Our desert camp last night could not even provide a “bottle shower”. Enter The Body Wipe – an oversized moist towelette created as a shower replacement. Our homework before we embarked on this journey promised good results. We had doubts. Mercifully, it did the job! We are being thrown new challenges every day and are taking them on one at a time, going with the flow.
In ancient times, the predictability and fertile soil of the Nile allowed the Egyptians to build an empire based on agricultural wealth. As we rode our bicycles south from Luxor, against the flow of the Nile, we passed through villages with teeming populations whose farming activity form a large part of the economic backbone of the country.
The Nile is the longest in the world at 6,650 km. It’s drainage basin covers 10% of the African continent over 11 countries, 4 of which we will be traversing on this tour: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. By comparison, geography buffs might be interested to know that the 3760 km Mississippi drains 40% of the continental United States.
The farm country was a welcome change from the 1st few days in the open desert. As we rolled into villages children ran at us hoping to get a “high five” as they tested their english – “Hello!”, “ What is you name?”, “ I love you!” And the occasional “Money! Money!” Donkey driven carts laden with the alfalfa that is currently being harvested join tuk tuks and assorted other vehicles on the imperfect roads, forcing us to be vigilant. Farmers tending to sugar cane, bananas, onions, cauliflower, cabbage and even rice crops respond with big grins to our easily offered waves. Most of them are thrilled to pose for a photo. Any group of cyclists pulling over for a coke stop (critical tour d’Afrique term for cold drink and snack opportunities) brings about a flurry of attention. We are undeserved rock stars.
A Day in the Life
TDA runs a tight ship to everyone’s benefit. Just over 30 is a large group. Schedules must be respected. “Going with the flow” is a requirement. Here is the agenda for a day on tour:
Before breakfast each person’s 90 litre bag must be deposited outside the overlander transport vehicle for transfer to that night’s campsite ( FYI we have another 90 litre “permanent bag” to which we only have access on rest days). This means a 5:00 AM alarm in our case, allowing enough time to deflate sleeping pads and pillows, dress, pack clothes, camp gear, electronics, tear down tent, load bikes with necessities for the day’s ride, initiate navigation “toys”, and take care of personal hygiene.
Breakfast – 6:30 AM, preceded by coffee at 6:15. Hygiene is critical in this closed society. A visit to the handwashing station before every meal is obligatory. Dishes and cutlery undergo a traditional wash/rinse/bleach washing process before and after meals with each participant washing their own. Finally, an industrial sized ladel’s worth of porridge is served up cafeteria style, into which riders introduce a myriad of sweet or fruity enhancements. Yogurt is also available.
Departure – riders leave camp any time after the leader’s vehicle has has a chance to go out and hang biodegradable orange flagging tape at route junctures. The “rabbits” are the 1st to go. Yours truly are middle of the pack types. On some days we are advised to cycle in groups, but we are left to our own discretion. Over time the group’s will sort themselves out, either along lines of friendship or survival. Watching this is part of the fun.
Lunch – usually just past the half way point of the day’s distance (average 130 km). So far – always in the middle of nowhere. There is a check in with a TDA staffer – stories of riders who have gotten lost are in the vault for now. The group will have to prove itself before the leaders start “sharing” more. We are still rookies. A sweep rider ( back of the pack) from TDA is there to pick up the pieces should any difficulties arise. Same sanitation rules apply at a pull-off in the desert. Food buffet style. “Dine and dash” at one’s own leisure. This is often a good time for a walk into the sandy beyond with a shovel in hand.
Camp – check in. A restorative soup (a signature feature of all TDA tours) is available every riding day as we pull in. Set up camp, conduct any required bicycle maintenance, laundry as necessary, shower/“bottle” shower/giant wet-nap clean up. The tour mechanic and medic are available for consults according to posted hours. The rest of the afternoon, which may be hours for fast riders or nonexistent for those who have spent more time cycling or site seeing on the road, is unstructured. We try to hustle when there are things to see and do. At Aswan we hired an old style a felluca with its skipper Abdullah for a sail on the Nile which provided us with a view of the Temples of the Nobles high above the river banks.
Rider Meeting – precedes dinner, 5:30. A white board outlines the upcoming day’s route which we copy “old school” onto paper for mounting on our front panniers (most reliable way to get to camp). A photo also does the trick (until a battery runs out). Our leader Tallis tells us what to expect and briefs us on any issues of concern. Today our doc, Jennifer reviewed our malaria regimes and informed us about symptoms which may befall us once we hit the danger zones despite the (imperfect) protection.
Dinner – 6:00. Riders get 1st crack – served buffet style. Staff are next, then “open kitchen” is called for any leftovers. Chef Mark works summers at a Relais and Chateaux property in Anchorage. His “bulk food” capabilities are very good as well. 3 riders are selected in rotation to clean pots and other kitchen items.
Lights out – whenever, but shockingly early by our home life standards!
We are headed for Sudan. Life is good. Thanks for tagging along.