510 km, 10534 km from Cape Town
We had decided toleave early but the bike packing allways takes longer than intended, so we were away at round seven, although we had planned an hour earlier.
There is a new road that strikes west through the Bayuda Desert to Merowe that is slightly longer than the older northern route that follows the Nile and we elected this good surfaced and faster road.
The first few hours of the morning were very pleasant riding and we made good time of the 385 kms stretch but by eleven o clock the temperature had reached 44 degrees and there is a hot wind that comes off the searing sands. Each rider has developed ways to access water while riding and we carry enough, but it always gets hot quickly and is difficuilt to drink. The idea is to stop at every village and buy more. So our modus is to cast around as we enter a village to try and spot a fridge. Then attempt to stop in some shade, buy the very cheap 500ml plastic bottles and get going again drinking as much as possible before it becomes unpallatable. Water sparayed onto the front of the shirt and arms is a wonderful cooling trick and gives a minute or two of relief before the fabric simply dries up. However there are no village or any habitation at all in this unforgiving desert and so our we were relieved to get to Merowe (not much of a town) about midday and replenish and re-fuel. We had further to go, so we wasted little time, stopping only briefly to view the ancient clump of pyramids at Ghazali. These small structures can be seen from the road luckily as the desert heat was in full swing. Setting a good pace we tackled this second part of the new road through a region called An Nuba.
Again this road is completely devoid of life and the flat featureless desert simply stetches from hazy horizon to hazy horizon.
We all busied ourselves with tricks and rewards of cooling and hydration as the kilometres ticked by and we finally reached the town of Dongola at about three o clock. A very hard days riding and personally I was taking strain. Nausea, dizziness and unquenchable thirst – quite a distessing feeling and we promised ourselves the finest accommodation the town had to offer. Yes we wre told the best hotel would be the airport hotel – so we followed the GPS to the airport to find a deserted bunch of ramshackle, goat-infested buildings that used to be the airport and hotel…no self-respecting airplane had landed here in years..!..ok..we discussed..let’s go one notch down and find the next best hotel…the Lord Hotel..back through the littered and dusty steets we rode as per the GPS and at the indicated spot was a grand looking villa which we took to be our place. We parked in the shade and Shane went to investigate…of course the Lord Hotel turned out to be grand in name only and was certainly not the building we had stopped at…and so on it went, until we had seen all the listed places and we decided to skip town and camp. We stopped to bulk stock water and some chicken and rice and as we were about to set off, a car pulled up and three men in photo-journalist waistcoats got out and smiling, aproached us. It turned out they were journalists, Reuters said the one and had been covering, or were about to cover, a lot gets lost in translation here, a story about a tragedy in Libya – obviously we were a bigger scoop because we were detained for a happy half hour telling our story while the cameras clicked from all angles millemetres from our faces. They even called their office on a mobile and we had to tell it to them.!
It was a reflective moment in all the heat and discomfort – one gets absorbed by the daily business of survival doing what we have been doing and can easily forget how unusual four white men, on fancy motor bikes, weighed down with gear, bristling with equipment must be to the residents of this very inhospitable and therefore not-much visited place.
We explained to the journalists that we could find no hotel and they immediately promised to help and seconded a local and we had to follow them through the same dusty steets passed the same bemused shop-keepers that had watched us ride back and forth all afternoon. Stopping outside the same miserable places we had rejected before, we finally said our goodbyes and left town, heading north. On either side of the Nile there is agriculture and and this road to Egypt follows the river but after 30 kms or so we found a low dune with some distance away from any farming and we pulled off the road and made camp.
Drained by the heat of the ride, camp took a while to set up, and we were soon on our matresses in our tents and asleep.