Published: December 19th 2008November 19th 2008
Hard to leave our home in Kampala
In November 2008 Ikhlas and I drove from Uganda to Sudan to take up my next posting in Khartoum. The Vehicle:
Land Rover Discovery TDV6 S 2005 model with 15,000 miles on the clock. No modifications except for fitting General Grabber AT2 offroad tyres which proved to be fantastic and almost certainly got us through the worst mud I have ever driven through. Spares:
2 spare wheels, spare Jack, fuel, air and oil filters, wipers, oil. Jump leads, tow ropes, air compressor, tyre pump. 55l of spare fuel in jerry cans; Camping equipment
, 35l of drinking water, all our baggage for operating in Sudan until heavy baggage arrived. Thursday 6th November:
After a week of farewells still trying to decide whether to set off as we had heard the roads in northern Kenya were really wet this year and possibly impassable. Ikhlas managed to get the ranger from the Kenya Wildlife service in Marsabit who told us a car had made it through that day so we decided to set off Friday morning. Final farewells to our fantastic staff in Kampala who all came out to officially push the car off on its journey; looked ominous
Thomson's Falls, Kenya on Saturday November 8th after a real downpour the night before.
as I could see us needing a push several times during the journey. Packed the car into the night and got some sleep. Friday 7th November; Kampala- Thompson's Falls, Kenya
Departed 0612hrs and beat the traffic out of Kampala onto the Jinja Road and a pleasant journey east to Tororo and then the border at Malaba. Abdu our office administrator who does a sideline in trading cars recommended Esther to us who would guide our papers through customs at Malaba. First challenge was to see if High Commission colleagues were right about needing a Carnet de Passage. For the record we didn't have a Carnet (very difficult and expensive to get) but did have a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorising us to export the vehicle temporarily (the idea being that once in Sudan we would send the plates and registration back to them, which we will do!). So all went smoothly and we were over to the Kenyan side within about an hour where we obtained transit papers to cross Kenya.
After three years of thinking Kenya was more advanced than Uganda western Kenya actually looked quite shabby compared to Uganda- pehaps the aftermath
Road to Marsabit
15 kms into the 500km offroad section in Northern Kenya-forgot the car shampoo too!
of the political unrest at the beginning of the year, we passed a few burned out houses before Eldoret. Quite slow progress as the Kenyans are keen on speed bumps and even keener on not marking them. Stopped in Eldoret to get some cash and shocked at lack of customer care in banks all of which had 1hr plus queues. Pound sterling seems to be plummeting so got a bad rate. On towards Nakuru driving on a terrible (tarmac) road with diversions where road being repaired- slow progress. Finally at Nakuru could leave the freight trucks behind as we swung up to Nyahururu (Thompson's Falls) arriving in mist and very heavy rain about 1800hrs. I stayed at the Lodge here abour 20 years ago so brought back memories. Log fire in the bedroom and a hearty if 1950's boarding school dinner. Sleep. Saturday 8th November: Thompson's Falls- Marsabit, Kenya
We knew this was going to be a challenging day and were doubtful that we could make it to Marsabit due to the rain and 260km offroad driving after Isiolo. However remaining optimistic we pressed on and drove through wonderful Kenyan highland scenery, round the Aberdares to Nyeri and
then skirting Mount Kenya (completely shrouded in low cloud) to Nanyuki. Reached Isiolo at around 11am where things began to change, more like a border town and the people began to look more Somali. Suddenly we were at the end of the tarmac, crossing police blocks. The police didn't seem concerned about security and didn't try to dissuade us from continuing so we went for it. The first 80km were wet detours around the new tarmac road which is being built towards Marsabit. The current road is often described as the worst in Africa and as a trunk road between two countries perhaps it is but I have been on worse in Sudan before. Nevertheless the car did get a trifle dirty and the suspension certainly was tested. I now understand the real worth of electronic stability control (ESP) as when the car ploughed into mud at about 60 miles an hour the car stopped itself from spinning round by automatically applying the brake on the correct wheel to right the vehicle- awesome feeling and the car always felt completely steady.
The nearer we got to Marsabit the wetter things seemed to get. We passed through Samburu country
Its going to get a lot muddier!
where the people wore their spotless and very colourful dress with amazing jewelry adorning them. It seemed intrusive to take pictures of the Samburu but the camels were less concerned.
Camels galore on the road to Marsabit. We were relieved to finally make it into Marsabit (About 1600hrs) but then were told that the Marsabit Lodge was inaccessible even to Land Rovers (didn't test this unlikely claim) and in any case had been closed for renovations by a South African company. A helpful passer by told us where to find a campsite operated by a Swiss man and his Kenyan wife. This was Henry Goma's and proved to be a wonderful stopover. Very muddy to get to, we were the only people there and were able to clean the car, brew up and generally sort oursleves out (even had a shower). Henry's wife operates the Marsabit bakery so we soon had fresh warm bread and rolls to tuck in to. The stars that night almost reached down to the earth. Sunday 9th November: Marsabit to Yabelo, Ethiopia
Another hard day anticipated, we set off early after tea and buns. Almost got stuck just getting back
A great place to sleep
Our cosy accommodation in Marsabit...
into Marsabit- deep mud. The whole of Marsabit seemed to be enveloped in water, very welcome to residents who live in this marginal, arid area. Put our last Kenyan shillings into the tank as diesel- Shell station, and headed out of town. Looked good going for the first 15km and I began to feel better about the journey. Then we hit our first really deep mud and passed a lorry which looked as though it had been stuck there a few days. I should have followed the routine of getting out and inspecting the way ahead but the car felt so sure that I ploughed through and began to appreciate the combination of offroad height suspension, the mud setting which optimises the suspension, engine and traction control for mud, and the Grabber tyres. Sailed through (almost literally) and carried on into a deeply rutted gravel, almost lunar landscape.
This is where our health and safety conscious society gets the better of the design of the vehicle as in their wisdom Land Rover won't let the Discovery operate at off road height above 25miles an hour. So you either crawl along at that speed hoping the shiftas won't take a
I really need a shower
pop at you (not good for health and safety) or gun the vehicle and scrape the underside for much of the way. I chose the latter as we didn't want to hang around- the exhaust is now flat rather than round but still seems to work and I've yet to inspect it properly underneath. Some big lurches into jarring ruts later turned out to have dented 2 of the alloy wheels-something I've never managed to do before. All going well until we saw some big lorries up ahead having difficulty negotiating deep mud. These kind of lorries leave very deep ruts in the soft mud- about 3ft deep with a high centre where their differentials had scraped along. This looked really hairy, even on off road mode but again the tyres felt so well placed and there was really nothiing for it but to have a go. If I'd stopped to think I'd have seen this was really stupid as had we got stuck nothing and no one would have pulled us out for a very long time. Both scared, we forgot to get the camera out; 2nd gear high range, off road height with mud setting on, the car
Camels seemed to know where they were going
just seemed to glide over the mud. Another design advantage, the Discovery has a fairly smooth underside with thick steel plates protecting sump, differential etc and in this case helped the car slide over the mud. The suspension must have gone into extended mode but I was too occupied to look. We passed the lorries and still trembling zoomed off into drier sand.
A few kms up we were stopped at a police road block and told we had to take an armed guard with us to Moyale, the Ethiopian border. Waited 20 mins for him to turn up and set of rather nervously. Apparently the Ethiopians have successfully turfed their rebels out of their country only for them to make trouble in Kenya, and as we later found out, in Sudan too. Kept the speed up on the basis that a moving target is harder to hit and because we had heard that the Ethioipian border had an elastic view about closing for lunch. The policeman seemed shocked to arrive at Moyale just 2 hrs later; we of course were relieved and pleased to be in time for surely even the earliest Ethiopian lunch hour. Got through Kenyan
A smooth, beautiful african road
customs and immigration in about 10 mins by 11.30 only to be told that the Ethiopian side wouldn't open until 3pm-argghhh! Definitely out to lunch. As the only car to cross that day and with nowhere to wait except on the main road into Ethiopia we became that Sunday's entertainment for all and sundry. Did manage to get the car cleaned by a gentleman who stood on the roof scraping his bucket around sloshing precious drops of water over the long suffering vehicle.
Immigration completed promptly at 3pm, it took another 30 mins for the one man customs dept to open and this man took a shine to Ikhlas, refusing to believe that she was not Ethiopian and rather tactlessly claiming that she was the spitting image of his aunt and he wasn't particularly young himself. Took another 15 minutes to extract her from his clutches and then finally on the road (yes tarmac again!) north.
Great road but quite a few camels wandering in to the road and progressively more humans with similar death wishes. Finally called it a day at Yabello staying at a stylish truckers motel conveniently co-located with a petrol station- the fumes probably
removing kgs of hard mud from the inside of the wheels
helped us to sleep. Nice Lamb Tibs with njera but I wish I hadn't seen the kitchen it came from. Monday 10th November: Yabello- Addis Ababa.
Tried to remove some of the mud from the underside of the vehicle in the morning; the wheels caked in rock hard dried mud which led to their being seriously out of balance so after about 40km we stopped and had to remove each wheel for scraping and cleaning.
Longish drive today passing hundreds of termite mounds by the roads and clearly the area had also had more rain than usual. Picturesque villages along the way but it seemed that most of Ethiopia's 80 million population wander along the road and quite often across it so the going was slowish and tiring.
We hit the outskirts of Addis mid afternoon and Barbara, a colleague in Ethiopia had very kindly offfered to put us up for the night so we carefully (skillfully even) negotiated the building works that are the southern approaches to Addis and managed to find a hotel where we rendevous'd with Yusuf, Barbara's driver who guided us to the house. A haven of tranquillity in the middle
Yabello to Addis Ababa
Green and lush Ethiopia
of Addis, we were then entertained by Barbara's 8 year old daughter. Self composed, at least trilingual and bright as a button, definitely a diplomat in the making. Tuesday 11th November: Addis Ababa- Gonder, Ethiopia
Got a bit lost trying to leave Addis for Debre Markos but eventually got back on track along a gloriously wooded route with very smooth tarmac-better than anything in Cumbria. Japanese funded rehabilitation of the road for a few hundred kilometres.
The impressively engineered road remained smooth as we seemed to skirt the Ethiopian part of the rift valley. In a Mini Cooper this could have been a scene from the Italian Job.
In Debre Markos after concentrating on avoiding pedestrians, horses, donkeys, goats, chickens, rickshaws and other vehicles for so long fate struck and a lorry decided to turn left as I was overtaking him, despite a wide berth and copious use of the horn. Couldn't fully avoid him without hitting the usual throngs of people by the road so he scraped the rear right hand side of the vehicle as I passed, pulling the plastic wheel arch off. This provided evidently much needed entertainment to the many passers
by but with no Amharic and a very worried looking lorry driver we decided to drive on.
Passing Bahar Dir we finally reached Lake Tana which is the source of the Blue Nile which in turn meets the White Nile at Khartoum. We skirted it on our way to Gonder where another helpful passer by joined us to guide us to an even more stylish hotel- the Fogera Hotel. Definitely seen better days, the rusty and blocked roll top bath had been anticipating the current craze for such heights of fashion for the last 90 years or so. Interesting odours, 15w lightbulb at least some of the cracked floor tiles had been cleaned in the last few years. Not a great place for Ikhlas to spend her birthday but the proprietor did say we had the best room so that made us feel much better. More great food, frightening looking dungeon of a kitchen. Wednesday 12th November Gonder-Khartoum, Sudan
Long day this one. The road to Metema on the Sudanese border was under construction so we were constantly diverted off a beautiful tarmac road onto horrendously dusty tracks. The road will be fantastic when it is finished,
mainly for the benefit of Ethiopian tankers improting Sudanese oil. Getter warmer and warmer began to feel like the Sudan we know and love. By around 11am we reached Metema and the border and completed Ethiopian exit immigration procedures in a mud hut and then drove a few metres on to what we thought would be Ethiopian customs only to be stopped by Sudanese immigration on the Gallabat (Sudanese) side. Soon spotted the familiar sight of another silver Discovery, the office vehicle El Mahi had driven down to help us negotiate Sudanese bureaucracy. A Ugandan registed British diplomatic vehicle seemed to set a precedent and much discussion ensued over pepsi and tea. Very helpful Colonel of Customs police agreed to let us proceed with vehicle but on condition we get proper permission to proceed to Khartoum from the Gedaref customs. In order to do this he would provide us with a Customs officer in the vehicle, both to protect us from the Ethiopian rebels (who I hoped realised by now I drive like the clappers) and to ensure we did in fact report to Gedaref customs.
This now became quite amusing as in order to make it to Gedaref
customs in time (it was now after 1pm) I was told to drive at top speed there being no speed limit in Sudan and the road being good tarmac with nobody around. So from one day negotiating 3ft of mud the car was now asked to cruise at 155km/hr in 38C of heat. I didn't need much encouragement to try this and safe to say we got there in time to drink tea and pepsi in the Gedaref customs while they tried to work out if we were leaving Sudan or entering. Two hours later we were off again with the Gedaref Colonel this time agreeing for us to proceed to Khartoum but only with the said customs officer whoi was quite chuffed that he would unexpectedly get to see his wife and kids in Khartoum that night.
We set off on this 430km drive after 4pm. Mainly good tarmac but lots of lorries and as night fell became quite dangerous as its a major trunk road from Port Sudan to Khartoum with only a narrow single lane on each side. Very nice to be able to fill up the Disco for only 20 quid (Diesel is about 30p a litre) but glad nevertheless to see the outskirts of Khartoum eventually. Quite something as the city has burgeoned into a metropolis in the 17 years since we last lived here- parts of it now look more like the Gulf. Turn left at the new Toyota dealer, and soon we were looking at our destination- our new home in Khartoum. Arrived 2045hrs.
Fuel: ca 375 litres of diesel used (Generally around 70p a litre until Sudan where it is 28p a litre!)
MPG: ca.26 mpg
Navigation errors: only 1
Cost of trip: ca 300 pounds sterling