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by SS at 2:53 pm on Thursday 4th February

We're on the eve of our rest day now and I've finally had a chance to glance at myself in a mirror. Shockingly, my appearance remains fairly decent, aside from a fairly haggard beard and fairly messy hair. Neither are a problem though, given the lack of reason to look respectable and having to constantly wear some form of hat (either a helmet or a baseball cap to keep the sun at bay).

This next week of riding is going to be tough - it is one of the two longests contiguous riding weeks we have, seven days of back to back riding. We begin the week with two 160km days of road riding followed by our first (beautiful, hopefully) taste of off-road as we head through Dinder National Park. This park has been shut to the public for nearly a decade and we are quite privileged indeed (we were invited by the minister of that state). We're camping one night in the park, in the fine company of lions (we're told).

After this, we head to the border with Ethiopia, where in addition to kids throwing rocks at us (more on this later), we can eagerly anticipate our first mando-day. Mando (or mandatory) days are race stages which racers must compete in and cannot use their grace days (we are given three grace days to use for our worst three stage times) to cancel. They are mandatory because they are known to be difficult and this first mando day is no exception. The entire day involves 2500m of climbing. I'm hoping that there will be some nice downhill sections but I fear being struck with rocks whilst freewheeling could potentially be catastrophic, if not for the rider but for the bike.

Khartoum has been an interesting rest day. Woken up by the usual prayers at 5am, I was unable to sleep and ventured out to the intersection with the main road near the campsite where several kiosks and stalls have been set up. Walking on the street with my 'Africa-tan' was great for blending in with the locals (if not Sudanese, I at least looked Arabic) and I ate a sugary fried breakfast similar to that in of Dongola - the bread is sometimes called mandazi elsewhere in Africa and is usually topped with sugar.

After laundering our clothes (back to 80% of being completely clean, I'm beginning to think 100% cleanliness is impossible for a non-professional launderer like myself), Adrian and I began our hunt for a post office from which to send postcards back home. At first we flagged down a rickshaw and tried to make the concept of post (Adrian showed him a letter, then made some flying motions and tried miming a stamp) clear. When this appeared not to work, my Lonely Planet African Phrasebook came to the rescue with the Arabic spelling of post office and our rickshaw driver, having asked many other people for further direction, took us to the DHL office relatively nearby.

Once we were there, I queued to ask the DHL receptions where we could post a letter and they gave us the address of their DHL head office in the centre of Khartoum. Another taxi ride later, and we walked into the office to find out that it would cost 210 Sudanese pounds (approximately 50) to post a letter to Australia. Resigned to failure and not wanting to spend much more on the overall act of posting items back home, we were about to leave but asked if they knew of an actual post office - the answer, 'yes but it's far away'. Determined to finish the task we had started, we asked a taxi driver to take us there and to our surprise we arrived at an actual post office in Sudan.

At this point we didn't actually have any postcards with us, having not managed to find any shops that sold them (Sudan is really quite far from the popular tourist track) and it was yet another surprise when we saw stalls in front of the post office selling postcards. It became really obvious that tourists rarely come to Sudan (or at least don't send postcards) because the majority of postcards on sale looked like they had been printed ten or twenty years ago. They also had a variety of tourist guides on offer, 'Sudan - 1999 Tourist Guide'. Anyway, if my parents actually receive my postcard, I'll be satisfied.

Onwards now, Eastwards out of Sudan.

P.S. If you would like a postcard from any particular country that I have yet to visit, drop me a message via the contact page with your postal address and the country you'd like a postcard from. I'll try my best!

2 comments posted so far
wrote at 9:59 pm on Tue 9th Feb -
You are doing brilliantly loved your blog on the tour d Afrique website

keep on going
wrote at 4:06 pm on Sun 14th Feb -
Good Luck with rest of the tour :) I am enjoying reading your blog and all the places you have visited and the adventures you are experiencing.;)

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With the locals
2:39 pm on Thursday 4th February by SS
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by SS at 7:59 pm on Wednesday 3rd February

Since my last post there was another long day - 155 kilometres, a fairly uneventful day. I rode with Sam again for most of the day, leaving quite early (for quite a large distance we were at the front of the entire tour group) and it took about 70km for the fastest peloton to overtake us.

Today was our last riding day for this section, officially the longest section in terms of distance (whether or not it's the hardest, we'll find out). We started off with a 20km time trial and then rode the remaining 46km to lunch in our own time. After lunch, it was a 40km convoy into central Khartoum to the National Camping Residence, our campground for the next two nights.

One of the other riders commented yesterday that a time trial is known amongst serious cyclists as the 'truth test' since it's a true test of a cyclist's ability and fitness - discounting all the tactics that usually come into road riding (e.g. group riding or drafting). This morning Dave and I went for a short 10 minute warm up before we tapped out and began the time trial in turn. In retrospect, 10 minutes wasn't enough and it was a pretty slow 20km, 35 minutes with a tailwind and I was just outside of the top 10.

I really started warming up 35km into the day - after trying to ride with the semi-fast peloton for a bit and giving up because of saddle pain. Rage Against The Machine was on shuffle on my MP3 player and just after I'd dropped out of the peloton, Killing In The Name came on and with it, a sudden forward momentum. Within seconds I was up and rolling at 50kmph and decided it was easier to keep the pace for the remaining 30km than to take it easy. I zoomed past a good number of riders and reached lunch at 9:20am.

The convoy into Khartoum was easier than the last few convoys since I am now able to sit on my saddle. It was pretty warm and the traffic was heavy but the tourist police did an excellent job of ferrying us through the city. A lot of riders have decided to stay in hotels away from the campground. Those of us who are left are sharing with a huge number of Sudanese youths who are in Khartoum for an under 17s football tournament, taking place all of tomorrow. The youngest rider of the group, Steve, an 18 year old South African, has organised a match of our riders against one of the competing teams. I won't be joining them but might go and cheer the cyclists on.

This afternoon we visited the Afra Shopping Complex, a prominent mall in Sudan. After my experiences of Gurgaon's many malls in India, I wasn't quite sure what to imagine a Sudanese mall as. It was airconditioned as we had been promised but aside from a fast food court (much food was eaten), a large supermarket and a plethora of money exchanges, there wasn't really much to do and we soon left with large boxes of custard creams under our arms. Those small packets in which I bought 64 biscuits in Dongola also come packaged in boxes each filled with 50 packets of 4 biscuits each. Hopefully these 200 biscuits will last me until Ethiopia, to be accompanied by hot chocolate courtesy of a large box of cocoa powder.

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