Wednesday, February 2, 2011

TdA Stage 15. Finding White Castle in Khartoum.

104km. Desert Camp to Khartoum.

Today was a fun ride. A 20km time trial in the morning (ouch!), followed by a few hours of easy riding and then a 40km police convoy around the outskirts of Khartoum and into the city. Entering a city of 8 million on a bicycle by police convoy is a strange experience. A chance to see and smell things slowly. We made our way through neighbourhoods of mud houses to a more developed 'downtown'. On the surface, the city is much nicer and much less chaotic than I had expected. For a relatively closed economy, people seem to be living well. And most of the infrastructure seems to be relatively new, so there is less of a 'run down' or 'former glory' feeling than some of the other cities that I've been to in this 'category'. Whatever that means.

Although I have come to love my tent and the feeling of sleeping outside, I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a hotel room for the night. To use a shower that does not double as a toilet. To use toilet that flushes! Amazing.

I headed out with Die-Hard-Nick and Mike-without-a-bike for dinner. I felt a bit like I was in a cheesy spy movie, with a muscly guy with a shaved head on either side of me. The plan was Korean food but, when we got to the restaurant, the place was closed; boarded up with a bed.

Plan B, thai food.

We hailed a taxi but the driver didn't know the restaurant that we were looking for. He seemed to understand what street that we were hoping to find, so we rolled the dice and jumped in the car.

We got dropped off on a dark street in front of a watermelon stand, with no sign of a restaurant in either direction. We arbitrarily decided to head 'left' and try to find someone to ask for directions. We found a convenience store called 'Seven Heaven' and asked the only white dude in the store if he knew of the Thai restaurant near by. In a thick eastern european accent, he mumbled something about it being illegal and said he didn't know where it was. He told us instead about a restaurant called Solitaire. Plan C.

After an epic 40 minute of walk in the dark on dimly lit, sandy, potholed 'sidewalks' and asking no fewer than six more people for directions, we finally arrived at Solitaire. Judging by the vehicles parked out front, it's a popular destination for the UN folks in town. I felt like Kumar at White Castle. Dinner with a real knife and fork (my spork is wonderful, but it is just not the same). And napkins! And no sand in my food!

So far, Khartoum is pretty freakin awesome.


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