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!