Maps of Sudan  

Audrey writes:

The only border crossing from Egypt to Sudan is on the ferry across Lake Nasser, the huge body of water created by the Aswan High Dam. After paperwork, a little 'baksheesh' (tipping), and passport stamps, we were heading to the ferry. Loading was slightly chaotic, as the regular barge was not making the trip because of Eid holiday. This is where each family buys a sheep and slaughters it on the first day of the festivities. Tom wanted our group to purchase one, but it would not have been practical, being on a ferry and all. With no barge being pulled behind the boat, cargo filled every bit of space, including the decks. It was unbelievable how much these guys were carrying onto the ferry. If I hadn't seen a guy with a refrigerator on his back, I wouldn't have believed it possible. Talk about the ultimate carry-on luggage. The bikes went on last so we had to wait a few hours until Captain Jihad gave us the go ahead. The boat was not quite flush with the ramp, and the bikes had to be lifted down. Each of the thirty people milling about tried to help and yell instructions, which added to the confusion. Eventually all six bikes were squeezed into the hallway and the ferry was off.  We were very fortunate to have first class cabins, which gave us a place to sleep and leave our stuff. But, alas, our door had no lock, just a gaping hole where the door handle should be, so we locked our bags in our Packsafe (wire mesh cover), and stuffed tissue into the door hole. The sunset on Lake Nasser was really special, and stars came out almost immediately. Prayer carpets also appeared as if by magic and all the Muslims turned towards Mecca, 900 km straight east. Ekke and I stood on some deckspace reserved for cabin passengers and listened to the gentle chug chug of the ferry in the night. He found Abu Simbel and the Sudanese border on his GPS, both of which we would be passing by while we were sleeping. Supper of a boiled egg, salad and fuul (mashed fava beans) was included, and we knew this was what the cuisine would be like for a while. The ferry docked at 11 am the next morning. Unloading was just as chaotic as loading, with security trying to keep non-passengers from getting near the doorway of the boat. There was a lot of yelling, and a bit of pushing as a fight nearly broke out. When people started to lift their goods over Robin's bike, often hitting it in the process, we knew we'd better get the bikes off as quickly as possible. They had to be lifted up to the ramp and through crowds of people all pushing to get their refrigerators and chip boxes off first. Robin's bike sustained a bit of damage with a mirror being bent off. In the customs hall Matteo met some other Italian travellers just leaving Wadi Halfa.  One guy had spent two days in a Sudanese jail, apparently for taking a picture of the Blue and White Niles meeting from a bridge in Khartoum. Mental note: no pictures from bridges. Carnets cost 56 Sudanese Pounds ($28) to get stamped, 16 SP for the carnets and the rest into the pocket of the official for doing the paperwork. He wouldn't give us our papers until we paid this fee. Customs cost us 20 SP. Wadi Halfa was just a dusty little town with mud brick houses, a few small shops and a market. After eating some fuul and felafel, we stocked up on water, fruit and aish (pita bread), and headed off into the desert. My first experience with sand was upon me, and it kind of took me by surprise. The sand seemed to have a mind of its own, putting the front wheel wherever it felt like. The tendency is to brake when the bike starts fishtailing, but this just makes it worse. It's a careful balance, trying to keep going straight while not overcorrecting or doing a quick manoeuvre. I had a lot to learn. So, I called upon my experiences in Canada, driving through a half metre of snow, and maybe that helped a bit. Tom found us a great spot by the Nile, and Matteo and Robin built us a fire. Lapo had elected to stay in Wadi Halfa in a 'hotel', but the sand floors and grungy beds did not appeal to the rest of us, and it was easy to choose camping.

The last supper before the real adventure: Tom, Lapo, Matteo, Ekke, Audrey and Robin

A fridge is carry on luggage?

That is quite a drop into the boat

Matteo is a bit apprehensive

Cruising on Lake Nasser into the sunset

The desert at the edge of the lake seems so incongruous

Dusty Wadi Halfa

Desert camping

It had been our first camping in a long time, so everyone was a bit disorganized and we got a late start. The first 130 km were very isolated, with no sign of civilization except for the odd roadcrew workcamp (all shut down for the holiday). The road, famous for being rough and challenging, was being paved. We travelled on a few kilometres of new tarmac, which would appear out of nowhere in the middle of the rocky desert. It wouldn't be long before the whole road was paved, so we considered ourselves fortunate to be some of the last to ride the legendary route. It was extremely rocky, with some roller-coaster corrugations thrown in for kilometres at a time. The bikes were shaken so hard that you could just feel the shocks being tested to the max. Stand-up riding was the order of the day, which stabilized the bikes in the rougher sections by lowering the centre of gravity. It also allowed us to steer with our feet, weighting the outside footpeg when turning. Very similar to alpine skiing.  I was really getting used to this type of riding, which was often similar to our ride up the Dempster highway to Inuvik last summer. But unlike the Dempster, we were suddenly surprised by a large patch of sand that we couldn't avoid. I saw Tom fishtailing, then Ekke fishtailing, and then it was my turn. Everything I did was textbook 'wrong', as I hit the brakes and put my feet down to stop myself from falling over. No such luck as I felt the bike get away from me. I overcorrected one way, then the other, and next thing I knew I was tumbling into the sand. The bad thing about having hard saddle bags is that they really hurt when they land on your leg. By putting my foot down, it allowed it to get caught under the bag as I fell to the side, also twisting my ankle. I hit the kill switch on the bike, and Ekke and Tom rushed to see if I was okay. A huge bruise on my calf and ankle was the only injury, thank goodness. As I sat there, I wondered what the next step would be if I had needed medical attention in this isolated area. Being in a group at least increased our chances of someone being able to go for help if need be, but people have often ridden this isolated road by themselves.

Robin is enthusiastic about the ride

Ekke isn't so sure

But Robin is really enjoying it

Go on the adventure before the whole thing is paved!

Tom and Audrey making dusty tracks

Lapo had gone ahead by himself earlier that morning, and we thought he was long gone. But then we came upon him sitting behind his bike for shade. The regulator or electrical system on his BMW R80GS had overheated, and he had called for help on his satellite phone. A truck came from Wadi Halfa a couple of hours after his call. But the bike had cooled enough so that Lapo could keep riding with us, and just stop every now and again to cool it down, so the truck returned to Wadi. A new regulator would then just be sent to Khartoum. Lapo wasn't the only one to experience bike problems. With the corrugation and rocks shaking the life out of the bikes, could we really have been surprised at what happened later that day? Ekke was just riding along, minding his own business, and happened to look down at the space between his map case and handlebars. There, on his steering head, was a gaping hole. The steering head nut was missing!  Now I don't know much about the mechanics of bikes but I was pretty sure that this nut held the handlebars on. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, and things were looking grim indeed. Perhaps we could have a part sent out, but Lapo insisted that a shop could machine something out of an existing nut, probably in Khartoum. I made a rather futile attempt at riding back a few kilometres to look for the nut, while the guys fashioned a covering for the hole using a bottle cap and duct tape. Red Green would have been very impressed (Red Green: Canadian comedian who does fabulous repair jobs with duct tape). There was nothing for it but to keep riding, hoping that the pinch bolts on the forks held the front end together. Ekke would also have to ride 30 kph or so, because the bike felt like it was shaking apart. This would be fortunate for me because I would no longer hit the sandy patches at high speeds.

Lapo's bike breaks down in the middle of nowhere

Riding the corrugations

That doesn't look right

First view of the Nile in a long time

Tom found us a great campsite, again by the Nile, but this time near a small town. Almost immediately the family in a nearby mud brick house came out to greet us. They were so excited by our presence and insisted that we come for tea after we set up camp. Their house was basically a courtyard with sand that looked like it had been swept to a smooth, hard surface. It was surrounded by various rooms with open arched doors, each containing a couple of beds. We were invited to sit on plastic chairs, or on the beds, which had immaculately clean and pressed sheets on them. The concrete floor did not show a speck of sand and they insisted that we keep our boots on in a carpeted area. The walls were painted a deep blue, and a china cabinet stood at one end, full of beautiful dishes. The women served tea, and the men sat and drank it. The women did not join us in the same room and we didn't see much of them except when they offered us popcorn or cookies. Surely we were back in Victorian times where the men retired to their smoking room for a cigar and brandy and the women went to their own salon. Supper appeared as if by magic, a huge bowl of fetta (a puree of meat and bread), rice, and chunks of lamb. Fantastic! Matteo gave our hosts some Torino (Turin, Italy) stickers from his hometown, and we gave them some Canadian flag pins and stickers. The women were quite curious to speak with me, so they stuck their heads in the doorway, and we chatted, with one of the sons translating. The first question is always, "Where are your babies" and it's difficult for them to understand my answer (chose not to have any). I must have seemed like someone from outer space in my dusty motorcycle gear, quite a contradiction to their flowing topes (robes).

Camping in someone's back yard

The next morning we were invited to the Imam's (holy man) home for a quick tea and some delicious homemade cookies. After a few photos, we were once again on the road. What a pleasure to ride by the Nile, going from town to town, seeing an ancient temple perched on an island, avoiding the sand. Every person that we saw, young, old or in between had a huge smile on their face and gave an enthusiastic wave. The road continued to be very rough and corrugated, with big pointy rocks and sand thrown into the mix. Every moment required 100% concentration, and we were exhausted with the mental and physical challenges. I had to peel my hands off the grips when we took a break as I had been grasping so hard without realizing it. We also had to force a few snacks down every now and again to keep up our energy levels, even though eating was the last thing we wanted to do. Water intake was easy as we'd just take a few sips whenever we stopped. Matteo,  Robin and Lapo had Camelbacks (waterbag backpacks with drinking hoses) but I think they had to stop to take a sip anyway in the rough riding conditions The temperature was about 25 C, perfect riding weather and we couldn't imagine doing this route in a warmer season. We easily drank a few litres of water each, per day. Water was available in small towns, in terracotta jugs, so we knew it came straight from the Nile. Eventually we resorted to using it, but it was dark in colour and we had to purify it with our Miox system (salt and water, with a zap of electricity makes a mixture of oxidants that kills viruses and bacteria).

The Imam between Matteo and Lapo and our genial host between Tom and Audrey

Gasoline was another challenge. We stopped at a small town to search for 'benzine', and found a woman who sold some black market gas from a barrel. I took four litres, thinking I could make it to the next known gas station without a problem (should have taken more). The woman was hilarious, talking non-stop from the moment we arrived, always in angry tones, demanding the money, reminding us of how much gas we had taken, asking for correct change, arguing with Tom about the price, yelling in his face. Meanwhile, her minions ran around as if they were about to get a good whipping, doing her bidding, hustling whenever she barked out an order. We nicknamed her the 'Gas Nazi' (for you Seinfeld aficionados), imagining her saying 'No gas for you, one year!" because she didn't like the look of us. Robin duly paid homage to her greatness, getting down on his knees to make his offering of payment, and this seemed to appease the prima donna.

Robin begging for gas

Lapo considers alternate transport after his bike breaks down

Just as we were leaving town, the winds suddenly picked up, and before we knew it, a full-blown sandstorm was upon us. There was a lot of conversation as to whether we should continue or stop. The general consensus was to stop, as the bike filters could never keep up with all that blowing sand. Apparently, sand in a bike's engine is a bad thing. There was a risk of the engine eventually seizing up, which could mean having to get a new engine. Robin found us some huts to take cover behind, building us a sand bridge to ride over a deep gully. There was talk of sandstorms sometimes lasting three days, so we settled in and waited it out. This one seemed to calm down within an hour, and after lunch we were on our way.


Ekke and I brought up the rear of the pack, which was a little unfortunate in one situation. Out in the middle of nowhere, Ekke's bike just died. It just stopped. That was that. We didn't quite go into panic mode, but started talking about the possibility of serious electrical problems, getting a truck to take the bike to Dongola, and how that would happen. I volunteered to ride ahead to get the others, who were probably waiting at the next town. I rode and rode, with no sign of them, stopping for a bit of a dust storm, not wanting to get stranded by myself out there. I was just sitting by the side of the road, taking a break, wishing I had some purified water with me, when I heard the happy sound of a BMW behind me. It was Ekke! Apparently the bike had overheated and restarted again 15 minutes later. Phew! We caught up to the others who were taking a yogurt break beside a small store. Such a luxury in the middle of the desert.

Tom once again found us a fabulous campsite by the Nile, in a grove of palm trees, surrounded by rocky hills. The ride in was through calf-deep sand, and I only needed to be pushed out once. Tom invited us to climb up the hill before the sun set, and we were rewarded with beautiful colours over the swaying palm trees beside the river, all laid out before us. The site was then nicknamed 'Amphitheatre of the Gods' because of our perfect seating area to view the sunset. Our pasta and tomato sauce with cheese tasted delectable that night, the first use of our Dragonfly campstove on the entire trip.

Audrey rides into the Amphitheatre

The perfect camp spot

Looking a little rough but happy

Riding through the deep sand first thing in the morning was a real wake-up call. Immediately the serious concentration began as another nine-hour riding day was underway. Ekke and I, with great relief, rode out of the sand patch without getting stuck. I was still searching for that fine balance of riding the sand: Too fast and I was fishtailing. Too slow and I was stuck. I think I now have sand figured out: Don't ride in it! Lapo left the campsite with us, but soon took off way ahead. The route took us through some remote rocky desert areas. The group was now split up as we had to maintain such a slow speed. Usually at such low speeds a bike gets great fuel economy, and we had been riding in first gear, occasionally in second, for most of the time. It turns out that this really eats up the fuel because the RPM's are so high for long periods of time. We were shocked to find that I had gone on reserve about a hundred kilometres away from the nearest known gas station. I would definitely be on empty way before that. With the Eid holiday, many little stores and markets in the towns were closed. Ekke finally just asked some guys in a town if there was benzine. They jumped into action, finding a small boy to run to someone's house, presumably to get a key. A man came walking over, opened the door to his shop, and siphoned some gas into old 4 litre oil containers. What helpful folk in this remote area. With no more worries about gas, we just carefully rode along, with the others ahead of us. The corrugation, rocks and sand continued. Ekke's bike died again, and not conveniently near any small town. We hoped once again that it was just overheating, and we waited it out together. It started ten minutes later, and we caught up with the group who were sitting behind a house to get out of the wind. As we rode up, we couldn't believe what we saw: bicycles! A couple from South Africa had been riding since February and were now heading up to Wadi Halfa. They had also encountered other Calgarians in Ethiopia, Mike and Ruby. This was the first we had heard of them since they had entered Sudan, so we were glad to hear they were having a successful journey. They also encountered Rene Cormier, a motorcycle traveller who had given a slideshow at one of our Horizons Unlimited meetings (group of motorcycle travellers). Small world.

Yummy oatmeal for breakfast

Blackmarket gasoline

Lapo had been waiting at this spot for a couple of hours and was anxious to be on his way. He said he had tried three different routes, and all were calf-deep in talcum-powder sand. We decided to stick together for this part, so that we could help each other out if necessary. What fantastic people we were riding with! The sand was very deep, and I thought I was doing okay until I came to a small hill. I lost courage just as I was going up, felt the bike slow, and eventually got stuck in the deep sand. As I couldn't paddle my way out, Ekke gave me a push. After getting stuck one more time, we were finally through the sand field, and the road got better after that. The cyclists, going the opposite direction than us, had given us a rough idea of their route, saying they veered off into trackless desert for 30 km. Tom, Ekke and I thought the Nile route would be more interesting, so we went that way. What fun we had riding curvy roads through towns, the rutted sand roads smooth from traffic. The sides were banked so that it felt like we were on a roller-coaster, slaloming our way between houses and rock formations. It was more fun than Disneyland. We found the cyclists' tracks in a small desert off-shoot, so we had taken the same route after all. We arrived in Kerma, a bigger town, just before sunset. It actually had a real gas station. The guys there told us that three bikes had passed through and were going ahead to Argo. Ekke and I wanted to stop riding at dark, and Tom wanted to go ahead, so we told him we might make the 14 km to Argo, but possibly not. As we were so exhausted and every little patch of sand was getting to us we pulled into an area of palm trees, near a water tower to set up camp. Immediately the farmer came out, waved us over, and offered us shelter for the night. It took a lot to convince him that we just wanted to set up our tent in his field. Hassan insisted that we set up in the yard, and he and his family helped set up the tent. We showed him our down sleeping bags and thermarests, and eventually he was convinced that we wouldn't freeze to death overnight. He invited us in for tea, which we accepted. Eight children made for a very lively household. On the bed lay a woman, who had given birth a few days earlier. The baby was not quite as cute as my niece, Maggie, but came a close second. We had our tea in the same room that mom was lying in. Her mother from Khartoum was there to help out. Two other women were also living in the house, and some of the children were theirs. I'm guessing that it was a polygamous relationship, but we weren't quite sure. One of the women, Sellawa, spoke some English, as did Hassan, so we were able to have a bit of conversation. The tea, popcorn, and peanut squares were very welcome after such a long day on the road. We promised to stop by for tea in the morning, and slept peacefully in the cold desert air.

Temple on the other side of the Nile

A typical home along the Nile

Tom on his V-Strom in the sand

Audrey at the Giant's Marbles

Riding across the desert

Ekke writes:

Our host of the previous evening had insisted that we must come for tea in the morning so after we packed up the tent and the bikes we went to the door of the home.  There was no activity so we left a note apologising that we really had to get going.  By 8:30 we were at the ferry dock at Agro.  We found Tom's tire tracks so we asked some of the people gathered for the ferry if they had seen him.  No-one could confirm that Tom had crossed that morning but they did say that three motorcyclists had crossed the previous evening.  We let the 9:00 AM ferry go and checked around town for Tom to no avail so we caught the 10:15 boat across the Nile and hoped he was on the other side.  No tracks were evident at the other side though so we rode to Dongola.  About 10 kilometres out of town we hit pavement, which was pure heaven after the sand and corrugations of the last few days.  At a tire shop we found Tom getting his rear knobby switched over to a street tire.  He had missed the ferry last night so had ridden on the other side of the Nile where the road was really terrible to the ferry at Dongola, arriving at midnight.  At lunch we found that our three Italian friends were still in town so we kept our eyes open and found Lapo wandering down a street.  They had arrived the previous day and were staying at a real dive of a hotel.  Audrey and I debated whether to stay with them, go camping or find a better hotel.  In the end a better hotel won out and we found the Air Port (sic) Hotel on the edge of town.
And more sand
Finally, pavement!

Sunday, we left the hotel just after sunrise and rode south out of Dongola.  A few kilometres later the pavement ended and we were back in our favourites, sand and corrugated gravel.  After a few kilometres of that fun we decided that the paved road must be further out from the Nile so we rode in that direction until we found perfect tarmac.  300 kilometres went by very quickly and then we stopped in the filthy little town of Marawi for fuel and lunch supplies.  From here it was another 300 kilometres of desert riding on brand new pavement to Atbara.  Or almost to Atbara anyway.  The fabulous new highway simply ended at the Nile with a bridge still under construction.  A local told us that the ferry was just a little way down the Nile so we cut through a village on tiny little pathways until we found the boat docked at a dirt embankment.  By the time the boat was loaded and had crossed the river it was getting on 5:30 PM.  Meroe, the site of the ancient Cush pyramids, was our planned destination but with the sun setting at 6:15 it would be a bit of a push to make it before dark.  We didn't make it.  About ten minutes before sunset we pulled off the desert highway and set up camp in the wild.  With the full moon it was incredibly bright and we hardly needed our headlamps to cook supper and set up the tent.  At one point we noticed a set of car headlamps that looked like they were coming in our direction.  Not wanting to attract any attention we tried to stay in the shadows of a thorn bush but the headlights didn't seem to be approaching any closer.  It seemed very odd for them to just be sitting in the desert.  After a while we decided that they weren't coming to investigate us so we continued with our usual business and in the meantime kept an eye on the headlights.


Brand new highway

Leads to a dirt path

Making supper under the full moon

Monday morning dawned with the usual cloudless blue sky.  With daytime highs of about 25 degrees and morning lows of about 10 degrees it was perfect riding and camping weather.  Not bad for the 24th of December!  When we looked over to where the headlights had been last night we were surprised to discover two minarets poking over the horizon.  The lights must have been just at the level of the horizon and appeared to move with the air currents!  Now that our UFO mystery had been solved we were ready to ride to the pyramids.  They were only 40 kilometres south and it was an easy ride on the pavement before we turned off and rode half a kilometre or so of sand and gravel.  These pyramids, much steeper than their  Egyptian cousins, were built between 700 and 300 BC and were absolutely stunning in their desert setting.  Since we wanted to get to Khartoum in the early afternoon we decided to enjoy the pyramids from outside the gate and save paying 20 Sudanese Pounds each for the entry fee.  While the other drivers became a bit more aggressive when we got to within 30 kilometres of Khartoum (especially the minibus drivers) it was nothing compared to Egypt so we enjoyed riding around a little.  I saw the back of a couple of Ducatis at one point so we followed them to the Blue Nile Yacht Club and Campground.  It was Robin and Matteo.  Tom was also set up there and Lapo had gone to the Acropole Hotel.  It was nice to meet up with everyone again and we arranged to go for Christmas dinner that evening at the Acropole.  In the meantime we decided to splurge for Christmas and went to the Khartoum Hilton using a bit of Christmas cash from my folks.  Wow.  It was like entering a different world.  We were back in Western Civilisation, with hot and cold running water, a big comfortable bed and impeccable service.  It was hard tearing ourselves away from it to go to the Acropole but Christmas Dinner was a great way to celebrate our accomplishment of riding to Khartoum from Wadi Halfa.  Robin and Mateo even surprised us with unique Sudanese Christmas gifts.

Another beautiful morning in Sudan

Pyramids of Meroe

Just a little sand for Audrey's entertainment

Can you believe they let the rif raf stay here?

Tom and Matteo are touched by Bing Crosby singing White Christmas

We wear our new Christmas hats

Christmas day was a holiday in Sudan (not necessarily to celebrate Christmas but for some other reason) so we could not obtain our Ethiopian or Kenyan visas.  We looked for a steering head nut at a small motorcycle repair shop but they had nothing that even came close.  A Yamaha motorcycle shop might have something but they were closed as was the BMW car dealership.  All I really want for Christmas is a steering head nut!  The others came over to the Hilton for a fabulous Christmas Brunch.  At 70 Pounds (about $35) it was hideously expensive but the buffet was great and we didn't need to eat any other meals for the day.  The afternoon was spent lounging by the pool working to update the website and then we had a rousing game of ping pong in the recreation room, reminding us of the last time we played ping pong at a Christmas party at Bonnie and Dana's house.

Christmas day brunch cake

Our guardian angels lounge by the pool for a well deserved rest

So far Sudan has been absolutely amazing with stunning scenery and the friendliest, most hospitable people we have ever met.  Once we get the Ethiopian visa and the steering head nut sorted out we will ride to Ethiopia, hopefully meeting Tom to travel the tough roads of northern Kenya together.  Robin and Matteo are on a different schedule, planning to take four weeks to explore Ethiopia while Lapo plans to blast down to South Africa as quickly as possible. If we allow a week per country it will take us six weeks to reach South Africa, giving us just enough time to get new passports and still reach the southern tip of South America before the risk of snow in March (Fall in the Southern Hemisphere).

Updated 16 January, 2008  

Audrey writes:

Khartoum is a big city with some wide boulevards lined with palm trees and flowers, along the Nile. The Blue Nile, from Ethiopia, meets the White Nile, just across from the Hilton Hotel and it was a beautiful area. There were also different parts of the city where people live in cardboard shacks on dirt roads, quite a contradiction. Whenever you stay in a hotel you have to register with the tourist police. The Hilton offered the service of doing the registering for their guests so we tagged along with the fellow so that we could go to the Ethiopian embassy right afterwards. The registration took an hour and a half and our taxi to the Ethiopian embassy took a bit of a circuitous route, so we ended up missing the 11AM submission deadline. What a disappointment as this would put us behind another day. Maybe this is what is referred to as 'African Time', because it seemed to take so long to get things done. Back at the Hilton we asked for a late checkout (maximising our time there!) and Ekke went in search of the steering head nut for his bike while I was able to go on the internet. We packed up and said goodbye to the Hilton when Ekke returned at about 2 PM, and headed over to Blue Nile Marina, It was really a beautiful spot, with a decent lawn for camping and right on the Nile. What a surprise to see Lapo's tent sitting there. Apparently he had ridden towards Al-Qadarif with Tom, and his bike started having electrical problems again. He came back to the big city for a new battery and rotor. Lapo's bad luck was our good luck as he was able to direct Ekke to a motorcycle mechanic where he could get the steering head nut that he needed, and then have it sized on a lathe. Since there were no BMW parts available here, we had to go for the African solution.

Getting ready to make a new steering head nut

On Thursday the 27th Lapo and the Ducati boys, Robin and Matteo, left for Ethiopia. We had no trouble applying for our Ethiopian visa first thing in the morning and then Ekke went to Lapo's motorcycle mechanic. Using the GPS we wound our way through a maze of dirt streets and found it easily. People were always so friendly, offering us some mint tea and moving another bike out of the way to immediately work on Ekke's. I rode back to the marina and took advantage of the sunny 35 C day to get some handwash done. I heard the happy sound of a couple of motorcycles, and two KTM riders from South Africa rode in. Rocco and Steven were riding from Cape Town to London, supposedly in 50 days. And we thought we were on the fast track through Africa. They had lost a few days in Addis Ababa getting their Sudanese visas, and were on a mission to get to the Wednesday ferry to Egypt, which ran once per week. They told some hilarious stories about their adventures so far, such as when they followed the wrong 4x4 to a camping spot and no one knew who they were once they got there. We exchanged tips on interesting sights, roads and border crossings.

Ekke had not returned to the campground by the time we could pick up the Ethiopian visas so I decided to ride over on my own, and got royally lost on the way. At one point I was so excited to be on the correct road, but then it came to a bridge over the Nile. I didn't remember having to cross the river, and when I looked down, I saw the marina campground, with our orange tent sitting there. I was going exactly the wrong direction on the right road. Maybe it's time to ask for a GPS for my birthday. My next plan was to get in the general vicinity of the embassy and hire a taxi to follow to get me right there. After a 15 minute U-turn, who should pull up beside me but my hero, Ekke. He had gotten the bike fixed, picked up the visas, and then saw me riding down the street in the opposite direction. Thank goodness! He had to do a U-turn, ride a block on the sidewalk and then cross an intersection diagonally against the light to catch up to me.

On December 28th, we could finally leave Khartoum in the direction of Ethiopia. The road was paved, with a few potholes and plenty of buses and trucks. So, we got to use the power of the BMW's to constantly pass convoys of vehicles. At one point the temperature reached 39 C, but was a cool 36 C for most of the day. African mud huts were silhouetted by rocky hills as we rode further east, and it was still very desert-like. In a friendly restaurant in a small town, we decided to try the local cuisine. Usually before we order any food we like to know the price, but we couldn't seem to get it out of the server. This sets off the alarm bells, but finally, he just held up his fingers in the shape of an 'O", which meant five Sudanese pounds in Arabic numbers. But, it turns out that the cost of the meal really was zero. Another customer had paid for our food! This gentleman was so excited to see some Canadians trying the local cuisine that it was his pleasure paying for it. The dura, lamb and dumplings with spongy cornbread and fuul were delicious, and we were overwhelmed by the generosity. He was really excited to receive a Canadian flag pin in return.

One more example of Sudanese hospitality

Housing architecture changes as we move east but the ever-present mosque is still there

Al-Qadarif was our destination for the day and we made it easily before sunset. The KTM guys had told us that there were two hotels in town, one not recommended, and one very expensive at $90 US per night. They couldn't get the hotel manager to budge on the price. We tried the cheaper one, which didn't look like such a bad place until we saw the pile of dead cockroaches in a neat pile by the front door. Another one scurried out the door as Ekke checked out the room. A little bug spray probably would have done the trick, but we couldn't get the clerk to budge from $86 US per night. Hating to be held hostage by high prices, we rode east of town to free-camp. Ekke had downloaded some GPS waypoints from a Dutch couple in a 4x4 who had marked where they stayed, ate, or where the police station was. The waypoint was located down a little dirt road, in a field behind a small hill. Perfect. Not wanting to draw too much attention to ourselves, we waited until dark to even attempt to put the tent up. There were these little holes in the dirt that were kind of puzzling, and we wondered what kind of creature lived in there. We soon found out as we cooked a bit of supper. A swarm of yellow jackets descended upon us and it was a hilarious sight as we grabbed our plates of pasta and ran into the nearby field. Later as we were tidying up, we saw a herd of cattle in the distance. They kept getting closer and closer, and it eventually dawned on us that we were sitting right on their pathway. The herders parted the herd and took it around us, but it was a little disconcerting to be in the middle of a group of 100 cows, many of them with very pointy horns. The herders seemed to have a good sense of humour about it, and after a few photos and handshakes, they went on their way. Crazy Canadians!

A dinner interrupted

Smoke was rising up from behind a nearby hill, and we surmised that someone was burning garbage or cooking. But as it started getting dark, we noticed flames and smoke in another field, and then another. Not wanting to be caught in these wildfires, we went to investigate the smoke over the hill and see how close it was. On the way, we spotted another little wildfire burning, about a metre in diameter, and it was burning the surrounding dry grass. We honed our firefighting skills, and threw dirt on it, which seemed to work. Making sure we stamped out the bigger coals, we assessed the situation and decided to move our camp to the middle of a black field, one that had obviously succumbed to a previous fire, and had very little left for fuel. Feeling very safe in the complete darkness, not seen by anyone, we set up the tent without the fly, which is mostly mesh. Lying in the tent and staring at the millions of stars was just unforgettable. Especially when Ekke heard footsteps. We can't be sure what walked by our tent, but we think it was some sort of hoofed animal like a cow or donkey. Slightly scary, though. The wind picked up and the air cooled down, so we put the fly on the tent in the middle of the night and had a fairly restless night dreaming of wild animals.

The middle of a blackened field

We woke to the sound of a bunch of cows being herded into the fields, and packed up quickly, destination: Ethiopian border.  The road was virtually new (apparently the Chinese are investing huge sums in Africa) and it was a breeze to ride the 160 kilometres. Depending on how long the border formalities took, we had high hopes of making it to Gonder in Ethiopia that night.  Little did we know what was in store for us in Ethiopia…

Maps of our route through Sudan  

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