Beautiful, colorful, dusty, bumpy, sandy, rocky, hilly, inviting at times, and always foreboding. This has been the toughest part of the Tour d'Afrique so far. The first day was a wake-up call. First part of the day was encouraging as we did some off-road riding and then we hit the tarmac where we cruised to speeds of 30 k. Lunch was a nourishing blend of tuna, tomatoes/onions, cheese, in a pita bread with apples and oranges for desert. After filling up with 2 liters of water and 1.5 liters of Fast Fuel (an energy replacement drink), we took off expecting to find more of the same. Nope! It was a slow grind as we had sandy hills to climb, some all out sand sections which were nigh impossible to spin through unless you put the bike into your easiest gear and crank the heck out with your legs. Lots of falls happened on that day: thank god for the soft landing. Despite this, it was pretty as the colors change as the sunlight makes some parts of the hills come to life and leaves others in the shade. Although there are only a few green trees to be found, I found shades of yellow, brown, and blacks that I had never seen before. At mile 60 we were seriously wondering where camp was as the sandy "road" was wiping us out. A few more miles ahead we saw the finish flag that signals our camp site. This was a great camp site: we were nestled into this concave valley of sand and protected by granite sand peaks around us. My fellow riding partner, Joachim Loeffel, shot a great pic as the sun went down which captured the pink hue above the hills. We had an hour long bike maintenance clinic which started at 4:30 pm. Gosh, we had biked from 8:00-4:00 pm. That is a day's of work. Dinner was a big pot of spaghetti and salad which consists not of greens but of onions and tomatoes in a creamy sauce. I had seconds.
Next day was tougher. We tried leaving a little earlier to make it to camp sooner to have more daylight: it gets dark around 6:30 pm. Ok-I am going to get a little graphic. My butt was so dang sore from enduring all those bumps from the corrugations in the road. Needless to say I did an "inspection" and it is NOT pretty. Bumpy, red, and inflamed. I have been using a diaper cream to help it heal: no wonder babies cry when they have diaper rash, it hurts! After a while your butt does get used to the grinding and you get semi-comfortable in your saddle. I have been reapplying the chamois cream laboriously too! It has been helping. The highlight of this day was going through some small Nubian villages along the Nile. The kids lined the streets to slap our hands and towards the end of the day it got a little obnoxious with some of the teenage girls trying to hold onto your "high five" a little too long so you would loose balance and fall. Our yoga practice of balance has come into play! I gave away some NCMC pencils for which I received a "shukran" (thank-you in Arabic) and we got cute pics with kids. People always ask you where you are headed. We would answer with Dongala and Khartoum.
Passing through a town that never ended "Farka" was a treat for the eyes. Yes, it was still sandy but what caught your eyes were their brightly painted doors. Amongst the mud brick homes which are smoothed out to make a swirly pattern on their homes, you have pink and blue, green and yellow, and even purple doors. I wonder where they get the paint from? Blue seems to be the dominant color and I wonder what the symbolism is? In every village is a mosque which is surrounded by a mud-brick gate. We also saw many cemeteries which are marked with a pile of stones, a small headmarker made of painted wood with the person's name on it, on top of a small mound. Camp was by the Nile. We washed our bikes in it and I shaved my legs, all without thinking about shistosomiasis. Hopefully, I didn't contract anything. I did have a dream about a rabid cat who dug its claws into me, cutting my skin, and I had to be transported out of Africa to get rabies shots.
Day 3 in the Nubian desert: the toughest riding so far. I almost reached my breaking point. Thank god I switched biking shorts. My butt was very, very sore again but at least I had some more padding. Very corrugated semi-hard packed road: if you weren't giggling before you have a lot of loose skin now. Also, it feels like you constantly have to go to the bathroom! Your forearms also get a special workout as they are contracting to keep you on the bike as your tires are being bounced around to and fro! We climbed 541 meters and 1500 m for the week so far. The best part of the day was passing four women. We haven't had too much contact with the women and I told Joachim, whom I was riding with, that this would be a perfect photo op. As it turns out in exchange for an apple and some hard candies they obliged to having their picture taken. They were carrying kilos of rice on their heads and all wore colorful clothing against their dark black skin. The other interesting thing is that when we went through this village we were talking to the some children, some with flies on their face: the typical picture of Africa. And, she said in English: food for the children. She motioned to my camelback and my bike bag and I shook my head as I didn't have food in there. However, I was eating an energy bar but it was almost eaten. I offered it to her anyway and immediately she grabbed it, split it with her sister, and ate it with my teeth marks on there and all. She must have been starving, not the children. To conclude with this day, there wasn't much to eat at lunch as we got there so late, it was beginning to get hot, and we hit sand patch after sand patch, where you had to get off your bike and push it. It was annoying and frustrating and I had to let out a few expletives. It was a 10 hour riding day.
The last day before reaching Dongola and our rest day was finally a good day. I decided to teach my legs a lesson and pushed myself as fast as I could. I managed my nutrition better and ate more often and drank a lot. We had a variety of terrain but it got increasingly better and eventually we hit the tarmac for the last 20 k before crossing the Nile to Dongala via a ferry. The highlight of this day was asking in my best Arabic if I could see inside this house. A lot of us stopped for lunch and hung out on this mud-brick step that surrounded the large house. Since there were women around I felt comfortable asking them if I could have a look inside. I took the trouble to tell them that I was a teacher and I wanted to share Nubian life with my students. I poked here and there and they led me to this courtyard and around a mud-brick wall to their toilet. They thought I wanted/needed to go to the bathroom! I wasn't sure what they were thinking so I motioned to them that I didn't know what to do. Well, one woman came over, got on top of the pit toilet and started pulling up her dress to show me how. It was hilarious and I heard a lot of chuckling afterward!
Now we are in Dongala, staying at the old zoo. I had my first shower in 5 days-yeah clean hair! We managed to have chicken last night for a lot of money: they don't have chicken farms here. And, today was spent doing bike maintainance, organzing for our 5 day stretch to Khartoum (Tanya you would love it!), and exploring Dongala a bit.
You do have to obey Muslim custom and someone from the town complained about some of our females not covering their elbows. I have a head scarf that I bought, a long sleeve shirt on, as well as my sarong!
So far, I am healthy and happy! I will not lie though: it is tough!
I'll post some more from the capital of Sudan: Khartoum!