First of all, I would like to say that I really appreciate everyone's comments to my posts. It is fun to read them, they inspire me, and I feel connected to y'all! Even though I don't have the time to respond to everyone's comments, I am thinking about you as I read them. Also, I apologize in advance for spelling/grammar mistakes; long days of riding as well as "funky" Arabic keyboards are to blame!
It took us 4 days from Dongala to get to Khartoum. Our riding schedule consisted of 130k, 140k, 130k and 96 k. Most biking days we had a tailwind and plenty of tarmac. So, reaching 30k or 18-20 miles/per hour wasn't hard at all and sometimes we were pushing 26 m/hr on a mountain bike which is the fastest I have ever rode my bike except on downhills! The vastness of the desert is amazing; aside from the tarmac desert is all around. Along the road we encountered many pastoralists who make their living trading camels and camel products as well as sheep and goats. Every once in a while, while riding you come across a huge caravan of camels about to cross the pavement. For a stretch of road we also passed the "camel cemetery" as there were dead camels half-buried in the sand on either side of us. Poor camels.
The hardest part of this stretch has been the occasional headwind as well as the stinging sand coming across the roads. The wind is almost always blowing. Needless to say, sand is in everything: eyes, food, toothbrush, coffee mugs, tents. One night the wind didn't stop and before we went to bed we had to unclip the tent and shake it out as a layer had already encapsulated our sleeping bags and mattresses. Oh-and going to the bathroom deposits sand in places that you would rather not have bothered. But, as we say this is the cheapest spa treatment ever!
Once again I am amazed at the weather. It has been downright cold at night and in the morning sometimes we have woken to temps in the 40s. My hands have been so cold cycling in the mornings that it almost reminds me of the North Pole! :) Who thought deserts were warm? Of course, it warms up during the day but not until around 1:00 pm. I have been cycling in my long sleeve merino wool icebreaker jersey every day thus far. I have a feeling I will be switching to short sleeves once we reach Khartoum.
We had a police convoy into Khartoum that actually was efficient. Escorted by tourist police, we cruised for about 20 miles through the western side of the capital. Once again we were a spectacle; loads of people lined the streets watching us. Our film crew was busy capturing it all. Crossing the main bridge over the Nile we spotted the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers. No-you really can't tell a color difference. We were led to the National Camping Residence where Sudanese male and female runners train. Because we are ahead of schedule we will have 2.5 rest days. My tired legs could use them!
After setting up camp, we all ran to the showers which were the best we have encountered so far. And, warmish water to boot. Feeling clean again does wonders to the soul! That night several of us went to see the "Whirling Dervishes" a mystical sect of Islam where twirling around in circles to the drum beats gets you closer to "allah." It is a type of religious ectasy. Their ceremony was not meant for tourists but now it has turned into quite the attraction with local people setting up little stands for shay (tea) and coffee and loads of them forming a large open circle to watch the music and dancing. The religious ceremony happens every Friday, outside of an old looking, green painted mosque. Men in long, white "dresses" line up and face each other across a self-imposed circular sand courtyard. They start chanting and the other side answers them. The drumming starts out slow and then increases with intensity. You can't help but move. Seemingly random, some people who are "feeling" the beat move to the center and start to twirl themselves into a trance like state. All the while this man with dreadlocks, dressed in a red and green "dress" and yielding a big stick goes round and round the circle of spectators making sure the courtyard remains open for the dancers to whirl. A man with a red and green "sorcerer's cap" follows the steps of this man and offers to fan incense into your face. I haven't smelled that good in days. We didn't quite know what to make of the experience but it was surely interesting. Afterwards, we lucked into finding a pizza joint and woofed down some large pizzas.
Khartoum is a sprawling city. It is dusty, warm, and there isn't much to admire. We are staying 10k south of the "main" center and the landscape is composed of half-built low-cement buildings, shops, and a large shopping mall. Yes, a mall. With Gloria Jean's coffee shop located there, a lot of us have been willing to pay the $4.00 for a cappuchino. It is an expensive city as well. Some folks checked out Nubian wrestling and the souk, which is the largest market in all of Sudan.
We are off to the southeast tomorrow towards the border town of Gallabat. It should take us 4 riding days. Once we reach Ethiopia we will begin climbing! I pray for even stronger legs. It is widely known that Ethiopian kids will try and take anything they can off your bike so I'll need the legs to cruise past them. We won't be able to casually leave our bikes and items around as we have done in Sudan.
Oh-we are NOT going through Kenya. We are all disappointed but in light of the recent "ethnic cleansings"/"fightings" b/c of election disputes our tour director has made the appropriate decision. Besides, most people's insurance policies would disqualify them since we would be voluntarily entering an area of "civil unrest." We will bike until the border of Ethiopia/Kenya and then will have approx. 12 days in which to occupy ourselves. I might do the Serengeti again or try to explore the more remote areas of the Gombe National Park and Mahale Mountains where groups of chimpanzees live. Several groups of riders are talking about attempting Mt. Kilimanjaro and relaxing afterwards in Zanzibar Island.
I assume we won't have internet access until Gonder, Ethiopia. I hope you are all enjoying winter!
Oh-the people pics are of Ashleigh and Josh, our expedition riders who won the 20k time trial. Let's just say, it wasn't my best day! Congrats to them!