The Sudan & The Hardest Night.
A few hours after I arrived at the Goha Hotel Tarek, who I had met in Bahir Dar, arrived as well, he was also heading to Sudan the following morning, so we decided we’d head out together, with one other car, in the morning. I had a good dinner and I good night’s rest before getting on the road at 7am.
We drove into Gondar to wait for the third car. I sat in my car as street children pushed their faces against the windows, asking for money. They pulled on the wing mirror and at the windscreen wipers when I refused. After 20 or minutes they got bored and left.
After the last car arrived we headed out of town, stopping at each fuel station to search for petrol. Nobody in Gondar had any. There were lines of tuk-tuks at each station, waiting for the first delivery of the day. As we continued on the road north we found no fuel. So ,with about half a tank left in my main tank, I switched over to my long-range tank, which I had used between Marsabit and Dilla. I didn’t know how much fuel I had overall.
The roads heading north were actually in fairly good condition, winding through beautiful mountain ranges and over rivers and through forests. I enjoyed the drive. Tarek and the other driver were taking it pretty easy, and I didn’t struggle to keep up.
I was anxious about the Sudanese border. Sudan, in my mind, was a scary place. An Islamic dictatorship, fighting wars on two fronts. So as much as I was looking forward to getting out of Ethiopia, I was nervous about the border post that I’d reach later that day.
In a small town we left the third car, and continued on alone. We were cruising slowly through a village when Ethiopia’s parting gift to me arrived. Some children and teenagers sitting on the edge of the road began to fling stones at my car. Most of them were small, but they seemed to be launched from make shift slingshots made from strips of tyre tubing. A larger stone bounced off my windscreen, cracking the glass which I had to have specially made at great cost. Another child on the other side of the road sent a stone into the side of my head, which stung brilliantly. They giggled as they saw how successful they had been in being awful to the foreigner.
After this incident I was just determined to reach the border. I didn’t care that I was heading into the desert. I didn’t care that I was heading into one of the world’s most ruthless dictatorships, I just wanted out of Ethiopia. Tarek and I descended the hills into the low, flat shrub lands before the border, arriving at the messy, disorganised border post around noon. For the first time I really noticed the heat. In the course of a morning we had descended almost 1500 meters in altitude, it was a lot hotter at the border.
I had been expecting the border to be very difficult. The Ethiopian side was just as disorganised as you would imagine. The customs building was a ruin and the officials were working from a shipping container. The immigration officials quizzed me for a while before letting me go. The Sudanese side was, to my surprise, easy. Behind the immigration counter was the tallest man I’d ever seen. He shook my hand and asked me how I was. I hadn’t met a polite official since I was in Kenya, it was a nice change. He stamped my passport, and gave me some advice about doing the registration in Khartoum. I arrived at the customs just in time for afternoon prayers, so Tarek and I had to wait for an hour before getting our documents stamped. Afterwards we had lunch at a small place in the border town of Metema. The hygiene was extremely questionable, and I was still recovering from the last bout of food poisoning, so I kept it simple. In the mid-afternoon we got back on the road, after failing to find fuel once again.
The road heading towards the capital was a narrow and cracked by the sun. There were huge wheel shattering potholes at random intervals, which required a lot of concentration to avoid. The south of Sudan is very different to the image I had of the country. There were fields of crops as far as I could see all around me. As we drove further into the country storm clouds gathered overhead.
The weather continued to grow more menacing as the afternoon went on. A strong wind picked up dust and flung it about, and patches of thick rain poured down on us. I had run through the fuel in my long-range tank and returned to using the fuel in my main tank, which was perhaps one-third full. We continued on, at every station we were told that there was no electricity due to the storm. As evening fell I began to run very low on fuel, and Tarek was looking to stop for the night, as it was getting dark and the driving in the storm was unpleasant.
We pulled over at a fuel station and got permission to stay there overnight. Tarek’s Jeep was kitted out for camping, but I couldn’t put my tent down due to the hard ground and the raging winds. Rain lashed down on us and I shuffled my belongings around my car to make space to sleep in the back seat. Even in the rain it was uncomfortably hot. I couldn’t open the windows because there were still mosquitos around. I spent a very uncomfortable night in my tiny car, with all my luggage, in a storm at the side of the road, in The Sudan.
In the morning the power was restored, and I filled up my fuel tanks with some very low quality fuel. After Al Qadarif the road improved greatly and the farmlands gave way to the desert. The clouds hung low for the morning but burned off by midday, leaving me quite uncomfortable in my car.
In Khartoum our convoy split up. I had been battling to keep up with the Jeep on the bad quality fuel, as the hot air caused the Alfa to ping violently under load. Tarek was heading back to Egypt and I would stay on at the famous Acropole Hotel in Khartoum.