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Bahir Dar to Wad Medini and beyond

May 2, 2013

 

It was always a big ask, seven odd hundred kilos in a slow car with a border exit from Ethiopia and an entrance to Sudan. we always had a big reservation about the Sudan part of our journey. seems we had to dance through many more hoops to acquire our visas for Sudan more than any other country and then we had the complication of the exit of Sudan via the Wade Halfa ferry for passengers and the separate barge for the car. we soldiered on nonetheless.

In searing heat we arrived in reasonable time to the Ethiopian exit border to Sudan at precisely 14h00. we know this because we were promptly informed that the customs officials had just commenced their lunch break and would be back at six. back at SIX, that’s crazy we thought. but it was not quite as bad as this, because the Ethiopians have an odd way of read the clock. In fact it was only one hour we had to wait in unbearable heat parked at the border boom gate that was nothing more than a dirty rope dangling between two loosely, barely standing wooden poles.

Of course we were permanently surrounded by the YOU YOU YOU brigade all wanting to sell us something or change Birr to Sudanese Pounds or help us with immigration. we never tired of saying “NO THANK YOU’ but let it be known we must have had to repeat ourselves every two or three minutes for the full duration of the sixty minute wait. Geoff at one stage thought he heard someone scratching with some of the kit on our roof rack. it was not a person but the 20litre plastic drum of fuel about to explode. it had swelled up to such an extent that it was groaning out of its tied owns and if he hadn’t spotted this we would surely have had a huge problem to say the least. We very quickly decanted it into the main fuel tank of the car and it was unbelievable how hot the fuel actually felt. I wonder just how close to its flashpoint it was.

In spite of the blistering heat i decided to break the monotony of the wait by organising two nice hot Ethiopian Chai for Geoff and I. It was served in a quaint little pot and consumed out of tiny handleless cups. It tasted nice and certainly gave us something to pass the time with. Sitting with some of the guys in the Chai shop was a rather interesting little interlude trying to make conversation with a mixture of /Arabic, English and Ethiopian.

Another casualty of the searing heat were our coffee and sugar containers. they were unceremoniously shrivelled up by the sun to make them totally useless. Serves us right for putting them on the roof rack in any event. 

So the guys from Sudan were not to be outdone! what happened here was having the misfortune of landing up with an official who was clueless with how to deal with a carnet du passage for our car papers. Not only did it take him over one hour to actually complete the necessary paperwork. in fact part of the paperwork because as we were to establish on our attempted exit from Sudan not all of it was complete and we we at serious risk of having to drive back the 1,500 kilos form Wadi Halfa to Wad Medini to have the correct papers redone but a for phone calls of confirmation and a few hours of sweating bullets in Wadi Halfa a few days later the matter was resolved. ONCE AGAIN, NOT OUR FAULT! All our paperwork was sharp but yet another incompetent official could easily have properly scuppered out trip! what he did however was delay our trip solidly by at least one hour more than was necessary.

We were now so late that we could not even take our good friend and brilliant back home trip advisor’s advice to sample the excellent chicken kebabs on our way to Wad Medeni. We knew that we would arrive in Wad late, very late in fact and by the time we rocked up at the Wad Medeni International Hotel it was well after midnight. No worries, we were tough and we knew the trip from Addis to Wadi Halfa was going to be a real challenge but absolutely necessary due to our delays in Kenya. so 2,300 kilos in three days was going have to be done by hook or by crook.

At about 21h00 while still en route to Wad Medeni we pulled off the road and cooked up a thumping good dinner to at least keep our corporal side strong and well sated, climbed back into the cabbie and hit the road again.

 

A cold shower (thank God it was cold because to the unbelievable heat in Sudan) a massively noisy fan above our beds and an equally noisy aircon unit was not enough to keep us from sleep, we were wrecked exhausted.

At 05h30 next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and back to the car.

it was only two hundred kilos to Khartoum but we decided to get in super early so that we could get hold of Waleed to get our tickets fro the Wadi Halfa ferry sorted before we headed back to Wadi. into the rather busy road to Khartoum we launched ourselves and all was trucking fine until at one of the police check points we tried to stop as normal but i found the clutch was not properly disengaging! My mouth went dry, and my stomach churned! All of a sudden Geoff’s words of the previous evening rang loud in my memory; “I’m battling to get 1st gear” he had said!. This did not feel good. so having brought the car to a stop by killing the engine for the police check and slipping it into first gear before starting and when given the all clear by the cop we ran it straight of in first off the key, luckily it started.

we pulled immediately into a gas station that was one of the only places around with any shelter from the blazing sun to examine the problem. We desperately hoped it was a slave cylinder problem and we furiously bled it and even removed it and were almost disappointed to find that the slave seemed perfect. the gas station started to put pressure on us to move as we were now starting to interfere with their business with our tools and bits and pieces spread around us on their forecourt. So we had to pack up and head out in the traffic towards the capital city of Sudan with getting gears almost impossible. In fact it had gotten much worse since we had stopped at the police check.

Geoff heard it before me, the release bearing was making a horrible noise so i realised there would be absolutely no more stopping unless we were actually forced to. Well forced to we were every now and then but we tried to gauge the traffic flow to minimise these full stops. Because each full stop was surely causing the problem to deteriorate and we ran the risk of being stuck out on the road with no shelter from the blazing sun and no-one to help us.

we still had about 180 Kilometres to go! It was sweating bullets all the way to Khartoum and as luck would have it every cop in Khartoum pulled us out of the traffic to verify our papers. By yet another miracle of this trip we made it to the Blue Nile Yacht Club and within minutes of our arrival Geoff selected a massive tree that offered perfect shade as our home for the next two engine changes, (more about that later!)

We texted Waleed to help us to get the paperwork started for the Wadi Halfa Ferry and barge to get us from Sudan to Egypt but he never responded. But without a car we needed not a ferry nor a barge. so we immediately got to graft on removing the engine to establish the nature of our problem. it did not take too long but it took litres and litres of sweat from both of us and this job was tackled with us having neither had breakfast not lunch. I for one was weak with hunger but knew we just had to press on or get stuck in Sudan for one week longer at least.

with the engine removed we found the release bearing hanging by one spring and the pressure plate had one finger broken as well as the centre ring completely ripped away from the centre of the pressure plate. add to this the clutch worn down to the rivets. as luck would have it, we did bring a new clutch with us AS WELL AS A PRESSURE PLATE!so within no time the new kit was in place and then turned our attention to the release bearing with only one spring to hold it in place! Well true to form Terence panicked and decided to run around town in the vai hope that he would find one of these Hillman Imp release bearing springs while MacGyver Geoff scratched around the yacht club until he found some bullwire.

Having found a friendly motorbike owner who said he knew town, Terence went about searching for the proverbial needle in the Khartoum haystack! Miracles of miracles. both Terence and Geoff met with success; Terence did find one of these little curly wurly springs and on his return he found that Geoff had with pliers, vice grip hammer and bullwire had secured the release bearing so we had a brief happy moment of high fives but soon got back to work since we still needed to get the engine back in, tested and then still do our ticket paperwork for Wadi Halfa.

So on we ploughed and had the engine back in in good time. with the car still up on the trestles we decided to run it through the gears to make sure all was in order. ALL WAS OUT OF ORDER!!! inexplicably the rhs doughnut was broken in six pieces!!!! I have never heard of such a break and doubt if anybody has actually witnessed such a break. Now I ask you with tears in my eyes, how were we able to drive this car with a bust pressure plate AND a rubber doughnut that was in six pieces.

we believe that the doughnut was probably damaged by the strap that had become entangled on the half shaft (that’s the strap we had put in place to help us through the heavy towing of the Moyale Mud road) and as much as it caused the damage to the doughnut it might have also held it together long enough for us to actually drive it at all! well whatever the explanation, we had no option but to remove the errant doughnut and the strap as well.

We all know that hard work was never easy and i certainly did not cherish the prospect of fitting a second hand doughnut without the bracing strap. well hard work was made easy by MacGyver Geoff who yet again managed to get the doughnut sorted in absolute no time. with all the bolts properly tightened and everything in place it was time for Geoff to test drive and around the Blue Nile Yacht Club he spun and was quite happy with our handiwork. in fact not happy… ecstatic was the word.

Packing the tool kit away and back into our car and setting up our tent for the night and nicely cleaned up with a nice cool shower we were about to start preparing a good hearty dinner for surely we deserved it. TT I HAVE SOME VERY BAD BAD NEWS, Geoff sombrely said to me. Somehow i knew he was being serious. What i enquired! did you tighten the bolts on the pressure plate? No i said. Well neither did I was Geoff’s reply. This of course meant another engine removal to rectify this omission. In the meantime we had many onlookers who offered us help. “all the help we need is to be able to find USD for the payment of the boat in Wadi Halfi” Terence asked of the one onlooker. where is the closest ATM? You know with the sanctions against Sudan by the US we have no affiliation to either Mastercard or Visa so you will not be able to draw any cash through our banks here with your cards! how much will you need? and we told them it would be in the region of 300 US Dollars. Come and see me later was the response. WELL this friendly Samaritan as we call him handed us USD300.00 as a gesture of goodwill from the people of Sudan. he would NOT accept a cent in exchanged and Geoff and I were gobsmacked at this gesture. this covered three quarters of the cost of the Wadi ferry. We cannot believe the goodwill of certain human beings. 

We mustered up all our reserves and immediately got stuck in and contacted a second fixer for the Wadi Halfa ferry and told him we would be delayed and only be able to see him much later in the evening. It was 23h00 when we managed to finish the second engine removal and refit. Tired but deep down super content we dragged ourselves to make a bit of supper, the first meal of the day, and we hit the sack with the plan to meet our ferry fixer at 08h00 next morning and then take on the 982 kilometres to Wadi Halfa.

Sleep came very easily! 

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