuffed with rice for each of us. I ate it all, trying to make up for my calorie deficit. And drank three bottles of mineral water to wash it all down.
Day 14, Stage 10 – 145km
Start: Desert Camp by Nile
Finish: Desert Camp by Nile
Today was very hot. I wasn’t very hungry. I forced myself to eat breakfast and then hit the road. I did the first half of the ride to lunch with Claire – towards the end James joined us. We kept a steady pace and got into lunch in good time. But I had no appetite so all I did was eat some watermelon and a banana. I tried to drink as much as I could but the water in my bottles was warm enough to brew tea in. It was not very appealing. I was told that dehydration can be an appetite depressant. So it is more than likely that I was not taking in enough fluid and therefore not getting hungry and therefore running a growing calorie deficit.
After lunch I left with Rosie since we were both feeling a little energy deficient. We kept up a reasonable and then joined a larger group who were going more slowly. We didn’t stay with the group for long and headed off at the front. In the process we picked up Wayne. I am glad we did. With about 20 km to go we stopped at a roadside building that looked like it might be a coke stop. I was till feeling ok but wanted a cold drink. They didn’t have anything to drink but pointed into the desert and said ‘supermarket’. Wayne and Rosie waited in the shade of the building while I went off in search of this chimeric supermarket. I reached another building, another finger pointed into the desert and repeated ‘supermarket’. This happened three times until finally, after trekking for over a mile, I reached a hidden truck stop in the middle of the desert. It was like an end of the world market town – no women – lots of rough looking men with big tools and bigger trucks. The new nomads. I finally found a shop that had half litre bottles of warm Pepsi. I then hiked back with three of these in a yellow plastic carrier bag. Rosie didn’t want one. She said it would make her puke. Wayne and I greedily necked ours and admitted that it was time to get back on our bikes. Only now I was knackered. The trek into the desert had taken a lot out of me – and I hadn’t had any lunch. Thankfully Wayne did most off the work for the last 20km and pulled Rosie and I into camp – a very welcome sight.
Once again we were camped by the Nile. I don’t know how, but somehow I managed to summon the energy to set up my tent and sort my kit out before heading to the river. I jumped in and hardly moved for 20 minutes. Cold. Refreshing. Pure bliss. I was in bed by 7:30.
Day 13, Stage 9 – 149km
Start: Wadi Halfa – Camp in Football Field
Finish – Desert Camp by Nile
It is now hot. The flys have come off the tents and people are sleeping just under the webbing. Today was a long day so I decided to change tactics a bit. I decided not going to race to race the whole day and that after lunch I was going to take as many coke stops as there were. I did the first 100km with the fast girls and a few others. It was a nice, fairly quick ride. I then tired a bit so started hitting the coke stops as the others went on. But I felt fairly good at the end of the day and I knew there was another long day the next day.
The camp was within a few hundred metres of the Nile. Before even setting up my tent I put on my bathing suit and jumped in. It was cold, the current was fast, it was heavenly. I didn’t want to get out.
I made a mistake today that compounded over the next couple of days. I didn’t have any soup when I got in. We burn a lot of calories and need to take in a lot. So I started to run a bit of a deficit. But I wasn’t that hungry. I was thirsty though. It got up to 42C and I drank a fair bit but not enough. I guy drove into camp in a pickup with a load of cold drink. I downed three in now time and forgot about the soup. Later that evening I walked to the next village and bought three more drinks. I felt o.k. But I would pay.
Day 12 – 3km
Start: Middle of Make Nasser on Ferry
Finish: Wadi Halfa, Sudan – Camp in Football Field
I got up about 6:30 and went out on deck. It was still dark. As the sun rose we could see Abu Simble off in the distance. Saved from the bottom of lake Nasser after the dam was built and stuck in the middle of nowhere, with a great honking hotel next to it. Luxury cruise ships sail down to have a look. (In fact, as we were leaving Aswan the day before, a big 5 or 6 deck luxury liner was berthed next to us. As we stuffed ourselves into our small packet boat we were watched by tourists on the top deck, chilled white wine in hand.) As one person said: “if I’d come down just for that I’d be pissed off”. But then we didn’t stop.
The Sudanese seem to like red tape. Before we got onto the ferry we willed in some forms and handed over our passports, a photo and $100 to the TdA staff (we had already paid $100 for our Sudan visas). After we docked in Wadi Halfa at noon we had to line up and start filling in three more forms. We then had to sit down with an immigration official and go through the forms. He then stamped a few things and gave us our passports and one form back. We stapled the photo t this form and were free to start getting off the boat. It was now after 3pm. We then loaded everything onto a truck and travelled about 400 metres to the customs post. Everything was offloaded. The forms with pictures were handed in. And then we had to take each bag individually to a customs official who opened it, felt around for a while, told us we could close it and then put an official orange Sudan Customs sticker on the bag. (We had to have a sticker on the bike as well. I think I will leave mine on for the duration. It’s kind of like a campaign medal.) We then had to take each bag or bike over to another official who checked that it had a sticker on it and then put a black squiggle on the sticker with a big felt pen. Only then were we allowed to put the bags back onto the truck. Nobody had anything confiscated or even questioned. But honour had been satisfied. We had followed procedure. It was now almost 5pm and time for another police escorted convoy, this time only 3 km to our camp in Wadi Halfa.
After we set up our tents we headed into the town to look for food and SIM cards. Both were easily available. The SIM card cost me the equivalent of 50 pence and I put the equivalent of £1 pound in credit on it. A week later I have still not used up the £1 pound credit.
The landscape at Wadi Halfa is fantastic. It is stark desert with out croppings like those you see in old John Wayne movies. In fact the town itself reminds you of the wild west: dusty streets, covered boardwalks, single-storey, false-fronted shops. But you see camels and donkeys rather than horses and cattle. Very laid back, very friendly, very frontier. Unlike the Egyptians, the Sudanese do not hassle you at all. They welcome you and like to chat but respect your space. The Sudan has not grown to depend on tourism the way Egypt has. The difference is stark.
Day 11 – 17km
Start: Sara Hotel Aswan
Finish: Middle of Lake Nasser on Ferry
We were back at the camp by the football stadium by 7 the next morning. It was then a question of hurry up and wait. We only had a 17km ride today – to the ferry docks to catch the ferry to Wadi Halfa. First we waited for everybody to arrive. Then we waited for everybody who had camped to have breakfast. There was a little shop by the camp where you could order breakfast and they would fetch it. It took well over an hour for people to be served. Like many of the shops here they will not say to any request. It doesn’t matter whether they have what you want or not. They will sit you down, say no problem and then rush off in search of whatever it is you asked for. And so you wait. Then we had to wait for out police escort. To get to the ferry port we had to cross the both Aswan dams. No pictures, heavily militarised. It was about 9 before the police showed up. And then we were off in escorted convoy.
We got to the ferry around 11. It looked like an old tramp cargo boat. Not large. There was an upper deck with about 20 cabins. We took them all over. Three people were assigned to each cabin. There were two bunks in each cabin. This meant that one of the three would have to sleep on or below deck. The stories we had heard from previous years sounded pretty dire. They load the boat to bursting with people and goods and then they let 200 more people on. This year we must have been lucky. It was crowded but not as bad as that. The cargo was everywhere, willy nilly – everything form washing machines to satellite tv decoders to coffee machines to ghetto blasters.
We left by around 5pm – once again, ahead of expectation. We had been told that it usually didn’t leave until 8pm or later. Lake Nasser was perfectly still. We motored along at about 15 knots. It was a beautiful evening.
I had a cabin with Alex and Andy. Andy pulled the short straw and moved up on the top deck to look for a place to sleep. Alex had the lower bunk; I had the top bunk. It was a very small cabin and apart from ourselves we had to stuff into it all of our bags. But it had a porthole and when we opened it we had a nice fresh breeze. We slept well.
Day 10 – Rest Day, Aswan
Aswan has grown enormously since I was last here 37 years ago. It has an air of prosperity about it that is not totally fuelled by tourism. Our hotel was south of town and up on a hill overlooking the Nile on one side and the town on the other. You could see the kernel of the old town surrounded into the distance by new concrete buildings and blocks of flats. Along the shore of the Nile it was the same old story, lots of touts trying to get you onto their felucca or into their caleche. The traditional market runs parallel to and one or two streets off the Nile. There are still the tourist shops selling the standards souvenirs, but it is also an everyday market – sort of like a dollar shop.I spent the day catching up on the internet catching up. And later in the afternoon was able to talk to Liz and the girls via skype. It will probably be Khartoum before we can do that again. We are heading out across lake Nasser and then into the Nubian desert tomorrow.
We joined up with a couple of others and had dinner on a Nile side barge again. I had a decent chicken Tagen and a beer – probably the last one until Ethiopia, the Sudan is dry. Vince wasn’t so lucky. He had a chicken pizza that didn’t agree with him. In the middle of the night he was violently ill. Good thing we were in a hotel and not a camp. He apparently spent an hour bent over on the toilet spewing at both ends and deciding whether or not to call me for help. I slept through it all. Sorry Vince. Whatever it was that hit him, he must have flushed it out because he was good to go the next day.
We have now finished the first of ten countries – all but, we have to cycle 17km to the ferry tomorrow – and our first 1000km. Some random thoughts:
The bike: I am very pleased with the bike. When I arrived the front derailleur was seized. I replaced it with my spare and put a new chain on. I took the seized derailleur to the TdA mechanics and asked if they could bring it back to life. Thanks to a little WD40 and some elbow grease, they did. So I now have a spare again. I hit a big pothole on day one. It knocked my front wheel a little out of true. Once again the mechanics were great. They trued it that evening and I haven’t had a problem since. On day four I stopped using my front disk brake because I thought it felt a bit odd. Back to the mechanics. They adjusted it, tested it and told me I was crazy. No problem now. After we finished stage 8 I took my bike to the mechanics again. Nothing was really wrong; I just wanted a once over to make sure all was o.k. They cleaned some gunk out of the derailleur cables; there is a lot of sand and dust here. They trued the back wheel, which was just a touch out – there seems to be a speed bump every 2 km and we have ridden some rough roads. And they fine-tuned the gears. Every day I have cleaned the drive train and checked the bike over. There is a long way to go and moving parts can wear quickly. Perhaps the greatest surprise is that I have had no flats. I had so many flats in the last couple of months in Dar that I became paranoid and brought about 20 spare tubes. Fingers crossed. So far so good. Now ready for the Sudan.
Health: I have felt really good. No health problems. I have hydrated fairly well. I have eaten fairly well – although, as always, I am not hugely hungry after a lot of exercise. But I am trying to eat more. I think I have lost a little weight but not a lot. I was fairly fleshy at the start, having had an enjoyable and well-fed Christmas holiday. I am trimming down a bit. I have had the odd beer – perhaps one a day. My legs are getting into shape and felt really good until stage 8. Perhaps I pushed it a bit hard on stage 7. The bum is o.k. so far but starting to feel a bit tender. I haven’t used any creams yet. I think I will start now that the weather is getting warmer and we are likely to sweat more.
Egypt: The landscape has been spectacular. I especially enjoyed the ride down to the Red Sea and then back to the Nile at Qena. Traveling along the Nile-side canal from Qena to Aswan was much busier and the landscape different. We passed through many towns and the roads were rougher. So were the kids. I had rocks and a handful of sand thrown at me. I had a guy sitting high on top of a truckload of sugar cane spit on me. I had kids standing across the middle of the road daring me to ride through them. I had a three-wheeled motorcycle cross into my lane from the oncoming lane at speed and head straight for me. I had a kid on bike wait for me on the road and not let me pass as he nudged me into oncoming traffic. In each case I found that the best response was simply to stare into their eyes as directly as possible and not flinch. I kept my line as best I could and they always backed off. I am not sure if they are just playing games or if there is some deeper animosity – the need to challenge what is different. I never really felt threatened but I did feel harassed.
The group and the race: The group is really good. The riders are travelers, cyclists, interesting and interested people. There are some fantastic stories behind their participation in this tour. By now the race dynamic has established itself. There are a half dozen men and a half dozen women who are clearly superior. There is then a good-sized group that is not too far behind, any member of which might possibly challenge on a given day. I was not going to race but have found it hard not to challenge myself a little. So I got my race button and time in and out every day. I have had a fifth and a tenth. But generally I seem to place in the top 20 – with a couple of crap days thrown in. I know I will get fitter as I ride but so will everybody else. My original plan was to take it easy to build up fitness and ensure good recovery time. This is still a good plan and as the terrain gets tougher I think I will have to stick to it.
Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.
Day 9, Stage 8 – 113km
Start – Idfu, camp in football stadium
Finish – Aswan – Sara Hotel and camp by football stadium
I felt fine when I woke up and left in a group of about half a dozen riders. But I soon realized that there was no zip in my legs today. In fact, they felt like lead. I rode with the group for about 25km and then dropped off. I just couldn’t keep a pace that the day before was no problem. So I struggled and rode by myself for most of the day – no problem with health or stamina, just no power. At about 92 km I spotted a coke fridge at a gas station and pulled in, hoping for a bit of a sugar lift. I don’t think the gas station was operating. It’s likely they had no petrol. There were no cars. And whenever we passed a station that had petrol there was a long line of cars and trucks. I poked my head into the building and saw a kid of about fifteen sleeping on a bench at the back. He roused himself and came out. Another younger kid then appeared from around the side of the building. The coke fridge had a big lock on it. After a humorous exchange of single words and mime we all agreed that I was not going to get a coke because the man with the key to the fridge was asleep and they were definitely not going to wake him up. So it was back on the bike and back on the road. No coke. No sugar hit.
Just about this time Alex, a 65 year old Canadian, was passing, so I linked up with him for the final 20km into Aswan, with only one glitch. We each have a little magnetic button that we use to clock in and out each day. We touch the button to a little black box when we leave and then again when we finish. Unfortunately, today I rode right past the little black box. About a kilometer past the box I looked back and couldn’t see Alex so I slowed and waited for him. He told me what I had missed. So back I went. My legs thanked my eyes for being so observant.
In Aswan I went off with Vince again to look for a hotel – Sunday is a rest day. We found a nice place up on a hill overlooking the Nile. Once again the lack of tourists was very evident. The Hotel Sara must have two hundred rooms. It was all but empty. We checked in, paid our money and went to fetch our bags. I was really looking forward to a hot shower after a less then fun day. A minute and a half into a hot shower the water went off. As it turned out, a main that serves that part of Aswan had burst and there was no water in the whole area. Great. But the manager was on the case. He called the water utility and promised us water within half an hour. He was as good as his word. The delayed gratification only increased the pleasure.
In the evening we walked into the centre of town and ended up in a restaurant on a barge on the Nile. The fresh squeezed orange juice was some of the best I have ever had. I drank four large glasses, ate one small mushroom pizza and felt good again.
Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.