Sunday, 26 December 2010

Up up and beer...

Crossing the border through a metal gate the streets were suddenly filled with people, shelters, shops, kids, animals and music. We arrived in the evening and were taken to a very cheap hotel given local food and beer and asked for money! Was this the start of the hassle and haggling of Cairo? No it was the start of something much worse – lively begging kids!

As we cycled upwards into the hills and farmland of Ethiopia there is a significant temperature drop and the energy of the people heightens. People no longer stay still to conserve their energy in the 40 degrees heat, they spot us from miles away and run the fields chasing us on our bikes. The kids often have no shoes and still manage to keep up running alongside the bikes. The steeper the hill climb, the slower the bike speed and longer the kids ran next to me shouting “pen, money, clothes” any item the NGOs kindly donated to the people to start this wild begging culture.

My white mask is once again in full show to everyone who asks and expects donations. People do not understand that we have to carry minimal kit on our bikes to make sure we can reach the top of the climbs. We have mastered precision packing, with each item in the correct pannier and we have thrown away many unnecessary items. Then suddenly these kids spot something they would like and next thing you know they are running the opposite direction back through the fields with your lunch or cycling top! We soon learned to keep a very close eye on all belongings and as the flocks of youngsters gather in town I made sure they stood behind the invisible 1 meter line. We also made a rule in the very early stages in Ethiopia never to give any items, biscuits or money so the Ethiopian people do not expect anything off future tourists. This was very hard when eating lunch with two cute thin kids staring but leaving you in peace to eat your lunch. As always there are exceptions, some of the kids have manners not all of them are rascals!
Rough and Ready

We seem to have perfected our rough camping spots or we are very lucky we have not been found! This could be because Ethiopia has so many people everywhere any noise in the fields is never blown into a full investigation. We have only camped a few times in the midsts of the trees and vegetation as hotels are cheap as chips; cheaper than chips, a meal often costs more than a room for the night.
Most hotels for 1 english pound give you a bed, a cold bucket of water to wash yourself with wash facilities and a communal hole to unload after a meal. For 2 english pounds you get an ensuite with a seated toilet and hot water in the shower providing there is no power cut or no water left. In some small towns water is collected in a storage tank in the evening once a day which is then used for the 24 hour day. This is the only water if it runs out you must find other sources like a river!

It is all in the mind; I struggled up slopes but often thought about the training process, the time and effort organising the trip. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride and I kept telling myself I would get fitter each hill I climbed and that I was ready.

SLOG often came to mind when the pressure of the hills attacked my legs. A few thoughts continually went around my head;
• When reaching the top it is pure Satisfaction
• The length of the hill is forever winding, Long
• What made me take on this Outrageous challenge?
• Healthy lifestyle, beautiful views, Good times

This is when I was really thankful for the Ethiopian kids that decided it would be great fun to push us up the hills. I also need to thank the slow lorry drivers (some who obviously invited us to have a ride) for keeping the same pace as our bikes so we could grab onto anything possible to allow us to slowly manoeuvre with the motor and rest the legs.

In Gondor we took a car (luckily too high and unpaved for bikes) into the famous Simean mountains and saw baboons and colombus monkeys.

Being an obvious tourist target we were picked up by some local guys who we happily let show us around the town. The rising cobbled streets were packed with families and cute children who loved running after me to say hello, shaking my hand.

We were invited for local homemade beer, tela and followed the guys into this dark dingey house of 9 children and 2 parents. All the kids were so excited and happy and the proud father was merrily joking around feeding beer to everyone. Ethiopia is a developing country so houses are formed from any material lying around. The shelters / homes are built with timber frames and layered with mud, rammed earth, sheets of aluminium and all types of material.

After Gondor the roads were smooth sailing, almost flat which was a real blessing after the initial 1300m rise into the highlands. I watched the herds of ox’s and wondered what age kids were given the responsibility of tending to the cattle.

Bahir Dah was a memorable place for me. The wildlife and trees are stunning around Lake Tana and the town feels like a relaxing seaside town. The Nile is never going to leave me, the Nile spilts into the Blue Nile which we have followed in Ethiopia and refound in this region. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and there is also a stunning waterfall that we climbed rocky paths to find.
I stupidly decided it would be fun to do some off road riding so Steve and I agreed to take the ‘short cut’ to Addis Ababa. The pleasant rural side to life was seen as soon as you disembarked the asphalt but I did not prepare myself for the cycle to come. The steep gradient slopes and loose stones falling beneath my back tyre was so hard. As soon as I reached a downward slope I had to be very careful not to hit a huge rock or loose balance or grip so the descent was not enjoyable either. We were off road for 3 ½ days in total which was great fitness preparation for the infamous Blue Nile Gorge to come. Back to SLOG the Blue Nile Gorge was painful. My legs were tired from the off road trek and now I had a 2500m road going all the way up in one go!! Again there were kids that pushed us up and I became more comfortable at latching onto lorries and slowly gliding up!

Merry Xmas

We didn’t make it into Addis Ababa until xmas day. I realised it wouldn’t feel right not cycling for a bit to clench your appitite and fulfil the enjoyment of a big xmas meal.
When cycling you never know what is around the corner. The gradients are forever changing it is a real test and is sometimes very hard to keep your head down and let the legs spin to reach the top of the neverending mountain. This is reimbursed with an unexpected downhill which goes on for miles, taking you, letting you feel energised and alive and boosting the distance travelled for the day. The final downhill 10 km into Addis Ababa went exactly like this. I was so tired and the final leg was pure satisfaction.

We soon noticed the different types of restaurants and splashed out with a two course meal with plenty to drink all for 10 english pounds each. I did say merry xmas to a few random Ethiopians on the street, in Amharic (the local language) but all I got in return was “bring me money”!!
The atmosphere and people are so vibrant. Twenty years ago Ethiopia was a communist state and there were soldiers shooting anyone stealing the lives of thousands, this was called the Red Terror Regime.
I am definitely becoming more aware of how privileged I am coming from a peaceful country growing up in towns with good infrastructure, water, electricity and freedom.

The darkest thing about Africa is our knowledge of it. So many people told me not to cycle Africa and said I was crazy. Ethiopia is a great country and is one that has lifted my spirits. I expected famine but I cannot even imagine it. I have seen the land full of crops, barley and wheat providing enough Injeera (local bread made in the fields) for all. I have learned the government are making sure 40 percent of students are being trained in construction and that UNICEF are handing out scholarships to support Ethiopian people to study medicine due to the lack of doctors in the country. As I cycled I observed groups of students, farmers, merchandisers; people enjoying the fresh air, running around; free.

Enjoy the festive season; if anyone thought twice about where I was or giving me a xmas present please donate to

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Safe ride home

Taxi fills to the brim
Foot like a stone
The jolly driver waving
A routine recognition check
Comforting successions of smiles,
Laughter, Hindi rythem sways
More people follow
Police dont Holla
Check point clear
A proud photo
Near ditch off road
Mirrors joshling decoration
Fabrics silk
Straight down alleys
Dusty coves
Scratching steel
Bumps take the wheel
Sand controlling angles
Not on purpose rolling
and stop.

Departure safe
Thank the man, Salaam.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Sudan; the only route; by boat

Another momentus moment
As every item, printer is moved on board
7 hours after arrival
Boarding sitting, waiting
We finally move

The land fading as my mind raring rushing
The midnight scenes
Water, mountains, blocks
Wishing away to the next stage
The lights dimming into one

A country complete
A culture shock
A treat

Rest, Rituals, Routine

As we disembarked the boat entering Sudan, we cycled straight past the first and only town for the next 180km! Wadi Halfa was a very small town where we stopped to collect our water storage for the next few days. There were already some obvious comforting changes

We bought fruit at honest prices, no bartaring

  • We ate lunch in peace, people who came up to you wanted to shake your hand rather than shout in your face!!

  • As we got the bikes ready the locals exaggerated the need for water making us drink numerous full cups of water

Sudan has been a breath of fresh air after Egypt. The heat has been a challenge but the sceneries and quiet peaceful camping spots have been a dream. There are hardly any animals that can live and survive in the Sahara Desert. You can hear the harmless dung beetle swivle in the sand when you drop off to sleep under the blanket of clear night African stars. You can sleep and rest well until the sun rises and you are set for another day.

I completed my first 1000km as I cycled into the remote desert. The tarmacked road from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum was completed last year so was a dream to cycle on. There are storm drains which are perfectly designed for cyclists breaks - the only shade we could find!

The mountains in the distance compete with the neverending horizon of layered sand.

The highest temperature we calculated was midday - 48 degrees celcius / 21 percent humidity. I must curse the strict islamic country, Sudan for making me cover up while cycling in the veracious heat. I really do hope they appreciate my level of respect wearing trousers and a t shirt to cycle the Desert. The night temperatures do drop to a scorching 25 degrees celcius! This is winter; do not cycle in Sudan in the summer.

Thank god for the wind - I do not thank god for the flies! The strong prevailing southerly wind has pushed me up slopes and along at speed making things more exciting in the heat! When the wind is coming from the side you are also very grateful; the natural ventilation tackled my sweat and made it dissappear into salt molecule stains on my t-shirt.

It was spectacular to once again come across the Nile feeding dotted villages and trees after 2 days of cycling. It is an outstanding sight to come across a river 3 times the size of the Thames in one of the most arid dry places in the world.

Eid Celebrations

Eid is Islamic Christmas. All families join together for four days for the religious ritual, to eat. They kill 1 lamb or 4 if you have a big family and the resources! People have been overly generous, we were continually invited to join family meals or for tea on the road or once we stopped in Dongola.

Steves irriplacible Rohloff Hub snapped which was turmoil considering we were cycling another 10000km to Cape Town (and Steve another 4 continents!) let alone the 80km stretch to the nearest town with a broken spoke. Dongola is the next relatively big town inbetween Wadi Halfa and Khartoum so we were very lucky to be so close. In Dongola we met a lovely Korean family who took us under their wing.

Eid holiday was forever continuing . The four days celebrations was extended with another 3 day weekend. We were stuck in Dongola for 5 days waiting for the shops to open and for the restock of supplies delivered by donkey from the main cities. This turned out to be a blessing as I learnt a lot about the culture and communities and got to go swimming in the Nile!
During Eid it is common for people to get married as the family are all in one place. We saw two islamic weddings in one night! The ladies and gentlemen are separated at each side until the bride and groom arrive. The newly weds attract all spectaters to the dance floor in a big huddle and they rise and click their hand and hip to the rythem of the live music. Anyone in the town can turn up; this is freedom, a chance to attract the opposite sex. The second wedding / party ended in fights as the sexual tension rose and the teenagers gathered.

At 5 or 6 o clock in the evening as the temperature drops and the light lingers the town of Dongola becomes active. Families and ourselves joined for (the english tradition) tea and biscuits before dinner. I will have vivid memories of walking with the Korean family every evening to different welcoming doors. The kids laughed as I exaggerated my steps in the sandy dusty streets littered with holes and rubbish and I heard the echos of islamic prayer as I thought about the undeveloped and satisfied communities of Dongola.

A Historic Event
In Dongola, there are communities of misplaced families that fled from South Sudan during the Civil War (1983 - 2005). Buses were filled with people, belongings; families packed to finally return to their home country. This is an historic event taking place in preparation for the referendem on January 9 to decide whether South Sudan splitts off from the rest of Sudan as an independent country.

Despite the poor infrastructure and development the views I have heard from a traveller that came up from the South is that they are all wanting independence. The North would like to stay as one country to share the profits of the Southern oil reserves. Unfortunately the islamic North government officials have threatened the South saying if the countries are separated there will be war.
The Final Stretch
Steve had his bike welded with aluminium as a temporary solution for the final stretch from Dongola to Khartoum. There were villages with food and water at regular 50km intervals.

People congregate at the water points in the town. The shaded areas have clay pots that are filled with water regularly and left to settle. The dirt then sits at the bottom and the water is clean and available to drink. We have had to guess which water pot is the one you are supposed to drink out of. This could be just one of the thousand reasons why we both have been suffering with upset tummies. My favourite unanswered question at the international campsite this week has been - why do people not know to use bleach to clean the toilets?

Although there were more people dead livestock reiterated the harsh conditions of the desert.

There were many camal shepherds, groups or individuals on their own journey across the desert. They walk all the way to Egypt to exchange the camals for money and goods. It is very hard to photograph the hundreds of camals, they blend in with the sand. If you look closely though I did manage to photograph a bird of prey of which there are also hundreds across Sudan.

Steve and I established a great routine as we pedaled closer to Khartoum. Rising with the light we put the gas on to make porridge while packing everything so breakfast coincided with a fully loaded bike ready for take off. As I placed my biker sunglasses on my face and sung the ski sunday theme tune I took off with the wind making great time and slaloms to dodge the always expected bulk mass waste.

I will miss the peace and quiet of Sudan. Many people have spoken about the faces of Ethiopia poking up from every direction wherever you are; not to forget the kids stone throwing games. I have heard you cannot blog in Ethiopia so if this is the case my next update will be from Kenya. I am looking forward to the rain in Ethiopia. Sudan has had 10 minutes of rain this year!!

It is time for the next country; a change, another adventure to keep me on my toes. After so many thoughts as to why I am here I have figured out that it is the unexpected makes me feel alive.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Nile

How to distant from the horns
Just look around
The lush fruitful
Corn, sugar cane
Fields rolling sectors, colours, no rain
Green escapades,
Wild evergrowing trees, leaves
All finely nurtured specific to the furlong
Watered, worked
Hard hands, dirt
The heat fuels the nutrients
Burnt to reimberse, ressurrect
The land turnsover
The cycle continues
Feed the villagers, family, you
Watching hard days go by
Flying, passing, neverlasting
I am free
My feet will carry me
I hope they feel free
Their hands keep safe the seed

Traditional / Vernacular Architecture

Vernacular architecture is a term used to categorise methods of construction which use locally available resources and traditions to address local needs and circumstances. / Wikipedia.

I believe local materials, traditions and techniques are important. I am cycling through Africa to understand the life, culture and dedication these people make to their built environment. It is important to look at these roots as they live off the land. This architecture has been adapted to their needs and has been through the test of time.

As I cycled from Cairo city centre following the Nile down to Aswan I saw many examples of vernacular architecture. Buildings are made of;

  • Straw / mud brick houses

  • Circular manure straw discs

  • Long vertical stalks of plant tied

  • Stone houses with circular vaults

  • Layers of palm tree leaves tied

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The start of the journey - following the River Nile

The journey begins

All complications with directions visas and general culture in the big city have now minimalised to;
Sleep - Le
Tea - Che
Falafel - Falafel
Sun - Champs (and you immediately point and sit in the shade)
Journey - Cairo a la Aswan
English - Ingleterra

It is truly amazing how far you can get with these phrases. I now highly appreciate the game charades played every Christmas. It works wonders communicating with the rest of the world.

Having been let loose into a different culture, where head scarfs are worn to fit in, each with their own story and origin; I have added a few dreadlocks to my barnet. I can now join the crazy roads and routes down Africa.

I can definitely say these last few days cycling have allowed me to see the real people and countryside.

The roads were surprisingly smooth with extraordinary views and movements. People in the small villages are highly energetic constantly waving, shouting and honking their horns. Everyone is so excited to see you. After a while you really appreciate being on a bike so you can just speed past to an area of farmland; peace and quiet.

Teenagers slanted out of their tuck tucks (like UK kids on their scooters) took photos of me from the side. People travel on donkeys, camels or vehicles transporting goods, vegetables and livestock. Yes that is a donkey and camel in the back of a truck.

People live off their farmland exchanging goods and food along the main road making sure they have enough supplies for the family.

Fellow travelers are very friendly. I was given gifts on the side of the road just saying good morning in Arabic. A farmer gave me some spring onions and cucumbers. People are very proud of their crops.

The many species of birds were a huge attraction. I felt like I was cycling through a David Attenborough programme and soon figured out how difficult it was to capture the moment on camera. I have only got one photo as of yet!

Say no more....
Steve has exploded to poll on the punctures front. In these last few days he has had 7 punctures. The crowds gather very quickly and fixing the problem turns into a communal sport, everyone wants to help.
There was only 1 real problem out of 7 where a kid stole the cat eye - speedometer. We were very thankful the police miraculously appeared and with Steve going mad and explaining how useless it was to the group of kids in hand gestures it miraculously appeared.

Camping has been very interesting. I definitely did not appreciate our first night in the tents. We were left in peace with a stream to wash and food in the nearby town.

Happy Halloween (for all those who care about my safety it might be best to skip this section)

They do say the end of the month, the moon or something sparks activity. This night was scary for the second night of camping. We decided to go further from the main road due to the noise of the traffic the night before. As usual we asked a big family whether we could stay on their farmland and they were very welcoming. As dusk set there was lots of screaming the people at the nearby campfire went to the scene straight away. Shouting echoed around the village, screams and crying, e soon realised someone must have died. Prayers came shortly after and Steve kept justifying the small friendly village while I tried not to think of the witch doctors and the rumours of westerns bringing bad luck to villages.

That scenario made me sleep in Steve's tent for comfort and safety which was very lucky for the following oncoming events.

Later on around 11pm we were woken by a gang of teenagers. They were asking for money and while Steve and I had all eyes on the front of the tent they managed to steal a pannier full of clothes from the back. Steve now fully clothed went mad collecting the inexpensive items and throwing them back in the tent. They were disappointed it wasn't money so constantly surrounded the tent intimidating us to give them money. It was hard enough not understanding the language, we were helpless. Steve calmly told me to put my clothes on and I passed him the CS gas as instructed. After an hour of hassling I ran with all my might to the main road. It was hard to explain the situation, what is a cry for help in sign language? My wavering voice must have got them thinking as they reluctantly came over to the tent. These two guys from the road were generally the same age which did not help, but the rascals went away for a small amount of time. They all managed to slyly walk back to a near bush once the two guys had gone. We could here them whispering plotting their next moves. Steve and I spoke about all situations possible and highlighted the fact that teenagers respected their elders.

It was very lucky, at that moment one elderly man from the friendly village walked home and got an update from 2 smaller kids who had spectated from afar. He sorted out a bodyguard who slept next to our tent. I fell straight to sleep. In the morning the villagers gave us breakfast and showed us a place to wash. We thanked the bodyguard and gave him 10 Egyptian pounds (1 English pound) for saving our bacon. He then showed us his knife he would have used if he needed to - It was a kukri knife (hunting curved knife).

All hopes restored

The next evening we were having a quiet break and as per usual we were shouted at from afar. The guy made some hand signals to his home and offered us Che - tea. We kindly accepted and walked down a dusty path below the main road. The group gathered quickly they were all very lovely. 3 father figures in total than many more spouses, 2 water buffalo's, 3 donkeys and a cow. They invited us to stay and moved a buffalo to give us a stable which would protect us from the snakes (hand gestures again very useful)

They left us in peace for dinner then built us a fire near our stable and brought their self sufficient substances - buffalo cheese, eggs and buffalo milk with bread. The 3 men slept around our stable and placed the donkey by the side. I never felt so safe and slept well. Sunrise was beautiful that morning I appreciated it by the fire for breakfast with them all before getting back on the bike.

Police escort you down some of the Nile. This is due to safety, tourist management or protection of the land.
There are positive and negative things about escorts;


  • sleep in riding breaks knowing the bike and belongings are being guarded

  • buy 2 bananas simply for the right price instead of being forced 2 kilos of bananas - the police tend to shout at them then hand them my petty change

  • can ride until dusk knowing police lights will cause enough attention to remove the risk of crashes

  • have good cheap hostel/hotel knowledge

  • get escorted to the hotel at the end of the day when you are tired and need a bed

  • get water and food from any village as the police translate and give orders to the people


  • the excitement on the road dies down

  • when involving yourself with the villagers, taking photos... the final stages always end with a massive walloping - police authority is savage!

  • they are not very patient with breaks
Getting an early start is very important when cycling. The sunrise and sunset are definitely the best times of the day.

We have arrived in Aswan. I have completed my first 1000km of my trip 1/12. This is a small stepping stone for what is to come. Sudan is next; the biggest country in Africa. I am looking forward to the next hurdle; it'll be a definite change of scenery as I am about to enter the Sahara Desert.