The rest day in Aswan was absolute bliss. After an informative riders meeting, a few of us made our way from our very average 2-star hotel to the famous Old Cataract Hotel, 5 Star and truly luxurious.
We lingered there for as long as possible, sipping on cups of coffee and making the most of their internet by video Skyping our friends and family. Once we finished our lunch – the biggest Gourmet Burger ever, we joined the rest of the TDA team at the pool, being treated like royalty. The luxury was worthwhile, because thereafter was the ferry ride to Wadi Halfa, Sudan.
The ferry to Sudan was a hurry-up-and-wait situation from beginning to end. We cycled in convoy to the ferry, 17km away, which also marked the first 1000km milestone. Once at the ferry, it was chaos. Locals were crowding on, loading boxes, food, luggage… and there we were, trying to load almost seventy bicycles onto the top deck and then the TdA luggage. It took me a total of five trips to get my personal belongings onboard, because taking more than one item at a time was impossible in terms of space in the passage ways. There is no system, only push, push harder, and try not to fall over. Once our bikes and luggage were safely on the ferry, it was just after lunchtime. We had cabins assigned to TdA riders, which were groups of 3. They had 2 beds, but so dirty and disgusting it was actually a fight as to who would sleep outside and who would stay inside and keep watch over the belongings. I was lucky. My group wanted to stay indoors, and I happily set up camp outside, on deck, amidst other TdA riders and locals who were still squeezing in. Even when you thought the ferry was full, and there was no way any more could be loaded, another truck arrives full of people and each one pushes on. Only at sunset did we begin moving, finally en route to Wadi Halfa, Sudan. The first class passengers, meaning us in the cabins, got food, but while wandering around the ferry I stumbled across the galley where the cooking happened, and the state of that area was enough to turn anyone’s stomach… so I didn’t have much of an appetite when the meal arrived. I did warn everyone, but most seemed okay with taking the risk. No one actually had any problems, to my surprise.
Arriving in Wadi Halfa was a process. Immigration came onboard and then the paperwork began. One can imagine the difficulty a single person has with immigration, now imagine eighty five foreigners trying to get through immigration with limited English. A few of us watched the entire Eat, Pray, Love movie on someone’s laptop while waiting, and still had to wait a few more hours. Finally, with the paperwork sorted, it was time to unload bikes, bags, TdA equipment, people, etc. Offloading was definitely a faster process, as everyone was just so happy to be on land, in a new country with new experiences and challenges.
At the end of a very basic dock were the rest of the TdA crew and the proper TdA trucks and equipment. It felt like we had upgraded to 5 star camping. The TdA trucks are super organized, with a mobile kitchen and locker system for all our goods. The lockers were a scary thing for me. I had a lot of stuff and looking at them, they didn’t look big enough for my wardrobe. On arrival at camp, about 10km away from the ferry dock, we began the process of assigning them. I went into Wadi Halfa with a few friends to grab a local dinner, because the rush to sort out a locker wasn’t something I wanted part of. I thought it best to let others do theirs and, when everything was less busy, I’d get my chance. After a fun tuk-tuk ride and a yummy falafel dinner, it was time to tackle the locker. To my surprise, I had one of the neatest lockers and everyone was just as shocked that everything I brought along actually fit inside… but only just, I must admit. I couldn’t have fitted a spare pair of socks if I wanted to. My locker is filled to its MAXIMUM capacity…. So no shopping for me for the remainder of this trip.
The first day of cycling in Sudan was very pleasant. They didn’t start us easy either… 149km to a desert camp. To everyone’s delight, it was near the Nile and swimming after a day cycling five hours through the desert is basically heaven. With my bikini on, I rushed to the river’s edge. It was incredible; I washed my hair, shaved my legs, did my laundry and felt like a million bucks. Everything about Sudan has been an absolute pleasure. Friendly locals, beautiful terrain, but the bugs are terrible, especially near the river, which is exactly where we want to be.
The second day of cycling in Sudan was another 145km. However, this was not as pleasant as the day before. Thus far, I consider it the toughest day yet and was the make-or-break for a lot of TdA riders. Conditions were hotter than hot, and straight from the start at sunrise, the sun baked us alive. Stopping wasn’t an option because the bugs are to irritating and the heat too intense. Dehydration was the biggest risk, because without realizing it, you’re sweating as fast as you’re drinking. The 69km to lunch was doable, but the second part was a hard push on everyone’s part, especially when the final 20km to camp had a strong headwind sucking every last bit of energy out of your body. That afternoon around camp, everyone was pretty docile. I was so exhausted, I fell asleep mid-conversation while sitting in my seat. I almost didn’t make dinner, all of me was just so tired. Once in bed I felt my body getting rundown. Waking up with the sniffels and sore throat meant it was time to bulk up on the vitamins and keep my meds handy. I can’t be getting sick because there is much more to come from Sudan, and I got the feeling it’s not getting easier or cooler…
The last desert ride of the week into Dongola was only 117km, and started off with a fun team time-trial race of 25km. I was part of The All Africa team, which included myself, South African Bridget, Alan from Tanzania and Ahmed from Egypt. That morning we were very eager to get going and turned out to be the first team at the starting line. We pushed it hard, taking turns doing 2km pulls. With a slight incline and headwinds, we tried to maintain a 33km/h average speed. At maybe 18km, the All German team caught us, and so the tactics began. We hung back and sat on their tail until a short distance from the finish when we would make our move and sprint for the finish. However, Ahmed’s speedometer was not spot on, so he began sprinting far too early. Our tactics failed us but it was still a close, fast finish that made the team time trial competitive and super fun, ending with hi-fives, hearts racing and chests burning.