at 7:05 pm on Wednesday 14th July
I'm a bit worried that I'm in the wrong place - this is supposed to be the gate for the British Airways flight from Bologna to London Gatewick but there is no one else here. The Aerobus broke down on the way to airport and there were some amusing acts of Italian rage as fellow passengers saw the next Aerobus drive straight past us. Arriving at the airport, I rushed to the very busy checkin counter and managed to bypass the queue because I had checked in online. When going through security, lady looked at my boarding pass and said 'London this way, directing me to an empty queue - the only empty queue out of many full queues.
The only difference appeared to be the addition of an explosives scanner which, predictably, found nothing. Wandering around duty free, I struggled to find any genuine Italian coffee to gift my mother - a lifelong coffee addict (and hence coffee snob). Whether this Segafredo brand raw coffee from Costa Rica will be up to her taste, I am not sure. Quite whether it will even work in her fancy coffee machine is another matter.
My brief visit to Bologna was spurred by both growing boredom and restlessness at home (four years of summer jobs have rendered my ability to enjoy largely vacant periods of time null) and a desire to meet up with a TDA rider who I became good friends with before he unfortunately crashed out of the Tour on our second day in Ethiopia.
This was my second visit to Italy - my first being a school trip to the Lake Guardia region. Bologna is considerably older than much of what I recall of the last trip and I enjoyed the architecture. A student filled city, there was graffiti covering a lot of the area. While the vast majority of this was crass and unimaginative, there were some witty legitimate attempts at making a pictorial statement.
The city itself varies from being clean to dirty (although any traveller who has visited India will rejoice at the cleanliness). Walking the covered arcades that line the streets is fraught with danger from weaving cyclists. I was amused to see a girl on a bicycle trying to navigate a narrow gap between a row of tables and a shop front while eating a gelato with one hand and steering cum balancing with the other. Another danger is produced by the city's large dog populations and their careless owners - you can be as diligent as possible but will still dirty your shoes.
Moving onto more gastronomical and delicious matters, most people of the world are familiar with Italian food. Whatever you thought was good Italian food outside of Italy is easily matched by the cheapest street level pizzeria and for a meager €3, a margharita worth of happiness can be yours. Pasta is similarly wonderful although Vegetarians should be sure to question their assumptions when ordering about what most filled pasta actually contains.
The gelato is also a favourite of mine and, in the baking summer temperatures nearing 40° C, was the perfect treat (to be offset by about 12 hours of heavy cardio-although I wondered how all the patrons of
the parlour were so skinny). A final mention of the food, my host was insistent that I try the coffee. Apparently it is in another league to what is normally served as an espresso. Indeed it is that jolt of caffeine which is fuelling this literary burst and I can confirm that while most coffee irks me tremendously, this was at least drinkable (with a reasonable addition of sugar). The accompanying 'pasta', known to English speakers as a pastry, was much more palatable - imagine a croissant filled with Nutella in one half and custard on the other.
As a tourist, there is a fair amount to see. We followed one of the excellently presented walking tours courtesy of Tourist Information. The museum of modern art (mambo) was quite interesting, as were several churches. Most museums are usually free to visit but you may need to pay for special
On Saturday evening, we saw an Italian-subtitled American movie in a giant open air cinema in the main piazza of the city. While the movie itself (a 35 year old film called Nashville) seemed to lack a story line, the atmosphere was quite amazing - the piazza was packed full of thousands of people. Confused by the movie's lack of plot and aching from the brittle and unsympathetic chairs, we left early. Hopefully Google will be able to help us figure out the true intent of the movie.
On Sunday we took a state bus on a whim and travelled some distance out of the city to experience the rolling countryside hills. My host, a big road cyclist, related his stories of climbing the hills at just over 6kmph. He is a superb climber too so I imagine that I would most likely be walking.
That evening we watched the first half of the World Cup final in a packed Irish pub just off the main piazza. An overwhelming bias towards the Spanish side was obvious, for reasons I am unaware of. This was the first football match my host was watching and as he tried to work out the offside rule, he was quite amused at the ridiculous showboating of the world class soccer players. After play paused for half time, we went home to rehydrate ourselves via the local gelateria.
Despite trying our hardest to stream the football via the neighbour's wireless connection, we failed and thus I can maintain my achievement of not having watched the entire of a single world cup 2010 match.
Once I land back home, I will thankfully be reconnected to the world (my new mobile phone contract was annoyingly not enabled for roaming, leading to an interesting experience trying to contact my friend on arrival by first trying and failing to use a public payphone and then asking strangers nearby to use their mobile phones).
(The above post was written entirely on a touch screen keyboard. Intense.)
at 7:44 am on Friday 12th February
The last three days of riding have been quite tough, so tough in fact that I've been putting off writing an update each evening. Tonight though, I wrote a piece for the TDA blog so I'll fulfil my journalistic obligations while I have my writing hat on.
We've had two days of roughly 160km each and then 135km today, of which 85km was off-road (our first encounter with the unpaved). The first day started out slowly, as they usually do after a rest day. Having 30 riders load their kit onto a truck at 6am is never going to be the smoothest operation, especially when it's *all* their bags. I'll probably go into the locker situation more later but they're a necessary pain.
After waiting for ages to load my bags, eating breakfast and then realising I was late, I signed out and rushed to the toilet before I actually left.Not even 30 metres after I turned out of camp, the cable came off my front derailleur (also known as the thing that changes gears at the front) and I spent 10 minutes wrestling with it so that I could use my big chainring. Soon after this, my poor navigational sense led me to take a wrong turn (out of the four turns we had that day, this was the third and barely a kilometre out of camp). Double checking the directions, I turned back and was very relieved when the dinner truck drove past about 15 minutes later.
Eager to make up time, and as part of my new found speed (having almost recovered from my cold and saddle sores), I spent most of the morning cycling as fast as I could with the tailwind and caught up to the bulk of the group just as they reached lunch. I left lunch pretty quickly and caught up with an even faster group. It didn't seem like they were going fast enough though and I thought it'd be possible to overtake them. The law of the universe soon kicked in though (karma dontcha know) and within a minute of overtaking, my front gear shifter fell off my handlebars and I had to pull over.
Luckily no real damage was done but in order to tighten it and the cable up properly, it was necessary to replace the cable. Chris, the trip's bike mechanic sorted this out and it now shifts beautifully. He needed to adjust quite a few parts of the derailleur, something which I wish the mechanics at Cycleopedia in Watford had picked up - I'll be looking for a new bike shop when I get back home.
The traffic was really quite fierce that day and unfortunately there were a few accidents amongst the riders. I won't go into full detail but several helmets were cracked! The heavy traffic also caused several riders to actually cycle past camp and a couple of guys (both British in fact) cycled an extra 30-40km.
That evening, whilst being wary of the scorpions that supposedly shared our campsite with us, the staff awarded plates to the winners of the first section. I was happy to receive a special 'Bad Ass' award plate because of my efforts to continue cycling! It'll be going with the rest of my race plate collection at home.
The second 160km day was tiring too, although the road condition improved later in the day. In the morning I was overtaken by the lunch truck and managed to keep pace with it for some time as it slowed down for potholes. In my eagerness to keep up, I rode straight into a pothole and survived - my bottle decided to jump out of it's cage and explode on the road, leaving a mess of red energy drink.
I was caught in the afternoon by the second fastest group of riders, just as I was about to pull over and take a leak. I decided that this was too much of an efficiency advantage to let pass so I joined them for some time. Unfortunately there was no opportunity for relieving myself for the next hour - we picked up a police escort which took us through a crowded roundabout and town where people were out cheering, clapping and waving to us as we cycled through.
This was amazing and for the first time in my life, I felt like some kind of celebrity. Kids were going crazy and at one point ran into the road, almost closing off the way through. Most were fairly pleasant but they treated some of the later riders quite badly, throwing stones and trying to touch them as they cycled past - not amusing at all.
After the crowds had settled down, I left the group and pulled over - there are no words to describe the feeling of relief that ensued. The rest of the ride was fairly sedate, the only notable sight being some kind of airstrip where there were two wrecked aircraft strewn across the field.
Today was quite different indeed but I'll post the article I wrote for the TDA blog.
P.S. Full Mono since my one of my earphones broke.
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!
at 5:45 pm on Sunday 31st January
Tonight we're at a 'Canal Camp' although some of the TDA staff have
given this camp an alter-name of the 'dead Camel Camp' because of the
three carcasses of camels surrounding the campsite. We're still fairly
near the Nile but tomorrow will steer away from it and further into the
deep of the desert.
The heat here is like nothing I've ever experienced before. The day
usually starts off fairly cool (in fact, trying to leave my sleeping bag
every morning has become harder and harder. At about 9am, it starts to
heat up (we normally leave camp at 8am) and gets steadily warmer. I'd
hazard a guess of around 10 degrees Celsius in the morning, reaching at
about 40-45 degrees at the warmest, about 2pm in the afternoon. The last
few days I was getting in quite late in the afternoon because of various
'challneges' (not sitting down / punctures) but tried today to reach
sooner to avoid the heat.
Water consumption is a big issue here - we need to drink many litres
worth in order to stay hydrated. Today whilst riding I drank about 6
litres of various beverages (occasional 'Coke stops' are one of the
luxuries en route to camp daily) and was still heavily dehydrated when I
arrived at camp. There are clay pots by the side of the road which
contain water for anybody to drink - I didn't try any of this today but
will to tomorrow. Something about the pots' construction causes the
water to stay surprisingly cool.
The other beautiful aspect of being a touring cyclist is that your
calorie burn is sky high - effectively meaning that you can eat as much
as you like and not gain weight. The sweets in Dongola were amazing, a
pastry similar to blaclava but available in a variety of different
forms. I bought snacks for the week of riding since eating only savoury
food quickly gets weary - 64 custard creams and 20 'Caramelo' chocolate
bars. The custard creams are holding up perfectly except that the fat
person inside me finds it hard to resist them (I've been through about
20 biscuits today already...).The chocolate bars lost their solidity and
are now delicious liquid chocolate.
It's strange that having been a vegetarian all my life (intially beause
my parents were vegetarian and then later because I didn't see the point
in switching), I've been seriously contemplating eating meat. Some of
the dishes that I see my fellow riders consuming look incredibly
appetising, made worse by my insatiable cyclists' hunger. I've resisted
so far and probably will do until the end of the trip but I do wonder if
I'm missing out on something good now. In addition, it's physically hard
to consume enough calories to balance the deficit and despite eating a
huge amount at dinner, I always wake up with a rumbling stomach.
at 11:33 am on Saturday 30th January
We've in Dongola at the moment, on our second official (or proper) rest day. Another rider has his birthday today, NYC bike messenger Dave Arman, a pretty cool guy - so a shoutout to him! In the middle of the desert, it's amazing what will grow when given a proper supply of water. Dongola and the sides of the Nile are seriously green and crawling with flies.
We're camping at the Dongola Zoo, a bit of a misnomer given the lack of animals present. Dongola is a bit of a dusty town and I'm fairly sure it's affecting my asthma. In addition, I've got a headcold, probably caught from several other riders who have been coughing and spluttering for a few days now. Hopefully by the time the rest day is over it'll be on its way out but the combination of pushing yourself quite so hard whilst being ill doesn't lend itself well to speedy recovery.
So far I'm still EFI - it's strange that this the second time in my life that I've ever actually tried so hard for something (the first time being my end of university exams). Most of the time I tend to roll into things casually and don't mind failure since I don't really try. This time however, I've tried so hard for EFI that it'd be a true shame to fail. I've never heard the question 'how's your ass?' so many times. (Perhaps it would have been wise to white lie about the true nature of my problems, pretending to have a knee problem like I know at least one other rider is doing.)
We've only had three riding days since the ferry to Sudan, this route normally takes four days but has been paved over since last year - Tour D'Afrique decided to shorten it. As I wrote previously, I spent the first day (150km) entirely standing. The second day was another 150km and I was just exhausted by the end of the day. I rode with Dave and he decided to help motivate me by standing up when I was - we altogether managed about 60-70km standing up. In the evening, we had a camp fire running but I headed off to bed early, almost unable to walk. The morning of the final day was an ordeal in itself - it took a lot of effort just to get my tent and bags packed up.
As I rode my bike out to the main road where the day's ride would start, my legs felt very heavy. The racers soon started and as I started pedalling, I realised instantly that my rear wheel was flat. Thinking it was a slow puncture, I pumped it up slowly (with my tiny hand pump). Pretty much being the start of the day, the sweep rider (who rides behind everybody) caught up with my instantly, and Shanny, one of the ex TDA tour directors who is here to help the new directors out, lent me his slightly more beefy pump.
We pumped it up as hard as the pump would permit and hit the road again. Sure enough, 5km later, the tyre was flat again and it was time to replace the tube. Again, the sweep rider caught up with me and we changed the tube, pumping it up to 50psi to bide me by until I got to lunch. Caroline, the sweep rider, went on ahead, thinking I'd catch her easily - in actual fact, my legs wouldn't permit it. No matter how hard I spun, I couldn't top 25 km/h and catch her.
In the end, I never caught her, and after 40km of churning my legs trying to advance, I realised that my tyre was flat again. As I pumped it up by the side of the road in the middle of a desert, I was shocked to see a young Sudanese man walk up across the other side of the road and introduce himself to me, shaking my hand and asking if I needed any help. Once I had pumped my tyre up (and realised that the brake had been rubbing on the tyre for the last 40km...slowing me down massively), I rode with Musab (the Sudanese guy) for a while - he was apparently hunting in the desert, for rabbit and goat. On his clunker of a Chinese bike, he managed to keep up at a good 25-30km/h. His English was surprisingly good and this snippet of our conversation amused me:
Musab- 'Who is your girlfriend?'
Me- 'I don't have one'
Musab - 'Why not?'
Me- 'Because I'm in Africa'
I point to my bike- 'This is my girlfriend.'
I rolled into lunch just as they were packing up and about to send a search party to look for me, since the sweep rider had arrived and they had no sign of me. A brief lunch later and I caught up with another group of riders who had all been involved in a huge crash in the morning - supposedly a peloton they were riding in had collapsed and about eight people had hit the road. The nurse's supply of bandages has been compromised slightly but luckily no one was seriously injured.
The rest day has been surprisingly busy with mundane chores that just need to be done, washing, eating and fixing my tubes. This morning I tried handwashing my clothes for the first time ever (our negotiations with the Minister of Tourism to find someone to help us do laundry failed). The clear soapy water I used quickly turned a horrific shade of grey and brown. As I piled clothes onto my hopelessly inadequate washing line, it collapsed and a good quantity of my clothes fell into the dirty, rendering my efforts of the last hour pointless. As Ruben, a German rider said, it makes you appreciate your mother's effort washing clothes - I partially agree but they have washing machines to help them!
I them spent a good thirty minutes using my tiny pump to fill up my now fixed rear tyre. Just as I reached 100psi, I went to unscrew the attachment for my pump carefully. Within seconds I heard the depressingly familiar sound of air rushing out and thought perhaps I was depressing the valve head whilst unscrewing (as anyone who has ever used a Presta valve will know about). I unscrewed it faster and the tyre flattened even quicker - undoing all my work in less than 30 seconds. The valve attachment had unscrewed the inner part of the valve. Oops. I tried again a couple of times but no luck, so I'll try with another pump sometime later.
at 3:52 pm on Friday 29th January
Well, I'm still EFI, for the moment. Determined not to give it up, I put aside medical advice not to cycle and cycled the whole 150 kilometres today standing up. Most of the weight is transferred to your legs when you stand up, roughly doubling the load on your knees and quads, so I took care to stretch my legs every 10 kilometres or so. At the moment they don't feel too bad but I worry that this is one of those cases where the day after always feels much worse. Tomorrow is another 150 kilometres and the Egyptian doctor I saw said 3 or 4 days of avoiding sitting in the saddle. It's now been 3 days, so I'm comtemplating my options for tomorrow.
Sudan is a beautiful country - unlike anything I've ever seen before. The landscapes are stunning panoramas of sand and rock, reminding me of the Planet Tatooine from Star Wars. (Mental note: put Star Wars soundtrack on MP3 player) It's crazy warm here, and is only going to get warmer as we head further into the desert. My water consumption is beginning to go up rapidly too. The sunset from the camp was beautiful tonight, an array of colour that seems impossible to replicate photographically.
Our camp tonight is by the river Nile. I found it strange but obvious that the Nile should flow through Sudan - years of education have left the notion fixed in my head that the Nile only passes through Egypt. There are swathes of flies around, about two dozen or so are camping on the roof of my tent. There are also some scary looking insects around; when I went towards the trees earlier to discard some of the water I'd been drinking all day, my eyes slowly came to focus in on some floating object right near my face. It took a few split seconds to realise that this was a spider at which point my reflex reaction was to bend backwards as fast as physically possible. No sign of the spider since, and luckily the encounter wasn't messy as it could nearly have been.
Connectivity is good but strangely difficult in Sudan. My Kenyan sim card is now working, and I bought a local number too. The only problem is that neither lets me send text messages to the UK, which renders my Twitter updating almost pointless (I'm now phoning in coordinates to home!). However, the local sim lets me use GPRS at a not-too-unreasonable rate, which I will try once I pick up some more credit in Dongola in a few days time.
at 3:42 pm on Friday 29th January
I'm on the ferry at the moment. We're currently anchored about a mile off the port of Wadi Halfa, our entry port into Sudan. The overnight ride has been an unforgettable experience.
We rode to the ferry port at Aswan in convoy, which I successfully managed entirely standing up. My legs weren't too tired by the end of it, so I figure the 150 kilometres tomorrow might just be plausible. Boarding the ferry was a complex logistical problem which the Tour D'Afrique staff handled calmly and in the end everything went smoothly. While there were no chickens carried on board (which they had repeatedly referenced last year), there is no shortage of blenders and televisions made in China being transported to Sudan.
There aren't normally enough cabins for the entire group, so it's usually the case that the younger riders are made to sleep out on the deck - indeed I was quite looking forward to it. However, the cabins aren't the cleanliest of places and many of the older riders switched camp. While initially I was looking forward to a night on the deck, as more and more passengers and boxes were loaded, a cabin looked like a more sensible option. Luckily we managed to grab one of the spare cabins left vacant. The deck soon became a curious shanty town of boxes, rugs, sleeping bags and tinny pop music blaring out of mobile phone speakers. Some of the passengers who had evidently done this trip several times, built a fort of their goods around themselves. We joked between ourselves that it would be fun to step inside their fort and observe the end outcome but the menacing looks of the portly Arabic gentleman were enough to stop that idea in its tracks.
The ship is rusty, grimy and to quote one of the German riders - 'Everywhere you look, the ship is moving'. Our included meal on the ferry, yesterday at lunch, was punctuated by the occasional sound of slapping as riders defended themselves from the many insects interrupting the sanctity of their mealtime. The room was no better, seeming initially to be relatively clean. Eric, one of the French riders soon showed us the secret of finding the roaches (lift up the mattress quickly and look in the corner of the bed) and we hatched various plans to try and avoid bodily contact with them. These ranged from finding an alternative place to sleep (as it was though, deck was hugely congested) to sleeping on the floor (it is pretty filthy) to lining the bed with a groundsheet (we had no groundsheet here).
The final solution which I used all night, and which Adrian, my roommate, attempted for a while before giving up, was to sleep inside our tents. I used the inner part of my tent minus the poles, wearing it like a sleeping bag. This worked well enough until abruptly in the middle of the night we were woken up by a tannoy call, 'Tour D'Afrique riders, please come to the dining room immediately'. Struggling to break free of the tent, I eventually found the zip and made my way down the hallway, thanking myself that the boat wasn't sinking in this case. Having gone to bed at 7pm, and having been woken up from the deepest possible sleep, it seemed natural that it would be some obscene hour of the night. However, glancing at someone's watch, it had only just passed 8:30pm! Much less antisocial.
The reason we were woken was that Sudanese immigration now takes place upon the ferry (and not when we arrive - which should hopefully speed the process up a bit when we eventually dock). This consisted of filling out yet more forms inaccurately (when the questions are vague, what hope do you have? E.g. 'Carrier') and duplicating more information. I'm half contemplating writing as illegibly as possible for the next few countries and seeing whether anyone notices. They also took our temperature with an ear canal thermometer. Presumably this was to prevent illness entering the country but if anything, not washing the thermometer inbetween uses probably spread any sickness that was there. After this we queueued for an hour or so to get our passports stamped, after which the official realised that he didn't really need to see us to stamp our passport and just collected them all instead.
Bedtime rolled around again but it was much harder to sleep now. The hunger pangs from our bodies' now-all-eating metabolisms were beginning to strike and it took a good hour to fall asleep. This morning we awoke to see Abu Simbel from afar, a huge temple by the side of Lake Nasser. Now we wait for customs to board our boat whom the ferry captain is repeatedly calling with three long bursts of the ship's horn, deafening those on deck each time.
at 2:43 pm on Sunday 24th January
The ride into Aswan today was similar to the ride to Idfu yesterday, lots of traffic, fairly smooth roads and quite a fast pace. We rolled into lunch at about 9:15am and then into camp itself at 11:30am. The mornings are nicest time to cycle, I've decided - the winds are usually much less fierce and everything looks much prettier.
It's winter here in Egypt and the weather varies quite massively, from near zero at night to baking hot in the afternoon (no exact figures I'm afraid). Every morning it becomes harder and harder to make the effort necessary to crawl out of my sleeping bag. This morning there was lots of dew - I didn't set up the flysheet for my tent properly last night and most of the inside of my tent was wet as a result too.
I spent most of the afternoon tracking down a doctor to get a professional opinion on my saddle sores. First the local tour company who is supporting us dropped me off to a hospital where I struggled to find someone who spoke English. When I succeeded, the woman who spoke English took me to a group of doctors who were working furiously on one ill looking gentleman on a surgical table. They said something in Arabic which apparently translated to 'come back tomorrow'. After some more time and a taxi ride, I managed to find another doctor who was available. I walked up there to find two people who spoke little English. In their broken English they told me to come back tomorrow. Not wanting to give up, I asked another guy downstairs who told me to come back at 2pm.
I walked around, bought a falafel and came back after 2pm when luckily the doctor had returned. I'll stray away from graphic imagery and tell you that the overall result was that I'm not allowed to cycle for 4 days. I've also been given some fairly heavy duty antibiotics to take for the same time period. The next couple of days are only 20 or so kilometres of convoy riding, which I could feasibly stand up and cycle. However, the next two days are solid 150km days and I fear these might not be rideable. This could be the end of my EFI status.
at 1:51 pm on Sunday 24th January
It's amazing what a single day of rest can do for your body. I was actively feeling the strain in my legs the last few days before we arrived in Luxor and the ride today was almost like starting from fresh. Last night in Luxor, I changed my saddle from the (pretty new and hence unmoulded) leather Brooks saddle to a spare Specialized Body Geometry saddle I had brought with me. My saddle sores are getting quite bad, to the point where I'm on antibiotics and the nurse wants me to see a Doctor as soon as possible! She recommended against cycling but so far I remain EFI* qualified and don't want to lose it until absolutely necessary.
As I was fitting my saddle in the dark, I was surprised by a trio of staff and riders who burst into a song of Happy Birthday and handed me a box of Hohos, a local chocolate cake wrapped sweet (similar to Twinkies in texture). I was so shocked that I dropped the box, no doubt waking up a dozen other riders who were fast asleep in preparation the next day.
The morning ride was 70 kilometres of pure pace (31-32 kmph average), we carried along the same highway that took us to Luxor. I realised today that the river that I thought was the Nile is actually just a side channel of it. Regardless, it's amazing how lush the banks were, compared to the dry, lifeless and seemingly infinite desert. As we rolled up to the lunch truck, we got a stunning view of the Nile itself, shining the bluest blue my eyes would recognise. A life-giving river indeed.
Every rider in the peloton I had ridden in with agreed that we should probably slow down and take a few more photos. It's ironic that individually we were all thinking the same thing but as a group the emphasis shifted to eating up tarmac as quickly as possible. The remaining 50km we took at a much more leisurely pace and stopped several times to-
- Take photos
- Give sweets to children (but only 7 children because I ran out pretty quickly)
- Drink carbonated beverages
- Tresspass on a local market
The last item was quite amusing. Just 5km approximately from the campsite, we noticed a market on the left where pick-up trucks were congregating to drop and pick up produce and local people. It was quite obvious that this wasn't a place on the usual tourist route, so we dismounted and rolled our bikes down the single carriageway on which all the stalls were set up. About 20 metres in, an official looking guard started speaking to me in Arabic (this has happened several times now, apparently I am easily mistaken for a local). I couldn't understand him but after he started pointing to his gun and then pointing to the riders who had gone walking ahead, I assumed that this was a cue to leave. Our understanding of it was that he was quite worried for our safety and didn't want us to get into trouble in the market...very odd.
The final few kilometres took us into the city of Idfu itself, via a bridge over the Nile. The Idfu end of the bridge consisted of a large roundabout which was surrounded by hordes of Egyptians. It was here that some moron in a van decided to try and throw a stick through the front wheel of Gerald's bicycle (a French rider). Gerald sped up and chastised the guy through his open window, quite a drama to observe. Luckily no harm was done but these sort of incidents are likely to become increasingly common as we head further south (I'll explain later as we approach).
The campsite here is a bit grungy, it's a soccer field in the middle of the city. There's at least two mosques on either side (and correspondingly prayers seem to be out of tune, out of sync and extremely loud). I won't go into too graphic a description of the showers / toilets but they are possibly the worst I've seen. The shovel option is non-existent here since our trucks have already left for Sudan, taking the shovels with them. In addition, the soccer field is surrounded by tower blocks of apartments.
I feel quite happy at the moment, I'm listening to a mixture of bhangra music and Coldplay in my home - my tent. I've just discovered two pockets on the walls and I've made a makeshift desk out of my day bag so there's an alternative to the awkward typing on the knees position. It's bedtime now. Last night I was dreaming of smooth flowing singletrack since all the riding so far has mainly been road riding. This whole trip will probably mostly be some form of road cycling too. If there are any mountain bikers reading this, the next time you hit a technical piece of singletrack, drop me a thought!
*I can't remember if I've mentioned EFI yet or not. EFI means Every F**king Inch, and is a accolade given to riders who cycle every single inch of the tour. Quite why it's in inches when the tour distance is measured in metric units I'm not sure. If your bike breaks or injury strikes - or for some reason you're unable to cycle any or part of any day, you lose your EFI status. Roughly 10 or 15 riders make EFI every year and hence it is quite an elite club - about 100 or so riders worldwide.