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Sudan is Quite Warm

March 9, 2010

For decades the only way to get into Sudan from Egypt has been via Lake Nasser, a 55okm long body of water that stretches from Southern Egypt into Northern Sudan, and was created as a result of the construction of the Aswan Damn in 1970. When my Dad came through Sudan in 1972 he jumped on a merchant boat and shared sleeping space with cows and sheep. When I turned up at the ticket office in Aswan I was relieved to hear that the boat I was to catch began life in 1982, so I would be travelling in relative luxury.

The 18 hour boat journey may have been spent in relative luxury, but only relative to being sat next to a cow with a sheep on my lap. It was a fantastic mini-adventure on a boat that felt like it would sink before we got anywhere near Sudan. There were a handful of westerners on board, and inspired by a sense of camaraderie as we journeyed into the unknown, we watched in amazement as the locals went about their business – some slept, some listened to traditional music on not so traditional mobile phones, a few befriended us, keen to practice their English, and a few more used the boat as a makeshift office. A group of middle aged men wearing traditional Sudanese white jalabiyahs spent the entire trip packing thousands of CD’s, apparently ready for distribution in Sudan. I shared a cabin with Kurt, an ageing Swiss television presenter making one final series, travelling from Cairo to Cape Town, before a well earnt retirement. When I suggested he was the Swiss Michael Palin he gave me a look that told me I wasn’t the first person to compare the two. Of the other Westerners on board there were the four British cyclists pedalling to the World Cup, who I’ve been with ever since, and Bjorn, a Norwegian traveller cycling and hitching to the World Cup and collecting football shirts on the way, so he can make a giant shirt upon arrival. He is raising awareness for refugees worldwide. One of his favourite clubs so far is Liverpool, so we got on.

Upon arrival in Wadi Halfa the next morning we lowered our bikes off the deck and watched again as the Sudanese carried their lives off the boat. Each person had baggage enough for an entire family. I wanted to ask them all what they were doing and where they were going but my Arabic wasn’t up to it. With the mercury rising, we pedalled the 3kms along a dusty track into town. On the journey so far I’ve found most border towns to be strange places, inhabited by transients and vagrants, but I liked Wadi Halfa. I found the people immediately more friendly and welcoming than in Egypt, a theme that has continued since. Just before dusk we had a game of cricket – definitely the most confusing game I’ve ever been involved in. There were a handful of westerners and a bunch of locals in traditional dress. Like in Syria, they were clueless bout what to do with the implement in their hands, but they liked the feel of ball on Mongoose. After half an hour of cricket lessons, a football appeared and I found myself left clutching a cricket bat with no-one to bowl at me – in Africa, football rules. Even in Sudan, where the Muslim government pays less attention to sport, and more to pressing cultural issues, the people are obsessed by football. One man in a Liverpool shirt approached me with a beaming smile and said “Beckham very handsome.” I agreed and joined in the game.

Later on in during our first evening in Sudan we sat and ate bread and ful (fava beans), chatting with a man named Ahmed. He scared us with a story about an Italian motorcyclist who, some years ago, jumped off his bike in the desert to take a photo of a ‘large, stripey, horse-sized animal’ and promptly got killed and eaten. He pointed across the street to a sinewy man smoking sheesha, smiled and told us, “that man now has his motorbike.” 

The next morning, after bread and jam for breakfast and a frustrating few hours spent negotiating daunting Sudanese bureaucracy, we headed south into the desert, eyes peeled for horsey looking man-eaters. There isn’t a lot to do in the desert except cycle, so I was glad for the company. On our first night we found a sandy spot that the wind had sculpted into extraordinary shapes, and once the sand flies had relented we lay on our backs looking up at the stars. Before getting into my tent I sat and tried to hear a sound, but couldn’t. The silence was complete and it’s the furthest I’ve felt from civilization.

Since Wadi Halfa we have cycled over 1,000kms in 2 weeks through 50 degree heat. It’s been easier than I expected it to be, and I have loved Sudan. The people are staggeringly generous with food, information and time, and it seems the British left a lasting impression on them. “England I love you” is a common welcome from people in Sudanese towns. I’m in Khartoum now and not leaving for a few days so there will be a couple more blogs about the ride south from Wadi Halfa, covering high brow topics such as England football matches, a tortoise with diahorrea and Sudanese Fat Camp.

If you liked this blog then please sign up to receive the next blog by email. I began uploading more photos to this blog but it was taking so long I gave up, so sorry about that. It’s also got stupidly hot here, so I’m off for a swim, bye.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Higgs permalink
    March 9, 2010 2:53 pm

    LOVING your blog – keep going!

  2. Annie permalink
    March 9, 2010 4:06 pm

    Aah, a welcome break from a busy tuesday afternoon in the office 🙂
    Firstly, i did rate you ‘excellent’ but it aint working…secondly, i’m so happy you’ve had some good company in the form of lindsey (shaved her head yet?!) and her boys, im sure they kept the desert demons at bay! sounds fantastic and i can’t wait to hear more stories, hopefully with some stripey horsey man-eaters at the centre, and of course the tortoise with diahorrea…
    Big love xxxx

  3. March 9, 2010 4:16 pm

    Loved reading the blog and I am now following via Twitter although I confess to not being a Cricket fan, sorry but I am with the Sudanese on that point!

  4. March 9, 2010 5:54 pm

    another good blog Ol !
    did you hear about pietersen’s latest failure……i think he should be dropped!
    he hasnt scored a test century since 2008, thats 12 tests.
    whats your take on it?

  5. stuart permalink
    March 9, 2010 11:38 pm

    Our god daughter Vic Averill and her husband have just moved back to Nairobi having been working for reuters in Madagasker.Her husband Richard is now reuters man in Nairobi,Vic is a freelance journalist,Oli is just over 2 and lovely and she is 6 months pregnant.May be worth dropping an e to see if they are interested in the well done keep cycling!love the blogs

  6. Viv permalink
    March 10, 2010 9:06 am

    Once again your colourful story telling takes me out of my world and into yours, if only for a few minutes.

    Shame you can’t be with us for Easter but we understand…….

    love Viv x

  7. March 10, 2010 4:03 pm

    Hi Oli,

    Nice to hear you’re still going strong – must be easier now as you’re on the downhill stretch (well, looks like that on the map!!)

    Just a quick point – can you get this typo corrected (I assume it was a typo!) “Aswan Dam” – no swearing now, the locals may be agitated…

    Best wishes for the rest of the journey…

    Abdullah Eyles

  8. Ed Clark permalink
    March 10, 2010 4:29 pm

    Another compelling read! Keep going Olli. How’s the Mongoose performing? (Have you broken a few, as i did notice Sam Collins brought you out another)

    I’ll be in OZ for the Melbourne and Sydney tests (Flight’s already booked, just need to source tickets) so I’ll have to buy you a schooner of drambuie, as I’m sure you’ll need it by then!

    All the best.


    p.s. If you’re still with him, tell Dickon to peddle up and give him a dead arm from me!

  9. March 10, 2010 5:18 pm

    Still a super pen! and thanks for puting bold men from Norway on your blog…-)

    I had a lot of media in Khatroum and talked about your ride with them. Let your fans (or you) dive in to – and mail /fax those medias – I know they like what you’r doing!

    Keep on writing, you’r good!


  10. March 10, 2010 5:24 pm

    Forgot one thing………: again ; you / your fans/mates (not the man utd ones…) can dive in to my english blogg and leave YOUR link there, I’m finished in June (World Cup finale) and you still have some weeks then – and there is some in my buch that would love to follow you!

    Bjorn (with spelling mistakes) and the Scandinavian (bet you can’t read that one…-)

  11. Brian Read permalink
    March 11, 2010 7:57 am

    Horse shaped, man eating stripey critters, just the information you need before an adventure in the desert!……Bear in mind it may be a true story though!!!
    Love the blogs,

  12. Marian permalink
    March 11, 2010 3:54 pm

    Yet again a brilliant description of your adventures. Am eagerly awaiting the next installment. Am on the edge of my seat waiting to hear about the tortoise!!! You will be with us in spirit on Easter Monday.

    Love you Marian x

  13. Hannah D permalink
    March 12, 2010 8:14 am

    Oli – hope Jura provided a veritable feast for all of you in K. Glad cycling in 50C heat isn’t too terrible – sounds sweaty. HD

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