A Six Minute Read
(The Solo Road: Sudan)
Lesson #8- The World is NOT Scary: Travel
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin, Cuban Essayist
—-> We live in a world that is becoming increasingly complex. Wars are fought with ulterior motives, religion is at the forefront of debate, fourteen killed here, a rainforest chopped down there and Donald Trump is crazy. This is what you hear about the different places of the world. But beyond those imaginary lines, there are beautiful vast expanses of our world. Rugged mountains, wild plains, desert badlands, clear lakes and rolling hills. These wild landscapes have moved in shape over thousands of years. We get to experience but one piece in our Earth’s extensive history. Embrace the outdoors, wind, rain and sun.
They say that travel is the best medicine. It teaches you the things you will never learn in any classroom. It shows you the complexities of our world. It allows you to see the beauty of the Earth and learn a lot about yourself. It allows you to spend time by yourself. Whenever I am traveling I have a feeling of being completely free. Like the unknown is welcoming me forward. Some say travel can age you; however, inside you will feel younger than those that never go anywhere.
I meet many people who think that they need to travel with someone. Though this does have benefits, it limits you in many ways. You are less likely to meet new people if you already have that other person to talk to. You are less likely to go outside that comfort zone and explore beyond your personal boundaries. On my bicycle ride many people asked me, if I ever got lonely. The simple answer is, almost never. There were always people to talk to. The more you explore this world, the better you will understand how difficult it is to actually get away from people. We inhabit most of the planet, in one way or another. Very rarely on my journey outside regions of Bolivia, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Western China, was I far from someone I could talk to. We are a social species.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain, Writer
I believe that unless you travel alone, you never get down to that bare bones of self-reflection. I understand that this is not for everyone. I get it. But, people often wondered why I travelled on my own. On a journey over two years, you have to know yourself. I knew traveling with someone else was not right for me on such a trip. You are not forced to look inside yourself and see who you really are. Thousands of hours of contemplation while cycling, meals alone and hundreds of evenings spent in my tent, taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible. I now know who am I am what I hope to accomplish in the future. Travel wide, wander free and see our world. It can teach you a great deal.
You can see all of the wonders of our world, but don’t stop to look at what’s in-between. Talk to the people where you are visiting, eat their food and spend a little time on yourself.
*Less than $550 to go to the final goal of $50,000 and the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche Nicaragua. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #7 from the road. Thank you for reading! 🙂
Walter Mitty ~ Downhill Longboard in Iceland
A nineteen minute read
“What one hopes for is always better than what one has.” ~ Ethiopian Proverb
The nature of humanity is now a mixture of ancestral roots and modern influences. These vines of joy, change and sorrow are planted deep in the heart of Ethiopia. In parts of the country the global rush to urbanize has taken over, while others life continues on relatively uninterrupted, besides the occasional buzz of a cellphone. We are all apart of the global push to follow the thin yellow line. How we define ourselves is a complicated task when taking into account the bombardment of information each day. The many are following the prudent few.
Ethiopia opened my eyes into a world where outside influences and local acceptance do not always mesh. We are impacted drastically by the changing tides of global pressure. Trends and spotlights come and go. Africa has been dubbed the dark continent, but I believe it is the continent of hope. For years it has been pillaged at the expense of local lands and populations. However, in many parts that purity still reigns relatively true. To be of Africa, is something of a legendary tale. The land offers so much to the world and people just continue to take without even a nod. The world needs Africa, but it is never spoken. No one just builds a road into the desert for free.
It took me a while to come to terms with my time in Ethiopia. It has been the hardest place for me to write about, because it was the hardest to deal with mentally. I still find it hard to come to grips with it. What I will tell you is the short and sweet version of my struggles through one of the most beautiful countries I have had the privilege to ride through. It took me a while to write this as I often got down about it for various reasons. But the story must be told all the same. This will not be the most positive of posts, but a reality of the situation from the seat of a bike.
The moment I entered Ethiopia it was different. There was instantly more people. They looked and dressed more liberally. People were just strolling back and forth across the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, like it was a walk in the park. I was checked quite thoroughly as a man ruffled through my medicine bag. I had heard all of the horror stories of people who had biked through Ethiopia. It seemed like a nightmare and in many ways I wasn’t looking forward to it.
After some hoops at the border, I was on my own in the late afternoon of my 14th country on my round-the-world tour. I knew Ethiopia was going to be hilly. But it started immediately. As soon as I crossed the border gate there was a hill leading up through the town. The heckling started right away. “You, you, you!!!” “Where are you go!?” “Ferengi”(foreigner) or “China!” These few lines would be the soundtrack to my existence in Ethiopia. At first I played along. I actually thought the China one was pretty funny. But, this was my first day and I wasn’t bothered yet. There were few places to sleep in the bustling border town of Metama. I found one place that was filled with three very large spiders and an open toilet that fermented the room with a lovely stink. One of the spiders was the size of my palm and looked like something from a National Geographic special. I pitched my tent on the bed, not wanting any mosquitos or that hairy spiders crawling on my face in the night. I ate some of the local specialty, injera with tibs(beef), an Ethiopian staple and headed off to bed. The music boomed on Africa loud late into the night at the bar outside my room. Later there was a big rustle in the bed and around my tent, I was happy with my decision to lock myself away and tried not to think about that hairy spider.
I started early and begun my first day of riding in Ethiopia. Throughout the next two days I climbed my way into the mountains on the way to Gondar. The people on the first two days of my journey were actually quite nice and I was left relatively alone. There were small groups of curious children that surrounded me with huge smiles when I stopped for water breaks. Sharing my biscuits, we laughed together at nothing. I had a great conversation at lunch with a local man about the present state of Ethiopia and their achievements in recent history. I was happy to be riding in more bearable weather and food was more readily available than through the desert stretches of Sudan.
After a long day of riding I found myself in a small village with no sort of accommodation. I located the church and asked to pitch my tent. The ‘leader’ of the church allowed me to camp and invited me to his hut nearby for dinner. It was cold injera with meat that looked like it has been sitting around for a long time, with a chunky milk in the middle. I ate and he didn’t, which should have been a sign. It was pretty unappetizing but there was no where else to get food and I didn’t want to be rude. I ate enough to satisfy him and myself, before crawling away in my tent. Some hours later that same man proceeded to shout, sing, talk and chant from one to seven in the morning over a loud speaker attached to the church. Not to mention the electric thunderstorm and heavy rain that rolled in. I got zero sleep and was going crazy.
In the morning I waited until the sun rose and got myself moving. When I got out of my tent there were about 50 people hanging around outside to greet me. Surprised, tired, hungry and feeling slightly sick I packed up as the entire village watched. The man continued to shout through the loud speaker. I got out of there as quickly as possible after a thank you for letting me camp.
I eventually made it to Gondar. Dubbed as Camelot, it boasts amazing castle complexes high in the mountains. I was shattered when I arrived after 8 long days on the roa and found a cheap guesthouse to rest. In the night I woke up extremely ill. I was sweating like crazy, freezing cold, every bone in my body hurt and getting very sick. I had a hallucination there were dogs in my room that wouldn’t leave and broke the toilet cover when I swear I saw a massive centipede jump at me. I suffered through the night and tried to make it downstairs to get some water in the morning.
I was way too sick to even think about venturing to the clinic. I had never felt this terrible. I knew I needed to go to the hospital, but I could barely function and was running to the toilet every few minutes. I met a French guy name Ludo the day before who came by to check on me and brought some soup. I eventually dragged myself to the ‘clinic’ which was the last place on earth I really wanted to be. There was a lot of really sick people there, including me. The building was rundown and in the back of a damp alley. I almost passed out while I was waiting due to dehydration and when a man crowded next to me with breath that reeked of old meat, I nearly lost it. The doctor was very nice and after some tests which I wont get into, he told me I have a severe gastrointestinal infection due to some parasites and was now dehydrated because of the illness. He gave me some medicine that never worked and I spent the next 2 weeks sicker than anything. Days later another trip to the hospital also solved nothing more than making me thankful for Canadian healthcare and cleanliness. I have seen better days.
During this time my body was wiped out. I couldn’t eat anything for days and spent most of my time holed up in my awful little room feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. I knew it would be a while, even when I recovered, before I could ride again. I lost a lot of weight that I didn’t have to lose. With some massive mountain climbs on the horizon, I took a bus to the capital Addis Abeba and rested at a friendly Italian mans house until I was ready to continue on. I celebrated my 27th birthday in a miserable state of slow recovery.
From Addis I pushed back on the bicycle for a 730km journey to the Kenyan border. During this time I saw some of the most beautiful scenery on my trip. Throughout my time in Ethiopia I was blown away by the natural beauty. I was also blown away by the way Ethiopian people and in particular the kids acted towards someone on a bike.
“Cycling has encountered more enemies than any other form of exercise.” ~ Louis Baudry de Saunier
When I was off the bike it was generally no problem. People left me alone and carried on as usual. However, riding from Addis to the Kenyan border of Moyale was the worst experience of my trip. I was constantly shouted at all day. Kids would chase me and hurl rocks from the roadside. I was hit with sticks and had soccer balls kicked at me as I sped down dangerous hills. One kid ripped a Canadian flag off my bike and ran into the forest. In small villages people swore at me for no reason or jumped in front of my bike and demanded money. It seemed no one went to school. I had a rock fight in a village with a grown man after he tried to hit me off the bike as I passed and then threw a rock at me. At this point my patience was gone. We exchanged a few rocks back and forth before I got out of there at lightning speed.
The road was either under construction and was a dusty bumpy messy or full of huge terrible pot holes. In 3 years it will be a beautiful road, but for now it is a disaster aside from a few finished sections. I generally like to see the positive of the places I visit and so far on my this trip the kindness has been out if this world. At the end if each day I did my best to reflect on some of the nice encounters and friendly conversations with the local people. It was the only thing that kept my spirits high for the following day.
There was such a contrast from the welcoming nature of the Sudanese people. Everywhere on this trip I have felt overwhelming generosity and hospitality from complete strangers and it was sometimes hard to deal with the realities of cycling in Ethiopia. Upon reaching Kenya, life returned to as normal as it can be. The imaginary line I crossed into Kenya came with the disappearance of ‘You, you, you!” and I was just me again. I am back to full strength and people are as welcoming as ever. I now sense the warm genuine nature of Africa I had imagined in my mind.
The present state of Ethiopia has a lot to do with the failure of the west. During a famine back in the late 80’s thousands of people gave money and aid to Ethiopia. However, it was poorly managed. Handouts do not fix the problem. It was only a band aid. People then came to expect this money and have since seen white people as an opportunity for handouts. Maybe you would remember the images of children with bloated bellies and a sweet person talking about their sponsorship back in the 80’s and 90’s on daytime TV. This was done in good spirit, but again poorly managed and not sustainable. I was a rolling dollar sign. To live in Ethiopia is a difficult life and can never be properly understood from an outsiders perspective. Images streaming on the television are not the reality of a whole nation. Sometimes I don’t blame people for the way they acted towards me. I must look insanely crazy to them. Many people rode by and put a hand out the window as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’ A valid point in some respects, when many people struggle on a daily basis. I struggle by choice.
“In Ethiopia… you might find a seven-year-old expected to take 15 goats out into the fields for the whole day with only a chapati to eat and his whistle. Why are we so afraid to give our children responsibilities like this?” ~ Joanna Lumley
We are so fortunate back home to have all of the freedoms and luxuries we so often take for granted. In Ethiopia many children do not go to school, because in many places it is not available or they cannot afford it. I experienced Ethiopian healthcare firsthand, with kind doctors who were dealing with a neverending stream of people, under pressures of limited resources. Even if a doctor is able to help someone, the family may not be able to afford the medicine. The five dollars it cost me when I was ill, I didn’t even have to think about. Though if someone gets very sick in Ethiopia, it may mean the difference between recovery and a whole family eating. Things we generally do not think about back home. There is no safety net. People need to work and they work hard.
So it is with a heavy heart I look back on my time in Ethiopia. A mixture of emotions often wells up when I think about it. I wonder what I could have done differently or how I could have changed something for the better. It comes back to me as I ride alone down quiet roads. The images you see of Africa on television are not the reality. Yes, poverty does exist in large numbers, but it is a starkly beautiful part of the world and in general the people are full of a deeply proud heritage. There is food on the shelves of stores and it is by no means a wasteland. Wthiopia is beautiful, mountainous and green. He roof of Africa. However, sometimes people don’t always need our help and we don’t always know best. To share knowledge is a gift, but to force change is to be met with failure. Working together is the key. I saw many shades of light in people’s eyes. They all bear pieces of an individual story. Some of struggle and some of hope. I wish I had time to hear them all.
**After a huge effort from many schools in Eastern Ontario we have achieved our goal of raising an additional $10,000 towards building a new schoolhouse with Free the Children. A total of over $22,000 has been raised since I started my ride. This always blows me away. The work done by Free the Children is part of a sustainable development project that puts education at the heart of their initiatives. Construction of the school in Verdara, India is set to begin soon with updates to follow. To donate to the next school project in Kenya CLICK HERE.
***This week I celebrated my 1 year anniversary since beginning my adventure in China. With over 15,000km cycled in 16 countries it has been a life altering experience. Words cannot describe the beauty and kindness I have experienced this year. Looking back on old photos, it sometimes doesn’t even seem real. Is that really me? Was I really there? Then I feel the hardness of my legs and softness of my heart and know it was all true. It makes me welcome the following year with open arms. Thank you to everyone, near and far. We are all part of the same world. Find your adventure. Find your place.
A sixteen minute read
“Someone who is pointing his finger to another person is not always aware that the four remaining fingers are pointing in his direction.” ~ Sudanese Proverb
Entering Sudan was unlike anywhere else on my trip. You are unable to simply cycle up to the border, given Egypt’s incesant control over internal security. Therefore, the option was to take an early morning bus ride through the desert to Abu Simbel, where after some confusion, it eventually drove onto a ferry and shunted down the Nile to the most chaotic border I have ever encountered. It was nuts. People pushing to get through security checkpoints on the Egyptian side. The bus was stuffed to the rafters with endless bags and boxes that they were transporting to Sudan, bicycles, fruits, ironing boards and everything inbetween. After the Ferry arrived we drove for a bit, unloaded the whole bus, went through security, loaded the bus and then 500 metres later unloaded the whole thing for the same ridiculous procedure and chaos at the Sudan border. No one seemed to know where to go. This border is newly open to land traffic. Until a fews months ago it was only a weekly Ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. But I made it.
Finally arriving in Sudan and Wadi Halfa, the sun was going down on the dusty desert city. I was completely out of patience and time in this dusty down. Upon entering Sudan as a foreigner, one must register with the police and pay yet another fee. I did not care and decided to take care of it later. Wadi Halfa can best be described as the back-end of nowhere. As I pedalled around looking for supplies I ran into a nice Chinese man. Strange I thought. We got to talking as I revived some of my rusty Chinese skills. He worked at an electricity camp out in the desert. He and his colleagues invited me out to their company camp for the night and promised me delicious Chinese food. I was sold. I threw my bike in the back of their pickup and we were off through the desert on loose sand. I kept thinking, I have to bike back through this tomorrow. When we arrived they showed me to my ‘container’ where I would sleep. While we waited for dinner we played a quick round of ping-pong, no joke. The one guy was insanely good and took it very seriously. I guess thats what 10 years working in the desert with ping-pong as your only entertainment will get you. Dinner was completely Chinese and I ate like a monster.
“And the spirits of the desert are out riding, midnight driftin’ slow” ~ Matt Mays, Musician/Indio
The next morning they shipped me off after a simple Chinese breakfast and made sure I was stocked up on water. Dinging my bell twice I slid off through the sand with the heaviest bike since starting my trip. Over 10 litres of water and food for the next few days. Eventually finding my way back to the main road I charged towards Dongola over the next 3 days. Taking breaks whenever shade presented itself. May and June are the hottest months of the year in Sudan. This is saying a lot. Temperatures peaked at 53 degrees. By hiding in the shade there was a 15 degree difference. It was still hot. I learned quickly not to ride between about 11 and 4pm. The heat was simply too intense. I had cracked dry lips even with applying cream continuously and a bubbling sunburn on the back of my left leg.
On the first night I slept in the open desert with no settlements presenting themselves near sunset. This was a poor choice of camp spot. Even behind a huge rock the wind blew my tent all night like a hurricane and sand filled my tent. I got no sleep and rose early. The next day I rode hard through a terrible side wind and repeated the cycle of the previous day. Drink, ride, eat, drink, ride, eat. The scenery was actually pretty stunning though. This was turning into a proper adventure. That night a man gave me permission to sleep in his tea shack. With zero light pollution and clear skies, every night in Sudan there was an astoundingly beautiful showing of stars. I haven’t looked at such amazing stars since the Tibetan Plateau of China. It was always something to look forward to after boiling another pot of pasta for dinner. My meals simple, my days a little mundane, but this was adventure and survival at the most basic level. As I rode there was little other on my mind then one thing, water, unless I had just got water. Then, I was busy thinking how much I could drink and when.
After 400km I made it to the first ‘city’ after the border, Dongola. When I arrived looking at one shop for some food a man said, “Sit I will bring you something.” He brought me some bread and eggs with falafel, which would later become my breakfast staple. Seeing I was happy he said, “Would you like some cheese and olives?” “You have cheese and olives!?” I asked surprised. Turns out he was the owner of the shop next door and gave me some of what was probably the most expensive merchandise in his store. Fresh black olives and feta cheese in the desert. I was a happy, dirty man. When I tried to pay for the bread, eggs and falafel after finishing, I found he had already taken care of it. I went over to his little shop to thank him. He simply said, “You are my guest.” And handed me a cold sprite. I took a rest for a day, completed my annoying registration with the police and refuelled on supplies before I headed out into the desert. I packed extra water, knowing there would likely be no where to fill up along the way to Karima. I turned away from the life-giving River Nile and headed into the desert on my mission towards the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal.
I was met with a terrible side wind. There was nothing to protect me from the wind and the sun scorched the pure desert for miles upon miles. Making slow progress and with nowhere to hide from the sun, I was going through my water fast. In this type of situation you need to keep making decisions. If you don’t act, then terrible things can happen very quickly. I soon realized my speed and water were not going to match up with making it to Karima. It was decision time. I pedalled along getting hammered by the wind and hadn’t seen another vehicle in quite some time. When a large truck approached I hopped off my bike and waved him down. The driver happily greeted me with a toothless grin and heaved my bike in the back. We chugged along for the next while and I grew more happy with my decision to hitch a ride as the empty miles poured on. I simply wouldn’t have made it. I also learned a valuable lesson about the unforgiving nature of the desert and how dangerous it can be. We munched on juicy watermelon in the truck and stopped for obligatory prayers along the way. He let me off outside Karima and I waved a joyful thank you as I searched for a place to sleep.
The following day I was met with an unreal tailwind and flew south with relative ease. Along the way I explored the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal. These amazing ancient structures sit completely undisturbed by tourists. After gawking and exploring for a while, onwards I went. There are only a few roads in Sudan and very few towns with supplies. At a junction headed towards the capital Khartoum I stopped and drank down another glass bottle of Pepsi to energize myself. While I was stopped I asked a man for directions just to be sure it was the right way. When I first saw him he had tears in his eyes, which I thought at first was just from blowing sand. After showing me the way, he handed me the piece of paper he was holding. It was a medical diagnosis in English. It spoke of an inoperable cerebral cyst. He had obviously just received this news through the mail after going for tests far away. I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want anything. We simply looked at each other for a while in silence. I slowly said goodbye and felt terrible for a long while afterwards. What could I have done to help him? Could anything have been done? Would he accept my help?
I stopped that night at a road side tea stand and repair shop. I pitched my tent and cooked my dinner while the family looked on with laughing eyes. It was a comfortable evening with a nice breeze. I woke early and continued on towards Khartoum. It was in my sights now. Distances between shops were long but I was making quick progress. On my final day towards Khartoum the wind changed directions and picked up drastically. By 10am it was a full blown sandstorm. I was trapped. I was getting whipped with painful sand and couldn’t find a place to hide and wait it out. I was dirty, tired and running low on water. Decision time yet again. It wasn’t safe to keep riding as visibility was very low with the sun blocked out by the blowing sand. The buses and transport trucks were barelling along still. Each time they passed it was like getting hit by a brick wall. I had to close my eyes and get off the road or be blown over.
The last 100km of desert to Khartoum was simply out of reach and not worth the risk. I was getting a bit worried until a nice man stopped with his wife and baby to pick me up. I thanked them profusely for their kindness. His name was Adam Mergy and he had excellent English. We exchanged many questions about our respective countries along the way. I even helped him push his truck out of the sand when we got stuck. We discussed Sudanese customs, Darfur and shared some fun stories. He dropped me off in Khartoum in time for me to find the only youth hostel. I pitched my tent at the hostel and had my first shower in over a week. My clothes were crusted with dirt and grime. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to reach civilization on this trip. I only later felt bad about the smell I must have brought with me into Adam’s truck.
“The issue in Darfur is complex, but like many matters in Sudan, it is not as complex as Khartoum would want the west to believe” ~ Dave Edgers, What is the What
After leaving Khartoum I was bound for the Ethiopian border. What I encountered was a thin road and some terribly dangerous traffic. Buses cruised at lightning speed and blared horns from behind as I dodged for my life off into dusty gravel. It was quite unnerving. My days were punctuated with tiny acts of kindness, a break here and a laugh there. I watched trains of camels walking by and donkeys pulling heavily loaded cart. Mostly, I was tired and pushing the long road to Ethiopia. The landscape relatively flat and full of annoying thorn trees. I rode carefully scanning the road so as to not puncture my tire on one of those two inch suckers. The wind had now begun blowing from the south and was regularly in my face. As I approached Ethiopia the landscape slowly got more fertile. However, the plastic bag trees became more frequent. In the desert if you throw a plastic bag it will eventually snag on a low tree or bush, revealing one of humanities most ugly of contributions to the world.
One day while idly having a drink in the shade two men rolled up in their Toyota Helix and started asking me about my trip. After a quick discussion they invited me for lunch. I agreed, always feeling hungry. However, it was a bit of a distance down the road and too far for me to follow safely. We threw my bike in the back and sped off. After sometime we turned off the main road and headed through the sand and a maze of straw and stick huts. Children waved happily and I got to see some pretty interesting ‘back road’. Eventually coming to a clearing and a few homes we got out of the truck.
What I stepped into was an unbelievable feast. A daily occurrence I was told. These twelve men all worked together at a nearby factory and had a lady hired to cook their daily lunch. Most of the men had already eaten when we arrived and were kicked back with some sugary tea. The wonderful lady brought us out a fresh tray of food. I have to say the best food I had the entire time I was in Sudan. Real Sudanese food. Amazing spicy goat, juicy pieces of beef, with fresh baked bread, veggies and some sort of raw meat with cheese that I steered clear of. At the end of the meal came obligatory sweet tea and something I had never tried before. Fresh milk mixed with sprite. A surprisingly good combination. They all laughed as I tried to figure it out. After we washed up and they dropped me back at the main road. I continued on full as could be and happier than ever.
On my final days as I broke towards Ethiopia I was welcomed to sleep almost anywhere. I never felt threatened or in the least or like anyone would give me trouble. I camped in places I would have never dreamed of in other countries. No one hassled me and people generally left me to my own devices or shared a bit of conversation. I remember talking with a man who was displaced from DARFUR and the bleak future life holds for his family in Sudan. I also discussed with a village teacher the difficult realities he faces on a day-to-day basis and the broken system that Sudan operates under. Along the way I recall one man telling me, “There are 150 villages along this part of the Nile, but only 10 schools and only 2 secondary schools.” There is great work to be done in Sudan to emphasize the need for education and childhood development to governments as well as parents.
People generally sleep outside on string beds under the night sky. Temperatures still hovering around 35 degrees at night, a welcome breeze is all you could hope for. On my last days in Sudan I camped on the side of the road, beside a broken old house, next to a gas station, on the floor of a nice man’s house named Wafi and actually in a bed at a Hospital research centre for tropical diseases that I was offered. I finally made it to Galabat and the border of Ethiopia on a never-ending road that started show signs of getting hilly. I had made it. After some ridiculous bureaucracy and a final egg and falafel sandwich I crossed out of Sudan and into Ethiopia. Things were immediately different.
As difficult as Sudan was, it would have not been possible without the kindness of the people. Sudan is a very hard country to live in. Intense weather, pounding heat, failing infrastructure and rolling blackouts make it one of the poorest places I have ever been. However, the people are what made it unforgettable and at all possible. What I have shared here is only but a snippet of the kindness and hospitality. I was given so much free food, tea, places to sleep and nice conversation. No one asked me for money. It may well be the most welcoming place I have been on the whole trip or ever travelled to. This is coming from a people who probably had the least to give and shared more than anywhere else. Almost everyone I met outside Khartoum said with a big smile, ‘Welcome, welcome to Sudan.’ They are an amazingly proud people, with a lot to share the world. Of course there is still conflict and unrest in some parts of Sudan, however, the vast majority of people are intensely welcoming and caring. They are the definition of what true Islam teaches. We can learn a lot from these kind people. We hoard our wealth in the west and hide behind fake smiles. To be truly without monetary riches, but full of inner wealth should be the ultimate goal of humanity. Sudan, I am without any more words.
**I would like to thank all of the recent donations from the schools back home that have tirelessly continued to fundraise towards the goal of building a school for the kids in Verdara, India. Thank you to the dedication and support of staff and students at St. Joseph School Toledo, Holy Name of Mary Almonte, St. John Elementary and St. John Catholic High School in Perth. Amazing stuff. We are almost there! To donate or continue tracking our progress CLICK HERE.
An 11 minute read
“Egypt gave birth to what later would become known as ‘Western Civilization,’ long before the greatness of Greece and Rome.” ~ John Henrik Clarke, Writer/Historian
“Hello, hello, hello!” “Stop, Stop, Stop!” Children walk in groups on route home from school. The occasional bicycle challenges and a friendly laugh. Questions and staring eyes ensue on a dusty road. Scorched by desert heat, the ground quivers in a haze. The morning sun blisters in the open spaces. Later, descending hard and fast in the early evening. Green on the right and endless desert expanses on the left. Don’t wander far. Respect the sky. Cherish the wind at your back. Finishing ever last drop of the day, like water in a crushed empty bottle. Rubber and pavement. Sun and sky. Water and life.Me and the road. Partners in this challenge.
Egypt. One of the countries I had been anticipating the most on this trip. An astounding history with modern complexities. The very notion of Egypt sends endorphins of anticipation to my senses. Walking about Cairo amid the pyramids and ancient markets, I was blown away. Words cannot describe the majesty and depth of power that radiates from it. This extends much deeper than ancient temples and tombs. If you look under the curtain of the tourist touts you will find something captivating. A modern Egypt. One without self-entitlement and full of generosity.
Staying for a few days in Cairo with an extremely nice family, I learned of the modern difficulties that plague Egypt as well as their successes over the last decade. There is a changing face of a new Egypt with a deeply passionate people. I shared my story of challenge and charity to eager students at the Canadian International School of Egypt. With a kind welcome to the school, it was an excellent start to a new continent. While staying with the most hospitable family they shared their house, food and experiences with me from home and abroad. A humbled guest, I was lost without words at the realization of how little I have to offer. How do I repay all of the wonderful people along the way? To the countless souls who have opened their doors and let this weary traveller enter their lives, I extend my most heartfelt thank you. For being an inconvenience, a drag and general annoyance at times, I am sorry.
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” ~ Mark Twain
Due to the security situation in Egypt I was urged by many to start my journey a little further south of Cairo. To respect the wishes of government officials, family and the general concerned I took their advice. Beginning my African odyssey, I held the vibrant colours of the life-giving Nile River on my right and rocky moonscape of desert on my left. A slow wind urged me along as I explored Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Sites of eternal glory. As I rode towards Aswan the temperatures rose with the sun. My bike computer peaked at 52 degrees as my pants split in the decaying heat and my shirt crusted over like old cardboard from evaporated sweaty salt. Drinking water on the edge of being boiled, keeping cool was a constant issue. The dry weather cracked my lips and burned my face. Closing my eyes, I could feel the heat inside my eyeballs. Little room for escape.
Regardless, I loved the ride. It had been so long since I felt the warm scorch of the day. The visible strain and challenge of riding in difficult countries. Europe was a scenic break. Camping was simple and grocery stories readily available. Egypt was a rebirth into what I love. The moments of struggle. Seeing the visible rewards of my achievements and miles under my tires. Pushing hard with regained conviction of my purpose. Dirt, dust, sweat and salt of my labours. Badges on my fading clothes. To stumble with exhaustion into stores with cooked eggs for brains in search of nameless items. The local staple of ‘Kushari‘ (recipe) was my go to dish at less than a dollar per carbohydrate loaded serving. A dish that brings together the cultural influence of countless regions over Egyptian history. Rice, pastas, chick peas and lentils mixed in a hearty tomato sauce, topped with fried onions and spiced to taste. I was in food cycling heaven.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” ~ Fight Club
Arriving in Aswan I was set to acquire the elusive Sudanese tourist visa. My next destination. While waiting I got a frantic message to call home. Never a good sign. Tragedy had struck. My cousin Jamie had been swept away into the ocean by a wave while exploring out east with his girlfriend at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. I was in utter disbelief. My family brought to their knees in grief. How could something like this be possible? It is still very hard to believe. Life can change just like that. I was on a plane home the next day. During that time of extended solitary contemplation I had a great deal of time to think about Jamie’s life, our connection and what it all meant.
Jamie was a wonderful person that I shared many close memories with. Growing up together we were like brothers. We played together for years as kids and worked side-by-side for many more. He had an amazing joy for life and held dear to him the people that mattered most. He was never anything but himself. He brought the best out in those around him and made the world a better place. Fair and true. Funny and respectable. We will all miss you more than words can ever describe. To Uncle Jim, Aunt Caroline, Jessica, Jeremy, Jeanna, his loving girlfriend Brittany and her family, we are all here with you even if we can’t be near each other. Life is fragile. Love family. Cherish your moments together.
“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.” ~ José N. Harris, A Story of Faith, Hope and Love
*CLICK HERE to read more about my Aunt Caroline and Brittany’s initiative to make Peggy’s Cove safer for tourists. It is the hope that no other families have to feel that same pain and loss of someone taken too soon.
**Thank you for the continued support of the schools in Eastern Ontario. I would like to thank St. Gregory’s and St. Mary’s specifically for your most recent donations. The kids of Verdara, India are now that much closer to achieving new hope and a new school. CLICK HERE TO DONATE
***Tomorrow I head to Sudan, my 13th country on this trip. It is with great anticipation I resume my journey through Africa. To the intense heat, sand and dust of the Nubian Desert ahead. See weather report for the next week with temperatures set for the mid-forties and UV index of 12 HERE.
India by Cycle: GoPro Hero 3+ Video