Monthly Archives: January 2011

Toilets

All the toilets are mixed - can be scary in the morning

A toilet in camp – clean before it was used by 64 people
Al Fresco peeing

This blog is specially for Lucy’s class since they are following me and are very interested in the toilet situations.

So…. I have to say it is not good. There are very few places where there are toilets at all. And where there are, an influx of 64 people tends to block them up pretty quickly.

There are various options:
On the road: This is just peeing al fresco. Our group tends to stop every 25km or every hour and we all take a pee break. Men have it easy cos they can just go by the side of the road, but we have to find a set of rocks/sand dune/tree/hole to shelter behind or in so that we don’t scare the truckers. If you need anything other than a pee, then you should dig a little hole and then cover over with sand.

In camp: We don’t dig communal toilet holes in camp, so basically if there is no toilet there, then you have to take a shovel and your loo roll, find a spot, dig it up, go to the loo and then cover it up. Seems a bit crazy to me because it means we have 64 different toilet spots in one camp. And sometimes we are camping in villages.

Toilets: These are almost univerally squat toilets, and you aren’t allowed to put toilet paper down them. The combination of our inexperienced aiming and also people forgetting and putting the loo roll down is VERY toxic.

Sudan – desert days

This morning we arrived in Dongola after three days of long rides through the deserts of the Sudan. The whole atmosphere in the country is totally different from Egypt. Much more relaxed, quieter, cleaner and definitely less crowded. After the starkness of the desert it is great to be in a town again.

Starting to get into more of a routine now so have had time to look around and appreciate the landscape. We have had two nights of camping by the Nile which has been fantastic. After the unremitting blond sand, there is this sudden burst of the softest green, and clumps of date palms, with the huge slow river in the middle.

Yesterday, we went in for a wash and a swim. A big improvement on getting clean with dettol wet wipes. The water was murky when we first got in with hordes of hungry gnats at the edge, but as we went further, it cleared and was cool and soothing for all the (very) achy bits.

I am blogging from a Computer Sciences Institute which is full of young boys who are doing exactly what you would expect – using facebook and looking at pretty girls.

Dongola is a really nice town, small but incredibly friendly and full of characters. We have met the portly pharmicist who is actually an actor and only moved to Dongola to appear in a play – but stayed; had lunch at the local cafe – beans, potatoes, rocket salad and meat with lots of fresh bread; had a race in a Tuk Tuk against two giggling Sudanese ladies – we lost; and bought a pile of sticky pastries which we ate while watching the Egyptian riots on BBC Arabic TV.

So far, people I have spoken to are split on whether the riots will mean a change in government in Egypt or not – Mubarak has a strong hold. But eveyone has their TV sets permanently on and is watching to see what happens.

Haven’t eaten for …ooh two hours at least … so time now to go back for some supper and may even stay up till after 8pm tonight. Happy days.

One country down – nine to go

 

I can’t really believe that I have just cycled through the whole of Egypt. It has been an intense experience.

The set off and first few days were long and arduous. Not only in terms of the cycing but also learning all the new things we need to know for the journey: how to put the tent up, when to get in the queue for food, how to sort out toilet arrangements, how much and how often to eat, which riders are the most suited to your pace, how much water to carry, how long you need to get ready in the morning to leave with your group, where to sit on the saddle to cause minimum attrition…

And in the midst of it all, you are being bombarded with the sights and sounds of Egypt, snatching photos and conversations by the roadside. At lunch yesterday I talked to a group of about 12 girls aged between 8 -10 who were mesmerised by our lycra clad group stuffing down falafel sandwiches, followed by nutella sandwiches and they asked two very good questions: Don’t your legs hurt? and Why are you doing this?

Now we are in Aswan, with parades of elegant feluccas sailing down the Nile, and a great laid-back market where we need to go and buy food and water for the next couple of days.

Tomorrow, we get on the ferry to cross Lake Nasser into Sudan. We have been warned that it could take most of the day to load us on and then an 18 hour sail and we are in to country 2.

Four days in

I always think it is a good thing that when you embark on something you don’t know just how hard it will be…

The first four days have been really tough. We have done 2 days at 130km, one at 180 and today – an easy 100.

The roads have been fantastic, long and straight with only gentle hills and the weather has been kind too. But we have had to contend with a few days of headwind which is a killer.

And the sheer distance is a killer too. Your body doesn’t have time to recover before it is on the saddle again for another long stretch.

Riding in a group is the only way to survive. It can be hard focusing to keep on the pace but with the wind against you you need the bodies to shield you and also the camaraderie to keep you going.

So what hurts? Quite a lot. My quads are aching as the muscle builds, and my back is taking a beating from having to carry three litres of water which weighs about 7 lbs. I should have brought a pannier. And like everyone else – I am saddle sore.

Off to bed to try and recover before the next day’s ride. We are doing 139 km tomorrow – pray for a tail wind. Pix at link below (you don’t have to be on facebook to view)

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=20504&id=100001863951850&l=7e7da9b124

Setting off

Two wheels good...

The send off from the Pyramids was fantastic. A police escort took us up and it really was something to see – a peleton of 60+ brightly lycraed riders snaking around the pyramids, egged on by the camel riders waiting for the tourist trade.

We were at the top for about an hour, drinking tea and eating our post breakfast snacks. Everyone milling around and trying to remember names and faces. It was freezing cold but definitely worth it for the pictures.

We cycled down past the sphynx and then through the streets of Cairo. The Cairenes were amazed, amused and encouraged us on our way with shouts of Miyyah Miyyah and Shiddi Haylak.

Quite a strange experience cycling through rush hour traffic round the ring road of a major city. Even stranger was being cheered on rather than sworn at as we brought everything to a standstill. We only caused one tiny crash as a car on the other side of the dual carriageway clearly couldn’t believe what he was seeing and tailended the car in front.

We’d set off from the hotel at about 6 and finally got out on to the open road at 11. Then it was a straight run. Nice paved roads, straight lines and a decent tail wind. I cycled with a Canadian body builder who kept my pace up nicely.

Rolled into camp about 4.30 and then began the tent debacle. I have brought the wrong tent! It is hugely complex to assemble and as tall as the Eiffel Tower. 5 Tour boys ended up helping me – with English Sally who had experienced a similar tent-

At the start

directing proceedings.

We were all in bed – well on sleeping mats – by 7. A 5.45 wake up call the next day.

Here we go

Our first briefing started with the ominous words: ” This is not so much a race as a social experiment.” 

We then went on to the various ways  we  can expect to either suffer or die over the next four months. These ranged from being bitten by poisonous snakes you may have found on the road and decided to stroke, to drowning in your own vomit after a serious crash. 

There are 63 of us signed up for the full tour and 54 sectional riders. It is a real  mix of nationalities – lots from Canada and the US, a few Brits, Danes, Ethiopians …

A typical day was described:  group wake up call, pack up the tents, breakfast (30mins), fill up your water, load, clock on, then ride. Lunch  break, ride. Clock off, have soup, unload, set up camp, rider meeting for the briefing, have dinner, sleep.

We set off tomorrow at 7.30 am from the Pyramids. I’ll be glad to actually be on   the bike!

Preparations

First day in Cairo

Tourism and electronics for the first day in Cairo. It has changed since I was last here but people are still as welcoming and friendly as ever. Overwhelming attention and when you speak Arabic it gives you celebrity status.

Wandered through the old town round Bab Zuwayla and went up on to one of the mosque roof tops in time to hear the call to prayer sweep round the minarets at 3pm. A view from there of the buying and selling on the street and then the citadel and green hillside of the Al Azhar park on the horizon.

Down to the more earthly issues of buying a sim card – easy for the Nokia, no success yet for the iphone. And food – kibbe, spinach and cheese pastries, and little sausages.

Packing

Packing is a nightmare. I don’t believe anyone enjoys it although indubitably almost everyone in the universe does it better than me.

Fortunately the tour operators have been pretty prescriptive on what we can take. Here is the list for those of you who are a leeetle bit nerdy….

CAMPING GEAR
• 2 – 3 person tent – something light, that packs up small
• Sleeping bag rated for 3 seasons (Zero degrees Celsius)
• Sleeping bag liner
• Camping mattress – thorns are plentiful so some choose to bring a foam mattress instead of
an inflatable one
• Dish kit, mug and cutlery
• Headlamp (with extra batteries)
• Small tarp or groundsheet
• 5m of rope and clothes pegs
• Duct tape
• Repair kits for tent, poles and mattress
CLOTHING
• 3 T-shirts
• 2 long sleeve shirts
• 1 set of thermal under layers
• 1 pair of long pants
• 2 pair of shorts
• 1 Fleece jacket
• 1 Wide brimmed hat
• 1 pair of sandals
• 1 pair of lightweight hiking shoes
• 1 Bathing suit
• 1 towel
• 1 rain jacket, windbreaker or vest
• 1 pair of rain pants

One tiny luxury: which should I choose?

• 1 set of casual and compact dining wear
37
CYCLE CLOTHING
• 3-5 pairs of padded cycling shorts (a high quality chamois will be your greatest asset)
• 1 pair of cycling shoes (SPD’s or a rigid walking shoe)
• 4 cycling jerseys or shirts, 1 long sleeved and 3 short sleeved
• 3 pairs of cycling socks
• 2 pairs of cycling gloves, 1 full-finger, 1short
• 1 new and undamaged cycling helmet
• 1 pair of sunglasses
• 1 pair of cycling pants (optional)
• Arm and leg warmers (optional)
• Reflective clothing (optional)

Last days at work

I am not sure if I have left my job to do the Tour D’Afrique or am doing the Tour because I have left my  job. Either way, I have two days left.

April 15th 2002, we set up what was then North West Vision and I became the first CEO. It has been an exciting, varied and hard nearly nine years since then.

Vision and Media exists to grow the digital and creative industries in the Northwest of England. It helps companies and talented individuals through access to finance, access to skills and access to markets.

To some extent, the history of V+M mirrors the history of the companies we support.We grew the company from a purely film agency with a budget of £830k to a full creative and digital development agency with a budget of £10m. We were able to help a lot of companies and a lot of people.

Now with the government cuts it is all change again. We have won a wider role from government in supporting the creative and digital sector right across the North of England and guaranteed funding till 2015 – a triumph. BUT we are going to have to shrink and that means losing some of the fantastic team that work so hard for the sector.

Personally, it is definitely hard to leave something behind that took so much time and energy but I know the company will prosper again and it is time for some new adventures for me.

Working in the public sector has been fascinating. I have had the opportunity to see how government actually functions from local to national level. Anyone who thinks it is an easy option compared to the private sector is seriously deluding themselves.  Some great people – some truly tedious politics.

Anyway onwards and upwards. I have my first radio interview about the trip today – will be talking about saddle sores rather than economic development – fabulous!

%d bloggers like this: