The untold stories

It has been brought to our attention that this blog is perhaps presenting a fairly rose-tinted view of our last eight months. Therefore, in the interest of unbiased reporting and to show what lies behind the smiles and the sunsets, we have compiled a series of photos which should illustrate the somewhat less glamorous side of cycling from China to Africa.

Back to basics: bread, water and bikes have been our staples.

Not usually a fussy drinker, but the homemade Tajikistan brew was not to our liking.

The floor is often preferable to the bed.

With a limited wardrobe, all fashion sense was discarded early on.

The reason communism failed: an ex-soviet en suite bathroom.

Uzbekistan was hot! Taking a post-lunch nap under a bus shelter.

There is simply no greater (nor more widely available) refreshment.

Bike rebuild in Istanbul.

Language barriers occasionally require a more hands-on approach.

You know that storage room behind a hotel reception…. our first night in Egypt.

Finding a pesky thorn.

Another unsatisfactory breakfast.

Fire up the bedroom stove, again.

Beans for lunch and beans for dinner. Hope you like beans if you’re heading to Sudan.

Who would have ever thought that camping in a thorn field would result in multiple punctures?

Low key birthday celebrations this year.

‘Hotel’ rooms: there have been some heart-sinking moments.

Pursuit of cash in Africa has been a challenge: queuing for another empty ATM.

A familiar sight on rest/laundry day.

The washing Wife.

Don’t drop the soap… loo and shower combo.

The simple life: our luggage for the year.


Ethiopia, 2007

After passing through what can best be described as a less-than-watertight border crossing, we left the smiling Sudanese behind and departed a country we’ll remember fondly, though with a cuisine we’ll be happy to forget. The contrast once into Ethiopia was immediate; as the strict Muslim way of life was replaced by a conspicuously more liberal vibe, separated only by a poorly constructed wooden gate.

Border crossing Ebola screening: all clear.

Viewed from above, Ethiopia would appear as a series of fairly significant mountain ranges encircled by an international border. That is to say, this is a very hilly country. As a result, we have settled back into our lowest possible gear, to let the heart rate soar, the mind wonder, and once again get used to covering no more than 10km in an hour.

We carry these guys in our panniers and deploy them when necessary.

Our ride through northern Ethiopia has certainly been entertaining, as every village has greeted us with enthusiastic and very vocal crowds that wouldn’t look particularly out of place on a stage of the Tour de France. It has however been one of the poorest and most confronting sections of our ride so far, and it is hard to imagine that a great deal has changed in these communities in the last 150 years.

Avid followers of this blog may remember the difficulties in establishing the correct time when we arrived in western China to begin this journey. However, it would appear that the Ethiopians well and truly take the biscuit for confusing what should be a fairly non-negotiable concept. In yet another obscure interpretation of the infeasible beginnings of organised religion, the Ethiopians have decided their calendar should begin seven years later than the rest of the world (making it only 2007 here), given themselves 13 months, celebrate Christmas 13 days later, and decided that the sun rises and sets at 12 o’clock (though this does in fact seem to make sense). Unfortunately, on account of alcohol being illegal in Sudan, the conversation in which we learnt about all this coincided with our first beer in a month, which only added to our loose understanding of the subject. Still, for a while now we have taken to operating on our own time, based on how tired, hungry, or energetic we are feeling at any given moment, and so all this has thankfully proved to be fairly circumstantial.

The place where time was re-understood

Up hill, we are usually comprehensively beaten.

Part of a 2,000m climb.


The Khartoum gauntlet

It is hard to imagine that anything could adequately prepare you for a bicycle approach into the city of Khartoum – as an experience, it fell  exactly between exhilarating and traumatic. We found ourselves racing to beat the setting sun as we approached the outskirts of the chaos, which ultimately turned out to be a race in which we were comprehensively beaten. Negotiating the traffic, potholes, herds of cattle and hordes of people without the aid of a single road sign was not the ideal way to close off a 130km day. As night fell, a chirpy tuktuk driver pulled alongside to have a good chuckle at our situation, before advising us to be ‘very careful’; which, without wanting to seem ungrateful for the inside information, did seem to be pointing out the glaringly obvious.

After overcoming the above, the city itself provided a much-needed and relatively comfortable rest stop. In some positive news, we secured our Ethiopian visa in record time, although this has been offset by the sad news that our i-pod has broken. It’s been a roller-coaster week.

Downtown Khartoum


No bicycle required

As Sudan is entering winter at the moment, the temperature has plummeted to a frosty 39 degrees centigrade, which – if nothing else – has settled the question of whether this exercise would provide any level of enjoyment during the height of summer. As we made our way across some desolate terrain, and despite being reminded by the locals that these were indeed the cooler months, it certainly felt as though we were toughing it out in Africa. That is, until we met Masahito Yoshida.

We had met this remarkable Japanese round-the-world walker earlier in the week, and he had since leapfrogged us while we took a detour to Karima; home to the slightly underwhelming Sudan pyramids, given our recent trip to Giza.

Sudan’s pyramid efforts.

Masahito has spent the last 5 years walking around the planet (from Shanghai to Portugal, across the States, through Australia, then back to Shanghai), and now plans to tread a slow path to Cape Town. As we struggled through the heat and wind of the Sudanese desert, we soon stopped feeling too sorry for ourselves after contemplating this journey without a bike or a companion. The resilience and dedication required for what Masahito has achieved is astonishing. Bravo Masahito and good luck.

55km into his 60km day.

Some further info here:

Northern Sudan

Our preparations for entry into Sudan were neither straightforward nor particularly cheap, and so we were relieved to have finally made it over the land border from Egypt. Once safely in however, more admin followed with the mandatory foreigner registration process at the local police station. There was some confusion during this final phase, between the word ‘tourist’ and the word ‘terrorist’, which is a distinction we were eager to clarify. With some rather crude charade skills we managed to iron out the language problems, assuring the police Captain that we represented the former, and wished to stay very much clear of the latter.

Pleased to have made the first kilometre of Sudan.

The desert roads of Sudan have turned the heat on us once again, and as we pedal through a region which would appear to experience rainfall once every Haley’s comet, our bikes are regularly creaking under the additional weight of carrying the necessary water supplies. Of more noteworthy mention however, are the towns and villages en route, which have provided not only great hospitality but also much entertainment.

Hot, dry and isolated riding.

Meal times are interesting, as we make our way into some smoke-filled cooking area/shack where something will be bubbling away in a quite outrageously large pan. Once we have established that it is ‘food’ bubbling away, we request ‘two foods’ and then take the least broken chair we can find to enjoy whatever is bought over to us.

Our method of transport is certainly turning heads, and in fact sometimes it would be hard to imagine a much greater reaction had we arrived into town in a space shuttle. In a memorable moment entering the village of Abri, we were met at a crossroads by a jubilant crowd of school children celebrating their latest football victory; both parties equally confused by the other, before each going our separate ways (though we still remain unsure as to who they had beaten to warrant such a celebration, given that no other settlement existed for around 100km).

Every stop prompts a bit of a crowd.

The successful – and noisy – football team.

Overall, and despite the apparent attempts of every bus driver to break the land speed record, our ride through northern Sudan has been a joy.

Sudan has also provided some winning camp spots.

Getting out

We made a cracking pace through Egypt, due in no small part to the excellent roads and favourable winds. Southern Egypt provided us some logistical challenges as we worked for permission to pass on roads without an escort, but persistence paid off and after signing our own indemnity we enjoyed some secluded riding through pretty unique and barren landscapes. We managed to improve our personal best by covering 270km within 24hours, to arrive exhausted into the warm welcome of Abu Simbel; a town on Lake Nasser that we will remember as much for its main Temple attraction, as the good folks of the town whom among other things, served up some fine fish dinners.

However, our lasting and quite fitting image of Egypt will be that of our two bicycles propped on their stands in front of the very final (unmanned) locked gate in the border crossing process. In what was never going to be a speedy affair, we had jumped through every hoop and collected every piece of seemingly superfluous paperwork, but still found ourselves agonisingly short of no-man’s land. As an ‘official’ (wearing a Barcelona football shirt – and who almost certainly didn’t play for them) resting in a broken plastic chair bellowed in vain for someone to open the padlock, we had almost lost the will to try anymore. After much gesticulation and waiting many ‘1-minutes’, a second official found the requisite key and shuffled over to release us from this farcical country. Phew.