Pyramids of Nubia- My Sudanese Experience January 30 2014
We have completed the first section of the 2014 Tour D'Afrique through Sudan. Named the "Pyramids of Nubia" due to the historical landscapes we road passed. I have decided to break down the countries we visit into the 5 senses; sights, sounds, smells, touch and tastes, and perhaps a random category for other interesting experiences that have occurred.
The sights of Sudan have been magnificent. From amazing sunsets to camels touring through the desert, we have been exposed to a part of this country that many tourists have never seen, and many Sudanese people have never travelled through. Each morning begins with darkness, surrounded by more starts then I thought possible in the universe. Often riders do not even need their head torch when in search of a nighttime bathroom run.
One of the best memoires I will have of this section of the tour was taking off on my bike just as the sun peaks on the horizon and continues its journey, rising above me. Riding in the deserts of Sudan, there are no building in sight, nothing blocking your view of this daily, but amazing occurrence on earth. As we ride along the road many buses wiz passed us headed for the next town, anywhere from 400 to 10km from away.
Frequently we will see camels in the distance. It is a beautiful sight to see a Sudanese man riding on a camel, wrapped in a white dress, with a bright turban on his head. At times we have seen small villages with children close to the road waving and looking at us with questioning eyes, wondering what on earth we are doing. Once we arrive in a city, the organized ciaos begins, tuk tuks, donkeys, horses, motorbikes, cars, trucks, buses, and people are within feet of our bike tires. To date no one has hit anything, but we have over 100 days to go! Our campsites are generally outside of towns or cities in order to have a bit of privacy and silence. Once it is realized that camp is within site you begin searching the horizon for it, hoping over the next hill the alien looking settlement is to be found. Our camp equipment consists of two big trucks, a land rover, an SUV, over 30 tents and a just as many bicycles. Hence the reference to an alien landing, we are a strange site in the middle of the desert landscape, perhaps even a mirage to some.
As the sun sets over camp, we are all exhausted after an amazing but challenging day of sand and wind, or both. Despite this feeling amongst most riders, we are all able to marvel at the magnificent African sun, setting right before our eyes. The colors of the sky are like I have only ever seen on Nat Geo or in photo competitions, but for us they are a reality, and they will continue to amaze me throughout this journey.
Sudan is a predominantly Muslim country, thus they take part in a call to prayer three times a day. Whenever we are staying close or nearby a town that is our morning wake up call. In Khartoum, the sound of the prayer call was a thrilling experience and a beautiful way to wake up. After two weeks, I am excited to hear the sounds of the morning wake up in Ethiopia.
While riding the sound of horns beeping and buses driving by are helpful but also make you jump in fright as they wized passed at record speed. Although much of Africa has a reputation for being slow, my feeling is that the buses must be on time given the speed at which they travel. When arriving at the half waypoint of our ride, we will come across the awaited lunch truck with Steven, a kindhearted Tanzanian man, ready for the hungry tigers to attack. He will have African music playing out of small speakers, which gets our heads out of the road, and back to the reality that we are in Africa.
At times I embrace the natural sounds while riding, the wiz of my tires as they spin down the road or through sand. However, I really enjoy getting lost in my African beats. I have waited for the moment when I biking that these special songs will be playing in my ears as motivation to keep peddling. I often will cheer when one of my favorite songs comes on and will attempt to sign along. For those of you who have heard me sing, you will know I should be doing this is alone!
At varying times throughout the afternoon, riders will get to camp and the chatter of people talking about their experience, how they felt at certain points of the day, who they road with and what type of noises their bikes are making is endless. Once the sun goes down, so do the campers. The silence of the night is often tremendous, except when the dogs are barking or cars drive by and honk at our alien settlement. Often in the middle of nowhere, we enjoy the sound of the nothingness that surrounds us.
The lingering smell of a dead animal is like nothing I have ever experienced before. Whether it is a camel, goat, donkey, dog, or fox, the stench is worse then the oldest rotten egg you have ever smelt. Depending on where we are riding road kill will vary. After being in the desert for six days, with little to look at or smell, the scent of the freshly squashed dead animals, was outrageous. We eventually realized that these poor animals were headed to the local Saturday animal market and their herders would most likely be devastated by their death, as it meant a reduction in the price of their herd.
The Sudanese cities, we have ridden through, have similar smells of all developing cities: exhausted fumes, open sewers, dust, and garbage pits. But they do have an amazing waft of freshly fried falafel, kebabs, and donuts- our staple local foods while here in Sudan.
Although a terrific feeling for the first hour of your day on the bike, your handle bars often will become very tiresome to touch. At varying points, your hands go numb and start to throb, wondering why on earth they have been in the same position for hours on end. The visible dirt that you pick up on your fingers within a short time while camping is astounding. What is more worrisome is the dirt you do not see. Many people on the trip so far have already begun to suffer from gastrointestinal issues and colds. No matter how much you wash your hands, it seems you cannot get all the dirt and bacteria off. Especially when an endless supply of soap and water is really not available. I do love to get my hands dirty cleaning my bike and working off some of the day’s dirt, but it does become a hassle trying to scrub off the dirt.
Despite the limits on our resources in terms of cooking equipment and food options, our cook has created some of most amazing meals on this trip that I have certainly ever had while camping. Marconi and cheese, bread pudding, grilled eggplant, bean stuffing, are just a few of the wonderful meals our cook has prepared, all by hand, on a open fire and in huge cooking pots! Breakfast normally consists of oatmeal/cereal, bread with nutella, peanut butter, and bananas. A mid morning snack will be a PBM bar, a protein bar of sorts, that certainty does give you enough energy to make it to the lunch truck, where fresh fruits, sandwiches and the night before left overs are up for grabs. When we arrive at camp we have fresh soup waiting for us as a post work out snack. In terms of local food, falafel has been my staple food while on rest days. The other food option is fool, a local bean stew that is also quite good and does give some protein.
Overall, I have been impressed by the kindness of many of the local Sudanese people we have come across. Often times they welcome you to Sudan, and want to know where you are from and why you are visiting their country. It is hard to explain that we are biking to South Africa, and when that is understood, they clearly do think we are crazy.
Some men and young boys have been quite rude at times and have touched and grabbed at some of the female riders when they are travelling alone. Often when walking with a man the Sudanese males will leave you alone, but when walking as a female, without a male companion you do get several shouts, whistles and kissing sounds. It is definitely advisable for women to dress very modest and cover up shoulders, knees and more. Women here are all in a headdress and sometimes a total hijab. Men wear long white shirts and turbans, and schoolboys and girls roam around in what looks to be pj’s from the 1980’s.
The houses in the city are made with cement, while on the outskirts of town they are made with mud, or cloth. There have been some small camps, totally in the middle of nowhere, where Saudi herders live in tent camps. In the desert these people are very far away from a water source and food. So I am not sure how they survive. In other villages, near a water source, they are much better off, as they can grow vegetables and often will have herds of animals as their main assets. These houses are still made out of mud from the water cannels and people are not prosperous by “our” definition.
Nonetheless, people regardless of their possessions do seem happy and without the mass consumerism and commercialization it seems they do not really know what they are missing. There has been very little tourism in Sudan, which for me means that foreigners and their gadgets have not tainted the locals view of what they “need” in life. Most towns are still very market based and have a few shops with electricity for water and cold drinks. There are a few phone stores, but only in Khartoum did we see cameras available to purchase.
It seems fascinating that depending on what country you are born into your options and opportunities are so far apart. In Sudan, from what I have seen your options are not very vast. I have had conversations with a few men who really want to leave Sudan and many young men who are really unhappy with their country, and government. They will ask, “What do you think of Sudan?” Often our response is very PC and we will say, “Beautiful, and people are very nice” They will response by, “No. Government not good” and, “People are poor”.
I have also been surprised how many people speak English and want to share with you what they know!
Biking through Sudan has been a wonderful glimpse into the parts of Africa that we are going to witness. Areas of the world that are often not your normal tour through the African savanna. I am excited for what Ethiopia will bring!