From Suffolk to Khartoum
On the 20th February I was back home in Suffolk, UK, spending time with my family, unsure of what’s to come next after just finishing my job in London.
Just over 3 weeks later, 9th March, I’m on my way to Heathrow to join team pole pole for two months - a small part of their epic 12 month cycle tour from Cairo to Cape Town.
Arriving at Khartoum airport with my bike and a couple of bags I was met by Ayman, a mutual connection who has now become a dear friend to the whole group.
Whilst in Khartoum we were lucky enough to be staying in Khalto (aunt) Nagwa’s beautiful family home with Elshiek, Duah and the wonderful Tali - all of whom are family to a close friend of mine from school, Sutwo. I want to use this part of the post to thank Tayseer (Sutwo’s mum) for arranging for the group to stay at her family’s wonderful house - it made our time in Khartoum very special.
Sitting in the garden, impatiently looking through the gate to wait for the others to arrive after completing their huge stint of cycling 800km in a week, I began to hear some faint
Sudanese music and some voices shouting ‘Hola Holaaaa’. The group were now all together, Ruff Trax joined Hookookoo, Bumble Bee, Tassajara and Mountain Bluebell, and they were ready for a few days of resting and feasting on some of the best home cooked Sudanese food made by the lovely Maria and Khalto (aunt) Nagwa.
From here on they would tackle the rest of Sudan heading south towards the Ethiopian hills.
One evening as the sun was dropping in Khartoum, Elshiek kindly offered to take us out on a boat trip down the Nile. Ayman joined us and we set off just after sunset on an old river cruise boat. The water was calm as we cruised down the river at dusk, listening to stories from the team’s trip since leaving Cairo and looking back on the city where the weekend was just beginning.
Waking at 5am we cycled through the quiet city to Tuti Island for sunrise- an island where the Blue and White Nile meet to form the main Nile.
Reaching the sand we locked our bicycles up and started walking towards the water over a completely deserted island where we found a spot to watch the sun peep over the horizon and rise to the height of the day.
Meandering back to our bicycles we reached them to realise that both Angus’ and Jess’ saddles had been stolen. A solid moment of disbelief and denial; first thought was that one of the others had hidden them as a prank.
Robbie followed some fresh tracks into the sand dunes and after describing what had happened to Mohammad, a local farmer, he and his friend helped us search.
Visualising where the saddles might be and following the childlike footsteps in the sand we were feeling confident about the possibility of finding them.
The owner of the farm made a call to a friend who may know who took them and after putting down the phone rode off on my bicycle - to where we weren’t sure!
He returned 15 minutes later with a smile on his face but due to our broken Arabic we were still unsure if he had found them.
Shortly after, a young boy started walking towards us holding both seat posts, with a look of guilt across his face.
We smiled as he shook our hands, handed back the saddles and stood by the tractor waiting for the farmers to have a word with him.
Thanking Mohammad for his help and saying goodbye we headed back to the house but not before stopping for some handmade coffee by the side of the now bustling city streets.
Our time in Khartoum had come to an end, so we said our goodbyes to Khalto (aunt) Nagwa and her family with some plants we had bought them from a nearby nursery to say thank you, got back in the saddles and headed south towards the desert. Robbie would be staying one more day to collect a parcel but would catch us up, probably in no time the following day.
We loved cycling along these quieter roads appreciating the peaceful and simple lifestyle the locals lead here. We came through a small village where there was a real sense of community with young boys racing us on their bicycles, a group of lads playing football whilst others sat at the side spectating and clapping. Our first night out of the city would be spent camping behind a police checkpoint. Welcoming us for some milky chai we sat with the officers positioned at this station before lighting our own fire, cooking some lentils and then boiling some custardy type pudding called Madeda that Duah generously bought us that morning before we left.
Leaving the checkpoint behind we cycled off-road alongside a dried up river bed, riding over humps and bumps before we realised we could go no further. We turned inland and went towards the road, soon to be looking out for a fuul stop for lunch. By the time we reached lunch, somehow Robbie ‘the warrior’ had managed to catch us up after leaving Khartoum that morning and cycling twice the distance we had in almost half the time.
Again, we found the locals to be so welcoming, inviting us to drink coffee with them whilst we waited for the searing heat to cool down before setting off for the afternoon. A young boy who spoke little English asked me if I could share some of my music with him via Bluetooth as he had no internet. This is something I used to love doing with friends at school, about a decade ago before the days of WiFi and 3/4G. Sadly I only have music on my Spotify, a streaming service yet to reach Sudan meaning I no longer own any of the music I listen to. It was a real shame not to be able to share my music, but I managed to change the language on his phone to English and write the names of some of my favourite artists, so if he does hopefully get internet access he would be able to listen to them.
That evening we set up camp underneath some trees in a dusty field just as the sun was dropping. Elshiek and his friends made a massive effort by driving 80kms from Khartoum to come and camp with us. We stayed up sharing stories of our families, drinking tea and having a barbecue.
At our first water stop the next day, two guys pulled up to say hello in none other than a Toyota Hylux - pretty much the only car we’ve seen on the roads in Sudan. They introduced themselves and welcomed us to Sudan - their names were Haider and Abdullah and they both worked in agriculture. Haider and Abdullah began talking to us about freedom and peace all over the world and how no matter what our nationality, background or beliefs, we are all equal and should be able to live together in peace - defining just one of the many reasons we are on this journey.
We rested and ate at an intimate, hessian and bamboo built fuul stop where we sat, sharing our food, topping up on peanuts and chatting with the locals. We cycled on until the sun began to set before pulling off the main road down a smooth dirt track, finding a quiet spot to relax and sleep for the night .
Next we arrived in Wad Madani, a small town where we would stock up on supplies and I would be graced with my first experience of Sudanese mini falafel nuggets - a snack that would become a daily habit of mine for the rest of our time here. Cycling on after a long lunch break at an almost deserted fuul stop we reached a town called Alshbarga.
We had been kindly invited to stay in the house owned by a family who lived next door. Jess and I went for a sunset wander around the town when I met Abdullah, a 27 year old economics graduate from Red Sea university. Following suit of every other welcoming Sudanese person we had met so far, he invited me for dinner at his house asking if I would like to eat a small chicken with him. I told him that would be lovely but I would let him know once I’d spoken to the group, so we exchanged numbers to organise a plan later on.
It turned out that we would be eating with the family who’s house we were staying in so, after sprucing up, we were called by a man who we thought was part of the family to come and have dinner with them.
Following him to another house just down the road, still under the impression this was who originally invited us for dinner we were introduced to his brother Almadylan who spoke well and worked as a conservationist in Wad Madani. He started telling us we would be sleeping at his house that night and eating dinner with him and his family. Realising we had been politely hijacked, as this was not who had first invited us for dinner, we compromised, deciding that it would be fair to eat with Almadylan as he had just bought food for us, but sleep at the first house where we had already settled.
It was at this moment we heard a loud clucking/screeching noise coming from just outside the wall of the house. I heard my name being called so went closer towards the sound and when I got to the gate, there was Abdullah standing there holding a small chicken by its legs with a beaming smile on his face as he offered me the very much still alive and clucking chicken. Feeling slightly panicked about what I was meant to do with this chicken, I laughed and had to explain to Abdullah we would now be eating with Almadylan, but thank you for his generous offer - although I’m not sure what I would have done if I had accepted it!
My first week in Sudan had flown by. Already I had learnt so much, but there was one thing that continually stood out - the kind-heartedness and generosity that ran through every person we had met so far in this beautiful country. I can’t help but feel sad that so much of what is portrayed in the media of such a wonderful place and its people, only sheds negative light on what is actually the most friendly and hospitable nation. I want to encourage more people to visit Sudan, understand the culture and most importantly, meet and spend time getting to know the local people. It’s seems fitting that coming from such a western culture I end with a thought provoking question - why in a country like Sudan with so little, are the people so generous and warm, yet in the UK and other developed countries with all their wealth, we are so narrow-minded that we overlook the real happiness that comes from human kindness?