A Paved Road on Mars

Day 17, Stage 12, 140km

Start – Dongola, Zoo Camp, Olla Love Hotel

Finish – Dead Camel Desert Camp

About 6am, still dark, we broke out of the love hotel and looked for a tuk tuk to take us and our bags back to Zoo camp and the start of another day of cycling.  My day of eating hadn’t been a total success but I felt better than when we arrived. I left early with Alex from Ottawa and three others. We kept a good pace and did the 75km to the lunch stop in about 2:20. I felt all right but not great. I did have the better part of a whole chicken in me, as well as some breakfast, and my farts were still dry, but I didn’t feel full of energy. I stopped longer than the others at lunch, ate what I could without enthusiasm, and headed back out on the road on my own. I wanted to make my own pace not have to keep up to anybody. I did, and I stopped at most available coke stops. It was a steady but not fast afternoon. I did the 65km to camp in about 3 hours (including stops), much slower than the morning.

The landscape continued to be awe-inspiring. The rocky grey-brown desert of Wadi Halfa was becoming rusty-orange-tinted plains of blowing sand. There were frequent abandoned and almost abandoned mud brick settlements. And for mile after mile we saw dead, desiccated camel corpses – not dead for that long because hide still covered the bones. It must have been a very difficult summer. There were also many still living camels being herded across our route. The feeling and mood of the caravanseri surrounded us. The heat and the heat haze gave it an almost mirage like effect at times. If only I were a good photographer. James was in our group in the morning. He did take several photos. I will have to try to get some.

Camp was really in the middle of nowhere, an unremittingly bleak landscape.  We set up and I hiked back down the road with Claire and Pascal looking for cold drinks. We ended up in a small shop in a mud brick building in a mostly abandoned settlement. Finding a cold drink in the desert is a joy that is hard to describe and has become a bit of an obsession. It sounds impossible but it isn’t. Sometimes you almost feel as if you have landed on Mars and found that the Chinese had already built a road and left a freezer chest full of cold drinks every 40km. All you can do is say: ‘Thank You!’

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