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40 Road

Updated: May 8, 2023

Stage 15: Dongola to Dead Camel Camp

A little bit of fuss first thing this morning with tuk-tuk drivers over the fare but in the end, they seem to prevail in the amount they charge and collect (Jim being the exception in walking the kilometre or so from hotel to camp).

Very straightforward route once we cleared central Dongola (as it were) and caught our critical left turn to the south. We’re on the western bank of the Nile and generally heading south or a few points east of due south, all day; road is a secondary route, not much shoulder to speak of but fortunately low to moderate traffic. Saying that, an inordinate amount of buses or large motor coaches are going both ways, I suppose carrying people between Khartoum and lesser towns to the north. These guys create a real wind blast when they blow past, so are very noticeable. I try to ride on the yellow paint or just outside it if there’s something solid on which to ride. On at least one occasion, I bail for the gravel when I see an oncoming vehicle barreling toward us, overtaking another north-bound vehicle. Better to flat or even take a tumble in the gravel than become a squashed bug on one of these road warrior’s front grill.

The landscape is mostly hardscrabble desert ... scattered small holdings in the first hour or do, or in the sections which stray closer to the Nile River or within reach of some irrigation system, but otherwise, flat stony plains. The road is long straights with gentle curves every so often. We’ve a reasonable tailwind and make great time to the lunch spot at ~80 kms by about 10:00.

It’s a pattern by now; crosswinds kick up by late morning, so the going after the lunch break is not so easy as the initial hours. Another pattern has also emerged; kids along the sides of the road in any hamlet or collection of houses we pass through. I think they must be let out of school about 11:00 and are clearly full of pent-up energy. This can take the form of waving and yelling hellos, to extending arms and hands for a high-five, or in picking up a nearby stone to test their eye-cyclist coordination; one is never entirely sure just which behaviour might occur until we’re upon them.

Morning passes through noon; temperature warms. Tarmac degrades, with now lots of repetitive cracking and ridges to test my front forks suspension, and my butt. The odd road works and associated gravel washboard detours cloaked in dust add some interest.

We notice a large number of desiccated camel carcasses all along the route today; it reminds me of the road to Meekatharra in Western Australia, years ago. Alam later tells us that this route is known as the ‘40-road,’ an historic camel and trading route; it takes 40 days for a camel train to travel from South Kurdufan north to the Egyptian-Sudanese border. This same way is apparently now in use as a human trafficking route, with migrants being guided or taken north from Eritrea, Ethiopia, CAR, etc., along the 40 Road almost to Egypt, before diverging northwest into Libya and thence across the Mediterranean to Italy and perhaps eventually into Europe at large.

We make to our camp site about 1:15; true to the site’s name, remnants of a very dead camel mark the spot. As Tallis quipped earlier, when questioned if this is the same camel each year, “yes, he’s under no motivation to move.”

A warm to hot afternoon by this point; much as I’d like to stretch out in the tent, it’s just too hot. Better to have that bowl of soup and sip sweetened red bush tea under the shade of the mother ship.

Alam gives us a brief intro to Sudan, past and present, before the regular riders meeting. Dinner is served! The sunset is stunning with nothing on this stony plain to obstruct our view. The stars should be brilliant later tonight.

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Karen Robyn
Karen Robyn

I don't recommend hotels beyond comfortable walking distance from camp on the night before you ride - if the cab doesn't show up, and you are late, Tallis will be pissed! I don't remember those not so good roads at this point... but I remember the kids. Eventually you'll get the ones who hold hands to make a barrier across the road, playing chicken to stop you. And the ones who turn a friendly high five into a pull on your hand, again to make you stop. Devise strategies... it will happen. Interesting about the 40 road smugglers. It's the old camel drive route - saw a lot of that, but I didn't know about it's more modern use.



Loving the reads Kit. Good luck with it all :)

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