At 3am I was woken by a few good kicks in the ribs!! Expecting to see an angry Egyptian I was surprised to see my friend pointing out to the coast mumbling “a boat simple”. I was about to tell him to stop sleepwalking when I realized what he was saying. “Abu Simbel”, he repeated. I sat up and strained my eyes to the coast. There were the incredible carvings of Abu Simbel lit up by floodlights with the still water of lake Nassa reflecting back a perfect image. I dosed back to sleep only again to be woken again by the horn of the ferry sending off a couple of blasts to let people know we had crossed the border from Egypt into Sudan.
Yes, at last we are in Sudan and have just made the journey down to Khartoum (the capital). As always this journey was packed with stories. We left the scattered port of Wadi Halfa struggling to find the correct road south. This took some time, as there is no road within the town, there is just a maze of tracks over dust and sand. We new when we had found the road as we instantly hit corrugations. These are 20cm high bumps across the road regularly spaced by a gap of 50cm. The result is that everything is shaken very rapidly and every weld, nut and bolt is tested to a point very close to its limit.
The ‘main’ road to Khartoum can be described as pure class A shit. Imagine a road to the local quarry; add corrugations and large amounts of soft sand. Now take away any other sign of human existence, including other traffic. We were traveling at an average speed of 30kmph (slow considering Khartoum is still 1000km further south). It was 80km down this road when the truck began to make new sounds. We stopped and I got out to hunt the source of the new rhythm. You can only laugh when you see that the rear main spring hanger has decided to “get off” the truck. This means that the truck suspension is buggered and the back axel twisted driving any further is not a good idea.
We look around, hmmmm; things start to sink in, hmmmm, “bollocks”. We set the sat phone up and wait for passing traffic.
Incredibly 30mins later a jeep comes shooting towards us. We wave it down and ask for assistance. From what Arabic we could understand and what English the driver could catch we discover there could be someone who could help us 8km, 40km, or 80km (I’m not that good at my Arabic numbers) down the road. Two set off with him and we prepare ourselves for a wait. Wait is perhaps too weak a word to use, as a spare part may have to be flown in from England and then driven up the 920km from Khartoum.
The sound of an engine and a cloud of dust coming our way again is unexpected, even more so when it is the same car that has just left us. We hear that there is a gold prospecting camp 4km down the road that would make a good place to base the truck as we search for a repair. It takes us 2 hours to drive the 4km to the small camp. A red faced portly white man greets us. Pol turns out to be French and is accompanied by 35 Sudanese, a Belgium bloke, and a generator.
Pol tells us he is not French but a Britton and he desires nothing but whiskey. Raphael tells us he is a mechanic and is also craving whiskey. All we can do is introduce ourselves and sadly inform them we have no whiskey. Still to our joy they are still happy to help us. We get a lift and back track down the road and find the broken hanger. Raphael looks at it, says no problem and cranks up the generator. The next two days we spend decorating the truck, Raphael was busy welding and Pol asked to take photos of our girls.
On the second day Pol asks if we would like to see some of the old gold mines that the British used before they left in 1956. They turn out to be incredible, almost untouched from the day they left. String used in a Hansel and Gretel style to find their way out and gold pans still littered the floor, the Ceilings were alive with an enormous number of bats. We returned none the richer but did find that the broken hanger had been fixed and we were up and ready to leave the next day.
Over the following two days jokingly wishing we had taken the train we drove 320km in two blocks of 12 hour driving to the town of Dongola. We spent a day there to scrape the dust from our bodies, extract the sand from every orifice, and give a bit of TLC to the truck. The next two days we longed for the corrugations, at least then we would know that the sand was hard. Instead we drove on soft sand. Every now and then the truck would dig itself in. Using our hands, shovels and sand ladders we would crawl forward a further 5m before sinking in again and having to spend another 10 minutes digging. This could be repeated as much as 5 times before we would reach harder sand. For the last 320km we were overjoyed to meet asphalt with the assurance that it would not stop until we arrived in Khartoum.
Driving the last few days sat in the cab just waiting for the repair job on the hanger to fail was horrible. You were completely at its mercy and could do nothing but carry on and just hope. The last feeling I felt similar to that was probably on my 7th birthday during a game of musical chairs. You would pass a free chair and you could only hope that you could get back to another before the music stopped, all you could do was carry on dancing round. As with all things we eventually got the part and trundled on our way to Kassala.
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