Sunday we drove out and met Erik and Sally biking along on the tarmac road leading north. It's not a very busy road, especially as it was a public holiday, so they could safely bike beside each other.
Friday they had biked just 80km and the same on Saturday, in spite of starting early, but the wind against them was very strong. Sunday was calmer and they did 97km, which was very good. That night we all camped together (the German group, Sally, Erik and our family). We enjoyed Wolly's stew for supper. Sally had a shower of a sort (pouring cupfuls of water over herself) behind a sand dune, and commented that she seldom had such a panorama of wide open views when showering.
The next morning the bikers took off at 6 while it was still dark and the rest of us had a leisurely breakfast. We didn't pass them until around 11 o'clock when they had already done some 40km. The paved part of the road had now ended, but a new surface is partly prepared, which they could bike on while we had to use 4wheeldrive and drive through the sand.
We spent another night together all of us in the desert and Tuesday morning we saw Sally and Erik off by the Nile; actually a couple of kms from the Nile as I had discovered the previous day when, while waiting for Sally to make it to the traffic monument that marks the beginning¦end of the road, I took my younger son and his friend for a walk down to the Nile through the palm tree orchards and got totally lost. Sally and Erik spent a long time sitting by the monument waiting for us instead. They watched the traffic which consisted of a handful of cars in several hours!
From there they had to follow the telephone poles to Debba 30kms away. This place is infamous for it's deep sand so they were prepared for a few tough days. They have probably seen the last of tarmac for quite a while. Sally might not bike on it again untill Egypt.
So far the bikes, packs and bikers are doing well. A few pepsis have been consumed, but still no punctures (though between the support vehicles we had three!), and as far as I know, still no proposals of marriages.
Yesterday morning Sally phoned from Dongola. When we left them at the Nile they immediately encountered deep sand. When they found that they could push the bikes through the sand at a speed of just 1km per hour, they surrendered and got a very wild ride on the back of a Toyota pickup (they have to drive like maniacs or they get stuck in the sand).
After camping in a beautiful spot for the night, they found a path which they could bike on for 16 km before it got impossible again. They got another ride with another wild (and drunk) driver. Thursday they got a ride with a lorry and finally made it to Dongola where they could stay in a guest house. They spent Friday resting and looking over the bikes, and when they phoned Saturday morning they were ready for take off. They sounded to be in good spirits and the road from Dongola should be easier to bike on as they have now passed the sandiest stretch or so they hope at least.
Bye for now.
Erik and Sally phoned this afternoon having arrived in Abri. They are staying with some friends of ours there, also Germans. So when we found an e-mail for Sally from her father, I phoned back and read it to her. She was very impressed her first email from her dad; she was very thankful. Her bike does still have two wheels, though Erik has had some problems with his. It broke down as they were just leaving Dongola. They returned to the guesthouse and workshop where they had stayed. One man there had owned a bike repair shop 11 years ago. He patiently worked on Erik's bike and after three hours it was fixed. Next they visited a friend of one of Sally's students; and that wasn't a quick visit either, people are extremely hospitable outside Khartoum! They were offered an interesting dish that made Sally's stomach rumble loudly through the night Erik heard it! So that day they only did 10km, but at least they got outside Dongola.
Forty kilometres north of Dongola they crossed to the east side of the Nile. They say the landscape is beautiful with black rocks and mountains. They can see sand dunes on the other side of the Nile, but they are biking on hard ground. It's still tough biking, the wind is still against them. Christmas day they cooked a feast on the riverbank since they hadn't made it to Abri. First they had some kind of soup, then (check this recipe out!) a stew of rice, maccaroni, lentils, tomato paste, onions and tuna fish all cooked together.
As they listened to the Queen's speech on Sally's radio, she tried to get Erik to stand up, but he refused. He thought the Queen sounded posh! Sally said she didn't stand up either, because she has done so many times before, and besides, her knees ached. But she said it was an interesting feeling listening to the Queen from a river bank in the desert. They've met three bikers biking south, so Erik gave them our telephone number. They confirmed that there are two cafeterias between Abri and Wadi Halfa four to five days worth of biking.
Tomorrow, the 27th they will rest and also try to fix up Erik's bike which has developed a new weakness (not the same good quality as Sally's bike). If he can't fix it he'll have to return home to Khartoum from Abri, but they think they can patch it back together, so he can do the last stretch of the Sudan bit with Sally.
They are assuring us they are fine and send their love
Happy New Year,
Sally and Erik phoned this evening from Wadi Halfa. They had arrived there at 4.30pm alive and well (apparently Erik's bike is barely alive any more, but they made it!). The trip between Abri and Wadi Halfa went well, in spite of a persistant wind against them. This wind had been especially strong the last day as the landscape flattened out beside the lake.
They reported that the "road" was clearly marked, but with not much traffic they saw five cars in four days! In Wadi Halfa they are staying with a nice Sudanese family that we got to know on a previous visit to Wadi Halfa (by train, not by bike that time). They'll spend the first day of the new year checking tickets etc, Sally for the ferry to Aswan in southern Egypt, and Erik for the train back home to Khartoum. Both ferry and train leave once a week 5pm on WednesdayInsha'allah (If God wills). Tomorrow Sally will also try to phone England if the international line works. She still has some Sudanese money left I guess she couldn't spend it all in the two cafeterias between Abri and Wadi Halfa!
Hi Rog, am in Aswan now, well rested and with a taste for the cold Stella beer. We reached Windy Hellfa on 31Dec and proceeded to have no New Year celebreation in a Radegund sense of the word, but spent a pleasant 2 days with the family of a friend in Khartoum, drinking lots of tea, eating fool (soggy, oily beans staple diet here) and bieng taught the local Nubian language. To stay with a Sudanese family was a great ending to my time in Sudan.
Allin it took us 18 days from Khartoum cycling 789 km (13 actual full cycling days, total distance about 960km from Krt to Halfa) which goes to show what hard going the terrain was at times. We left the last tarmac behind when we hit the Nile and all the way up it varied between deep sand, fine silt, rock, and tracks similar to the worst possible offroad cycling you can imagine through slate mines in Wales. Part of it from Debba where we hit the Nile to Dongola was so sandy that we had to put the bikes on a truck. Not fun pushing; Erik described it as hiking with a backpack on wheels. The government redefines the road every year which just involves driving a huge scraping machine up to Halfa leaving behind a very corrugated surface on which you cannot do more than 8kph without getting travel sick I'm sure my spine has shortened. The last 3 days (about 130km) were the hardest as we also had to carry all our water. Once the radio mast of Halfa was sighted we emptied the excess out; but Sudan always wins we had to cycle another 15 km all the way around the wadi outlet from the Nile into the strongest wind yet hence the rechristening, Windy Hellfa. Then security stopped us and waved us into their grubby tent for no other reason than they were bored. THEN finally we got that cold Pepsi. . .and What is in Halfa? Not a lot!
My final glimpse of Sudan was from the ferry, as the sun went down on a becalmed Lake Nasser; rocky mountains rising out of calm water and not a sign of life beautiful. Aswan was fullon culture shock after months in Khartoum: so many tourists, menus to choose from, cold beer, traffic on the road, tarmac! Got used to it all now but not enjoying being on the tourist trail; all those young adventurers clutching their notsoLonely Planet guides. After so many genuine experinences in Sudan that you didn't have to pay for, here everything has a price. There aren't many places in the world where you can camp out night after night in complete safefty and all the locals want from you is a friendly hello and to share a cup of tea with them. That's Sudan. Security here in Egpyt seems to be a government initiative at job creation; they haven't yet posted tourist police in every hotel room.....
Am going to try my luck along the west bank tomorrow towards Luxor supposed to be quieter and who knows I might get a bit more of a feel for the real
Egypt. So off to have lunch, and a Stella, and a kip. Will try to send some pix from Luxor, not possible here....................
love to all
Hi Eva and gang
I am now in Cairo which is where I do not want to be, but had to come here for Syrian visa. All set now so off to Sinai tomorrow. Managed to cycle along the west bank all the way to Luxor.
Caused quite a stir one night as arrived in a village just before dark and met a teacher who said I could stay with his family. Had just settled down around the cow dung fire when the police arrived. Hadn't taken long for the village spy to contact the authorities! They were very pleasant but not sure why they had to turn up with 2 armed guards. Anyway after numerous phone calls and them slowly getting used to the idea that I really was cycling to England they let me stay. At 6.30am they arrived again to take me to Luxor but I insisted on cycling so had an armed escort for the 50km into Luxor........... Unfortunaely no way I could cycle any further North than that, so had to get train to Cairo.
My stomach has finally caught up with me with a vengence and after a month of feeling bad on and off, on the advice of Eckhardt I am taking medicine for all posible ailments.
Cairo is smelly, noisy and I have seen it all before. Looking forward to getting back on the bike happiest there! Catching the train out of Cairo to Ishmailiya after seeing driving worse than in Khartoum!
love to all
Fri 25th Jan 2002
Guess where I am? Out of Africa? Out of Egypt? . . . In Jordan in Aqaba, the only sea resort in the country. Arrived on the ferry from Nuweiba, Sinai yesterday. Since Cairo I have been on a bit of a pilgrimage; 378km through the desert of Sinai to get to St Catherines monastery surrounded by snow capped mountains and FREEZING. No other tourists around, and after all that distance I thought it'd better be good and . . . found it was shut! Some very unholy swearing went on which meant another night in a freezing room in the monastery hostel which might have been an OK cell for a devout monk but not for this cyclist from subtropical Sudan.
The trip across Sinai had its moments. Spent one night camped at a police checkpoint, another in a nunnery and yet another in a huge resort complex where I was their only guest for weeks! The kids cycling up the Sinai valleys were a real nuisance. Rocks were thrown and 1 audacious girl ripped a bag of food off the back of the bike. Stupidly she left her shawl on the ground sos I picked it up and cycled a km up the road before I dropped it. Felt better. Decided that the next kid that tried anything I would get off the bike and whack them one. And I have to say, I did. Not proud off myself, but I felt a lot better. This lad decided to play with the brake lever whilst I was setting off from a cafe. I half fell off and ran after him. He cowered behind one of the men at the cafe but I whacked him anyway! Great! The euphoric adrenalin rush lasted a good 10 km and then I began thinking what if . . . deserted road, lone tourist . . . what if dad came after me in his pickup? Didn't have any rest breaks before I had put the equivalent of a lot of gasoline between me and the village so it was too expensive to come after me!
In the end the monastery was worth it. You could feel the significance of the place and the sunset from the top of Mt Sinai was one of the best. The road in had been virtually flat. The one out wasn't but ended on a 10km downhill to the sea and one of the best Korean/Chinese restaurants outside of Asia; the Han Kang, Nuweiba. Run by Hany an ex musician and his Korean wife , I had to eat there 3 nights in a row to get a complete fix. His only customer for those 3 nights we sank a beer or 2 and compared travel stories.
To date I have only had positive experiences travelling alone. My typical Western woman's image of the stereotypical Egyptian male has changed. It helps so much to speak some of the language because they then see you as more than just a tourist and want to know why you know Arabic and the whole story comes out. I have only been in Jordan for 24 hours but they seem even friendlier and less intrusive. So far on this trip I have put myself in situations which I would think twice of doing at home; cycling for kms alone on deserted roads, climbing mountains etc. I would only do that if I felt safe and you are because you are so conspicuous that everyone knows where you are! Ironic . . .
Tommorrow I saddle up and head out to Wadi Rum and then Petra, and the King's Highway to Amman and friends to stay with . . . The road out of here is a vertical killer but good practice for the rest of the Highway apparently.
I am now in Kerak, 900m up on a windswept hill, location of a spectacular crusader castle. I have fallen in love with Jordan. The landscape is harsh, demanding but beautiful. I have done some of the hardest cycling in my life; fully loaded with 20+kg. 3 times so far I have biked climbs of almost 1000m the last one a 13km uphill which took 1½ hours. The terrain is basically flatwadi (dried up watercourse) followed by climbs to ridges at 1200+m then some undulations then another spectacular downhill, perhaps for 20+ km at speeds up to 65kph, then aaaaaaghhhhhup again. Sue's Tiger Balm has been keeping my knees in working order á la Battram!
Amongst this terrain are hidden three spectacular places: Wadi Rum, Petra and Dana. Rum is a 4km wide wadi stretching 130km into Saudi with mountains eroded into shapes I thought only humans could create. Gothic arches, bridges, holes, basins, ship's prows, shelves. The resultant acoustics mean you can hear Bedouin children playing in far off canyons, and goats with bells sound far nearer than they really are. Here I discovered that you can go through mountains not just over them. Did three hikes Indiana Jonesstyle which took me up canyons, scrambling up cliff faces, under huge boulders, scraping down purple, red, pink sandstone and at every turn more weird shapes half in sun, some areas deep in the mountain never in sun, then round a corner a spring and trees. A Bedouin Garden of Eden. After six days it was very difficult to leave even if a Bedouin kid did manage to fall on my tent and break a pole very irritating.
Then Petra, a replacement for Rum in the WOW category. Lots has been written of the Rose coloured city so I was prepared to be underwhelmed but was disaapointed not to be! That first view of the city at the end of the 1km canyon is truly arresting. I think not because of the carving or the colour but because of the location and our eyes. The dark canyon suddenly ends in a wall of sun which as your eyes adjust becomes less harsh, revealing detail and colour. The spectacle only impresses for as long as it takes your eyes to adjust to the light, but well worth the ride from Sudan.
Dana however is Jordan's best kept secret, and is the kind of place you arrive at and think 'Why does the guidebook rave over this? I'm out of here in the morning' and then you end up staying 5 days. It is a 500yr old stone village perched on the end of a spur overllooking Wadi Dana which stretches 16km down to the Dead Sea. I walked the length of this on the look out for wolves and hyenas before they looked out for me. Disappointingly we did not meet but instead rendezvoused with the Bedouin owner of the hotel and two of his friends and camped out under the stars drinking endless (well 25 in fact) cups of Bedouin whisky. This is in fact very sweet weak tea with a sprig of something like sage added to it and once you start drinking it you are hooked. Again, after 3 weeks spent camping for free in the desert of Sudan I was prepared to be disappointed but it was different scenery, people and sunset.
So the beentheredonethat mentality can thankfully be proved wrong. What makes Jordan though, is all of this and the people. They are just so friendly in a genuine way. At tourist sites in Egypt in most cases you feel the people are friendly because they want something from you. Here, no. They just want you to try the Bedouin whisky and chat. The people in the hotels know how to look after their guests. None of this cold professionalism you get in starrated Band Bs in England. The management are interested in their guests here and give you tea for free. Mrs Smith in the Bognor Regises of this world take note. You do it for the people not the money, too much work for the money!
Anyway I seem to be rambling a bit now........haven't had a tea for at least an hour. I have also become addicted to this lifestyle. No stress, responsibility, schedule or appointments. Totally self indulgent, perhaps selfishly so, that's why I want to write up some of the adventures to share on my return. Some news from home has made me realise how lucky I am to have the time, money and particularly the health to be able to do what I want.........Tomorrow it is on down then up Wadi Mujib, a 1km deep, 4km wide fissure in the Earth's surface put there to test cyclists....................You may be glad to hear it is damp and 8C at the moment.
Sat, 24th Feb 2002
Still here (Amman) and finding it difficult to leave when surrounded by home comforts. Nancy has been great and I have done a lot of eating. Off to join the Hash tomorrow then cycle to Dead Sea then North along Jordan valley and into Syria.
GOING ON A BEER HUNT
Duck out of the hotel and down the hill in the dusk drizzle, mentally preparing to run the gauntlet of yet more cries of 'Welcome to Jordan', 'Hello', 'Drink tea', and the continual sounding of horns by taxi drivers (if I wanted a taxi would I be walking out in the rain?). Numerous stares particularly from old men in their redcheck teatowels and long brown coats. I imagine the thoughts shown on their faces: what is it, male or female? why on its own? is she going on the same errand as last night?
Past the live chicken shop where the owner is stuffing more squawking white bundles into yellow plastic cages. Dodge the skinny-skinned goat carcasses with their severed windpipes upturned, now funnelling the rain onto the pavement. There's a large black and white cow's head on a metal tray barring my way. A guy outside a clothes shop is brushing the flood water into the gutter which further down has been thoughtfully lined with cardboard to make walking less squidgy. The young guy in the Arab herb shop giggles with his mate as I go by. Earlier he had given me some free sage to go in my tea to make Bedouin whisky. No point in acknowledging the audience and eliciting more giggles. Stride purposely past fruit and veg shops where cars triple-park at any angle, drivers shouting orders from the dry comfort of their cabs.
The rug shop looms. The two men inside seem to have been weaving continuously since my arrival 2 days ago. Receive yet another gesture from them to drink tea. Should I stop this time to give them a rest? NO!...... The Amstel sign appears. Furtively enter, and in my haste end up buying the 7.5% stuff that gets wrapped in newspaper and placed in a black plastic bag obvious or what? Enter the street again and rewind the route wondering what the passersby really think of this single, beer drinking woman.
Mon, 26th Feb 2002
Did the Amman hash yesterday. Bit hilly but a good bunch who know how to enjoy themselves. One of them produced a bar from his car boot with taps and cooling system and within minutes the Amstel was flowing at the picnic spot on top of a hill with views of the Dead Sea and Israel.
Sun, 24th Mar 2002
Merhaba! from Iskenderun Turkey (formerly known as Alexandrette after Alexander the Great, who stormed through here on one of his many conquests).
So I have made it to the Med, which will be my companion for the next month and 1000km+ I have come a long way, and to think the waters here are mixed with some from the Nile too that passed through Khartoum just like me!
Since the last update I have cycled the length of Syria, a country I knew nothing about, and Blair and Bush obviously do not either if they think its full of terrorists. It is not as backward and closed as the guidebooks suggest. There were internet card phones, mobile phones, a country in fact striving to catch up with technology after President Assad died 2 years ago, and replaced by his more forward thinking son Bashar. In fact I quite admire the Syrians. It is one of the few countries I am aware of that is self-sufficient; it needs and accepts no aid from the West, and so is free from the conditions, ties and interference that follows. It is independent and self contained, and that is why America is suspicious of it: no Pepsi or Coca Cola here! So many things hadMade in Syria written on them have not seen that in Britain for years!
The highlight of Syria has to be the people. They are just so friendly and hospitable. If I had accepted every invite I would still be there. One stretch in the North where I knew there were no hotels and so was prepared to camp, I was invited to stay with two families. On the second occasion I stayed an extra day and helped to milk the cows and eat the most delicious yoghurt ever. It was a huge family; everyone interrelated with husbands' fathers being wives' uncles and some aunts only being 2 years older than their nieces. There is absolutely no privacy or time alone except on the toilet, so it amazes me that everyone gets along; but they do. They all sat together in the evening talking about nothing in particular with no toddler tantrums, teenage moods or adult altercations. When I left Fatima the matriarch cried and loaded me up with homemade olive oil cheese and jam.
My route took me (for those in the know re. antiquities) to Bosra, Damascus, Mar Musa monastery, Hama, Afamia, Aleppo. Also visited the crusader castle of Krak de Chevaliers and Palmyra, but by bus. Other highlights apart from the locals included a night as a damsel in distress high up in a hostel in the old citadel of Bosra. Being shadowed very unsubtly by the police past the touchy area of the Golan Heights and the Israeli/Syria/Lebanon border on my way to Damascus. At one stage a Skoda full of suits pulled up and asked me if I was married, and what I had done with my travel companion. They were interrupting my lunch so I was quite short with them as they clearly did not believe I was on my own and had come from Sudan. When I asked them if they were police they laughed and drove off, pulling into the military establishment up the road. Not sure what they thought I might have in my panniers! Spent 3 nights in a monastery perched high above the desert meditating in the church being watched by staring faces from some beautiful 11th century frescos. Almost trod on a black snake in the ruins of Afamia. Discovered that these black-clad, veiled Muslim women wear some pretty risqué, non existent underwear under their 'I am a good muslim wife' outer wear; found that out on a couple of visits to ahammam (Turkish bath).
And to finish, for all of those out there that think this is a holiday, it is not! It is not stress free cycling home with no responsibility schedules and answer machines (I hear some of you scoff). There never is a perfect day, what with worrying about crazy drivers, broken spokes, hills, never being inconspicuous, finding a good safe place to stay (my first night in Turkey was a nightmare!). I have decided from now on to be 'married' and am going to get a rear view mirror (for the bike that is )
On! on! along the Med
Thurs 4th Apr 2002
Turkey. Sometimes feels very familiar and European, and as I lived here for a few months before there is not a lot of new to experience. The language and the flavours and the memories of the appalling drivers are slowly coming back. The first few days cycling were awful but west of Adana it got a lot hillier, but quieter and really beautiful (what I saw of it between heavy thunderstorms).
The coastal road finds a route somehow between the snow capped Toros Mountains and the sea, often winding for kilometres up through pine forest to the point where this cyclist is cursing out loud and then . . . . a brake block burning descent to a beach and small teaserving hamlet before more 'up'. One day I did 3 such descents which made Wadi Mujib in Jordan feel like a light training run. More often than not all I can hear on the road is my heavy breathing inhaling pine freshness, waves, the wind in the trees, and the larks celebrating in the sun
. . . . that is what I am cycling for!
The Turks are kind rather than friendly. Business is business here and the offers of tea come with a price attached. I miss the genuine Arab hospitality, and at times in the past 10 days have felt as a traveller may in England; treated politely but very much on the outside looking out. There are of course exceptions. One day I got caught in heavy rain 10km from my destination and sought refuge in a cement factory (perhaps not a good idea in the rain). The overworked managers on their 100th cup of tea of the day beckoned me in, gave me tea, and then put me and bike in a truck and delivered me to the hotel.
I am now in Alanya, a package tour resort for Germans and Dutch. As I cycled in past the expanses of white flabby Euro flesh catching the rays and heard 'And the next event of the morning is the table tennis tournament' my heart sank. I had not cycled to enter Butlins Hi Di Hi land. The setting however is beautiful - a long sweeping bay backed by snow-covered mountains and a spectacular castle perched 3 km up on a rock outcrop in the bay.
I decided to stretch the walking legs for a change and took in the views from the top of magnificent city walls still clinging to the rocks after centuries of battering by the sea. On the descent I decided it was time to get my feet wet in the Med, stepped onto the beach, stumbled and fell badly. To cut a long story short I have damaged the ligaments in my left knee and ankle. After picking myself up from the sand it was a very long, lonely hobble back to the hotel, with lots of 'what ifs' running through my head. I know all about damaged left knees after a spectacular ski accident in Japan 10 years ago. I spent all that night comparing past pain with present and working out various scenarios. All of them bringing me back to the fact that I WAS cycling home. Anyway to cut along story short I am confined to bed and ice packs for a week after which I go for another checkup and may be (WILL BE!) back on my bike in a couple of weeks. Of all the things that could happen . . . and I was completely sober too! One consolation is that the doctor said I had good muscles which is nice to know having worked on them for 3600 kms. So I am subjected to endless BBC World updates of the countries I have just cycled through being sucked into more and more chaos, thinking just what is it and this ride of mine all about.
Back in the saddle HURRAY! I do have to lift my foot on to the left pedal though, but once I am underway the knee feels fine -- I just cannot walk very well: keep at it while the going is good! Also I had to leave Alanya as I was down to Mills and Boon reading material amd my bar bill was creeping up. Cycled in shorts yesterday for the first time since the desert in Sudan. I guessed the locals here were used to seeing half naked tourists so another one would not matter and I wanted to show off my bandage too. Of course the sun went in as soon as I set off and I did feel slightly undressed after all that cycling through the muslim countries in Khartoum Zagrag height of fashion tie-dye trousers.
My bike went to hospital too in Alanya, and had the back wheel rebuilt by a very efficient mechanic who kept saying 'keine problem' (all tourists are German in this part of Turkey) when I took it back three times to be adjusted! Lets hope so!
On my trip I have seen a lot of strange objects and got whiffs from a menagerie of dead creatures on the bumpy gravelly part at the side of the road that we would call the hard shoulder and only pull onto in an emergency, but which in Turkey the cyclist is forced to ride along by appalling drivers forcing her off the road. In Sudan there were bloated camel and donkey corpses. In Jordan and Syria lots of squished dogs. But yesterday I came across a live crab, pincers raised, just about to sidewalk across the dual carriageway. We both seem surprised as we were both a long way from home, except I suspect he fell off the back of a passing seafood lorry and I did not.
The state of the knee ummmmmmmmmmmm. Well I am better on than off the bike. Still do not have full range of motion, and do not think I will until I get home and get it seen to. Quite painful a lot of the time.
The state of the bike ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Well Mr Seda Bisiklet in Alanya did do a great job rebuilding the wheel: no spokes have popped for about 1000 km. However developed a puncture problem, for some reason breaking on the severe downhills. After 3 days of stopping and fixing rips on steep inclines I got hold of some more rim tape and no more punctures! But never a dull moment. The bike has now become a metronome on wheels with a really annoying ticking noise coming from the region of the bottom bracket. This is a potentially major problem but after consulting my bike gurus back in Blighty, Mike and Crabbo, the advice seems to be keep pedalling and it might make it home.
Today started with catching a ferry across Izmir bay to avoid the worst of the traffic, slowly realising throughout the day as I got things out of my bar bag that the management in the hotel had been through it but taken none of my valuables (luckily my money was stashed elsewhere) and 97 windblown kilometres later I arrived at a hotel in a restored Ottoman house with a turn of the century fire proof safe in the wall by my bed.
Since Alanya I have covered about 1000 km and all of it seems to have been hills: backbreaking ones. The other day near Marmaris I was enjoying a bit of relative flat and actually taking the time to look around me a bit. The mountains loomed on my right and the sea sparkled on my left. At the top of the highest peak was a white building and I thought "Who wants to go up there?" It turned out to be me. 1½ hours and 10km later the road led me up what can only be described as a cliff with pine trees a road and power lines clinging to it. That was worse than anything in Jordan because of the angle of the road.
I am now cycling the Aegean which is supposed to be flatter: but flatter often means straighter roads so a biker is more at the mercy of the wind.
One place I lingered in for a while was Dalyan on an unpronounceable lake called Köyceðiz. Hired a boat and toured the natural hot springs and mud baths for the day in remote spots where the Sultans used to come on holiday. On the way back caught a glimpse of a rare turtle: magic. In the village before Dalyan when I was sheltering from the rain, I met the local Mr Chrome man. Ortaca is the chrome capital of the world apparently and he extracts it. He kindly gave me a big lump to take home to show children in geography lessons in England; it fell off my bike later. We also had a discussion in very broken German about why there were not any Turkish bakeries in England, and could he come and open one in Cambridge. After a tour of his friend's bakery I learnt that it takes 100kg of wood to produce 5000 loaves. I tried to make him understand that we did not have enough wood, and probably could not eat that quantity of bread: but you never know.
Shortly after that I bid farewell to the D400 road which I had followed for most of my way so far through Turkey. It went up a huge hill to Marmaris and I went up another as previously described. I also finally finished the bottle of olive oil and packet of Zatar (savoury powder) I had been given by the Syrian family I stayed with near Aleppo: Very well travelled breakfast ingredients.
And to finish . . . if any of you want to try Hair Dried I know just the restaurant. And if you can say this price out loud you are doing better than me 4 451 160 000 TL . That will probably be the price of bread here if their maths or inflation does not improve!
Great!!!!!!!!! Europe has been spotted just under a kilometre away across the Straits. Yesterday battling to here against a brutal headwind I had some spectacular views of the Gallipoli Peninsula rising vertically out of the sea and the Straits curving away towards Istanbul, dotted with ships from who knows where carrying what. This narrow stretch of water is not just of historical importance but is an major landmark on my tour. It is where I will pass to my third continent and I finally feel as though I might actually get out of this country!!!! Look at a map and find Antakya near Syria then trace a route all along the coast to Cannakale and that is what I have cycled; 2075km in 30 cycling days. Not sure why. . . but quite an achievement I guess!!!
The Aegean coastline is far less touristy than along the Med and I have spent the last 3 days cycling along a small coastal road past ruins from 800BC, through flocks of sheep and goats, away from (at high speed) BIG sheep dogs, ending the day with a dip in the sea.
My bike and I are now taking some time off from each other. Tomorrow I take the bus Inland to Eskisehir, halfway between Istanbul and Ankara. I taught there for 5 months in '96 and will visit a former student and his family: Looking forward to it as I have a list of questions to ask them about Turkey, thought up in the past month but unable to find answers as have yet to meet a Turk with English that extends past listing our main football teams and famous players. After that it is across to Gallipoli and then I have to decide: Do I go to Bulgaria, Romania or Greece, Italy? The thought of following flat terrain by the Danube is very tempting but so is the thought of more sun in Greece. I am apprehensive about running into gypsies in Bulgaria as I have heard they are into mugging tourists. We shall see. . . so far so good and I want it to remain like that.
Days - on and on
It was a great feeling yesterday coasting through the Thracian landscape towards the minarets of Edirnes Selimiye mosque, one of THE most beautiful examples of Ottoman architecture, knowing that Turkey was finally over! It seems to have been going on and on but has got me the fittest I have ever been and given me a great tan and funny walk in the process.
After a 120 km ride I dived into the nearest hamam on arrival. This one happened to be from 1400's and built for the Sultan. Little used today. In fact I was the only customer much to the amusement of the lady in charge who stripped off with me and performed the kese and massage with much vigour burbling away and cackling with laughter. She used up most of my bottle of shampoo so I must be clean. If you do not know what kese is it is a rub down with a very abrasive mitt which loosens loads of black grime. I went back today and this time shared the gloomy marbled area under the dome with two brown rats. Did not administer kese to them though.
Have pondered my coming route a lot in recent days. Nobody seemed to have a good word to say about Bulgaria and I woke from dreams of thieving gypsies and rabid dogs. . . Decided to make no decision but yesterday morning found me cycling out of Kesan north instead of west to Greece, so I guess I am going to Bulgaria! And then as always happens when you travel, I pulled up at a petrol station at a major intersection and there were two more cyclists from Germany who had just come through. . . yep, Bulgaria! So now I at least have a map and am trying to break the code of their strange alphabet. We exchanged info and I discovered that Bulgaria is much smaller than I thought and it is only 350 km to Sofia which I hope I can cover in 4 days.
I also witnessed them go through a typical Turkish experience just 2 hours into their time in this country. The waiter was very attentive, brought us tea and more tea and then a sandwich and drink for the route. The Germans were loving it, thinking how great the Turks were. For me the veteran, the alarm bells were ringing. Out came oranges form his mum. . . and then the astronomic bill. He obviously thought I had just arrived too but I waded in with my Turkish which must have sounded fluent to the Germans and he scuttled off to do some more inaccurate maths. He wanted the equivalent of 24 euro which had one of the Germans shaking with rage. The waiter's friend (well probably not now!) came up and muttered something about beþ million which is about 5 Euro which is what I told them to pay him. We handed back the oranges and sandwiches and the waiter then refused to take any money! What an idiot. If he had played it fair from the beginning without bringing gifts he would not be out of pocket! I guess with a bad economy the Turks should be money obsessed, but there are more subtle ways of ripping off a tourist.
Off the beaten track though there still is an amazingly warm, genuine welcome as I experienced when I returned to Eskisehir to visit a former student and his family. I was fed, entertained, organized - because they wanted to. I was even loaded up with a bag of homemade borek (cheese pastries) and some helva (an almost pure sugar dessert) as bike fuel. We went to a club and heard some excellent live Turkish music and I got up and danced Turk/Arab style i.e arms in the air and legs shuffling. I do not do dancing very often! It certainly felt as though I had a social life again, however temporary!
I now aim to zoom through Bulgaria and the corner of (I think) Serbia into Hungary to join the Danube into Budapest where I will enjoy the Gelert baths before descending upon a good friend from my Japan days who lives in Vienna. That is assumimg my luck and more importantly the bottom bracket holds!
Since last time I garbled out an update I have covered 1000km in 9 days in a ride which has linked the capitals Sofia, Belgrade, and Budapest but on FLAT roads Hurray!!
Entered Bulgaria with trepidation determined not to be robbed by gypsies or bitten by rabid dogs as I had been warned about. Of course it turned out the opposite. Bulgaria is an overlooked part of Europe as yet unspoilt by tourists, so the people were fun and helpful and inquisitive about just what I was doing passing through on a bike. It was a turning point in my style of travel too, as I was not armed with the notsoLonelyPlanet security blanket book or a helpful smattering of the language. It was the first country on my trip at peace with itself and its neighbours and you could sense the ease of the people, especially in Sofia.
I had one adrenalin rush incident though, on the long day into Sofia. As bikes are banned on the autobahn I had to follow the no longer repaired former main road. I had stopped for a coffee in the market square of a small village, on view to all the rough types swilling their beer and cruising past on scooters. There was only one road out, so my route was obvious to all. It led downhill through uninhabited forest and I thought the best thing to do was to blast my way through it as soon as possible, my imagination running wild with possible scenarios if a scooter did appear in the rearview mirror. I was tearing along at 30kmph careering around and through the potholes, when suddenly the lone cyclist's worst nightmare appeared in the middle of the road some 100m ahead: a huge black dog! I screeched to a halt and we eyed each other up. Then just as I had resigned myself to the fact that I would have to trust to luck and proceed it slinked off into the trees again . . .
Serbia followed next where the people were colder and harder but equally as inquisitive. I asked everyone I struck up a conversation with exactly what I should call the country I was in. Some said it could no longer be called Yugoslavia as it had become a lot smaller than the area the original name had covered. Others said that despite the war they were still living in the same place and even though they were Serbian they were in Yugoslavia. Everyone had strong opinions that was explained to me by an astute diplomacy student to be the Serbs' main problem: too preoccupied by politics to enjoy a peace. He was a refugee from Croatia and had lost 11 family members. A waiter I met was proudly wearing a new tshirt with a picture of Milosovic on it and the captionSerbian Hero. To many people he is: in the waiter's words 'He tried to stop Yugoslavia from getting smaller'. He agreed with me though, when I pointed out that some of his methods were not very humane. Then there was Nesha who when he heard I had come from the Arab world said he hated all blacks, Muslims and foreigners who were interfering in Kosovo. He then gave me his phone number in Belgrade. Wonder what he would have done if this tourist had contacted him!
I met the Danube in Belgrade which I did not think was supposed to happen until Budapest. Which is where I am now. Belgrade turns its back on the river, Budapest shows off along both banks with beautiful monuments and buildings making it a city you could easily fall in love with. I have visited two thermal baths both built by the Turks and the only visible sign of their former rule here.
It feels very European. I am back in the land of ATMs, Tesco, M & S, and European prices. Rules and regulations are beginning to creep in again making me feel a bit feral! Let me give you an example. In thesouk (Arab market) you are encouraged to try produce before buying: it is a sensible sales trick. So I was happily trying the cherries stacked on a stall in Budapest market with a view to buying and the owner was not pleased at all. 'Hey lady, no!' So when it came to my turn I got him to explain the four different types, pretending not to understand his English. Then after the explanation he invited me to try the cherries! Surely if you can try the cherries before it is your turn to be served it speeds everything up. On the tram here it takes 2 stops to read all the information. Dogs even have to have a ticket. I think the Hungarians need to lighten up a bit. Few smiles here.
But as well as being a bit feral I am up to date fashion wise. A mountain bike isthe fashion accessory here and you can see young things bombing along the cycle lanes in all the right gear. Yep of course ruleobsessed Hungary would have to have bike lanes. And the bike lanes even have speed bumps!
Talking of bikes I have a new bottom bracket and full use of all gears at last. I left Sudan unable to use the highest and lower gears and it's only taken 6500km to get it sorted.
So no more ticking from the bike, only the knee. Vienna beckons and the anticipation of catching up with a good friend and lots ofSachertorte.
17th June 2002
Vienna 6879.1kms and counting. . .
After rain and cycling in circles on badly signposted Hungarian bike tracks and then when thoroughly fed up finding it was illegal to cycle on the main roads somehow I made it into Austria and Europe proper! On re-entry I was completely Euro-ignorant and my first purchase of a phonecard had me very confused as the shop assistant quoted the price in Euros and Austrian Schillings. I was sure I was supposed to use only Euros! My friend Claire cleared up the confusion by explaining that prices are still given in both currencies as the Austrians are confused too. The other shock has been having to pay much more for everything hence I am typing this at high speed as per 10 minutes is the same as per hour in Turkey!
My triumphal arrival into Vienna following the Danube, and then casually knocking on my friend's door of course did not go as planned. Heavy rain had flooded part of the bike track but in gung-ho mood I decided I could wade across. Halfway across, getting caught up in fastflowing driftwood and a bit anxious that I might be swept through Vienna, common sense prevailed and I turned back. On remounting I found the pedals would only turn backwards. Squelching through the mud I arrived in the next village to find them all out preparing for a Meadow festival that night. Whilst I had my first typical Austrian coffee topped with whipped cream 7 local bike experts came to the same decision I had; the Budapest-fitted bottom bracket was rubbish and now completely waterlogged. One of them took me home to meet his family and I spent a great 2 hours showing them my route and being told all about Austrian politics and immigration problems. So Claire, who I had not seen for 3 years, had to come and collect me by car. Was this really a cycle trip she thought. . .
The last time I had been in Vienna was as a tour guide when the man in the room next door to me was strangled to death by his belt. Lucky the murderer got the right room. Nothing untoward on this visit only that two misconceptions have been cleared up. Firstly the Danube is not blue, and secondly Vienna is not on the Danube but some kms away, as the Romans who founded the city found out that the river floods, so set up camp on some dry land instead.
But in many ways Vienna is the pinnacle of my trip. The city is captivating, the architecture dazzling, the coffee shops addictive. The Viennese are civilised, sophisticated and laid back. Everything works and they have a quality of life lacking in England. For example, here the public transport works, is frequent and cheap. England cannot even manage one out of these three. We had an Empire like the Hapsbergs - why are we in such a mess and the Austrians are not?
So pinnacle it is. The trip in effect is over and I am not sure today if I am really looking forward to the reality of Britain. But I have the Danube to admire for another 350kms then across to the Rhine and many visits to German friends I made in Sudan some of whom saw me off in the desert 6 months ago - I am tearing myself away from Vienna with much difficulty on Wednesday.
Dateline: 24th June 2002
Update. . . Arrived in Passau yesterday after a fantastic 5 days cycling along the Danube from Vienna. The route was easy to follow, flat, and the scenery on the whole stunning; vineyards, castles perched atop crags, campsites right on riverbank, most (which is a slightly alcoholic mixture of apple juice and a first grape fermentation). Amazing views at each twist of the river. At times in a deep gorge with wooded cliffs either side and no house in sight you would not believe you were cycling through the heart of Europe. I would recommend the trail to anyone, professional biker or not! In fact at times it was a bit like a bike motorway as it is a very popular route. Of course I felt superior to the daytrippers with their shiny bikes and small panniers. The few times when I let on where I had come from there was disbelief. I think they thought me a compulsive liar or just could not think of what to ask next, as the conversation invariably ended then!
I took a detour to Shallaberg castle near Melk only to find that there was an exhibition about Sudan on. I could not believe it. I had cycled 7000km from Sudan to see. . . an exhibition on Sudan. It was very accurate and comprehensive down to items from the souk/market huts patched up with old Marlboro plastic bags and oil lamps made from old tomato cans. It made me extremely homesick for the place!! In my bad German I explained where I had come from but again stunned silence!!!! Compared to England this part of Europe seems bike obsessed and there are so many bike routes to choose from it is all a bit overwhelming. But no more dodging trucks and being driven off the road by coaches. I think I can continue just to enjoy the cycling for once and not have to worry about traffic. When I think back to some of the roads in Jordan or Damascus in particular I cannot believe some of the risks I took! Anyways time for coffee and a huge blob of schlag
P:S new bottom bracket fitted but still the bike ticks. . . odd
Dateline: 8th July 2002
"Morgen" from Bonn. I have just given my first talk on my trip to a very interested group of German English language students all of whom are about to embark on their own adventures overseas as development volunteers. Will be spending the next few days with German friends from Sudan some of whom I last saw when they waved me off along the Nile after escorting me across the Baiyuda desert north of Khartoum. So many kms and days and adventures later we meet again this time for a legal beer not full of sand!
It is possible to cycle all over Germany on bike tracks and I have followed rivers all the way to here. It is fascinating to travel these routes which snake you through medieval Europe and to know that you too are travelling at the speed if not in exactly the same style as people did back then. Feel like a real traveller! After the Danube, the Altmuhl to the Tauber until it flowed into the Main and then the Main into the Rhine. Meeting the Rhine was another landmark of my tour. At the 0.0km mark for the Main where it joined the Rhine, there was a sign with distances marked all the way to the Black Sea. I too had travelled the 1320kms quoted to Budapest. Stopped a couple of German cyclists to take a picture for me and got the usual stunned silence when I told them I had come from Sudan. I am becoming reluctant to tell people the truth to save them the embarrassment of not knowing where that is or what to ask next. Even get the feeling sometimes on the campsites that people view me as odd enough turning up on my own and camping one night only and heading off without even knowing the full story. Conversations rarely get past "Morgen"!
After here I will take a detour to Aachen to see another German friend and just for the hell of it to cycle up Holland's highest peak (should take all of 5 minutes!) before freewheeling to the Hook and the boat to Harwich and REALITY and all the good and bad that entails . . . hum . . . not sure I am looking forward to that part! So the next update will probably be one about arrival and finishing. Or is this just a warm up for another trip????
On On to be back in residence in Cambridge end of July, INSHALLAH.
P:S: As I have lost all the messages on the guestbook many more new ones much appreciated please.
Updated stats at day 192, 9th July, total distance 8125 km
Punctures: steady at 9
Number of broken spokes: still all intact.
Bottom Brackets: on number 3
Eggs: no more please!
Turkish men: many serving in the doner kebab shops in Turkish enclaves here!
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