So I was in Sudan but not able to ride. You can't imagine how torturous it is, to see everyone come in, utterly wasted from the road, utterly amazed by the beauty of the land, and for you to be sitting there, full of energy and having only just zipped by everything in a truck. I was sad.
The desert here is so different from Egypt. The yellow is stronger. At times it is vast, at times it is closed in by sand mountains covered in black rocks. Rich black tourmaline-like spikes just out of the sand. The first day had half the distance covered in pavement, and the rest was hard-packed sand. Our desert cowboys - the local Sudanese who are accompanying us - were driving the route setter around, but wound up getting lost, so the riders went through a hellish area of soft-sand. And then the finish. Erin, the nurse, had contacted a belly-bug, so she was riding the truck with me all day. When we got into our desert camp, we went off with a few others and had a yoga session. It was wonderful - right into the setting sun.
Werner, the German fellow who is here through his church group, knows an astounding amount about the stars. He brought us out into the evening and told us what was what, along with the history of the mapping and the legends that go with them. I didn't put up my fly so that I could sit all night looking at the stars - the best thing about Nubia is that there is very little electricity, so you get the most beautiful view of the night sky. I'm also happy to have had my eyes lasered this past year, as it's the first time that I've ever been able to drift off while actually seeing the night sky.
The following morning I realized was also not going to be a riding morning, though I was absolutely sure that the next day would be. On this day everyone rode through villages. There was only about 30 km of tarmac on a 120km day. Hard-packed sand isn't bad to ride on, but it isn't easy either. The villages are comprised of these houses which are mud-packed. There is a perimeter fence, and then on one side you have the bedrooms, and on the other, the kitchen. There is a small area for the bathroom off to another side. In the middle you have a courtyard, usually covered with mats for sitting and drinking tea on. Today I will actually be picking up a little prayer mat to do my yoga on. Also in the villages are the shacks for road travelers which have clay pots filled with water, and through an evaporation system it keeps the water ice cold. It's heavenly. And I didn't think I'd bother with the cokes everyone talks about on this trip, but man, when you're out there and it's the only cold thing - heaven.
We camped by the Nile and I had myself a little swim, along with everyone else. In fact, I waited for a few others to go in just out of fear of crocs. I imagine they've mostly been hunted out, but still.
Then the bugs came. These little nits which were not bothered by any insect repellent. As Andrew said "I think they're actually licking the deet off of me". We wrapped our faces in sarongs, covering our eyes with our glasses. Some were badly bitten. I got away without any bites.
And the sicknesses have started to invade the camp. There is a stomach virus and a feverish cold. I've also missed out on those. So far. Mind you, I missed two days riding because of my ankle.
On our third day, I rode. I made it 70km out of 108. It was fabulous to be back on my bike again. The road was sandy (I can actually ride this bike through the sand! It'll go for a good 10 meters of ankle-deep sand). The sun was intense. I drank four litres by noon. I stopped for a coke stop in one of the villages. Paul lent me a sarong as I had forgotten mine (we have to be fully covered here), and I so I could sit in comfort, knowing that I'm not offending anyone. The funny thing is, if it were all about the bugs and the sun, I could appreciate the covering up, but because they say it's for the protection of the women regarding the men, I just can't respect their views. Not that I won't comply while I'm here, but it's still offensive to me.
The problem with the road here is that there are no real roads - people drive wherever the sand has been packed down, and so you wind up with quite a few trails, so all you can do is follow the bike tires in the sand and hope that you're not following someone who is lost. We get village names for where we'll be passing through, and the locals are very helpful. There is a giant highway being built by the Chinese, much to the disappointment of the Nubians - amidst all the graffiti was one in English which said "Stop Chinese influens on Nubia". They are building all over Sudan in order to secure their oil. There will be a lot of changes here in the next few years, and I can foresee their internal conflict colliding with new, external conflicts.
I started to have problems with my clips. The left foot clip (unsprained ankle) wouldn't clip in, and then after a while it would, so I would hit a long stretch of loose sand, or some scary gravel, have to jump out, and then realize I couldn't. It was so stressful, trying to ride without harming my already weak ankle. Also, one person borrowed my bike without asking, and then readjusted my seat, so I spent the morning trying to get my seat right. I was getting very frustrated and angry. Bad seat means bad knees and new blisters. So it was a bit of a brutal day. But no spills, and after seventy km I flagged down a desert cowboy, and saw that the between the lunch truck and them they had picked up a dozen riders. The temperature was said to have been around 45 degrees. The hot sun pulls all the moisture right out of you, which explains the amount of oil in the local food - Recipe for fool - cook up beans in spices, water and oil. Then add two ounces of oil and some salt and herbs when it's finished. Grab some delicious bread, rip off pieces with your left had to scoop it up with, and eat. No loss of oil here. Hands return to being silky smooth.
The cowboys drove the last 10km to our camp after a break for tea and prayer, and vastly overshot. They were convinced that we were camping past the desert in the more populated Nile area. I tried to convince them that after having cycled over a hundred kilometers, the riders would not be able to cycle another hundred more. Finally they realized their mistake, and so we drove around to highpoints to look for shiny things (trucks). We got in and I was starved. Every day we get a super-salty soup right after the ride, which is a complete godsend. I set up my tent without the fly, but then realized my mistake in the morning. The sandstorm. It was brutal. It started about 3am. One side of my tent was starting to fly up and so I threw my head into that corner so that the tent would stay down. And it got cold.
The next day was a mix of paved and dirt, with some pretty hefty sandy bits. We also had a bit of a miserable try at a quasi-convoy through the desert part that people could easily get lost in - there were about 15 roads, one that was the right one, 11 were the long way, and the rest would take you to god knows where.
Fortunately the day was only 87km. Mark, our mechanic, got my cleat pretty much working (still a little hard to get out of) and the pavement was wonderful. With tailwinds getting up to 40km/hour was easy.
So I'm in Dongola. There's nothing here but people watching and eating chicken and freshly made doughnuts and amazing honey pastries. I've washed all of my disgusting clothing, cleaned my bike, and will be dusting out my cameras and computers - thanks Kerry - the camera cleaner is the best tool ever! I lubed up my tent zippers, I think I'm pretty good with my bike seat placement, and have even (yes it's true) showered (it's been five or six days). I feel wonderful. The falafels are starting to make me feel awful, so I think I'll go eat a watermelon and olives with friends.
I really love it here.
Though I do indeed miss you all.