cycling heat desert

Heat exhaustion – cycling in 50 degrees Celsius

We had stayed longer than expected on our visit in the capital. Being spoilt rotten and surrounded by good hearts kind of has that effect on you. But now, we had run into a heatwave. It was hard to say goodbye to the good friends we had made in Khartoum but the quickly rising temperatures gave us a good kick-in-the-butt to start moving.

In a small village 50 km later, it was 10 am and the speedometer read 50 degrees Celsius. The stifling heat caused me to believe the devil himself had lit a fire underneath, simmering me in a slow and torturous death. The only refuge was a tin roof that provided shade but barely felt any cooler without a breeze. Sudanese men had gathered around without a hint of sweat, they were arguing fiercely with each other – each one fighting for the honour of paying for their coffee party.

The process repeated the next morning, though, this time, there was no shade. We began to panic slightly – we could be caught in the desert without any trees to hide from the sun. With the sun and sand our only travel companions, we pushed on through the heat to reach a tiny cafe. It was 11 am, but the damage was done. I didn’t know it at that point, but the devil had won.

A couple of hours had passed, enough time to make friends with the locals. I had downed as many cold juices from the only running fridge in sight to cool myself. I removed my shoes and sat under the fan with nowhere else to escape the heat. Slowly, I felt a rising nausea and tried to put it out of my mind. Big mistake. I was suffering from heat exhaustion. The nausea rudely forced me to put my shoes back on and rush out to find a toilet – or rather the hole in the ground.

At the same time, all the men were heading to mosque. A group of men sat, washing their feet next to the small, quaint building. They were cleaning themselves in preparation for prayer. I tried to head passed them but as I stood just a meter away, I realised it was too late. I vomited to the sound of “Allahhhuuuu, Akbaaaaarrrrrr”, with me contributing much of the “Aaarrrrrrrrr”. Desperately trying to avoid puking directly next to their squeaky clean toes, I vomited in my hands instead.

Just as I took in the look of shock on their faces, I realised my ordeal was not over. I sped up this time, the hole-in-the-ground toilet was in sight and the race was on. But mother nature can be cruel and instead, I dropped to my knees and emptied the contents of my stomach. Nearby, the sound of conversation and laughter abruptly stopped and I looked up to find 5 men eating their communal lunch just 10 m from me. I waved a gooey hand to apologise but couldn’t bring myself to look at them. Instead, I looked down at the sand that I was kicking over the evidence. Their appetite had probably disappeared.

I made my way back to the cafe where it seemed everyone inside had enjoyed the show.

“Simon, we have to go!”
“What, cycle, now? In this heat?!”
“Yes – we have to leave!!!”

Clearly delusional, Simon eventually talked me out of this idea. He found a better alternative – a lift to the nearest town, Wad Madani, 60 km away. A friendly government official had stopped at the cafe to buy a cold drink. Simon explained that I didn’t feel well (omitting crucial details). He pointed over to my sorry soul, where people had given me some weird concoction of seeds to drink. It was supposed to be good for the stomach. Well, it wasn’t. After two more rounds of puking the last of my guts out, we jumped into his comfortable 4×4 with our bikes and gear aboard.

He really saved us from the situation. But he also drove like a maniac at a speed of 160 km/h! We flew over the potholes and I thought, how ironic it would be, if we made it all this way by bicycle just to die in a car! Maybe he was motivated by the very real possibility of me puking on his leather seats. Not surprisingly, he had a flat tire when we pulled into Wad Madani. We had made it there in just 20 minutes, alive and in one piece. We found a comfortable hotel room where the toilet was my best friend for the rest of the evening and I finally confirmed the existence of projectile vomiting.

My body recovered from the heat exhaustion within 24 hours and we reluctantly got back on the road to tackle the rest of the Sudanese heat. For photos from Sudan (don’t worry – no vomit pics) see here.

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