Sudan

I rode through Abu Simbel to the ferry “port”. 5 buses and lots of pedestrians embarked after me and we were soon making our way across Lake Nasser, a 500km long reservoir formed by the High Nile Dam in Aswan.

I chatted to some people on the ferry. This guy wanted me to take a picture of him.
Arriving at the “port”

After the 5 buses from my ferry passed, I had the road to myself. Initially the road went along the side of Lake Nasser, so there was a strong contrast between a massive lake on one side and desert the other.

After a couple kilometres the road turned south and a tailwind pushed me along to the Sudanese border. After about half an hour three vehicles passed, then nothing for the remaining 45 minutes to the border.

Reaching the border

I cycled past the line of parked trucks at the border. I’d arrived at 9 AM, and the border wasn’t yet fully open. There were two places I needed to pay and receive documents on the Egyptian side so I went to one of these then waited, and went to the other when the guy arrived. A Sudanese man called Mohammed spoke good English and helped me out here.

With these documents in hand, I was allowed through the gate into the Egyptian area. They scanned my bags, but when I said that my saddle bag and frame bag were too awkward to take off they were fine to skip those.

I handed in my passport and had to wait a while for the stamp. In the meantime I exchanged my remaining Egyptian Pounds for Sudanese Pounds. The Sudanese Pound has been devalued massively in the last few years. In 2015 the official rate was about 1USD:3SDG, with a black market value of about 20 SDG. Then they allowed the currency to float so the official rate matched the black market. Then it devalued to 1:50, then 1:300 and most recently to about 1:440. The largest note I received was 500.

Once I’d got my passport stamped I went to the gate to exit the Egyptian area. For some reason they weren’t opening that gate. It was the usual Egyptian Police game of “5 minutes,” “5 minutes” for about 45 minutes, until the relevant bureaucrat showed up to process my papers.

I cycled over to the Sudan gate, which was also closed. There I met Mazar, a fixer who’s mentioned on pretty much every online post about crossing this border. He charges overlanders $50 to process their vehicle papers, and border officials are mysteriously unhelpful until that payment has been made, after which everything goes much more smoothly.

He didn’t try to charge me anything though, but took my PCR test and got it stamped. An immigration official showed up and took my passport, had me fill in a form, then disappeared.

There were some more money changers here. They initially offered to exchange my dollars at a rate about 10% below market rate. When they moved to 4% below market rate I exchanged $100. Later someone showed up and offered 4% over market rate; I’m not sure what was up with that.

Someone else showed up with my passport and had me fill in another form, then they he disappeared as well. When he showed back up my passport went to the police. At last it was returned to me, with an entry stamp! I was allowed to ride away from the border, about three and a half hours after I’d arrived.

Kilometre markers counting down to Khartoum, starting at 930

A tailwind and a gradual downhill saw me flying along to Wadi Halfa, the first town on the Sudanese side, about 35km from the border. There’s a requirement in Sudan that tourists register with the police within 3 days of entering, so I planned to do so here. I rode into town and checked into a hotel.

I went to the police station, but it turned out they were closed for the day. I was told to come back the next morning. I then went to buy a sim card. The first shop was closed, and the second had a fault with their system, and I was told to come back the next morning. Next up I needed to repair the zip for my framebag. I went to the market and at last I was not told to come back the next morning!

I asked around a bit and someone kindly guided me first to a shop where we bought a length of zip, then to a cobbler to get this zip seen on. However as it turned out this cobbler had zippers that were compatible with my old zip. This was a better solution as the zip currently on my framebag was a much sturdier one than the one I’d bought.

I tried the phone shop again later in the afternoon, but they’d closed. I grabbed a couple falafel sandwiches and returned to my hotel.

I’d been told the phone shop opened at 7 and the police station at 9. But at 7.30 I found the phone shop closed and the police station open, so I went there first. It took about an hour for me to officially register as an alien, receiving a piece of paper and passport stamp as proof.

Officially an alien

Next up was a sim card. The phone shop was now open so off I went. This took a lot longer than expected but after 2 hours I did eventually end up with a functional sim card.

It had now been about 5 days since I’d had a full day of cycling so I was very keen to get back to it. Now that I had these things sorted I should be able to ride uninterrupted to Khartoum.

It was almost 11 when I finally left Wadi Halfa. In Egypt, the cultivated land covered a wide strip. Even when the road was 10 kilometres from the Nile, it would be in a well-irrigated and populated area. In Sudan, that is not the case. Although the Nile was only a few kilometres away, the road was surrounded by desert.

Along the side of the road I passed lots of dead cows. Apparently they are transported great distances along this road without a great deal of water. As they near the end of the journey, the drivers throw out the ones which died of dehydration.

I gladly did not die of dehydration. After about 50 kilometres I reached the first of many water caches, in this case several barrels of water at the side of the road. I used the website of another cycle tourer (http://www.ithaka.im/worldbiking/route-sudan-wadi-halfa-dongola-karima-bayuda-barra-khartoum) which has a very helpful list of water sources for Sudan.

My rear tyre went flat in the evening – again on the inner side. I definitely need to do something about my rim tape.

In the evening I made my way away from the road and set up camp, behind some rocks so I wouldn’t be visible from the road.

There was a very strong wind (while I was riding, it was a very pleasant tailwind) and I found it difficult to sleep. If I had the tent doors open, sand blew all over me. When they were closed, it was too hot. I tried sleeping in a few different places to no avail. Eventually I gave up, packed up, and started cycling at 2 AM.

I rode for a couple hours, then stopped at a storm drain. I lay down and managed to get about an hour and a half of sleep, before it got light. I then started cycling again.

I managed to sleep in the pipe on the left

For a while the road went close to the Nile. Even just a few hundred metres away from it, there was desert. Little more than a line of trees bordered the river.

A village. Most houses seemed empty.

For the most part the wind here had been a tailwind, but for a couple of hours here I had a tailwind as the road went east, and ever so slightly north. The difference is remarkable; when the tailwind returned my speed more than doubled as my effort reduced.

A camp populated by people searching for gold

I had a puncture again (rim tape on the back wheel). After replacing the tube I resumed cycling, then stopped for lunch at a cafeteria – a beef stew with bread. It was a bit spicy and as I was already sweating buckets from cycling in the hot weather, it made me briefly light headed.

There was a woman at the cafeteria who, although she had a headscarf, wasn’t really wearing it properly. That is quite unusual in conservative, Islamic Sudan. As it turned out she wasn’t Sudanese but rather Ethiopian, having moved to Sudan a year ago due to the conflict in Tigray. As a Christian she was finding adjusting to the Islamic culture difficult.

The wind died down for the last couple hours of the day. I filled up my water then camped in a walled yard next to an abandoned building. Thankfully I slept a lot better than the night before.

The wind was back again in the morning and I quickly covered the 50 or so kilometres to Dongola, a city of about 14000 people which is by far the largest city in the region. There was some farmland as I got nearer the city.

Crossing the Nile

There were a couple things I wanted to get in Dongola. After asking a couple people for directions, I made my way to a bike shop and bought some patches – with so many punctures recently I was running low. The bike shop owner took me to a hardware store where I bought some electrical tape, which I planned to use to reinforce my worn rear rim tape.

From Dongola it was back to the desert. It is constantly windy here so the relative direction has a massive impact. Initially I had a tailwind, but for the afternoon it was a tiring headwind.

It’s rare to go more than a few kilometres without passing a water supply, usually in the form of clay pots filled with water from the Nile. In Egypt I lost the cap for my water bladder so I haven’t been able to drink from it, but it works well as part of a gravity filtration system.

It’s not particularly fast, but a lot easier than manually squeezing the water from a bottle

A tailwind conveniently arrived during the last few kilometres, just as I was trying to find somewhere to camp. I found a spot with three buildings. One, next to the road, had lots of water-filled clay pots. One seemed like a disused cafeteria, well sheltered but visible from the road. The third was a square building, only partially constructed and so exposed to the wind, but hidden from the road. I initially set up camp there but moved to the second building when the wind picked up.

I had a tailwind in the morning, but not for long. Pretty soon I was slogging away into a headwind. Around noon I reached a small queue of vehicles, which I assumed to be due to roadworks. It turned out to be a protest. The road crossed a canal here (very rare in Sudan!), and about 200 men were blocking the bridge, and had laid down lines of branches at either end and set them on fire. They let me through though.

A little while later a guy in a pickup passed me and gestured for me to stop. I did, but I didn’t understand anything I was saying. When I went to leave he got quite annoyed and I spoke to him again, but he didn’t speak any English. Eventually I just cycled on. He followed me for a few minutes then turned around and drove off.

Eventually the headwind came to an end as the road turned south. The Nile makes a big bend to the east, which the road I’m taking cuts across. At this turning there were several shops and cafeterias, where I bought some food and a nice cold 2L bottle of 7up. Some kids were following me around demanding money but they gave up eventually.

The road got a lot quieter now that it was away from the Nile. Less traffic and a tailwind, definitely an improvement! However I was feeling a bit unwell, which I think may have been heat exhaustion. It was early in the afternoon and I’d already drunk 8 litres or so of water. I was finding it difficult to drink enough water, made warm by the sun and often still tasting quite earthy even after filtering. I stopped and took a long break, and filtered some water given to me by some workers on a date farm.

A heap of glass bottles at the side of the road. From sand they came, to sand they return.

I started riding again about an hour before sunset, and rode on until it got dark. I could see a building in the distance so I made my way over there and slept inside.

I was up before dawn and managed to get at least an hour of cycling done before it got light. I had a tailwind for a little while but that soon became a headwind and progress became slow.

Considering the distance from the Nile there was often a surprising amount of foliage. Herds of camels grazed at the roadside.

By late morning the heat was getting to me again. I moved only short distances between breaks and then stopped and rested in the shade of a small building for several hours.

Distance wise, I was now in the awkward position where I would almost certainly make it to Khartoum tomorrow, but it would probably be quite late in the day. To avoid that, I cycled on for a couple hours past dark. There was very little traffic at night and I could see for several kilometres so it seemed safe. Eventually I stopped and slept in yet another abandoned building.

Oct 16: 73 km

Oct 17: 126 km

Oct 18: 231 km

Oct 19: 142 km

Oct 20: 130 km

Oct 21: 178 km

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