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May 20, 2007


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LOCATION: Khartoum, Sudan
Longitude: N:15deg.35'55.
Latitude: E: 032deg.31'25.
Kms from Djibouti: 2,208

A word of thanks to recent contributors to the Moksha Shipping drive. There's just another $1,000 to raise and then we're there!

I've reached Khartoum, best known in historical terms perhaps for the last stand of Victorian icon Gordan, whose small defending force was overrun by the Madhist rebellion in 1884/5. Any romantic image of the city associated with this classic event however is quickly done away with by arriving in the grim reality of the modern day version: like most capital cities; noisy, congested and polluted.

After recovering from food poisoning (quickly once on antibiotics) I made decent progress riding the 400+ kms from Gedaref: flat-going for the most part on asphalt, but rather boring; the highlight of each day being a bend in the road. Although dry and parched at this time of year the landscape will alter dramatically in a few weeks to lush green when the rains start. This is the breadbasket region of Sudan between the White and Blue Niles where dark, fertile soils provide the ideal growing conditions for cotton, sorghum and sesame. A vast irrigation project called the Gezira Project was started by the British in the early part of the 19th century which revolutionized land use in Sudan: eradicating absentee land lords and allowing tenant farmers free irrigation water in return for the State taking a share of the profits. A light railway crisscrossing the area allowed quick access to markets.


The Sudanese people have been universally friendly and hospitable, offering help and general good will all along the way. I think they must be the friendliest bunch since Malaysia. More than once I've had my meal paid for by a stranger without knowing about it until after they've left the restaurant/roadside cafe and it's sadly too late to even thank them. But I'm learning that modesty is also a common personality trait of these people. One evening when a dust storm blew in just before dark the owner of the cafe I was taking refuge in didn't even need to be asked it I could stay the night there; a string bed was automatically magicked out of nowhere and I was able to sleep undisturbed behind the restaurant, my bike and gear locked safely in the storeroom.


Which I probably didn't even need to do - Sudan, or at least this region of it, being quite safe from thievery (contrary to what one might believe after reading the on-going humanitarian disaster in Darfur). For myself I have never once felt threatened, so I have been able to hide the Khukri knife away out of view so as not to cause offense. And in Gedaref I left my bike outside the main entrance to the hospital for well over an hour without anyone even touching it. I doubt this is something I will be able to do in any other country after I leave the Sudan heading north. It's great not to feel stressed by agro with the locals. In other countries, like Ethiopia and Indonesia, I've found myself becoming increasingly irritated the longer I am in the country. But in the Sudan this hasn't been a problem at all. Still, it's proving hard to reconcile the two very different pictures of Sudan that have in my mind: the gun-toting, civil-war torn one that I entered the country with and the generous, peaceful one that I have experienced at first hand.

However nice towards strangers they still treat their animals dreadfully like in most developing countries (see today's vlog).


My preoccupation with water is steadily increasingly with the rise in daily temperatures (never less than 45 degrees now after 11a.m.), and the prospect of heading north into really hard country on this next stretch to the Egyptian border. The one saving grace are the clay pots they keep by the side of the road at regular intervals for people to grab a cupful as they pass by. Being porous they allow a slow process of evapouration from the sides and bottom of the pot and the heat exchange in turn keeps the water cool - very simple but quite ingenious!


Another welcome sight en route northward were the first cyclists I've encountered on the road since Djibouti. Traveling a monumental 100,000 kms across four continents
over the next 4-5 years, Philipp and Valeska from Austria are on the first leg of their multi-year odyssey.


We sat drinking tea for an hour or so, exchanging notes on our respective routes, sharing valuable tips and information on the road ahead for the other rider/s. After the rather grim picture painted by the overland team that I met in Gondar before leaving Ethiopia, hearing a more positive version, and from fellow cyclists, has helped me to regain confidence that it will be possible to reach Wadi Halfa unsupported and alone. Although I will certainly be shedding a lot of gear in place of water, and I can apparently expect the same headwind that I've been pedaling against from Gallabat to continue all the way up into Syria.

So my priority in Khartoum is to try and secure permission from both the Sudanese and Egyptians to paddle across Lake Nasser. My campaign begins tomorrow Monday morning as soon as the embassies open. Once I am under the impression that this will likely happen I'll pedal up to Wadi Halfa, then return to pick up the kayak and other gear left here in Khartoum. All the other logistical headaches, like finding someone reliable to take the bike gear across on the weekly ferry to Aswan while I paddle across, will hopefully fall into place later on down the road. One step at a time...


MORE IMAGES (click to enlarge)

> Total to raise: $4,500
> Total raised to date: $3,500
> Total still to raise: $1,000

Sincerest thanks to the following for your pledges -
- The Sheltons, UK, $1,000
- Michael Rawlings, UK, $50
- Crister Brady, US, $50
- Karl Kaseoru, US, $500
- John and Bridget Maxwell, UK, $50
- Jennifer Mackenzie, US, $50
- Ian McCormick, UK, $200
- Terry Mason, California USA, $200
- Jackie and Jean Bernard, Djibouti, $250.
- Erden Eruc and Nancy Board of Around n Over, Seattle USA, $250
- Sharon Kessler, Colorado USA, $500
- Jane Koca, San Jose USA, $50
- John Caldwell, San Jose USA, $100
- Greg Kolodziejzyk of Pedal the Ocean, Canada, $250

Posted on May 20, 2007 3:27 PM