Nuns and Beer

Day 51, bus day, stages 40 & 41, 175km

Start, bush camp Sololo

Finish, Catholic convent, Marsabet

The morning started almost an hour earlier than usual. Breakfast was at 6am sharp. We were to be on the road by 6:30. In the end we were in the bus and ready to go by 6:40. Not bad. Only one problem, our police escort had not arrived. So one of the staff dashed off in the Hilux to chase them down. An hour later they were with us in full combat fatigues with semi-automatic rifles and magazines in place. OK. We need to be cautious. I just hope they don’t start shooting at their shadows. Not quite like cycling through the south of France from vineyard to vineyard.

Thankfully the bus had padded seats. The ride was brutal. The roads were worse than the day before but nothing we hadn’t ridden before. The bus was the last vehicle in the convoy so we were covered in everybody else’s dust. I spent my time opening and closing the window, fighting a losing battle between a little fresh air and enough dust to choke a times the dust was so thick and coming in such thick waves that it seemed we were under a sea of dust. It took us 2 ½ hours to cover the first 43km. We could have ridden our bikes as fast.

Our destination for the day was Marsabet and the compound of a Catholic convent, 175 km from out starting point. It took us about 9 1/2 hours. The landscape was unremittingly bleak. A great desert of lava rock. Nobody could live there. Camels would find it hard to find a place to put their feet. Even goats would find nothing to eat. The lave rock even crowded out the ubiquitous thorn bushes. It would have been a very tough two days of cycling. So some relief amidst the general grumpiness in the bus.

The convent was on the far side of Marsabet so we had to drive through the town. Campaign rallies were in full swing. The centre of town was filled with busses. It was not all locals. At first everyone was in organge t-shirts and caps. They swarmed like the fruit flies in the Sudan. Our convoy threaded its way through. We passed briefly through what can only be described as a demilitarized zone before we came into the midst of the red t-shirted swarm. They were not yet as organized as the orange swarm. They were still getting out of vehicles and gathering in a football field at the side of the road.

Stragglers were pissed out of their gourds. It was Saturday night and was clearly going to be a bit of a bun fest. In contrast, the nunnery, a couple of miles out of town, was an oasis of calm. These nuns were clearly in business. Whoopi Goldberg would not have been out of place. Two steps out of the bus the nuns were waiting to sell us cold beer, crisps and chocolate. It couldn’t get much better. They also fed us dinner and had rooms for rent – neither as good as the beer, bit both welcome. No cycling today but we were all just as tired as just as dirty. There was no water in the taps at the sinks. But there was a trickle of water coming out of a spout about waist high in one of the communal showers. I crouched under it and tried to get clean. I’m glad nobody was taking pictures. I am sure I looked like somebody enjoying a slightly illicit catatonic fit on a gas station washroom.

It was another 6:30 departure tomorrow. So it was early to bed on the thin mattress in my nunnery cell. I think I made the guy on the crucifix on the wall cringe on despair.

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