Email update 15 Feb, 2012
03.02.2012 - 14.02.2012
Now at Gondar, at the hotel Goha which is the closest I'll ever get to God, Muhammad, Jehovah or whoever for the next little while!!!!. It is pure luxury even if I am still in my tent.....Some people have taken rooms so as to enjoy a shower without being "on display"....but I am enjoying the calmness of lying in my tent listening to the wind in the early hours of the morning rustling through the pines, a noise similar to that of the casuarina tree (sheoak), a "silky" sound. Before dawn large hawks begin to "keen" as they fly effortlessly on the thermals catching the bugs that the breeze has shaken from the trees. I am happy, yet sad....another rest day here above the hubbub and noise of Gondar town.
It has been 9 or 10 days since last email. Everyday a different experience.....8 days of straight riding, each day more extreme than the previous.
Kms for the next 8 days ranged : 145.5, 155, 97, 95, 84, 95, 93, 108. Towns of Sennar, Dinder, Doka, Metama then Gondar. The small kms of 97, 95, and 84 are the off road stuff that had everyone in varying degrees of agony and the last day included a 2300m climb!!!!
Leaving Khartoum was a relief, only to be out of the city environment, and the dust. Leaving on the holy day means less traffic and time to actually look around as you ride. Out through the "upmarket" area - called "the avenue"... well to do homes and shops, such a contrast to the majority of city proper. Finally away from traffic and into the "market garden" produce area. Irrigation used, grain crops flourishing, date palms and the soil a deep rich brown, such a contrast from the earlier dusty dirt.
Housing more obvious with the richer soil colour in the mud bricks. Herds of goats along the roadside, lots of buildings which appeared abandoned....less and less donkey carts. Strong headwind all morning, so debilitating, mentally and physically. Mirage images appear as the heat and dust kicks in. Finally the "african" flat style tree on the landscape, a visual relief from sand only.
Two bikes stolen overnight....sneaky lot....both guys devastated, everyone advised to lock up tight and keep whatever you don't want stolen either in your truck locker or in your tent.....Sleeping with my smelly riding shoes has become a reality!!!!
The Sudanese are incredibly "security conscious" when it comes to people taking photos.....to the point of actually halting a rider, way out of Khartoum, and accusing her of taking photos with a telescope......20 security police jumped out of 2 vehicles, all wearing earpieces (bit like a movie....) and demanded they see her camera. She did not have a camera, even though they searched her backpack and said they saw her taking the pictures....they found nothing. Ah...Africa....as they say, "expect the unexpected"!!!
"Mandatory" (Mando) day. If you are "racing" then compulsory, or 12hrs automatically added to your time. Just plod along, and hope to make the 155kms in one piece. Traffic again heavy. This section of road very dangerous with trucks and buses not giving an "inch" when passing. Pushed off the road twice by oncoming buses actually passing another vehicle....safer on the dirt!!!
Now seeing crops of rice and cotton..(financed by Japan)..both water-hungry crops....oh for rain. Shanty towns amongst the plastic bag waste which attaches to every stick or bush as the wind blows.......Had my first "whipping" by a young lad....what do you do???? He laughed and laughed as I admonished him but ran away quickly when I turned around to chase him.....Up an alleyway I started, only to be stopped by a policeman......I was angry.....So my first real pain....sore backside, but no skin broken.... Another rider fell today while crossing railway tracks.....she was concussed and confused, we waited with her till the truck returned. Found a baby kid stuck in the mud.....maaa, maaa, maaa...how cruel life can be....I asked our mechanic to pull him out.....he obliged, laughed and said that "saving livestock" was not noted as part of his job description!!!!
Swimming in the canals for a couple of nights after riding...so cold and refreshing....wonderful for the muscles. Campsites of thorns....bikes being carried everywhere, placed upside down, many flat tyres for some people....Nothing worse than waking up at 6am to change tyres before breakfast. I have been lucky.
Previous afternoon and evening people were changing their tyres preparing for the rough stuff.....those mountain bikers were finally going to have some fun. I rested up, no tyre changes, just go with what I've got.
Through Dinder and the "off road" begins...first crossing wide river over old railway bridge converted to take cars, pedestrians, etc. Traffic held up on one side to allow our scruffy lot across!!!! Sand, sand, sand and follow the disused railway line all day.....occasionally cross a canal, watch for orange flagging tape...take wrong turns, how can one get lost when following a disused railway line!!!!! Trucks, cars, local cyclists using same track...how can those locals ride so quickly?...and stay upright???
The hot sun reflecting back up from the sand, burning, dry mouth, water in my water bottle hot. Coke stops, read cold water, where is the next town? How much liquid can one person consume? - 2lt water, 3x250ml grapefruit juice & 1x250ml 7Up....
First of the 3 days of off road over! In retrospect, an easy day. Day 2 - corrugations continuous for the entire day, gravel, sand, my first fall...grazed elbow, blood, pour on the dettol!! Some people fall constantly but don't give in, they are grazed and bloody! My forearms ache from steering, bike forever in fast forward gear! Mountain bikers fly past me, others on side of road with flats, some experiencing up to 9 changes! Camel herders move slowly past me, trekking their large herds up to Egypt, following the ancient track in the sand, waterhole to waterhole. Handsome men atop lead camels, following the life of their forefathers. Villages changing now, round houses still of mud brick but with thatched rooves, woven fences denote personal family areas, lots are swept clean and pathways outlined by rocks. The last 5kms my body is not functioning, seeing double, totally exhausted, 9hr day. Campsite at Stone VIllage, no grass,just small rocks. The local village gathered around, an enterprising young boy arrives with his donkey water cart.. Sit in bowl under hose, lather up and "heaven"!! My body cannot function, no dinner, struggle to erect tent.
Want desparately to vomit... But, I watch a magnificent sunset. The flat desert now disappearing and the beginning of Ethiopian mountains. The change is wonderful. But my body is not! Too tired & exhausted to ride next day. I'm on the truck with 13 other tired, injured, exhausted riders. Sardines jammed in a hot cabin travelling at slow speed along rough and at times, non existent roads.... Roll, roll, roll. Motion sickness....I must be crazy!
Passed small villages mining for gold...slag heaps everywhere. Visited village for well water. Many donkey carts lined up, drawing water from 4 spouts. This village relatively well off as they have a large tractor that pulls a water tanker, beside it stands a very old chevy-style truck. A young boy makes his own toy...a truck configured from: water bottle tops=wheels; wire=axles; metal trayback=cut down metal box of "quality super adhesive".
We wait our turn, life moves slowly. Little kids head off to school all carrying their miniature plastic chairs, bigger kids, girls, dressed in white top and trouser uniform, heads covered, wave to us as we chug by. The truck creates drama moving through some villages as the passageway is too narrow, the staff push and shove the woven fences back so we can squeeze thru. More riders need to get on board, casualties of heat and exhaustion.
Finally the day ends with both sun and the full moon awake in the sky. Last night in Sudan,it is good to be alive and I vow never to ride the truck again!
Many people beginning to experience the effects of malaria tablets and the sun....burning skin. For me it is an exceptionally dry mouth, cannot create saliva....lots and lots and lots of fluids now.
Ethiopia border today. Landscape quickly changing, lots of trees=green and cool, cacti-looking bushes with small flower, similar to Oz native frangipani, so delicate amidst the dirt. Camel drovers driving goat herds, big watering holes for stock and finally some downhill runs....first since Egypt, exhilarating!
Goodbye Sudan, hullo Ethiopia, and beer! Woman in western clothes, bare flesh, Christianity, lots of crosses, but no churches visible. New and tasty/spicy foods, injura bread. Gluten-free, full of goodness, small pieces of lamb, spice for dipping, goats cheese dipped in different spices, salad vegies, dried meat and all scooped into the bread with fingers.....oh so yum! Layered fruit juices = puréed mango, pawpaw,guava, and avocado! No water or milk, just pure fruit....soooooo delicious.
As with all good things come some bad.....the rock throwing, stick wielding kids. They appear from nowhere along the roadside, all calling "you, you, you", what's your name, where you go, where you from, i love you, money! The girls are more vocal and agressive than the boys, pushing your bike sideways, pulling you backwards as you struggle up giant hills, poke sticks through your spokes, play chicken with you when descending a hill....we each cope in different ways with this new challenge. Grown men cry, I keep my face covered and ignore them...they are not sure what is behind the mask and sun glasses, so far I've been lucky and avoided both rocks and sticks. A couple had their camera stolen from their backpack, while pushing their bikes.....too many hands to watch. Rolling hills and 3 big climbs to end the day.
Campsite atop a hill with views out to the tabletop type Ethiopian mountains.... Following a path down the hillside, there is a natural spring, a young boy sits scooping the fresh water into a coconut style bowl and fills plastic tanks for the village. I drink fresh water...so cold and refreshing. Housing style changing again, square buildings with tin roofs and thatched roofs and round buildings made of saplings.
Six days of riding, still two to go before a welcome two-day rest. The group is tired, anxious about the 2300m climb on last day...everyone wants to get away early...I enjoyed the climb, not as difficult as I expected, kept my head down, pedal, pedal, pedal! Similar to a Paluma ride (Townsville) only longer with a couple of really steep pulls. Spectacular views through mountain gorges, crops on hillsides, birds singing, really....life is good. Down the mountain to the plain. Fields ploughed, men and women working together, chatting as they plant. Lots and lots of gum trees, home! I stop, eat a banana and watch a young man ploughing his rich brown soil, cow and old fashioned wooden hand plough!! The whistle and slap of the reins coming clearly through the quietness. Gums used as border fencing, also being harvested, very young saplings.
The second climb in the afternoon saw the majority of riders walking every hill, including me! 40kms....into Gondar. The final 2kms to camp was uphill, through the city. I was cursing the tour organiser!!! I arrived at Hotel, a 10hr day!!!
Sort of made "techno" history guys, the above was typed on an iPad several days ago now and finished about 1.35am.....somehow lost it allnd so have had to wait till next lay day to reconnect and I've managed to transfer it onto an AppleMac.....eegads, all this in the middle of Ethiopia,,,,, iPad....gotta have one.....how neat are they!!!! Obviously never to old to learn, even if it means taking a bike trip to Africa for 4 mths!!!!
Disjointed email, apologies for this. I've managed to lose information regarding Gondar, so this is all you can have till next lay day - Addis Adaba....5 days time.
Keep safe, enjoy life and keep smiling. All's well with me, just a little slimmer....lost about 5 kgs.....
Love to my family, especially Safta.....sending big hugs to you......
Big day today, 167kms.....just another day in paradise.