Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day 234 Sudan to United Kingdom 10/5/2011, Khartoum – Saham Hills, UK.

With the bikes boxed up and bags packed, we were ready for the off. Fatih kindly gave us a lift to Khartoum airport, thanks again! We knew we were very early, but what we hadn't anticipated was that we wouldn't be allowed into the terminal building until 3 hours before our flight...this meant we had a 5 hour wait outside the building in the heat! The time finally passed and we made our way inside. We found our contact at BMI, who the agent had been dealing with and he started to sort out our bikes' paperwork. He said they had to be wrapped in plastic, but there was only enough plastic for one of the bikes! While this was happening, the BMI contact said he just had to work out how much the bikes will cost....eh?...we were told many times by him over the phone that they would be £30 each, so what is there to calculate? He returned, calculation in hand, asking for over $900!! I told him in no uncertain terms to go and check his figures! After a long wait, much discussion and phone calls, he returned and we paid our agreed £30 per bike, result!

The BMI flight from Khartoum to London, with a touchdown in Beirut, went quickly and we were soon making our descent into Heathrow. The bikes arrived in baggage claim before our luggage and were thankfully undamaged. Another long wait at the airport ensued as we couldn't be collected until much later. A pub was swiftly found and we celebrated our return with beers and delicious pub grub; the things you miss when you can't have them! Paul kindly picked us up we made our way to Norfolk on the final leg of a long journey home. About 24 hours after we left the Blue Nile Sailing Club, we were home, exhausted and ready for a break.

Spent a lovely first weekend catching up with family and friends, while celebrating Matt's 39th birthday. It is great to be home!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Day 229 – 233 Sudan 5/5/2011 – 9/5/2011, Khartoum. Getting ready to head home and meeting some terrific people along the way.

Rather than sightseeing as it's far too hot, we have largely been trying to organise flights back to the UK, easy until you throw two bicycles into the mix. A combination of Friday being a holiday in Sudan and then running into the weekend in the UK, has meant that getting an answer as to whether we could take the bikes has taken a while. Finally on Monday we were issued with our tickets and we will be on the flight at 4:45am Tuesday.

Our time in Khartoum has been memorable, not only for the stifling heat! Through staying at the 'Blue Nile Sailing Club' we have met some terrific people. Thanks to Hugh, an Englishman from Sheffield and Fatih, a Sudanese/British national we had amazing experience visiting the Dervish ceremony at Hamed al Nil Tomb, Omdurman.

MattDebs1824UKtoZA MattDebs1825UKtoZA MattDebs1830UKtoZA MattDebs1833UKtoZA MattDebs1842UKtoZA MattDebs1845UKtoZA

We were joined by the lovely Diane, Hugh's friend, and eventually ended up having a hastily put together, but no less welcome, meal at her apartment. In truth we were supposed to be eating out, but we had rather underestimated just how closed the city is on a Friday night.

MattDebs1848UKtoZA MattDebs1849UKtoZA

To Fatih we are especially indebted, as he has helped us get boxes for our bikes. When he was unable to go with us because of work commitments, he sent two of his staff Alaa and Osama to help us negotiate the chaotic Omdurman souk. With their help we had one bike boxed and left with packing for the other. Since then he has regularly checked that we are alright and is kindly going to give us a lift to the airport. He has also most importantly helped us get the photos to Abdulfadil and his family. Mohamed Abdulfadil (Abdulfadil's oldest son) has been to collect them from us as he is studying at the university in Khartoum. It is great for us that the family will have a record of our visit. They especially, have made our Sudanese experience all the richer!

We should also make a quick mention to the guys from the Sailing club who shared their breakfast with us and to the Sudanese reggae musician who took us out on his boat. Although, despite being a nice gesture, the sickly sounding engine made us wonder if we were going to be stranded in the middle of the Nile!

Our stay in Sudan has been full of amazing experiences which we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We wish everyone we have met all the best in their ventures and 'Inshallah' we will meet again someday. For now though, the relative cool of the UK beckons, plus a beer wouldn't go amiss!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Important newsflash! 5/5/2011.

After nearly 8 months on the road and 7200km we have started to get a bit travel jaded and road weary. With that in mind we have decided to come home, with a view to top up our funds and then continue our journey south later in the year.

We have timed our arrival in Sudan with the start of their hottest season and would be heading into the rains in Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. Getting to Khartoum has made us realise just how tired we are. The idea of tackling the mountainous roads of Ethiopia and the, infamous in cycling circles, stone throwing children, is at the moment a step too far. We are proud of where we have got to and would not want to ruin what has been an amazing experience by forcing ourselves to carry on. It would be all too easy to find ourselves resenting the journey.

The bicycles have been great and despite the odd moment of wanting to throw them off the nearest cliff, they have afforded us opportunities that we would have struggled to get by travelling any other way.

Hopefully by taking a break now, we will be able to continue what has been an unforgettable journey.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Day 228 Sudan 4/5/2011. Desert camp near al Miga– Blue Nile sailing club Khartoum. 75.57miles/122.49km, 6hrs24minutes, Av 11.8mph.

We must have camped in the noisiest part of the desert. Being near a small bridge meant that our night was accompanied by the squealing of lorries brakes and the revving of their engines as they first slowed for and then accelerated away from the bridge. The odd driver, obviously concerned that he wasn't making enough noise, added to the din with the sounds of his less than musical air horns. Once again 5am came around far too soon!

With no road signs and a rough idea that Khartoum was about 100km away we set off with the intention of making it to the city. The traffic if anything was more horrible than it had been over the last few days. The heat seemed to turn up a notch as we headed south and a slight crosswind made the journey more difficult. The saving grace of the day was that at least there were plenty of water stops along the road, unlike the day before.

The third day straight of 100km plus was a struggle, hot sand-filled cycle shorts didn't help much. Riding along was probably very similar to sandpapering your buttocks! That and the crazy bus drivers heading straight for us lights flashing and horns blaring meant that our tempers were a little frayed. Despite the difficulties we pressed on and eventually began the long ride into Khartoum, which wasn't made any easier by an awful road surface. What we really didn't need was resurfacing taking place and a detour along the road we wanted to travel. Fortunately a policeman told us to ride the wrong way up the road until the end of the diversion. It may have been a bit treacherous but at least we didn't have to figure out our way back on to the right road.

When we finally arrived at the river Nile it was with some relief, as we knew we were very close to our home for the next few days. We could see the Blue Nile Sailing Club from the bridge all we had to do was figure out how to get there. In the end we took the slightly unsafe but more direct route of hopping off the bikes, running across four lanes of traffic and then rejoining Nile street that ran under the bridge. Two very hot, very tired cyclists rode into the site.

Having found someone to pay for our stay, we went to pitch our tent and were greeted by Andrew, Tina and their two young daughters Elena and Rebecca. The family have been living in South Africa and were heading home to Europe in their 4x4. Better still they offered us a cup of tea!

As they had pitched their tent under a canopy instead of on the gardens, we joined them and have been grateful ever since as at least it has some given us some shade and made camping bearable.

While setting up camp we were introduced to a Dutch couple Martin and his girlfriend (sorry but the name has completely escaped me but she is very nice). They have been travelling from Namibia in a VW pick-up and have met up with the others frequently during their journey. It was lovely to spend some time with some English speakers, it is quite easy to feel a little isolated when you are on the road. We joined them all for a swim in the Nile, cooling but quite difficult to get out, and for a lovely evening meal.

Unfortunately they are all planning on leaving tomorrow, as it would have been nice to be able to spend a bit more time with them. Nevertheless we wish them all a safe journey on the road ahead.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Day 227 Sudan 3/5/2011, Meroe pyramids – Desert camp near al Miga. 67.08miles/108.89km, 5hr40minutes, Av 11.8mph

The heat did indeed bugger off, but not until 1am when it did actually get quite cold. Once again we woke at first light to get an early start. Which we managed to squander by becoming directionally challenged leaving the pyramids. If we had left the way we had come in, instead of following the track that the caretaker had pointed to, we would have been much better off.

Riding along the road followed the same pattern as yesterday. Boring desert scenery and plenty of diving off the road to avoid lorries and buses. Sudan is a lovely country, but a crappy one to cycle through. That said we passed the 7000km mark today! Unfortunately I wasn't paying attention so the photo is of 7010km.

MattDebs1818UKtoZA MattDebs1819UKtoZA

We have managed to make a bit of a mess of our food stocks. Breakfast was a cup of soup, so when we came across a road side restaurant at 9am we availed ourselves of a decent meal. It was just a shame that we suspect we were overcharged for what we had. This isn't helped by the fact that we are almost out of local currency, having not changed enough when we last had the chance. Any snacks will be strictly rationed tomorrow, but with any luck we will make it to Khartoum.

The morning became a challenge to find water, there were none of the roadside shelters that we have become used to. Eventually we stopped for a drink in a restaurant and one of the staff filled our water bag up. Our next stop for water proved to be a bit of a nightmare. We had just gone through a checkpoint and I had asked the policeman if there was any water nearby. He pointed back to an area surrounded by kids, who had tried to sell us stuff as we rode through. Not to be put off I grabbed our other water bag and started to fill it. While this was going on I was watching the kids try to pull my cycle computer off and then my pump. When the water bag was filled one of the kids tried to get me to pay for using the water and unbeknownst to me Debs had been surrounded and groped by some of the older lads. At the same time the younger ones were trying to take anything they could off her bike. Pushing them out of the way we set off up the road with Debs understandably upset. Having come to enjoy seeing the happy, smiling, friendly, Sudanese children, we are starting to wonder where they have gone. The last few that we have met, have all been demanding money, trying to steal something, or once today throwing stones. This is a pretty worrying trend in a country that has no real tourism.

Being called over to a roadside truck stop by the owner solved our escaping the heat of the afternoon problem and reaffirmed our belief in the friendliness of the Sudanese. We were given tea and told to make ourselves comfortable, which is what we did. The guys in the truck stop were all great and despite our failings in Arabic we managed to have a bit of a chat.

MattDebs1821UKtoZA MattDebs1820UKtoZA

At just before 5pm we cycled off into the heat to find somewhere to camp. After one false start we have found a decent spot in the shade of a tree. With any luck the temperature in the tent will not get too high as we both could do with a decent nights sleep.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Day 226 Sudan 2/5/2011, Atbara – Meroe Pyramids. 60.84 miles/98.65km, 4hr14minutes, Av 14.3mph!

What a lovely nights sleep, for the first time in Sudan we actually spent the night feeling cool. The sleep would have been even better if the hotel staff hadn't got mixed up and brought us breakfast at 5:30am instead of 6:30am when we asked for it! Still we had to get out of bed sometime and it gave us the opportunity to get on the road earlier than planned.

Leaving Atbara we first had to pass through the fruit and vegetable market that was full of people despite the early hour. Getting caught in a traffic jam involving donkey and carts, tuk tuks and wheel barrows wasn't how we envisaged our leaving.

Once again the lack of sign posting caused some difficulty, but we were soon heading along the main Khartoum road. A road that we hasten to add, was not built wide enough for the vehicles that use it. It is only wide enough for two lorries to pass each other with no hard shoulder, unless you count the rutted, shredded tyre littered, shingle edged strip either side. Every time two lorries came from opposite directions we were forced off the road into this strip. Buses are even worse they come past at 100km/h plus and overtake with no concern whether anything is coming or not. As far as they seem to be concerned everyone else just has to get out of the way. Having a bus overtake an oncoming vehicle straight into your path with its lights flashing and horn blaring is a scary proposition, especially when diving onto the hard shoulder means a possible fall. I went over once when my front wheel caught shingle, Debs unfortunately missed my impressive leap before I hit the ground only to land on my feet beside the bike. The slight saving grace of the road is that traffic is comparatively light or we would have struggled to make any progress. We would say that out of all the countries we have cycled through, this is the first time we have genuinely felt unsafe on the road.

Having cycled nearly 100km, the Meroe pyramids came into view.


We left the road and followed a sandy track down to the entrance. The pyramids are one of Sudan's top tourist attractions. Surprisingly when we got there we weren't the only westerners, although they were just leaving, so we soon had the place to ourselves.

Unlike the Egyptian pyramids the Sudanese ones are steeper sided and smaller, with offering chambers built onto the side. Several on the site have been reconstructed with three of the Northern ones having been re-rendered to show what they would have originally looked like. Set amongst rocky hills and sand dunes, the site is beautiful and it was great to walk amongst them, if somewhat hot!

MattDebs1790UKtoZA MattDebs1799UKtoZA

Having had a good look round and with the arrival of a coach load of people complete with a police escort, we returned to our bikes with the intention of finding somewhere to camp. The caretaker told us that we could push our bikes into the site and pointed out where we could camp. You can't get a much better spot than a camp-site near the pyramids. Unless it had no sand of course, at the current rate we will be removing half the desert when we leave!

MattDebs1816UKtoZA MattDebs1817UKtoZA

The afternoon didn't turn out to be all good, as I discovered that I have lost our Leatherman tool somewhere. It may not be essential to the trip but it is pretty annoying and one more thing to add to Matt's lost list!

Seeing as we were camping near the pyramids it seemed a shame to not go and see them at sunset. So with the sun low in the sky, we climbed to the top of one of the dunes to watch the sunset. It wasn't all that spectacular in truth, but it was cooler and a nice way to end the day.

I will let Debs have the final say with the beautiful words 'what a lovely sunset.....now, bugger off heat!'

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Day 225 Sudan 1/5/2011, Karima – Atbara. A longer bus journey through the desert and a nice hotel.

Starting early again this morning we were outside the minibus office by 7am. Our bikes were loaded on the bus, a little more delicately than last time, and we selected our seats. The bus was due to leave at 7:30am and to our surprise it did!


Despite the fact that there is new fully sealed road from Karima to Atbara, for reasons unknown to us, we set off across the desert along an unsealed road. None of the passengers looked particularly surprised so we have to assume that this was usual. It certainly added a bit of interest to the journey. Unfortunately the bumpy road caused a child to be sick, which as you can imagine in a confined minibus smells lovely. Something that Debs, who suffers from travel sickness, really didn't need. After a brief stop where the mother and daughter had a drink of water, but made no attempt to clean themselves up we set off again. It wasn't long before we rejoined the road, much to Debs and I am sure the little girls relief! As during our last journey, sand storms battered the side of the minibus. We were once again thankful that we weren't cycling through it.

Eventually, after just over 3 hours we arrived in Atbara. The bikes were swiftly unloaded from the bus and we attached our gear ready to go and find a hotel. Having decided to treat ourselves a bit we went to have a look at the Al Asfia hotel, which our guidebook describes as the best hotel in town. We have to say it was a disappointment, it may have had a fridge, air-con and a bathroom, but it was old tatty and overpriced. Leaving that hotel behind we went in search of another, hoping this one would be better. At the end of the road we met a British 4x4, driven by some Kiwis. We stopped to say hello and they told us that they had been battered by sand storms all the way to Atbara. It seems we have had a lucky escape! We bid them well on their journey, also to Cape Town, and headed to the hotel.

When we got to the Nile Hotel it was a massive improvement on the Al Asfia. Despite having a shared bathroom, the room is brighter, cleaner and the hotel is a lot more welcoming. Plus after the heat, it is great to have air-con if only for one night.

Other than a trip to the market to buy some fruit, we have no plans to do much. We have arranged to have dinner here and an early breakfast for tomorrow. With a bit of luck and a fair tailwind we should get to the Meroe pyramids tomorrow. Then it will be camping all the way down to Khartoum. We better make the most of having an air conditioned room!