Sudan! 1200 km through the Sahara

img_5356-1

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!

img_4988img_5018img_5219

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.

img_5065
They gave me a bed to relax during my lunch break
img_5110
Lunch break on a praying carpet, people really care for my rest 😀
img_5180
Morning Coffee with some Truckdrivers

img_5391

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.

img_5447
This is worth 40 dollars

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.

img_5362
Don’t worry, he wasn’t freezing, it was still around 40 degrees 

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. 

img_5154
Seeking shade… not the best lunch break I have had, It was just blazing hot and it didn’t really have a lot of shade
img_5173
One of the best moments, when I got two frozen water bottles in the middle of nowhere by some truck driver

img_5183

img_5359
It is rare that you find a place like this with a bed and no one around
img_5126
There was too much wind so I decided to sleep in this ruin… bad decision, it was  extremely hot all night long
img_5120
When I wanted to put away my tent, a scorpion suddenly rushed out from underneath my tent
img_5118
I really dont know why, but there are so many dead cows laying at the side of the rode
img_5222
Camping spot
img_5233
The Pyramids of Karima
img_5122
A waterstation

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.

img_5289
Yes, it was quite sandy…

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.

img_5443
Birthday Dinner with Alexander
img_5457
When Alex left at 5:30 in the morning, heading towards Egypt

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. 

Communication

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 😉

img_5340

img_5339
The Pyramids of Meroe

Through the desert to the Red Sea and back to the Nile again

Leaving Cairo

After staying three days in the second biggest city of Africa (after Lagos, Nigeria), it was time for me to head out to the unknown, the desert and the heat. I had been told that getting out of Cairo was no fun, but I didn’t imagine it to be that crazy. It took me over an hour to get out of downtown. The streets were filled with thousands of cars. Nasty exhaust emissions made breathing unpleasant and above all the heat was grilling me again. Nevertheless, I kind of liked this craziness. It’s something you don’t experience in many places and super hectic cities have their charm as well. Riding into Ho Chi Ming City or through India taught me a lot of how to adapt to disorderly traffic but it is still quite different with a bicycle since absolutely everyone passes you. My GPS had its difficulties with Cairo as well, sometimes leading me through one-way streets where people weren’t that happy about. Since I did not know how long it would take me to ride through the desert to the Red Sea and if there would be any possibility along the way to get any water, I took 12 litres of water with me and food for 4 days. My bike has never been that heavy before and it took me some time to get used to it. After overcoming the whole city hustle, the road was surprisingly good. What I realized is that Egypt is investing a lot of money into its infrastructure. Many locals who I have talked to have confirmed this to me. As the governmental institutions provides stability, it has become more attractive for investors to invest again. A whole new city is being built outside of Cairo because there are too many people living downtown which is running at capacity. So, for many kilometres I was passing construction zones, where thousands of new apartments are being built. I have now done almost 850 kilometres through Egypt and the roads have all been very good so far.

DSC_7008

Country Facts

Egypt still suffers from the image displayed in the media all around the world. Since the revolution in 2011, tourism is slowly picking up again, but most people still think it’s dangerous to travel to Egypt. It is crazy how the media can have a lasting negative impact on the reputation of a whole country. It hurts my heart to see how reality is and how people back in Europe think about Egypt. I get asked every day, isn’t it dangerous, aren’t you scared? what is if….?!

All the time people come up to me, shaking my hand, saying “welcome to Egypt”. I have been invited dozens of times for coffee, tea and food. If I need water along the road, cars and trucks would immediately stop to provide me with it. I have had multiple police escorts, following me for hundreds of kilometres just for my own protection. Egypt is highly concerned with providing stability and protection to its own people and tourists. There has not been one minute here in which I have felt uncomfortable or unsafe.

People here live from hand to mouth. To survive, the people have to spend all of the little salary they earn. There is not much room for savings. Despite this, it happened to me many times that I was not allowed to pay for what I had purchased, the only response I got was welcome to Egypt. The culture and people I can experience here is so welcoming and warm-hearted that I wish more people could experience what I can now!

Economic facts

Against the Euro, the Egyptian pound has strongly decreased in value, many products lost their government subsidies. It used to be that one litre of diesel would cost one pound, now it is five times more. This affects almost everything the local people buy, since transportation costs have significantly increased. The population is going through some rough times now, even though a lot of money is being invested. In the end, what matters most to people is what they have left in their pockets and that’s predominantly less than a couple of years ago.

For me it is always enlightening to get in touch with local people and hear their personal stories and their thoughts on the country’s economic, political and cultural development. Egypt’s population has over the last decade grown by 20 million people to almost 100 million. That fact impressed me a lot.

My Journey along the coast

Riding the first kilometres through a desert was truly special for me. Isn’t it crazy, I am already here now, crossing one of the hottest places on earth just by bicycle. I now understand why they call the Egyptian summer the OFF season for cycling tourism. Who would want to cycle in that heat? I guess I am kind of crazy, but I always think that there have been people doing it before me, it’s nothing special, just drink enough water and protect yourself from the sun.

3D86E45F-0FC2-47C6-B5AB-1203149AC12E
Doing a break in the shade through lunch, I was just wearing the mask so not all the flies would crawl into my mouth when I sleep

Additionally, it is not like I had many other choices than leaving during the summer. There are still many hot days ahead of me since I follow the sun down, so it’s better to get used to it rather sooner than later. The first night I decided to sleep somewhere close to the road in the desert. The distance to the next town was just too large for one day and it was already getting dark at 18:30. I found a nice, quiet spot behind a sand dune around 100 km out of Cairo. I have always waited for that moment, just to sleep somewhere in the desert all by myself in a mystic atmosphere. However, I need to admit it felt weird to me as well. My thoughts were wandering around, thinking about a lot of things one could worry about. I told Teresie about my feelings. Teresie is a young power-woman traveling home to Norway from South Africa by bicycle on her “low carbon journey”, and she told me not to worry, just to be cautious. She told me that in every single moment in which I have worrisome feelings I would waste too much energy instead of simply enjoying the moment. I highly appreciate her words and it really helps to talk to people who have experienced similar feelings and events but are already a step ahead of me. Follow her on Instagram (Teresiehommersand), she shares amazing stories and I love reading about her adventures.

DSC_7013
My tent is in the lower right corner
AE7E534D-C912-40DE-95C7-49EA24A411EF
Pasta Time
IMG-4365
I had to get up early, it is just too hot to stay inside the tent as soon as the sun raises (5:00 AM)

Back on the bike, the road along the coast was rather flat and always with a slight breeze going. On one day I had planned to do a 105 km stretch to a police checkpoint where I wanted to spend the night. It is common for cyclists riding through Egypt to stay at Police checkpoints for the night. What happened that day came unexpected. I arrived at the checkpoint at 11:45, asking myself what should I do now? I didn’t want to spend the whole afternoon at a boring checkpoint, but the next town (Hurghada) was still 160 km away, but with the wind on my side I thought it might be possible. I had to wait for over an hour at the checkpoint, until they organized a police escort to follow me. I knew that at this checkpoint they usually do this, so nothing to worry about. Arriving in Hurghada at 18:15, I had done 260 km in just one day, with a total riding time of almost 9 hours, this meant an average of almost 30km an hour which is crazy. I was super lucky to benefit from the strong north wind. That day the wind was on my side. I don’t want to imagine what a torture it would have been if the wind had blown from south. This record will probably not be broken again, with a 60kg bicycle it seems highly unlikely to come anywhere close to those numbers again in the future.

I have spent a total of 10 days in both Hurghada and Safaga, doing 6 dives in the beautiful aquarium of the Red Sea and just kind of slowing down my pace.

unnamed (2)
With the water temperature being 30 degrees, a short wetsuit is enough

I have been on the road for more than 55 days and always traveling to new places can be tiring as well. I also fought some stomach issues for around 5 days, running to the toilet on an hourly basis. This weakens the body, I had to sleep a lot and didn’t feel like continuing to cycle. I have the time, so I can also give my body the rest it needs. Having diarrhoea on the road can be super stressful, and it only happened to me once now that I had to ask a man sitting in front of his house to use his toilet. This was in Hurghada and of course I cannot just poop somewhere in front of a house in the middle of a city… I almost did it though hahaha, this older man was literally my “lender of last resort”.

The small world we live in

I was just about to head to my room when I greeted three guys sitting at the bar of my hotel. It turned out that one of them, Sebastian, lives around 10km away from my home town, we went to the same high-school and had the same teachers, he is just 10 years older than me. For 4 days we shared a hotel room together and it was nice to speak some Swiss-German again.

IMG-4628
Met as strangers, left as friends!

Sebastian is an amazing guy with a super positive mindset and a very open-minded personality. Inviting me to stay in his room is certainly no matter of course and I highly appreciated it. We had a super interesting time together, meeting amazing local people like Nesar, Gamal, Ahmed or Alaa.

IMG-4610

Being at a place for more than just a couple of days makes it possible to dive deeper into the culture and the way of living of the locals. Whenever I spend a long time at the same place, it becomes harder to leave again. Also, I started becoming comfortable with laying around all day long. So, it was time to tackle my next stage from Safaga to Qena, a 160km stretch from the Red Sea back to the Nile through the desert. I planned to do it in one day, leaving Safaga at 5am. The earlier I leave, the easier it is to tackle some distance without being roasted.

Finding my own limits on the way back to the Nile

 

IMG_4641
The sign of an early morning

I have no problem with getting up early, I just really don’t like it. Leaving at 5:00 AM to Qena was the earliest I have done so far, and it turned out to be a smart move. I knew I had to climb a mountain range right after Safaga to get back to the mainland but doing around 1000 meters of altitude in the first 30km of a 160km stretch can be very energy consuming.

IMG_4648
Finally, I left the mountains behind me

At 11:00 AM I had already drunk 8 litres of water, and the later it got, the harder it became to drink. The water temperature in my bottles raised to a point where it almost burned my throat when I drank. This made it really hard to stay hydrated. After 13:00 the temperature reached its highest point, at around 45 degrees Celsius. After spending already more than 8 hours on the bicycle, my lungs started to hurt because of the hot air. I have never experienced that before, but it is for sure nothing I wish anyone to experience. During the whole ride, I was followed by the police. It is very annoying having a car driving right behind you for hours and hours. Luckily there were no places to do breaks, so I just rode through, but it’s even more annoying if they are next to you when you do a break. Unfortunately, I had to do an additional 30km detour from one road to the other just to buy some water. I didn’t know that it was that far, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. I got to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable anymore, having done 150km already I checked the GPS to see how much further I needed to go. 40 additional kilometres were just too much, and with the Police begging me since 10 o’clock in the morning to pick up my bike and drive me to Qena, didn’t help much either. For my own physical safety, since I didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital, I decided to hitch a ride with the police for 30 kilometres. For the last 10km I hoped on the bike again. I guess these were the slowest 10 kilometres of my life haha! I got to the hotel at 17:30, checked in, got some food, called my mom to tell her that everything was OK, and went straight to sleep. I got a solid 11 hours of deep sleep, which I needed if I wanted to ride to Luxor the next day. This was the closest I got to my physical limits so far, I was fine mentally but my body just couldn’t go any further. I wouldn’t have done the stretch in one day if I knew that I had to do 190km.

The next morning, as I got out of the hotel, the police was already waiting to escort me. I am now spending a couple of days in Luxor, visit some sights and just rest a bit.

IMG_4670
With the police following me in the back. There would be no need for this since it is very safe. The Police just wants to make 100% sure that I get through Egypt safe.

Radio and Podcast interviews

I have now already had 2 interviews with Radio Sunshine (Click Here) and I had the honour to be the guest in the Unsportli.ch Podcast. Check it out here: HERE. Those interviews are a great chance for me to bring you my trip a little bit closer. If you have any questions about my trip, feel more than welcome to send me a message!

People I met along the road

IMG-4380
I get invited for coffee or tee on a daily basis, and everyone is always very kind
IMG-4530
Heidi, a retired nurse from Zurich, who has been living in Hurghada for many years
IMG_4674
Buying fruits is something I missed in the desert

 

DSC_7034
I meet many truck drivers along the road who are cooking, like this one here. Very nice guys, most offer me to eat with them