DATE: 7 December 2005
CURRENT LOCATION: Johannesburg, South Africa - Diamond Diggers Hostel
GPS COORDINATES: oh poo it's #36 Doris St.
So southern Egypt and Sudan - bit of a gap there. Just got the photos back and now we can begin
Came in out of the Western Desert to Luxor, seat of the Middle Kingdom and places of some of Egypt's greatest ancient monuments. As well as home to the most persistent felucca (Nile river sailing boats) touts. Do you think as you saw me say not interested to the 15th tout in a row that I was just waiting for you fine sir to come along..?
KARNAK TEMPLE!! I just love the sound of that name. KARNAK!! How else could you speak or write a name like KARNAK!! in any other way than in bold with two exclamation points..? And the place deserves it as well, for surviving about 3 million visitors a day for the very least. Despite the tourist throngs, it is impressive. The religious seat of the Pharaohs, it was added onto and added onto until it's massive size now.
A 'forest' of towering columns. Strained my neck lost amongst them.
I am the master of atmospheric lighting!!
Wow, I'd hate to have been this guy's successor - those would be some awfully big shoes to fill
Some young Egyptian punks (Bob Marley fans, in fact) who liked the bike. At least they didn't bother me for money.
Also ran about the Valley of the Kings and Nobles and other deep places or burial under the punishing sun (and this was winter?!). I got a little bored on the first night of Eid and ended up in a barber shop for a good Egyptian shave - check it, check it: the Omar Sharif look. As if I could get more handsome.
Aswan: didn't get up to much. Did the hokey-pokey on the Aswan Dam, the largest dam in the world.
It's big. And you're not allowed to take a picture of it. It's too big anyways.
I met up with a big gaggle of overlanders in Aswan who were all also headed to Sudan - 3 land rovers and a BIG truck, English, Dutch, Belgian, German. They were plotting and scheming on how to get across Lake Nasser (the world's largest man-made lake) to Sudan. The original plan was to all get on a barge that was already booked and headed over. It would have been 3 days trapped camping on a floating platform. Hrmmmm, clinging to someone's rear bumper while I dangled my bottom off the back end over crocodile filled waters wasn't my ideal way of passage. But the departure date kept slipping another day and another day. It looked like it could be another week before we set off, which have me really behind in my 'schedule'. But I was looking forward to having a bit of support on the road through northern Sudan. Before coming across everyone, I was genuinely a little frightened about tackling northern Sudan on my own. Completely and entirely unknown territory. So I was relieved at the prospect of traveling with a group of other overlanders, especially ones who seemed to know what they're doing. My biggest worry was that I'd be the useless weak link with which everybody will begin to loose their patience...
However, on the day of its sailing, I was informed that I could actually get the bike on the ferry that ran once a week - which would also arrive the next morning. Get me onboard!! Six men and myself manhandled Mario through the passenger hatch that was 4 feet below the pier's level, and snuggled him amongst the refrigerators, clothes hangers, apples and tomatoes with which the ferry bulged. In the end, all the 'wives' of the overland couples also had to come across on the ferry and we set ourselves up in Waidi Halfa, Sudan, after a pretty easy going overnight passage.
I was really surprised again at how many other travelers were on the ferry. I shared my room with Masaaki from Japan, there were us overlanders, a French couple, some more Japanese travelers, another Canadian fella even!? Not throngs, mind you, but certainly a healthy flow of backpackers.
I said farewell to the crew in Wadi Halfa
Little did I realize that I should have swallowed some pride and invested in taking the local transport
Now that's a serious desert vehicle!! My ferry bunk mate Masaaki poses with Afran, the courageous pilot who told me, no worries - very good road. Very good road ahead. Yeah! If you're driving the Desert Rocket. But what about me and me wee bike on the belly of stones..?!
So I started off all on my lonesome - into what is called the belly of stones'. That was scary. After some more enquiries it seemed that at least I wouldn't be able to get lost - the road was very explicit, there was no missing it. That removed 'getting lost' from the list of bad things that could happen to me (run out of fuel, run out of water, have an accident or break down) and with that I felt that I could probably cope on my own. The road at first wasn't entirely clear, breaking into all sorts of tracks with huge sand ruts and patches. Yup. Had my first sand induced fall in my first half hour. I was only 10km along and swearing and sweating picking up my bike. I would have to completely unload Mario whenever. Otherwise he was just too heavy for me to heave back upright. The weight and difficulty were compounded by often having to counter the camber of the ruts, which worked against me, and the fact that it was impossible to get a proper footing in the sand. Imagine try to scrum-off against the All Blacks uphill in a sandbox. Yeah. Not fun. Oh and all of this while the bike is spilling fuel and my reserve water, so your survival in one of the harshest deserts is at stake.
I fell a miserable three times and taking 2 hours to go about 30km before finally getting to the road proper. Yes, it was going to be hard deviating from it. It was as though someone just pushed a bulldozer through a desert of rock. You couldn't head off it, as the surrounding country was just bolder and stone and rock - no sand, no open spaces. The 'road' itself was just barely leveled stone. I bumped and jittered and clanked along at maybe 30km/h, avoiding the bigger stones as much as I could. Hey, at least there was almost no sand and I didn't fall over anymore! But it was just punishing the bike. Punishing.
But I thought I had it tough, the French couple I met on the ferry
WERE DOING THIS ON BICYLCES??!! I came up on them as they were refueling with a mid day snack. May God have mercy on their souls, for they know not what they do.
I ended my first grueling day 100km out into the in the deserts of northern Sudan on a terrific high note - a flat front tire. The one thing, the one thing that I had dreaded was having to do something mechanical. I was really terrified at the prospect of being forced into fixing something - the most obvious one being to change a tire. After just the perfect day anyways, it just had to happen, didn't it?
Finally found some clear land away from the road and set up tire repair camp!
As much as I didn't know what I was doing, I just had to get on with it or otherwise I just wouldn't be getting on with it. Know what I mean? Broke out the manual. Busted open the spares and tools. Had to shove some rocks under the engine block and dig out under the front wheel until it dangled free (don't have a centre stand). And just got to work. After wrangling the tire off the wheel I could see my problem. I didn't just puncture the inner tube, I had virtually destroyed it. The surface of the tube seemed partially melted all along and the actual valve was almost severed from the tube, tearing a great big patch of the tube off. Hey, hey! That's why I've got the spare for. In the end, it wasn't as daunting as I thought it would be. Got amply covered in oil and grease, chipped a nail, and cut my finger - but I did it!!
And even in the pitch black of night so I'd be rip roaring to go the next morning. Settled down and made myself the best bean and veggie stew. Read my little book. Looked up at an amazingly starry night. A there I was. In the middle of nowhere. Nobody to help me. Fixed my bike. Made my camp. I wasn't defeated. I even felt a little proud of myself.
That was short lived.
The next day was more of the same and I probably fell another half a dozen times. At strategic points, ditches of sand would cover the road and drag me down. Imagine you're on the beach and you run straight into water - those first few steps are fine and then WHAM! You're brought to an immediate halt and are dragged over. Similar on the bike. These drifts would often appear at the bottom of a small downhill, making control even harder. It was difficult, but my skills were on a steep uphill learning curve - I promise I was getting better as I went along. I also finally started coming across settlements and villages. Though one of my favourite falls was just on the outskirts of a village. I took the branch of the road diverting around the village, but came across some loose rock and sand and, bam! - the bike was down and I was launched up. I landed saddled on the side of the fuel tank with the left handlebar between my legs (close shave!) and a small village girl perched on a roadside rock blinking at me. Salaam aleikum?
I was finally exiting the belly of stones and getting to more mixed desert, coming across villages, even a town, and getting back to the Nile itself!
The Nile became my friend and my best marker.
But like I said, disaster struck as I headed past a neat looking village (Sabo), with a British war monument to the dead from 19th century campaigns in Sudan
and an old British fort on the hill above. My front tire had blown again. I couldn't believe it. Not having a spare I turned into the village and was instantly made a family member. I was put up with by Mohamed Farah Amin and extended family
for three days and treated so incredibly well at the hands of Nubian hospitality (including date 'wine' - essentially date tequila brewed by Mohamed's brother Farah. Are there any blind people in this village, I meekly enquired ). I picturesque place between the desert and the banks of the Nile, where they grew everything and anything (including the local narcotic, bango - heck, I thought this was a deeply Islamic country? what!? we didn't smoke or drink during Ramadan.) and caught fish in the rapids.
The village is actually on the third cataracts of the Nile and it would rumble and gush you to sleep every night.
After heroic attempts to patch the tube (in the same condition as the first casualty) a trip to the local capital, Dongola, is in order. That was a full day adventure traveling the dusty desert track stuffed into the back of one of these
with 12 village women, their children, their children's dollies, their produce, their food, and their swirling scarves - oh, and my front wheel. The men rode on the roof most of the way.
Mohamed didn't want me to head out again and tried to persuade me to put the bike on a truck - but I was not to be defeated!! Or not yet at least. This third day of riding was actually the absolute worst. The stones turned to full blown desert sand tracks - no road, just countless different tracks leading in various directions into the desert. You knew you were on a winner when the bike would jitter like a machine gun as it ran across hard corrugations - a sure sign of a well trodden path. But this was no ordinary sand. It was like talcum powder, or like riding through great swaths of icing sugar. This is a bit of what the territory looked like, but it's impossible to encapsulate with a camera - stark and harsh, but startling beautiful to my temperate rain forest accustomed mind.
(oh yeah, still had that bad moustache!! It was supposed to be an Omar Sharif surprise for Mandy in Zanzibar)
I just couldn't maintain control, progress was agonizingly slow. It was diabolical. My GPS unit (as it had in the teaming streets of Rome and Cairo) came into its own, guiding me in co-ordination with tactical pilot maps I had through what seemed directionless sand. I don't know how many times I fell, but it was a lot. Even launched a few times over the handlebars (i.e. why I removed the windscreen and side view mirrors - ouch! that coulda hurt). If I fell near a settlement, it was a coin toss whether I could persuade a group of kiddies to help me with a push or if they'd run away. I even got a cheer from some school kids planted alongside what could have been a sharp rally racing corner, until, that is, I fell over. Nubians also place water jugs in the shade outside their villages and houses for communal use and passers-by - a few times, soaked with sweat from biking the bike up, I would gladly forgo any puri-tabs and quench myself with this graciousness.
I even found a tree out in the middle of it all for a break in the shade.
I rolled into Dongola very dirty and tired. It was 9 hours of riding and it was only about 200km!! That's an average of maybe 23km/h. I bunked up and set out the next day, the final 500km stretch to Khartoum. There were rumours that there would even be pavement!! The route did run along what seemed an ancient paved highway that would crop its tarred head out periodically, but the riding again was rough track and sand and gravel and it sucked. But id didn't fall down!! That is, until I did actually reach the pavement What a stupid fall. But you've already read what happened.
I just have the one last picture from Sudan
my poor Mario, caged like a wounded animal before being shipped off to South Africa. Look at that ramshackle affair? I had it done in the marketplace. I can't believe they let it on the plane like that.
Just to assuage my bruised ego, I received an email from the London couple (Rich & Camilla, who in fact live up the road from me) in a land rover who I met in Aswan en route to Sudan who made it all the way to (in their words) 'CarTomb':
We're all wondering how you got on on that nightmare road from Wadi Halfa... Rich and I are still in Khartoum having had a serious amount of work done on our landy (broken exhaust, burnt out heater plugs, ignition problems, snapped roofrack etc...)
We took the road from Dongola to Karima which was a desert track - I think you were going to try to see Jebal Bharkal pyramids but I hope you didn't take this track as it was sand all the way...Then we took the shocking 'tarmac' road down to Khartoum and went too fast which is where things started to go wrong for our land rover (not helped by the road from Wadi Halfa a few days earlier!)
Anyway, hope all's well with you and good luck for the rest of your trip.
See!! It's not just me that had troubles!! =)