Tour d’Afrique is the flagship the flagship trans-continental journey by TDA Global Cycling tours. Crossing Africa from north to south, covering almost 12,000 km in four months. A test of mind, body, and bicycle. Traveling through 10 countries in all. Riders will experience some of the many wonders of the worlds. Past ancient temples along the Nile, through the Sudanese desert, and up and down the biblical landscapes of Ethiopia’s rugged Simian Mountains. After crossing the Equator in Kenya, pedal past legendary Mount Kilimanjaro, to Lake Malawi, Victoria Falls, and along the edges of the magnificent Kalahari and Namib deserts, en route to the finish of the epic journey in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa.
Fiona Chai, who can be consider the “mother” of Allo Vélo, has embarked on her dream journey from Cairo to Cape Town. We are extremely happy for her and will be publishing her stories right here. She left at the end of January 2019 and expects to arrive at the final destination by mid-May 2019. As you can imagine, power and connectivity is limited, but thanks to her Garmin GPS, we are able to get a live feed of her location and when she does have wifi, we will share her messages as she chugs along on her Surly Troll bike.
Feb. 24th Descend Blue Nile Gorge
I never thought I would live to see the day when I would say: “I did not like that downhill ride”. The downhill was steep, lots of hairpin turns, the road was really bad from the trucks using their brakes causing the tarmac to have wavy bumps, then many stretches on the road had no more tarmac, just gravel & dirt (ie. you turn a corner and surprise there’s no tarmac), and there’s trucks, minivans, & cars coming in both direction, the road is only one lane in each direction. I was worried about burning my brakes. I stopped several times to take photos but really to cool my brakes.
In Egypt and Sudan the Muslim culture dictated that I cover up as much as possible. I’ve been wearing the Lululemon shirt every day with my long compression socks & long shorts. As a result the other riders think I have the coolest tan line. I’m not so sure about the accolade.
We arrived here at Bahia Dar, on the shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. Our rides in Ethiopia has been a stark contrast to Sudan. Both countries the roads are one lane in each direction with a dirt shoulder. In Sudan, the blazing heat was an issue but the real scariness was the large tour buses that bombed down the highway at 120. We all have hair raising stories of having to fly on to the dirt shoulder to get to safety. A few of the riders fell off their bikes in doing so. I luckily retained control of my bike and my bike is solid so I didn’t fall off. Many of the roads the asphalt is so bumpy a lot of us got palsy problems in our hands and there was a stretch (half the day) where the potholes were so large they took up half the road. Here in Ethiopia the roads are the same width but the asphalt is as smooth as butter. Despite that the rides have been stressful as the adorable children coming running up to the road to greet us, yelling: “you you you you you” or “ money money money money money “. That’s not the dread that has us so fearful - they throw stones at us, some hide behind bushes so you don’t even see them, some of the other rides have been hit with sticks, stone thrown so hard or big that skin had been broken, one was pulled off her bike, one rider got a dung pattie thrown at him, luckily it missed. I rode with Paul (Cambridge) we’ve been flashing big smiles, making eye contact, waving and greeting in the local language and pedalling a bit faster. It seems to work for us. The Ethiopians really see us as the circus has come to town. We set up camp and the local villagers come out and sit & stare at us. Makes it tough on the women - no where to hide to go do your toilet business. Guess what? That night I get stomach issues. Luckily it’s dark, I could make multiple trips. So here in Bahia Dar, I wasn’t planning on getting a hotel but I decided to, because my energy was low and the room in this hotel was only 500 bir ($12 USD). Just having my own toilet and a bed is such luxury. Most of the others have gone on a boat ride to see a monastery and then to see hippos. Yesterday some went to see hippos but only saw the tops of their heads. I am very spoiled I saw hippos in an estuary in South Africa. The idea of sitting in a boat with them didn’t sound as appealing as what I’m doing now. Yesterday I found a bakery that had these giant size chocolate donuts for 30 bir. This morning I went to another bakery and the same super size chocolate donut was only 10 bir. Each place we’ve visited has something very special. Here, the super huge chocolate donuts, in Dongola, Sudan we had what we called Dongola chicken (a whole chicken stuffed with rice cooked on a rotisserie by the side of the road, they cut the chicken with a paint scraper and serve with lime). I’m having the time of my life.
There was civil unrest in Khartoum so we got bused around the city to a vapid problems. We spent the night at the farm camp. It’s a wonder we did not burn down the place with our over usage of that one plug!!! We certainly used enough electricity that the generator ceased which then caused the water pump to shut down making it impossible to flush the Turkish drop toilet. You can only imagine the mess!!!
This was the dead camel camp. It’s so dry the animal corpses mummifies. The last 5 days has been really tough cycling in the Nubian desert: 44 degrees, the sun beaming down on me, fighting cross winds or head winds for 143 - 150 km. This Coke stop did not have Coke but they made a wickedly good tea. The glass is about an ounce bigger than a shot glass and half the glass was filled with sugar. They got the cold water from the hanging goat skin. When I tilted the glass to finish every drop I saw how dirty the glass was; every crevice was black with years of dirt ! My standards have really dropped. Bye Sudan, what a lovely country.
The people were so hospitable, everyone had a beautiful smile for me and never ceased to wave back at me. Yesterday we passed thru the Ethiopian border. I can’t believe it: 3rd country. There’s been civil unrest from the border to Gondar, due to new president. We were bused directly. On the way we saw a protest march where the young men carried old rifles, some houses were burnt, trucks were over turned; they are very safety conscious. The scenery is so different here: lush trees, it’s cool, I’m back to wearing my fleece jacket. It rained this morning. Luckily I was inside hand washing my DIRTY clothes. I camped out yesterday but tonite I got a hotel room.
Last I write we were on a ferry across Lake Nasser heading for the border. The border crossing is certainly a test of patience! On both Egyptian & Sudanese side. We were there for several hours. While waiting we all wanted to spend the rest of our Egyptian pounds. The one little stand did well. We spent the time eating cookies & drinking Coke. The tour has been monitoring the problems in Khartoum. Right now we are in lovely Dongola. We all converted too much $ ($100USD). The Cokes are 15/20 Sudanese pounds. So, we have booked into a hotel in order to spend are wads of pounds.
Egypt has been an amazing ride: we’ve gone thru deserts where you see only sand as far as the eye can see. So desolate, no life to be seen, silence is deafening, it’s mystical. I guess that’s where the expression: “as old as the sands of time” must come from. From there we rode to the Red Sea. The colour-aquamarine was so vibrant. From there we rode in land thru the mountains. The mountains are interesting; shaped by 1000’s of years of blowing sand. Every desert we’ve passed have been different: colour, texture (I know this because I would have take a pee break and walk on the sand!).
Then the Nile river was where we bikes along for 2 days. That was a different scenery; stark contrast of colour. From sand color to lush greenery. The farms were all small plots. They were harvesting alfalfa for their donkeys. There was plots of tomatoes, banana trees, onions, cabbage, even rice. You can really see how important the Nile is. The plots are only on the edge of the river, then it’s the road and on the other side of the road was desert and where the villages were situated. The 2 days of riding thru the villages were a real treat: to see life. The children running out to see us and shout “ hellohello”. I rode with Paul and we would both smile, wave and shout back “salam”. Which worked well for us. Other riders complained about the children being naughty.
The day before yesterday we were camped in the desert. Flat as pancake! Sand, sand and more sand! I had to walk far in order to get some privacy to do my toilet business. On the way back to my tent, I counted 272 steps. What else was there to do in the middle of the desert. Yesterday we arrived in Abu Simbel at the same time as the French president. Mother Nature was not thrilled by his visit so she blew a sand storm into the town. Today is beautiful. Every day has been a glorious treat.
Yesterday’s ride was brutal. We moved from the Red Sea inland. We had to go thru the mountain pass. 70 km all pretty much up hill to LUNCH. The scenery was mountainous. Sandy. It was quiet, and desolate. Almost meditative. After lunch we were hoping for down hill but the head wind was so strong that we rode down hill so slow. The mountains here are sandy but not pointy like the ones in the morning, these are not flat topped. The roads were so long it started to get very discouraging. One of the guys said he wanted to cry. I wasn’t quite there but it was hard. I only arrived at camp 4:20. Not the last. The camp site is the police check point. The early/fast riders took the good real estate on the sandy area but it was next to highway. All night the huge trucks would screech their air brakes to stop at the checkpoint. Made it noisy to sleep. I set up camp a bit higher up. I had the Egyptian police in a pick up truck 20 ft behind me. They had a machine gun on the the flat bed. Today we’re in Luxor. It’s a rest day. I’m taking it easy: washing clothes, clean bike, organizing my weekly bag and my daily bag sorted out. ( I also have saddle sore!!). My cornea scratch is mending. Today the ride in I’m starting to see farms with green vegetables. What a stark contrast. The past few days the color is sandy, finally there’s green. The people are very friendly to tourist: waving to us and saying “hello”. All for now. Namaste
The routine is good. I’m up around 4:45/5:00. Do my toiletries, pack my bag, take down the tent, pack that away, get water for the bottles, bring the bag out to the truck, have a breather, then breakfast and then start riding. Almost military run. The gang here are pretty good, no one is a laggard. Fingers crossed it’s not too tough today - I’m on tired legs!!