Erin's Tour d'Afrique Bike of a Blog!
An 8,000 mile personal and philanthropic adventure across Africa…

Khartoum, Sudan

Three years ago, I visited sub-Saharan Africa for the first time to run and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. One of the members of my climbing team was a sweet, unassuming Canadian named Roweena, with blond hair and blue eyes, who turned out to be a tank commander for the United Nations, stationed in Khartoum. She was one of those incongruous personalities (similar to many of my fellow riders on this tour), who enriched long, hard days with wild and fabulous stories. I remember her telling me about how she would rise before dawn in Khartoum (which I could not even identify on the map at the time), to jump rope alone on the roof of her building. She said western women exercising would be harassed, and hinted at the prevalent danger in Sudan’s capital city. I thought at the time, now there’s a city on earth I will never visit.

Yesterday, I found myself biking in a 65-person police convoy over the confluence of the Blue and White Nile Rivers, headed straight for the city I would never visit. I could only laugh at how the direction of your life can change in ironic and unanticipated ways. We completed one of the longest and most stressful convoys for the staff and riders (we convoy into and out of every major city), and arrived at a campsite that can best be described as rustic. In my effort to not be a princess and in response to my newfound love of camping, I started pitching my tent as many other riders beelined for the nearest hotel. My fellow campers and I immediately commenced our usual rest day routine- handwashing, electronics charging, internet finding and chocolate bar consuming. One of the most popular destinations in Khartoum is the Afra Shopping Center, which has the equivalent of a Walmart Shopping Center. Honestly, you’d think the Tour d’Afrique riders had been raised by a pack of carnivorous wolves…we raided that Sudanese Walmart like there would be no tomorrow. I think I actually saw tears in the eyes of one of the riders stocking up on unlimited potato chips, cookies, almonds and baby wipes. Many riders are still there…enjoying free wi fi, unlimited snack food options and I believe there were even a few iced cappucinos in the mix.

After agreeing that we couldn’t spend all of our time in Khartoum at the mall, Simon, Tim, Dana, Caroline and I walked down a somewhat gnarly road to attempt dinner last night. Our strategy is typically to wander until we find a place with a lot of locals and several chicken rotisseries. We ended up at this great place with chickens, fool (beans, oil, veggies and cheese), mango smoothies and the best Sudanese bread. Despite all the warnings I have read about Sudan, and I am sure there is still some political risk, I have found the Sudanese people to be among the warmest, friendliest and most beautiful I have ever encountered. The men wear long white robes and the women are adorned in colorful, breezy head scarves. Perhaps it is the difference of three years of westernization and being a tourist, but I have not felt harassed or uncomfortable, as described by Roweena. Dana, Caroline and I ended up being quite popular actually, and we had a funny conversation with a few of the locals following dinner. Khartoum is a congested and disorganized city, but I have experienced great warmth and character here.

Today, the three musketeers of Khartoum- Dana, Caroline and I – set out for further adventure. Our campsite is on the outskirts of town, so we took three public mini-buses with no idea where we were going to get downtown. For the first time in my life, I even managed to successfully navigate a Lonely Planet map to get us to the right place (this Tour is all about small victories). We managed to see the US embassy (it looks like a bomb shelter), central mosque, United Nations headquarters, airport and eat fish that I’m pretty sure were yanked out of the Nile, fried and plopped whole on our plates. I subsist in a state of hunger here that really doesn’t care if my meal is still smiling at me.

One of the really surprising influences in Khartoum is that of the Chinese. Chinese restaurants, people, language and businesses are everywhere. Sudan does not have confirmed resources of vast mineral wealth like in other parts of Africa, but in talking to the locals the Chinese capitalized on the opportunity of an untapped market to create a rich import/export and local business environment here. Seeing such undisputed dominance invites contemplation about the future strength of the United States in international business and geopolitical issues.

Now that my blog is done and my clothes have dried during the heat of the day, its time for some bike maintenance and ice cream! This evening will be our last in civilization for about a week…tomorrow we will bike away from Khartoum on a route that gets more remote with less connectivity by each kilometer. We will ride two long, back to back 160k days, and then enter Sudan’s Sinar State to ride through Dinnar National Park. We will literally be the first people to ever bike through Dinnar- the Sudanese opened it up to the TDA for the first time this year. The cynic in me is thinking there is always a reason that something hasn’t been done before…confirmed by the fact that we will be followed by park rangers with rifles to contain the local wildlife. Everyone is excited, and somewhat nervous about the first off-road leg of the Tour and seven consecutive days of big mileage (our longest stretch)! I will do the best I can to upload updates, but if not, see you on the other side in Ethiopia 🙂


6 Responses to “Khartoum, Sudan”

  1. It was so wonderful to talk to you yesterday. Enjoy the next part of your ride. Be safe. Love you MOM


  3. LOVE this!!!

  4. Thanks for continuing to share your adventure. Love you and be safe.

  5. This comment is in the category of “the Big Picture.” Michelle Obama announced a new initiative today called “Let’s Move.” She is tackling childhood obesity with a common sense approach to food and fitness. Sounds like a page from your play book. Right on…


  6. Howdy Erin,
    I am admiring you more and more as I read about your trip. But, the most important impression is your new love for “camping”. Much more tough then our Camp Adventure, but at least some good ole rustic camping.
    Today I am off today due to a lovely blizzard that we are getting. So for we have gotten about 5 inches snow here in Marlboro, but the biggest storm is coming now between 2 pm and 8 pm tonight. By the time it’s over, we should get about 10 inches.
    Belive it or not, NYC is getting it worse than us up here. All schools in the city were cancelled today, which as you know does not happen too much.
    Well, even though I am technically “off” today, I have tons of paperwork that I have to get back to… I am getting back to my work now.
    Be safe and enjoy this most beautiful trip of your life !!!
    Love, Geraly and Mike

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