Saturday, March 7, 2009

Riding through the Valley of Death

Sorry for the late blog updates. Since I got into Sudan blogspot seems to crash most computers.

We turned down a road, and suddenly the Nubian desert was to the left of us, and the Sahara to our right... or was it the other way around? There was still a bit of Nile to our left. And when we finally turned fully into the Sahara, there were actually trees. Well, glorified prickly bushes, but still they were green and alive. Unlike the camels. We passed by hundreds of dead camels by the roadside, heads contorted and bodies dehydrated from the heat. We rode along an old camel trading route, and of course in terrain like this, many don't survive. Fortunately with enough support we got through it alright. Though one more day of eggplant and okra in the food and I might not have. Is it really possible to be picky about food on a trip like this? Sigh. It is. Not that the food isn't pretty much always great - I just have a thing against those two particular vegetables.

So I was on the truck for a couple of days, and then rode for the remaining two, and then we made it into Dongola. It is hard to sleep in in a very religious Muslim city. I woke to the sound of about fifty mosques all going off at once. And the dogs! Wild dogs! There must have been hundreds of them. I got up, I did handwash, I cleaned up my bike. I ate and ate, I bought a prayer mat for desert yoga and a present for the loved ones. It was very very busy, and not very restful. My ankle was swollen, but it didn't really hurt, and the rest of the way was paved.

The unfortunate thing in the route planning is that they have us going days of 142km, 142km, 156km, 108km, based on the fact that last year had a tailwind. This year there was a headwind. It was f**king ugly. The first day was fine. There were two deserts, there was the greenery of the Nile in the distance, there were tea shops along the way where we sipped tea out of small glasses, half sugar, half tea-water, and then I discovered chai bin habhan - tea with cardamom - now replacing my favourite, chai bin nyar nyar - tea with peppermint. We throw sarongs on in these places so as not to offend. One fellow started to show us how they wrap the turbans, but we could never figure out the initial coil, as he couldn't take it off that far.

I rode with Anne, the South African, and Catherine, the Australian that day. Anne is a former birder and pointed out the Egyptian vultures, as well as the many kites. There were many of these because there were carcasses aplenty. In fact, that night when we went out for our nightly toilet excursions we had to be careful not to walk too far as our own camp had two dead camels in it. When we got into camp we dove into the canal - not without hesitation - it was runoff from the Nile that had been used in agriculture. I know. But you ride through a desert at 52 degrees heat with a bloody headwind and tell me that your toilet wouldn't look like a basin from heaven. And it was clean looking. With moss floating in it occasionally - so something living was in it. And we figure they probably don't have access to pesticides. I'll stop making excuses. We just did it.

The next day I woke up tired. A deep-in-your-bones kind of tired. Sure we only had 142 km to ride, and it was all paved road, and meant to be tailwinds, but I was just done in. I rode with Evelin from Holland - she does computer programming for banks and loves to travel in the same way I do. We have great conversations, so I figured I'd ride with her. But I was too tired to even hold my own. I was dead dull, there were headwinds, and the day just wouldn't end. Thank god Evelin was her normal, cheerful self. At the lunch stop we picked up Catherine, who was also about to quite because the day was so horrible. The Sahara is interesting, but only for a while. Then it is just sand. And some scrub. the most amazing thing is looking out to your right and realizing that that is pretty much what it looks like for the next four thousand kilometers. Only with less scrub. Oh, and we've all been having mirages - the sand actually looks like a lake in the distance. No wonder they figured out how to make glass and mirrors. The "water" is very deceptive in that it reflects trees and anything around it. We stopped at the last coke stop for about an hour. I didn't think I would drink coke on this trip, but sometimes anything cold will do. Even liquid battery acid. When we finally got into camp I did some yoga, ate and went straight to bed. I was in bed by 7:30 that night. I woke up to the southern cross out in the distance, and a new energy. Just when you think you've given it your all out here, go to sleep, wake up, and you know you'll have some more.


pcarbo said...

I met a cyclist (your bf, I believe?) outside the Capers on Cambie and 16th, and we started talking about your Tour d'Afrique and he told me to visit your blog. After that conversation, I think of what it must be like to be in Africa

I told my sister about it too, since she's visiting Africa as well, having her own adventures in Senegal.

I enjoy the descriptions of your adventures, and look forward to new posts.

When you return home and if you plan to have a slide show of sorts I'd be more than interested to see it. In the meantime, best of luck in your travels,


pcarbo said...


What I meant to say in that first paragraph is: "I think of what it must be like to be in Africa peddling on the roads every time I visit Capers."