Posted by: Dana | 2010/01/30

Across the Nubian Desert – now in Dongola, Sudan

After cycling some 400km through the Nubian Desert, we now find ourselves on our first rest day in Sudan in Dongola.  I can’t begin to descibe what an amazing surprise Sudan has been, and what a contract these past few days have been from my experiences and observations of Egypt.  Our first stop after disembarking the ferry which took us across Lake Nasser, was Wadi Halfa in Sudan.  We camped at a soccer stadium that was bursting with celebration when we arrived at the conclusion of the latest match.  Following the last play, the crowds rushed to the field, dancing with guns over their heads (yes!!), in total jubilation.  While everyone seemed to notice us, the Sudanese maintained self-control, unlike the Egyptians, when many times, it felt like mass hysteria when we passed on the streets.  The Sudanese are curious, well-mannered, and extremely friendly.  They approach us with an outstretched hand and offer a handshake and a broad smile.  My initial impressions are that there is less trash, less polution, fewer rock-throwing children, and much less haggling.  My first few days in Sudan have really been wonderful.

The boat ride to get here was quite an experience!!  After a short but truly awe-inspiring ride en convoy from Aswan, Egypt along the Aswan Dam (which is typically blocked for cyclists, no photos were permitted), we arrived at the port to board the ferry.  The experiene was too chaotic to put into words, but suffice it to say that it had probably five times as many people on board as is reasonable.  We boarded first with all of our bikes, and then a steady stream of Egyptians and Sudanese, most of whom carted enormous boxes of household supplies, followed.  By the time we started moving, we had been on board for more than six hours, had eaten most of our snacks, and braced ourselves for an 18 hour, overnight journey to Sudan.

I didn’t know what to expect of Sudan.  But, as I said, it has been such a wonderful experience so far.  Hospitality abounds, prices seem reasonable and consistent, and it feels incredibly secure walking around town.  Our first few days in Sudan were isolated as we traveled further along the Nile Valley through the Nubian Desert.  Incredible sunrises start each day and the giant moon lights our path at night.  We had a couple of long riding days (150km each day for two days) followed by a slightly shorter day yesterday.  The riding has been peaceful and quiet as we’ve enjoyed a newly paved road built by the Chinese in exchange for access to Sudanese gold mines.  As sad as it is that the landscape is changing so quickly, and China has such a huge presence here, I welcomed the smooth asphalt.  We covered more distance than the riders in years past, and will make it up next week with a bit of a slower route through Dinder National Park.

A couple of highlights were watching small children approach our camp sites on the first night in the desert.  Clearly, we were as unfamiliar to them, as they are to us!  After some initial hesitancy, the kids joined with riders in their first game of frisbee and were just delighted to play with us.  There were other stretches when I just cruised along on my own while riding, soaking up the early morning sunshine and trying to tick off as many miles as I could before the heat set in.  It’s during these moments when it occasionally hits me to think just how amazing an opportunity this trip is.  I love to stop along the route, to greet the camels and coo at the donkeys and wave at the women squatting on the side of the road.  Unlike our experiences in Egypt, when passing through a town would literally create hysteria, Sudanese walk to the roadside to greet us–calmly and as friendly as could be.  Another highlight for me was a quick dip in the Nile at our first desert camp in Sudan.  The river was just a couple hundred meters from where we camped.  A group of us used the opportunity for a quick washdown (we still hadn’t showered since before the gross boat ride) and cool down.  There was a security guy with a gun to shoot of any crocs (which were uncomfortably close the following day on the Nile from where we detected footprints), but that first night my swim in the Nile was a perfect refresher and such a delicious treat!!

I’m holding up well, I think, as far as the daily routine goes on this trip.  It sure ain’t easy.  The morning hustle to tear down camp, prepare for the day, lube my bike, my body, my face, my ass (the order of this is important!!!), stuff the lockers, eat breakfast, etc happens at warp speed.  The weather is getting hotter and hotter as we go and the bugs are getting to be a bigger deal, too.  By the time I get to camp, I’m typically gassed, but can’t delay too long before setting up camp again and renourishing myself with some soup.  My health has been okay so far, but I’ve been teetering on the edge of pretty bad diarrhea and also a sore throat and some congestion.  Overall, though, I’d say I’m holding up well considering and not suffering some of the problems I see others having on the ride.  The oldest guy (71!) crawled under one of our big trucks after the ride yesterday and vomited his head off.  Others have admitted that they can’t tell if they are farting or shitting while on the bike, so they often have to peek in their shorts!  I know this isn’t pretty–I’m learning that riding across Africa isn’t pretty!  But friends have asked for the good, the bad, and the ugly!  As far as the riding goes, I’d say I’m a middle of the pack rider.  Probably among the faster women but no where close to the fastest folks.  Remember, some of these folks are racing–this is an element of the ride I just can’t understand.  Most racers are completely sick and exhausted already, and they don’t take the opportunities I have so enjoyed to stop and take pictures, enjoy a coke, or cycle with other riders.

On the scary side, five riders came down yesterday in a mash of metal and arms and legs on the asphalt.  They were pacelining and someone made a wrong move, and five people went flying–suffered road rash but thankfully no broken bones.  I didn’t see the fall, but saw the carnage afterwards, and am just thankful that everyone will be able to continue to ride.  I’d guess approximately 50 percent of folks have lost their EFI status (every fabulous inch), but I’ve got mine.  Those of us with our EFI status still in tact, seem pretty well determined to finish this ride EFI.  I recognize that achieving EFI is as much about tenacity as it is luck, on some days, so I will just keep plugging along and doing my best.

What seems clear is that this trip challenges all of us.  For some, it’s the riding–day in and day out.  For others, it’s the heat.  For some, it is the camping, and the griminess, and staying healthy.  Group dynamics can be challenging as well.  For most of us, we are challenged every day by one or many of these things…what is common among us is that we believe we can endure whatever comes our way.  Patience is paramount and pacing is critical–not just the pace of riding, but the pace of living here.  Taking it one day at a time seems the only way to do it.

Thanks for reading along, and thank you all for the messages on my blog, Facebook, email, etc.  I’ve had tremendous problems with my technology (my ipod battery died and my computer is still not functioning), so uploading pictures has been impossible (this internet connetion SUCKS) and I feel limited in how much I can communicate.  Regardless, and even if I haven’t responded to you personally, please know that all of the messages and encouragement are appreciated.  From here we ride towards Khartoum, from where I will write next.  Until then, xoxo from Dongola, Sudan!!


  1. Dana,
    I wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying your trip! Thanks for the missives! Enjoy y;our trip. Ginger

  2. Dana ~ love love love it. I hope you plan to make this travel journal into a book upon your return. You’re an amazing writer, in addition to all your other amazing attributes. Honey, I am just in awe. Keep it coming, and keep that EFI status! Woo hoo!!! xoxo Sheryl

  3. Dana,
    I love to follow your adventure. Keep the posts coming and take care of yourself.

  4. Dana~
    You are a most extraordinary person. Following your adventure is a highlight of my day. Safe travels….

  5. Great narration, believe me it is pulling me to new exotic atmosphere & I am sure you can sustain your EFI but further you can bring those who lost it… back on track because motivation & passion are contagious to extent that I already caught it with adrenaline rush in my veins to go for a bike ride with friends telling them about your adventure, blessing from Egypt 🙂 & waiting for your next feed.

  6. Dana,
    Sounds like the ride is everything you thought it would ben and more. Please enjoy the experience, people and countries.

    As for things here in DC it seems that we are having our first winter in years. It snowed about 6 inches yesterday. Which was good for me since I needed to study. I’m taking my PMP later this week!

    Good luck and safe travels.

  7. And you wanted to bring a dress or two??? Keep up the great job you’re doing. We’re all with you and miss you lots!!

  8. Unbelievable..That is all I can say..what a wonderful read..Keep up the good work..and watch behind you..

  9. You are the best writer. Your writing makes one feel they are on the bike next to you. Keep on going. You finish this you can take on anything life throws at you.
    I look everyday for an update.
    Stay safe and hydrated

    Tom Bloch

  10. Hey girlfriend, your posts are excellent. I enjoy following along on your incredible adventure. Julia and her friends who biked across the USA are following, too! So now you have a whole group of 16 year olds watching…. 🙂
    Have fun. Beat the heat and keep smiling. Love you. Barbara

  11. Hi Dana,
    Your posts and photos are great; keep ’em coming. What an amazing experience; how great that you were able to make it happen. We’re all thinking of you as we await 24 inches of snow this weekend (!!)
    Be safe.

  12. Hey, Dana. What a journey, what a journal! Keep the wheels and the words rollin’, Jon

  13. Dana,

    LOL! As you can probably imagine, I threw up in my mouth several times reading this post! Therefore, you probably also know that I loved it as well as your ability to tell a great story. Miss you much!


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