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Get me to Gondar!

Surviving scorpions and the searing heat of the Sahara.


Check out this excerpt from 'The Sidecar Guys' book 'Our Ridiculous World (Trip)'.


Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes are the founders of The Armchair Adventure Festival but when they're not arranging portaloos and stewarding traffic, they are 'The Sidecar Guys'. They're called 'The Sidecar Guys' as the pair hold the very niche world record for the longest journey by scooter and sidecar after becoming the first people to circumnavigate the globe by scooter and sidecar. It was this 15 month expedition that opened the door in to the amazing world of adventure travel for them both. They'll both be speaking at this year's Armchair Adventure Festival but if you can't wait that long, you can also order a signed copy of their book here.


In the meantime, have a read of this excerpt from Northern Africa! We meet them as they are coming towards the end of their time in Sudan with a few nights of turbulent wild camping awaiting them before crossing the border in to Ethiopia! We hope you enjoy the read!


 

We managed to get our visas for Ethiopia, said goodbye to our friends in Sudan, and headed south for the border. All that stood in our way of Ethiopia was around 450 miles and a couple of nights in the desert. We pressed on south and found a camping spot easily. It was just off the main road and the farmer guys were over the moon to have us. We gave them a marshmallow and exchanged Facebook details on their smart phone before pitching our tent. The people of Sudan were probably the most welcoming, helpful, peaceful people we met on the whole trip. These guys sat with us for a while and we tried to chat but the language barrier was a bit of a problem. Eventually they left us to camp out on their land and went home.


A typical wild camping spot in Sudan

Reece was pretty pleased about this because he wasn’t feeling great. He had got food poisoning. “Poor bloke,” I thought. “Out in the middle of the desert and he’s ended up with a serious case of the shits.” About an hour later, I was sat there by the fire looking up at the incredible stars, pretty pleased it wasn’t me with the food poisoning, when I fully pooed myself. It hit me like a wave. We didn’t stop digging holes on that poor farmer’s land until the early hours of the morning. It was truly disgusting.

We woke up feeling really run down. We’d had very little sleep, we were pretty dehydrated, and a bit dazed. I was outside the tent, packing a bag when Reece crawled out. As he stood up, I saw a shadow flash up his leg. What was it? Surely, nothing. I’m just delusional from all of the hole digging. As the shadow shot up his leg, Reece sat down and perched on a small sandy mound. I thought it was probably nothing but had to make sure, so I told Reece to stay still while I had a peer around. Nothing there. But I did see something, I was sure I saw something. I asked Reece to stand up and I had another look around.


“Reece, stay very, very still. There is a scorpion on the back of your knee.”

“Oh my God, get it off, get it off, get it off, get it off, get it off!” Reece exclaimed in a very serious, worried voice.


I found a lighter and flicked it off Reece’s knee and onto the sand. Reece was saved. The scorpion wasn’t giving up yet, though, and every time we tried to flick it away it just kept scurrying back towards us. I think it was trying to burrow under the tent. I was scared, and rightfully so. We were 300 km from the nearest hospital, we were both exceptionally weak from the food poisoning and this potentially deadly creature was trying to join the team. We decided that we couldn’t take the risk of letting it hang around, and regretfully, I bludgeoned it with our camping mallet. It was a ridiculous moment. I didn’t want to do it, but at the time it felt like it was us or it. When we got some internet, we googled “scorpions” in and around that area. The first one that came up was called the Death Stalker and it was unmistakably the one that had been on the back of Reece’s knee. True to its name, the Death Stalker was known for killing the young, the elderly, and the weak. Fresh off the back of food poisoning and 300 km from the nearest hospital, Reece would have been dust. It was a close shave.


We eventually got packed up and back on the road. We just had one more night’s wild camping before we would be in Ethiopia and heading towards the relative civilisation of Gondar. Gondar is just a small tourist town in northern Ethiopia but after that bout of food poisoning, for us, it was the light at the end of the tunnel. We were absolutely desperate to get there. We had decided we would splash out a tenner each and get a nice bed for the night with a working toilet. Plus, reaching Ethiopia meant beer was back on the menu and my word could we do with a pint.



Breaking for a cold Coke in the sweltering heat at 9am


Feeling rank but with the finish line in our sights, we cracked on down through Sudan. It wasn’t long before we made it to the town of Al Qadarif, where we filled up on fuel, had a spot of lunch and a couple of Cokes. They were heaven; ice-cold and full of sugar, exactly what we needed. It was another scorcher of a day, probably around 40°C. At Al Qadarif, we turned off the main road and our time on perfect tarmac finally came to an end. The last 150 km to the border was a horrendous stretch of road. It was just pothole after pothole. They were deep, too, and so frequent that many were unavoidable for the sidecar. We were reduced to traveling at about 15-20 mph but even at those speeds it’s a bone-jarring crash when you drop into a hole that deep. We trundled down this stretch of road for about five hours and it got no better. We wondered if this was it now. If the roads would be this bad all the way through Ethiopia, maybe all the way through Africa, right to Cape Town.


Eventually, the sun started to drop so we decided it was time to pull in for that final wild camp. By this time, we had made it as far south as the outskirts of Dinder National Park and we were praying we didn’t have any more run-ins with wildlife. Here, a scorpion would be the least of our worries; lions, leopards, and cheetahs aren’t so easily fought off with a camping mallet. The landscape also had changed slightly. Over the past couple of days we had gone from desert sand dunes to flat sandy farmland to, now, tall grass. Just the kind of stuff you’d imagine a lion to be lurking in.


It’s great for wild camping though. We pulled off down a little dirt track and pitched up in a small clearing, totally hidden from any passers-by. We were completely drained from all the food poisoning, tough riding, and extreme heat, so we put the tent up and passed out. We woke up the following morning and, to my relief, I hadn’t pooed myself and there was nothing on the back of Reece’s knee. Things were looking up. Today would be the day that we would make it out of Sudan and it would be an easy ride, right through to Gondar, or so we thought.



 

We hope you enjoyed that little taster from Sudan! You can grab yourself a copy of Our Ridiculous World (Trip) here. And don't forget to grab your tickets to #AAF22 for more tales of adventure ASAP. A weekend pass is just £119 and tickets are selling fast!