Hey Lukas, when you ride to Cape Town, won’t you need to cycle through Sudan? Yes, I do. Ohh… isn’t Sudan a super dangerous country? I got the question asked so many times. It seemed very weird, people telling me how dangerous Sudan was, but they have never actually been there. This happens in so many everyday situations, people thinking they know everything, just from listening to the news, reading journals or even better; someone else told them… Since my preparation time was quite extensive, around 1 year, I had to listen to so many “No Sayers”. Lukas you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous, too hot, too sandy, too unstable, too whatever. I felt like a lawyer, constantly defending myself. So, what now, I have arrived in Sudan, cycled 1200 kilometres across the Sahara during summer. Can’t say it wasn’t tough, or that I didn’t have really long days, or that I slept very well because of the storms at night. However, I was having the time of my life. What an amazing feeling just to be out there, independent from anything. No one has any clue where the hell you are, it is just quiet, the sky and especially the stars were breath-taking. Mind-blowing, even for myself. This is what I had always been waiting for, the real adventure, my time to discover Africa has finally started!
Sudan – My arrival
Sudan, until now the most hospitable country I have been to. Imagine, for the first 7 days I did not spend a single dollar on food… feels very special. It is crazy how different the people in Sudan are compared to Egypt. Sudanese people are way more relaxed. Every day, I get invited several times for coffee, tea and food. I feel really great cycling through Sudan. All the people give you thumbs up, they cheer you on and just want to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. One time I was standing at a water station, asking a guy where the next restaurant was. It took 3 minutes and I was sitting in his house eating lunch. People here really don’t have anything, poverty rate is high, but still their hospitality seems to be boundless.
I arrived with the ferry in Whadi Halfa on August 27th. I spent a wonderful night on the deck of the boat, watching the full moon all night long. The whole unloading process took forever, but I didn’t care, I have so much time for whatever, why should I stress myself. I had to show every single bag to the customs officer, they checked it through, but really didn’t go deep. It just took forever, and I hate unpacking my whole bicycle with so many items loaded. It is like I am missing 6 arms to do all the things I have to do at once. Due to political sanctions, no foreign credit card works in Sudan. Travelers know, always carry enough Dollars with you. The situation in Sudan is kind of special. To exchange money, you must do it on the black market, since the official rate is like 7 times lower. Right now, the rate is quite good, it is 1 to 40. Imagine the highest bill is a 50 Sudanese Pound one. Changing 100 dollars gives you a huge pile of bills that don’t fit in a normal wallet. It is illegal to exchange your dollars on the black market. I mean it’s obvious, that’s why it’s called black market in the first place, but still everyone does it. People will ask you on the boat, after you get through customs, or you just go to random stores around town, through some backroom door and an old guy will be sitting there with piles of bills and he will change your dollars too. The rate changes on a daily basis, so bargaining is possible.
Some of you might ask yourselves, how did I get a Visa for Sudan? It is super easy. I just wrote to the Sudanese Embassy in Geneva; Hey, I will be cycling from Zurich to Cape-town and I need to pass through Sudan, can I get a Visa? Yes, just send me your passport and 100$, you will get it back within 4 days. Worked great, perfect service! I got a Visa that gave me 2 months to enter the country and 2 months to stay inside, this provides a lot of flexibility.
Sudan has special regulations on taking pictures. In fact, it is just one rule: you are not allowed to take any pictures at all. People love if you take pictures of them, they even throw themselves in pose, but the government just doesn’t want that you take any pictures of some infrastructure stuff. I only got into trouble once. In Karima, where one guy became kind of furious by me walking around downtown taking pictures. Haha, I apologized, and it was good again.
After getting a local SIM card, changing my money and buying food and water for the next 4 days, I took off in the afternoon for my first night in the desert.
My way down
Since I had only 12 days’ time to reach Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, before my birthday, I was on a tight schedule. Cycling for 12 days sounds rough, but your body gets surprisingly fast used to it. Out of the 11 nights I slept 3 times in a filthy hotel, costs per night were around 4-6$ so I did not expect much, something I never do. If you have low expectations, you cannot get disappointed. I rather sleep out in the nature than in places where you don’t know when the bedsheets were washed for the last time. Is it maybe 5 months, or rather 10? It’s better not to know those things I guess. The only thing I really take care of is that I always have enough food, for at least 3 days, with me and enough water for 1 full day, which is around 12-14 litres. Carrying more water just gets too heavy. Along the Nile you could find a water station at least every 50km. The water has the most diverse colours, from light to dark brown to grey, whatever colour you want you can find it. I always tried to filter the water. Sometimes when a truck driver handed me an ice-cold bottle of water I was too lazy to filter it. In the Afternoon at around 14:00 I always started to wave down truck drivers with an empty bottle of water. Seriously, 95% always stopped and handed me over water, mostly cold, sometimes frozen or when I got lucky even a cold Coca Cola. When you only had hot ass water for the last couple of hours and someone hands you an ice-cold Coke, you feel like you were in heaven. The next hour just becomes so much more pleasurable then. I usually got up at 4:30, sometimes 5 if I was not feeling it quiet yet. the Sun goes up at 5:15 and it is getting hot quickly after that. I usually took a break from 11 to 14:30, because it was just too hot, and it would have been a massive waste of valuable water. However, it was not always easy to find a good shade. I started seeking for a nice dune to camp behind at around 16:30, which gave me 1.5 hour to cook, set up the tent, and to put everything away again. I barely had any internet on the way until Atbara. I really enjoyed it and it was nice to just read in my book.
The Sandstorms and I
The first four nights were amazing, there was a breeze going, I only had the inner tent pitched so that I could see the stars, and no clouds at all. Afterwards, almost every night became a little nightmare. When I went to sleep at 20:00, the sky always looked perfectly clear, but at around 23:00, strong winds started to pick up and I found myself in the middle of a big storm. It is not a pleasant feeling, just being out in the middle of nowhere, by yourself, almost blown away by the wind, but what can you do? I wasn’t scared, I had everything under control. I was laying in my tent like a starfish, so the tent could not take off. It is hard generally to pin down a tent in the desert. The sand doesn’t hold the tent pegs. I usually hoped the storm would go away once the sun goes up. Unfortunately, this happened only once. The other two times I had to pack everything together under extremely windy conditions. Everything went well, I just felt it on the bike a bit that I had not sleep at all. During those 6 days, I did a total of 650 kilometres with constant headwinds. On the worst day I had an average of 10 km/h during the first 4 hours, which makes you quite tired on a 9 to 10 hour cycling day. In general, body feels great and I can really push. However, I always check to eat a lot of salt and magnesium. Treating my body well if I am putting so much pressure on it is essential.
My birthday, Alexander and lots of stories
It felt quite special to celebrate my birthday in Sudan. Surely something not a lot of Europeans can claim for themselves. Due to Sharia law, alcohol is strictly prohibited. So, I guess I will have to drink my birthday beer once in Ethiopia.
Zander is from the UK, currently living in Johannesburg and cycling from South Africa all the way up to Alexandria. I would have loved to cycle with him, hopefully we will be able to do that in the future sometime. It is not that I feel lonely, it is just cool sometimes to have a buddy with you to share stories, cook together or just to push through the headwind. Zander spontaneously decided to stay an additional day just for celebrating my birthday with me. We had great food and lots of interesting talks.
Woman in Sudan
I feel there is a huge difference to the women I met in Egypt. Here, women seem to be way more open. They say hello, smile, shake hands with men, and are not as separated from the male world as it seemed to be the case in Egypt. They also wear colourful dresses and I can tell you: It looks beautiful! I have not taken any picture yet. I always feel kind of touristy doing that.
Most people barely know any English, my Arabic is really not good but with hands and feet I always manage to get what I want. Usually when I do my lunch break I am surrounded by young guys. I figured out most of them are super into football, so it’s always fun to just name players and compare them. Most favourite one I always get asked is: Ronaldo or Messi? Ronaldo of course 😉