Addis Ababa, 7 January 2003


The section from Khartoum to Addis Ababa (where we are now) has been the toughest of the trip so far. Strong headwinds in eastern Sudan followed by the hills and mountains of Ethiopia were made more challenging by illness of one kind and another – nothing particularly serious, but dodgy stomachs, heat exhaustion and throat infections made the cycling harder.

This has, however, also been one of the more interesting parts of the journey.

After Khartoum the landscape changed from desert to grassland, with villages of thatch huts and more wildlife. It also seemed to get hotter and in particular did not cool down enough to sleep well at night. We’ll try to post some photos of one of the more unusual places we’ve found to camp – under the wing of an old aircraft in a large field of abandoned planes (the computer won’t let us upload photos at the moment).

We had more opportunities in this part of Sudan to meet some of the local people and hear their stories – from Darfur refugees to a local imam and a farmer who invited us to stay in his home. The farmer told us how during the war in Sudan he armed himself when he heard on the radio that rebels planned to requisition his house and how he feared war again if the south of Sudan vote for independence in January.

Crossing Sudan was a rewarding part of the trip, but we were glad to arrive at the town of Gallabat and the next country: Ethiopia.

The landscape and people changed dramatically as we started to climb through the Ethiopian hills. There was much more greenery, wildlife and people than there had been in Sudan. We have also appreciated the cooler temperatures in the highlands.

The countryside in Ethiopia has been impressive, with dramatic views across the valleys and mountains. One of the most spectacular sections (although toughest on the legs!) was the Blue Nile Gorge, where the road falls 1000m to the river and then rises 1000m on the other side.

Less enjoyable is the menace that is the Ethiopian yoof. All day every day children run to the roadside to meet us, shrieking “you! you!”, “money, give money” and sometimes follow up by throwing stones or sticks. They are quite persistent, often running for some distance with the bicycles, even up steep hills (we realise now why Ethiopia has produced so many great marathon runners!). This gets quite irritating at times and does make Ethiopia a much less enjoyable place to be than it could be.

Whilst the majority of children seem to be like this – and we suspect the adults are encouraging them to ask for money – there are also plenty of people, children and adults, who just want to say hello, or ask where we are from, or where we are going (although the grammatically incorrect “where are you go” can get a little much at times too!).

It is good to be in Addis Ababa, where, according to the Ethiopian calendar it is 7 January 2003.

We always enjoy reaching a capital city because of the chance to eat some different food. Our diet ‘on the road’ typically consists of bread, jam, banana and biscuits for breakfasts, bread, processed cheese, biscuits and banana for lunch, pasta or rice with vegetables and tuna for dinner and snacks of bread and biscuits in between. So it was a treat to dine at a good Italian restaurant in Addis Ababa yesterday.

We have seen some reminders in Addis Ababa that it is nearly Christmas, such as the ‘Merry Christmas’ sign in the hotel reception, but Christmas in the UK seems a long way away. Our Christmas will probably be spent on the road in southern Ethiopia, towards the Kenyan border.

We probably won’t post another blog until the New Year, when we reach Nairobi, so Merry Christmas and Happy New year to all blog readers!


All of a Sudan we’re in Khartoum…


We’ve found Sudan to be a place of huge contrasts. Our experience of the country has challenged many of our preconceptions (most of which were based on international news reports about Dafur).

The country has felt very safe to travel in and the people have been very welcoming and interested to talk about our journey. The roads have been some of the best roads of the trip (Europe included), with good surfaces and little traffic.

We’re blogging from a Khartoum campsite – the Blue Nile Sailing Club – at the centre of which lies listing in dry dock Kitchener’s ship from the 1898 battle of Omdurman (now used as an office and general storerooms). There is a gentle breeze coming off the river, which flows by to our left. On the table in front of us we have delicious strawberry and banana fruit juice drinks. We’ve been chatting to the staff about the trip and doing our best to use a few words of Arabic we’ve picked up. It all feels so civilised.

However, behind us lies the Palace of President Bashir – a man for whom the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for war crimes. His high security motorcade passed us yesterday. And whilst many parts of the country are currently peaceful, there is a referendum in January on independence for the oil rich south – the predicted vote for succession risks dragging the country back into chaos.

Our positive experience in Sudan feels so removed from the country’s problems; the two sides to Sudan can seem quite difficult to reconcile.

Whilst Sudan has for us been an easy country to be in, things didn’t look that way a week or so ago when we were in Aswan. The delay while we waited for the ferry meant the Sudanese visas we picked up in Cairo appeared to expire in only a few days, but the Sudanese consulate in Aswan was closed for Eid and would not reopen until after the ferry we needed to catch had left.

We speculated on what the consequences of being in Sudan on an expired visa might be, but in the end decided to take a punt, based on the reassurance of the person who sold us the ferry tickets who said our visas were valid for a month provided that we arrived in the country within the period the visa was issued for (the right answer as far as we were concerned!).

We were told to arrive at Aswan port, which is close to the Aswan High Dam, at 8am. The various checks and controls were completed quite quickly and we boarded the ferry and found a good spot to sit in the shade under a lifeboat on the top deck. The ferry spent the rest of the day in the port and did not leave until after 4pm – one of the photos we’ve posted is our view from the ferry of barges being loaded.

The crossing was worth the wait, as we were able to sleep on the deck under the stars with the full moon reflected on the calm waters of the lake. And at dawn we passed the temple at Abu Simbel, which was just lit by the rising sun.

The ferry is a bottle-neck for people travelling overland through East Africa and we met several people with four wheel drive vehicles and a few cyclists. Amongst the cyclists was a 62 year old Serbian man, who spoke no language other than Serbian and had serious burns on his legs after having set fire to his tent whilst he was in it in Egypt. We met one cyclist riding up Africa in Sudan and a couple more at the campsite in Khartoum (there is quite a grapevine among the overland travellers – the cyclists we’ve met knew already that there were some brothers cycling through Sudan)

The ferry docked at Wadi Halfa, northern Sudan, around mid-morning, although it took another few hours and some more bureaucracy until we were able to leave the boat and start cycling again. We are grateful to the Chinese roadbuilders who had completed a new road in northern Sudan, so that the tough sand and gravel section we’d been expecting was gone – and we could put the faster tyres we’d just taken off back on. With a good tail wind and a quiet road the kilometres quickly disappeared.

The landscape of northern Sudan is rocky desert, which the Nile runs through, forming a green ribbon of lush vegetation. Villages of mud brick construction are clustered by the river.

We stopped at one village to buy food and were approached by a policeman who asked us to come to his office, which we did. He asked to see our passports and, in broken English, told us that our visas were about to expire. After some friendly chat about how great Sudan was and giving him a pack of cigarettes, he was happy to let us go, but it did raise the concern that were were about to travel further into Sudan on expired visas, so we made sure that we camped in the desert rather than stay at any hotels and attract attention from any more policemen!

After following the Nile for a few days, we then crossed the Nubian desert. One of the photos we’ve posted is Chris filling up with water at the roadside. Then we arrived in Khartoum where shiny office blocks quickly replaced the mud-brick buildings we’d been passing for days.

We have spent quite a lot of time in Khartoum over the last couple of days battling bureaucracy to sort out our Ethiopian visas and register as foreign nationals in Sudan. But it’s all done now, so we shall set off tomorrow for Ethiopia, which is about four or five days away.

It will be good to find cooler temperatures in the mountains, but we’ve read many reports of Ethiopia being a tricky place to cycle through, with children throwing rocks at cyclists being one of the main menaces…

Our next rest stop is Gondar, western Ethiopia.




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After some deliberation, we decided to cross Egypt through the WesternDesert (the eastern part of the Sahara). At 1800km over 13 days the route was about twice as far as the other routes, but we were enticed by the prospect of desert cycling on quieter roads and away from the police escorts we understood would accompany us on the other routes.

We just needed to get to the edge of the desert at Cairo without being stopped by the police, as the owner of the hotel had said we would be….

Cycling central Cairo would have been madness, so we decided to take a taxi with our bicycles on the roof to the edge of the city and start from there. It was not entirely straightforward to explain to a taxi driver where we wanted to go, but in the end we managed to communicate what we needed and a driver agreed to take us.

At 5.30am we left Cairo in our taxi, were dropped near the edge of the desert and we set off, glad to be on our way again. After a few kilometres we approached the first police checkpoint with some apprehension, but to our relief the police waved us on and we were off!

The road through the desert joined up several oases and the first one was 360 kilometres away, which we needed to ride in three days. We had stocked up on food and water as we had little information about what would be available before the oasis.

As the first morning passed a strong headwind built, which slowed us and we realised that some of the desert cycling would be quite tough. It was however helpful that the road followed a freight railway line because every 30km or so there was a small manned signal post and (as with posts further down the line) we were able to find shade and take tea with the railwayman.

As night was falling we came across an ambulance station, where we were welcomed and given tea and spent the night on the floor of the ambulance garage. It was one of a variety of places we found to sleep/camp in the desert – we also camped at the foot of a communications mast and slept on the floor of a police station (see photos)

On the third day we saw some birds flying across the desert and we realised the first oasis was not far. After resting in the oasis and buying food and water we moved on into the desert, which became more remote and beautiful. The railway stopped and traffic dropped to a few cars and trucks an hour, although there were still occasionally ambulance stations and simple concrete shelters which provided shade. We crossed the black desert and then the white desert – camping in the white desert a highlight, amongst its strange white rock formations.

The toughest part of cycling through the desert was the wind, not the heat. On the long and often straight desert road we battled into headwinds for hours, watching wisps of sand dance along the road and willing the road to turn just a few degrees off the wind to make the cycling easier. But the hard work seemed worthwhile when we turned a corner and tail winds let us glide quickly through the desert with much less effort.

On a few occasions we cycled at night, by choice at times for the cooler conditions and at times by necessity so we could make the next oasis before we ran out of food and water. It was exhilarating to ride under big starry skies, feeling the cooler night breeze on our faces.

Towards the end of the desert, we stopped to cook food and were seen by some police who then followed us to the next town, to the shop where we bought food and water and on the road out of town and then stopped and watched us as we took a break for lunch. It was irritating to be followed so closely after having so much space in the desert, but we realised we’d avoided the worst of police escorts with the route we’d chosen.

We were most apprehensive about the last section of desert because we had been told that it was the most remote, with no places to get food, water or shelter, and it was also directly into the strongest headwind that we’d faced. We needed to stock up for three days’ cycling, which meant each of us carrying around 14 litres of water and lots of food.

To start with the going was very tough and we struggled to make any progress into the wind, but shortly into the second day we had some luck just when we needed it and the wind dropped so that it was lighter than anywhere else we’d been in the desert and we made good progress.

Then, a day later, we arrived at the Nile valley – the sounds and smells a contrast with the dry simplicity of the desert. We quickly arrived at the town of Edfu, where we visited the Temple of Horus and the next day cycled to the outskirts of Aswan, where we are now, resting in a Nubian-style mud-brick house.

We have to wait here until 22 November and the next boat that we can take to Sudan. We are looking forward to some rest, but are also a little frustrated that we need to wait so long before we can move on. Still, for me (Chris) finally a chance to read some books – my luxury items!

We will also now change the tyres on our bicycles to the heavy duty tyres we’ve been carrying as we have read that there is a lot of sand and gravel on the first few hundred kilometres in Sudan…

It will probably be early December before we can blog again, which we hope to be able to do in Khartoum.

A change of plan (or two)

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Shortly after leaving Rome we contacted the container ship company to confirm our booking, but were told that our ship’s scheduled sailing date had been delayed by several days. We did not want to get behind an already relatively tight schedule at such an early stage and were increasingly concerned that the Israeli authorities might insist on stamping our passports (which would mean we would need new passports before we could enter Sudan) and so decided to change our plans by cancelling the ship booking and instead taking a flight from Italy to Sharm El Sheikh.

We’d been reluctant to take any flights during the trip because to do so might mean losing some of the continuity of a journey by land and sea, but in the circumstances it seemed the best thing to do. We spent a very late night packaging the bikes ready to fly and fortunately Egyptair took our bikes and gear without excess charge and all the kit arrived in Egypt undamaged.

From Sharm El Sheikh we hoped it would be straightforward to continue on our original route plan by taking the short boat ride to Hurghada and then riding down Egypt. But the best laid plans…. The boat to Hurghada was “not working” and it was difficult to get much sense of whether/when it would work again.

So with another change of plan, we took a taxi to Cairo, which is where we are now.

All these changes have actually worked out quite well because it means we should be able to do the ‘classic’ Cairo to Cape Town route. We now just need to decide on our route down Egypt – east coast, Nile or western desert. Hmmm, decisions, decisions…

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