The worst roads are now behind us
December 26, 2001

Greetings all and happy Christmas and New Year!

I am writing this from Khartoum, Sudan! Gisela and I are both well and strong and still enjoying every moment of our journey, the ups and the downs. We have driven nearly 19 000km since we left Johannesburg five months ago.

Christmas in a Muslim country so far from home has been a bit lonely, but we have been able to phone our families, and we had saved up some goodies to make a special Christmas meal.

So many people told us we would never make it this far, and yet here we are! Not that the journey has been easy or uneventful.

We had our first mechanical breakdown on the day we first tried to leave Ethiopia. The ZebraBus's cooling fan cracked about 50km out of Gondar in northern Ethiopia, a very wild and remote area. Fortunately the fan was still doing its job despite making a terrible racket, so we were able to turn back to Gondar. We wasted some time trying to locate a used fan, of which several were available, but they were all the wrong size, and the Ethiopian garages, thinking we were desperate, wanted ridiculous prices. Eventually I removed the damaged fan and had it welded up for a nominal charge.

Unfortunately, while I was reassembling everything, I managed to drop a washer into the engine without noticing, which necessitated having to pull the engine out and strip it down to remove the offending washer before it destroyed the engine, which wasted another two days in very trying conditions.

The roads in Ethiopia were also quite a challenge. There is a lot of road construction going on in Ethiopia, but most of the roads are pretty horrific. And where they are rebuilding them one is required to drive on detours that are even worse. However, as bad as the Ethiopian roads undoubtedly are, none caused as much damage to the car as the hell run from Isiolo to Moyale in northern Kenya.

The road from Gondar in Ethiopia to Al Gederif in Sudan was the worst of the lot, and one which several travellers had told us we would not be able to get through. It was a very challenging drive but the ZebraBus saw us through without any trouble.

From Gederif to Khartoum is an asphalt road. What bliss! What luxury! OK, so there were a few potholes and some nasty invisible dips in the road, and steps onto all the bridges, but I can't tell you how great it was to drive on a surfaced road again. It must have been weeks since we were last able to drive in fourth gear!

Sudan is a very interesting country. Khartoum is hot and dusty and not very inviting, apart from being the place where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet. However, the Sudanese people are fabulous. Everywhere we have been, people come up and shake our hands and introduce themselves and many of them invite us into their homes for refreshments and to chat.

Quite the opposite of all the stories we heard from fear mongers who said Sudan is very dangerous and best avoided.

We have seen some pretty hairy driving across Africa, but the Sudanese really take the prize. Overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic seems to be the fashion around here. Maybe that's what they meant when people said this country is too dangerous to travel in?

An interesting aside: the house two doors down from the campsite where we are staying used to be owned by Osama bin Laden. But there's not much chance of any B52s or cruise missiles coming by, as the Sudanese government threw him out of the country after the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998.

We have found Africa's best internet cafe in Khartoum. The connection is lightning fast and cheap, and the staff are very friendly and accommodating. We may even be able to get a small website update done before we leave.

We have been issued our Egyptian visas and we will probably leave Khartoum on the 27th, heading north for Wadi Halfa, about 1 000km away. We hear that about a third of the way is a good asphalt road (not shown on our maps), after which we have a long stretch of deep sand, which should be quite challenging, followed by a rocky stretch similar to the roads in Ethiopia.

At Wadi Halfa we'll put the car on a ferry across lake Nasser to Aswan in Egypt, and from there it's tar roads all the way to London (not to mention a couple of sea crossings). Wooohooo!!! The worst roads are behind us and we're still going strong!

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