"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
This was our first proper chance to meet some locals and they were a great bunch. One guy got some tea on the go, and another came over and drew a big scorpion in the sand. He then rather alarmingly mimed ‘being stung’ and ‘dying’. I was definitely a bit more careful than usual crawling out my tent the next morning, but there were no scorpions, just some fresh goats milk. This was a bit disgusting, but a very nice gesture nonetheless. Some time after we left, I realised that the unusual thing about our visit to this village was that for once, we hadn't been mobbed by kids. They certainly knew we were there but must have been too shy (or well behaved) to come over. After the obnoxious stone throwing little brats of Egypt and Jordan, I had a lot of admiration for the respect we were given by these and all the Sudanese children we’ve encountered. They must be very curious about the weird Europeans on bikes, but they don't run at you, screaming and shouting and grabbing - they just wave and smile and say hello. And it's not hard to see where they get it from. The Sudanese in general, seem to us to have the most wonderful disposition: Reserved and understated, yet warm and friendly; Proud and dignified but at the same time without any arrogance or bravado. They give us plenty of space but always make us feel welcome, and often take the time to introduce themselves and ask a few questions about life in England. I'd heard about the poverty and political strife in Sudan, but the locals we met did not have the demeanor of a desperate or oppressed people. For one thing, we've felt absolutely 100% safe all the time, even riding all the way through Khartoum at night after misjudging our distances (and bear in mind, like all foreigners, we're carrying over $1000 cash becase we can't use ATMs or travellers cheques - and locals must realise this!). I understand things may be different in the tribal south or in Darfur which are the bits that usually make the headlines, but the relatively prosperous north where we've been travelling, it seems like an entirely separate country, which coincidentally, it soon may be.
So with persistance of favourable conditions, we made it down to Khartoum and said goodbye to our new cycling buddies who were taking a different route, and we also said goodbye to the desert which is now finally coming to an end. Somewhere on the last couple of days cycling toward Khartoum, gnarled thorn trees started to appear sporadically in the sand, followed by tufts of dry bleached grass. Both gradually increased until the landscape had morphed into a kind of dried out savannah. Arriving in our campsite on the banks of the Nile in the middle of town, we definitely need a little rest. Although the wind has kept temperatures down, the constant sun has been slowly irradiating our lower lips which have become painful and unsightly blistered messes. When we set off again, we'll be turning East toward Ethiopia and the 2000 metre climb up to the source of the Blue Nile (one of the two branches of the Nile). It's been almost two months since we've cycled up a hill, so we're not looking forward to this. Thankfully our old friend Nutella will be close at hand.
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