Paddling the Nile
The first ever paddle down the Blue Nile from source to sea. 5,000km through wild rapids, war zones, crocodile and hippo infested waters, disease, terrorists, guns, arrests; the works...
Newly married amongst the neon glow and dumpling vendors as we bumble our way trying to figure out the world's most populous nation at this exciting time in it's history...
The Great Canadian Bike Trek
23 years old and naive, I set off in the middle of Canada's barbaric winter perched on a woolskin seat-cover peddling solo from one side of Canada to the other...
Springtime was short but sweet. The trees and shrubs bloomed with an abundance of vividly coloured flowers enhancing the otherwise pastel surroundings and filling the air with a delicious scent.
And then came the onslaught of the summer. The petals faded and the mercury flirted with temperatures in the 50's. I found myself in an involuntary state of perpetual perspiring, sweating like I've never sweat before, in places I didn't know I could sweat. I was dripping like a hairy man in a sauna wearing a PVC cat-suit and a raccoon hat doing star jumps.
I was at my wettest on public transport amongst the hordes of other sopping passengers. Once the buses are en route, everything is fabulous, 'coolish' dusty air flowing through the open windows and exotic tunes playing aloud, but when the buses are stationary, it's a different story. In Sudan, most buses don't begin their journey until they're full, so its not unusual to wait 5-minutes in an idle bus as it populates. With not a breath of air flowing through the stuffy cabin, one bakes like hardening clay in a pottery kiln.
The sweat dries and the big dirty patches wash clean, but the relentless heat does have its genuine annoyances. Constant power cuts and water outages are a fact of life as the heat increases the demand for both. Even more of a nuisance is the damaging effect the high temperatures have on floppy disks, videotapes or cassette tapes in the daylight hours, as the scorching weather will undoubtedly destroy the contents of the magnetic storage device. Even the locals sweat and complain, but it all helps to keep life interesting and different to what I am used to in this land of hotness.
Between the smelly sweat fests, teaching, juggling and singing with students and tales of magic Nigerian penile pinchers, I have been working on securing permits for our imminent Nile adventure through Sudan. In my most respectable uniform of white shirt, slightly grubby beige pants and snakeskin briefcase, I have been zigzagging across Khartoum estate visiting important people in Ministerial Offices and drinking copious amounts of tea in aid of sourcing official letters with rubber stamps.
May 12, 2004 was a monumental day for me as I finally received my first Ministerial letter of support from the kind folk at the Ministry of Tourism and National Heritage. It was an educational experience to say the least. On one occasion, I was waiting for one of the many letters I needed to acquire the Ministry letter, when Mooz Mahir, a real-life crocodile hunter without the Hollywood, gave me a helpful lesson on how to deal with our reptile friends of the river.
The session incorporated everything from how best to fend off the scaly monsters to opening their 'locked-jaws' by tickling the edge of their mouth if something is stuck inside (like a hand). Following the extensive tutorial, Mooz left the room and returned with a cardboard box strapped together with thin yellow twine. Just as I was wondering what could possibly be in the box of any relevance to our lesson, he pulled out a live baby crocodile for some practical experience. So after playing with the croc infant I am slightly more confident there'll be no hands to wrestle from hungry crocodiles' holds. In saying that, our baby was only about 40cm long, whereas adult Nile crocodiles grow up to 6-metres, and probably aren't as well fed...
Before the weather got too hot, Katrina, Max and myself managed to squeeze in a short excursion to Gedaref to sample the kind hospitality of the country folk and to visit Angus and Dave, two hawajas teaching English at the university there. It was a nice change from the hustle of dusty Khartoum and refreshing to see that plastic bags have been banned in the city so litter seemed much less prevalent.
Gedaref is a dear city of around 100,000, close to the Ethiopian border. It is famous for sesame seeds that grow there a plenty. One of the nicest features of the city are the conical straw huts that provide shelter instead of the mud-brick homes that make up most cities in Sudan.
One of the nights we stayed in the picturesque village of Dalisa, just outside of Gedaref, with Weleed, a friend of Angus's. The village was dotted with an ad hoc collection of straw huts and dotted with small hills. It was a fascinating place as life there was so different to Khartoum. Wells provided the water for the villagers, but not first without the arduous task of hauling the water up by long ropes, usually performed by the well-toned ladies of the village. Waleed took us to a well that his family had been digging for two years using just a shovel in the remarkably hard land. The well was still unfinished.
The night we were treated to an extravagant feast normally reserved for royalty. The carnivores among us devoured what seemed like half a cow cooked in a variety of delicious ways. Overindulgence seemed like a good idea at the time, but churning guts and a difficult night served me right for my gluttony. Possibly the most outlandish thing I have seen in Sudan was the sesame seed oil manufacturing process we bared witness to the following morning. In a small straw hut, a camel was blindfolded and tied to a bizarre contraction made from clumps of wood that was used to grind the central barrel of sesame seeds into oil. Pulling the grinder, the camel walked around and around and around in the hut, as it did everyday, as camels had since this process was first devised hundreds of years ago.
Another jaunt away from Khartoum saw me visiting the village of Abu Seir, a short, but twisted, lorry journey from Hasaheisa with a student Eman. It was a peaceful adobe village in which all of its residents seemed to be related to Eman, which meant visiting many homes and receiving ludicrous quantities of Pepsi cola and sugar-ridden tea. It was a nice day as the families were genuinely warm and hospitable, with many of the youngsters having never seen a white man before. To top things off, Eman's family slaughtered a sheep for me, both a great honour and a good feed.
After some lessons on how piddle correctly in Sudan I journeyed back to Hasaheisa through the canal-framed fields of harvested cotton. In Hasaheisa I stayed with Christen, a hawaja teaching at the university there. We had a fantastic day chilling out, strolling along the Blue Nile's banks, scoffing some heavenly benoffy pie, topped off by the contents of a sheep's head, cooked on the spot in a wok.