Day 24, Stage 18, 82km
Start – Sinnar desert camp
Finish – Canal camp
Yesterday evening we all changed our tires from road tires to wider, knobbier off-road tires. Today was the first off road day.
We had been warned about the thorns. They were for real. It was really the day of the punctures. Freek had eleven before he stopped counting. Another person had ten. It was miserable. In addition to trying to navigate washboard tracks that could shake the liver out of a polar bear, swamps we had to carry our bikes through and heat that could melt tar we had to deal with the thorns. I cycled with Alex and Jan for long sections. We held a steady pace and joined up with Wayne at a coke stop about a dozen kilometres from the end. It was a good group toride with. The pace was comfortable and none of had a puncture. So we reached camp in reasonable time. Many reached camp very late. Some didn’t make it and had to be picked up by the truck. It was getting really tough.
We camped beside the canal again and many of us took the opportunity to go for a swim. There was a fairly strong current and the water was fairly silted but it was cold and marvelous. Some are very cautious about swimming or bathing in the waters here. I must admit I didn’t give it a second thought. It was cold. It felt good. I was in.
Often there is a village near where we camp that we can walk to to get cold drinks, or someone will show up on a motorcycle or a donkey cart with a couple of crates drinks. These guys usually charge ‘desert’ prices, typically 50 – 100% higher than village prices. But we don’t really care. We usually buy them out within minutes and encourage them to return with more. But there was no local village and no local vendors at this camp. So we were stuck with the treated water from the truck.
There was on village not too far away though. Vince and I decided to walk to it. It was a couple of km off the road and not a trading village but rather a farming community. There were perhaps fifteen or twenty family compounds scattered around a central gathering space and some buildings used for grain storage and a couple of tractors. Take away the tractors and the road off in the distance and we could have been in 1613 not 2013. The buildings were all mud and thatch. Each compound was about an eight of an acre in size and surrounded by mud brick walls about four feet high. The buildings inside the compounds were in various states of repair. But what impressed me the most was the untouched nature of the village. In villages along the roads the fields next to them often look like plastic farms, old bags and bottles thick on the ground. Waste is piled against walls and at the sides of streets. Here there were no plastic fields and no great piles of waste. We were careful not to wander into compounds unbidden but we could see inside them. They had wide entrances unprotected by doors or gates. Inside everyone was doing something, going about their daily lives. They noted us, we exchanged greetings but they did not follow us or importune in any way as so often happens. It was an oddly calming experience. You sensed a way of life, not untouched, but not overburdened by change.