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The Gorge

Khartoum - Addis Ababa

12-27 February

1 471 km

 

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     Pharaohs Delight

I am now in Gondar, Ethiopia. The internet is very slow here, so I will rather give a full update again in Addis (for the period since leaving Khartoum). So far Ethiopia is nicer than Sudan, but boy o boy it is difficult, very hot and very mountainous. I am very, very tired. 

 

I didn’t have to wait until Addis, as I thought, to provide this update. I am in Barhir Dar today (22 February), and it is a rest day. This is a very nice place next to Lake Tana, so it is also much cooler than where we’ve been.  We are still running behind schedule but have decided not to make up the lost time, in order to avoid further cycling injuries.

 

This update starts back in Khartoum on 11 February, where we had a rest day. We camped at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, and we all went to the Meridian Hotel for breakfast (where one can eat all you like for 11 US $). Our Sudanese hosts had arranged the day out for us, and they first took us in busses to the horse races (2 races with 5 horses each - no betting). They then entertained us in a garden with snacks, speeches, and traditional music.  Later they took us to a garden restaurant for more music, dinner, and a present for each of us. Another cyclist (Estie from South Africa) joined us for the leg to Nairobi, and it’s really nice to have another woman with us on the trip.

 

We cycled 145 km on 12 February to a small town where there was another reception at the end of the day, with lunch and dinner (the Sudanese people really went out of their way for us). We even had local cyclists with us for the day (they’re a bit unfit and their bikes are old, but it was still nice of them). The day’s cycling was easy, and on a tarred road all the way. Our hosts were planning hotel accommodation for us the following night (it would be great to have a shower and maybe wash some clothes).

 

What a disappointment on 13 February!  The hotel was fully booked (we were dreaming of a bed and a shower). We cycled 140 km, initially into a strong headwind, but it got better as we went along.

 

On Valentines Day Clair (of African Routes) made some hearts and hung them from a tree at breakfast.  Aris had another fall today and broke his collarbone again.  Our Sudanese hosts brought us unexpected supper, but we had already cooked. We camped in an old field, where we were told that one of us (Alfons) had died of a heart attack that morning. We were all very sad and the camp was very quiet. (Just that morning he gave me a huge hug and said in his broken English "you are a wonderful woman").

 

We set off on the morning of 15 February in a somber mood. It was declared that the day was not a race day, and we just cycled the 87 km at our own pace. The gravel road was very bumpy and the weather was extremely hot (48 degrees). I didn’t feel too well and neither did the others, perhaps from the food the previous night (I hoped not to get as sick as some of the others). Arno had a fall and had to be taken to the hospital (we suspected a broken hip, but he was fine later and just couldn’t walk without assistance). The small truck (Betsy) took Arno to hospital, so we had to wait until about 19h00 for the truck to return with our red boxes. We were expected to reach the Ethiopian border by the following evening, and were looking forward to a beer.

 

We only cycled 70 km on 16 February, but again it was very hot (48 degrees) and I had no energy due to not eating the previous night. Although the road was very bumpy, our biggest problem was the heat. We arrived at the Ethiopian border, where the customs office consisted of a mud hut. We fell down right next to the mud hut and consumed lots of beer. Our mood improved, and we swayed to the camp site 200m further. Allan made us a very good supper. At 20h00 it was still 40 degrees, and our tents were like ovens. We went to shower at a tin shack brothel down the road. Water is water, and we all agreed that it was the best shower ever (if all else fails, lower your standards). The flies in Ethiopia are unbelievable (it must be the “fly capital” of the world). At the border we said goodbye to our Sudanese guides (Midhat and Abdul Baghi), and met Wondy and Solomon for the trip in Ethiopia.

 

On 17 February we rode 100 km on a very good gravel road, but it was very hilly and extremely dusty (passing trucks blinded us and covered us in dust). There was a lot more greenery and trees around, and the countryside was becoming a lot more mountainous now. We passed through numerous villages with kids waving and shouting (“money money” or “you you”). Our campsite was on top of a hill after a very long climb, and man-o-man were we happy to see those African Routes trucks. Colin was standing ready with a water bottle to give us a quick shower (which felt like a luxury shower). We were all very dirty and caked in dust. We’ve met up with a German cyclist (Hans) from time to time, and he camped with us for the night.

 

The ride to Gondar on 18 February was 91 km on a gravel road (not too bad, but David said it‘s like riding on marbles, with all the loose gravel). We started with a 25 km climb, and the rest of the route was very hilly and very hot. I felt terrible and had no energy, which made the going even more difficult.  I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, and we stopped at all the villages for a Marinda or Pepsi drink (then cycle up the next hill and sit under a tree for a while). We would then free wheel down the hill, have a Marinda, and cycle up the next hill again to sit under a tree.  In that way we eventually reached Gondar, where Bart was sitting under a tree taking our times (that tree with Bart under it must surely be the best site we had ever seen). This was a long slow day, but the scenery was really nice with mountains, lots of trees and bird life. It reminded me of Lesotho, as it is just as mountainous. This was only our second day in Ethiopia and we were all buggered. At least we could stay in the hotel and have a bath and wash our clothes. We had some local wine and enjoyed the cooler air on the patio overlooking Gondar.

 

19 February was a well deserved rest day.  We had to check out of the hotel as it was fully booked for that night, so we just camped in the hotel grounds. Arno had another x-ray taken (which showed that his hip was broken), so he had to return to Holland and will rejoin us later. Aris also went back to Holland to allow his shoulder to heal, and will rejoin us later. I must have been feeling ill due to dehydration, as I took some “re-hydrate” and suddenly I felt 100%.

 

At last on 20 February I felt well, and we set off on a 110km ride through a very beautiful section of the Ethiopian mountains (high mountains and many villages).

 

As we cycled into camp (now a bush camp instead of a desert camp), soup was ready as usual and there were welcome cooldrinks on the truck. We had our usual friendly spectators just staring at us (the staff put a fence around camp, so the local population were all around the fence).  

 

I could already see Lake Tana on 21 February when we set off for Bahir Dar, about 90 km away.  The cycling went well and we entered the town by crossing over the Blue Nile. We booked into a hotel and enjoyed a shower and some cold beers.  In the evening we had a party in the courtyard where the men had to dress as women, and vise-versa. Estie and I dressed up as Ethiopian men with local cloth and sticks. The party was enjoyed by all.

 

This morning (22 February) we ate a good breakfast in the Hotel, and drank Papaya juice mixed with sugar and lemon juice (very nice). Later today we may go visit the monastery on an island in the lake.  I also want to visit the market.

 

I am now in Addis Ababa, and we have a rest day today. We arrived here yesterday, and are camping at the Golf Club (fantastic - green lawns). There is a restaurant here at the club, where we made real pigs of ourselves (I wonder what the other people thought). There is also a hotel here, and I booked myself into a room (nice to sleep in a bed and have a shower again).

 

The internet is very slow here, and I am rushed for time (the bus is leaving for town). I will send a full update later

 

As I mentioned in my last update, 22 February was a rest day in Bahir Dar, where we enjoyed the local fruit juice (papaya with sugar en lemon juice).  Rest days have become very similar (we do our laundry, we do the internet thing, and we also just relax).  Some of us went to visit a monastery on an island in Lake Tana, while I relaxed with a book.  I also had my bike washed around the corner (only 3 Birr - what a bargain).

 

We were on our way again towards Addis on 23 February, and cycled 120 km on this day.  The route was very hilly, with numerous villages along the road (all with plenty of kids).  These kids were becoming a problem, throwing stones at us as we passed.  I have been lucky not to be hit by stones, but Christine who normally cycles further back seemed to get most of it.  The countryside was continually changing as we moved along, and I was surprised at all the farming activities in Ethiopia.  The people seemed very friendly and content.  They all looked like runners to me, even the kids (who ran really fast, and were impossible to cycle away from).  We camped next to the road again, and it was very peaceful and pleasant, there were even some clouds for shade.  There was no more water for us before Addis, so we only had a cup full for washing (I didn’t think that would be possible!).  At camp most of us fiddled with the bikes or read.  Supper was macaroni and toppers.

 

On 24 February we cycled 140 km on a very hilly road, but the beautiful scenery made up for the hills (farmlands and mountains wherever you looked).  In the numerous villages there were all sorts of wares for sale, mostly made from cow hide, as well as pottery.  That day we camped in a "Bloekom Bos" which smelled really nice.  Again we had plenty of local spectators, just standing and staring at us.  I must admit that if I had to see such a spectacle, I would also stare.  Supper was vegetarian (our menu up to Addis), as no decent meat could be found in Bahir Dar.  At least we had plenty of beer and cooldrink.  The following day was going to be a big day, as we would descend 20 km into the Blue Nile Gorge and climb another 20 km out the other side.  I was hoping to make it!

 

The route on 25 February was 106 km long, 66 km on tarred road up to the lunch truck.  After lunch we had a really poor gravel road down the Blue Nile Gorge.  It was very scenic but really steep with loose gravel and many trucks, making the going slow and dusty.  The bottom of the gorge was very hot (high 40's).  Then we climbed the 20 km out of the Gorge.  This day was different to other days, as we only raced from the bottom of the gorge to the top (once again Kim was way ahead).  The road was very steep and hot, and I could only manage about 5 – 6 km per hour.  Eventually we all reached the camp at the top, with most cyclists finding this a very tough day.

 

The distance we had to cycle was only 87 km on 26 February, starting with (o-boy!) a very steep hill taking us up to 3100 m.  From there a very nice downhill took us into a small village were we camped at a "hotel" (a place that sells beer).  We had a fantastic view of the gorge we had crossed the previous day, and it looked very impressive (reminding me of the Fish River Canyon).  We reached our camp early, and sat around eating soup.  Bob Marley's wife was in the village handing out T-shirts.

 

On 27 February we had 115 km to go before reaching Addis.  Once again the road was extremely hilly, but in good condition.  We regrouped at the city boundary and rode in convoy to our camp site at the Golf Club.  What a nice place, with green lawns, a restaurant and a hotel.  We stormed into the restaurant and consumed chips, pizzas, and wine!  We had not seen anything like that for a while, and we really enjoyed it.  I took a really nice room in the hotel.  We were also joined by 2 more riders (Ed from England and Jan-Peter from the Netherlands).

 

We enjoyed our rest day in Addis on 28 February.  The weather was fantastic, and we did the usual (laundry, bike maintenance, banking, and the internet thing).  Breakfast was at the hotel, followed by a trip to the local market (a very large open air market selling all kinds of things).  Unfortunately I was starting to come down with a cold, and I felt very ill (hot and cold fever, and sore body).  I tried the e-mail, but it was very slow so I gave it up.  Later the SA ambassador came to greet us, but I was sleeping so I missed the visit.  I slept for the rest of the day, and took whatever I could to make me feel better.  I feared that if I felt like that the following day, then I would not be able to cycle. 

 

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