Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Al-Qadarif, Sudan

The desert epic culminated with a long slog, by our sand standards, from a village by a canal to a town with a sugar cane plant that was visible from kilometres away. Navigation was a challenge as the path of hard-pack dirt ended with a maze of cane fields that are irrigated by a subtle checkerboard pattern of channels. Sharita, our tour director and chief navigator, had scouted the route weeks earlier but the pattern of navigable paths change quickly. Ever resourceful, Sharita employed a Sudanese motorcyclist to chauffeur her from checkpoint to checkpoint. She would hop off the back of the bike and flag the direction to follow. The herd pursued her route until we hit pavement and then it was a straight line to the market town of Al-Qadarif.

Al-Qadarif is a bustling city that has a vibrant souk or bazaar. The TDA secured lodgings for cyclist at the guest house there. Nestled down a side street, the guest house was a peculiar walled compound that one entered through a gate. Inside the gate, one could find refuge in a dorm that offered a fan as relief from the heat. The whir of a fan is sweet music to those of us who find the intense temperature unsettling.

I plunked my gear on a bottom bunk and went out to explore the bustling atmosphere of the souk. The sheer concentration of a souk breathes commerce: textiles, pharmaceuticals, kitsch, name it. Curiously, the images of people on the products are often cute Caucasian children. It is ironic given the complexion and culture of the target audience. The Sudanese merchants have been consistently hospitable and engaging. Often, they offered us tea, falafel, ful, cold drinks for free. 

On our arrival at the guesthouse, the TDA tour leader, Randy, was interviewed by Sudanese television. Again, it is a sign of their genuine interest in a group of western cyclists that they would air interviews with us on local media. Jennalea (a cycling mate from Arnrprior) and I were both interviewed. We wee asked to give our impressions of Sudan. We both noted the warmth of the people and their kindness. The interviewer prefaced one question by suggesting that the western media perceives Sudan as a potential home to terrorists. We were both circumspect in avoiding the references to politics. People are people and the Sudanese, especially those with whom we have shared time, are lovely folks. 

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