Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: EMERGING FROM THE TWILIGHT ZONE (July 8-13)

Current Location: Khartoum, Sudan
Highlights: Crossing the worlds nastiest sticky mud, me being ill, and arrival in Khartoum
Upcomming: Leaving Khartoum for Wadi Halfa, then taking a boat into Egypt.

It feels like I have just emerged from a place that lies somewhere between our world of dreams and the concrete world in which we walk everyday. You see we have just arrived in Khartoum after several days of driving through the toughest terrain of the whole Edventure. Just before we hit this difficult section, I came down with a nasty viral infection and started to run a high fever; defiantly not what I wanted during such a physically demanding part of the trip. My recollection and experiences of the 7 days or so from when we left Ethiopia and when we arrived in Khartoum are somewhat blurred and probably as much influenced by recounting each days events in my sweat- drenched dreams as they are by the actual events, but I'll do my best.

We had met up with Andrew and Jackie, a British couple in a 1992 Land Rover Discovery and Gordon, a hilarious chap from Scotland in a newer Land Rover Defender, to convoy the potentially difficult stretch just over the Ethiopian border to the first town of Geraref in south-eastern Sudan. We met up at Ethiopian immigration after Andy and Jackie missed and flew past our bushcamp the previous night. The Ethiopian side was quite easy. We had overstayed our 30 days in Ethiopia by about a week and thankfully the officials either didn't notice or care and gave us an exit stamp. The Sudanese side was not so fast or straight forward. After about 5 hours with various sections of Sudanese immigration, customs, and police, we were turned loose on the "road" west towards Khartoum. In fact it was not a road, but tracks through muddy fields that headed out across the landscape. The rainy season had just started which meant the tracks could be very muddy. I took the lead on this first leg and after 100m we came across the first interesting section, very large puddles and deep truck ruts in soft mud. Although I was feeling quite rough with the onset of a viral infection, I decided to test the conditions and headed for the worst looking section to see how deep the mud was. With three vehicles, all well equipped with winches and recovery gear, I felt quite brave so got a run up and hit the large puddle. I managed to get about 5 meters into the puddle before being pulled to a stop and sinking into soft wet mud. Andy and Gordon both drove a more solid section round me and towed me out. This was the pattern for the remaining few hours of light. We would drive short distances, stop, examine the conditions (always soft mud), decide the best route round, and go for it. When a vehicle got stuck, the other free vehicles would either tow it out (we broke two tow straps), or act as an anchor point to winch it out. The first day we probably covered about 10kms before we decided to set up camp in the dark. With all of us covered in mud, we opted for the easy option of two tins of hotdogs for dinner. That night we watched a storm come in and it rained. This was bad news as the mud would probably now be even heavier and stickier, and softer.

The next morning we got a reasonable start with the hope of making good progress. I started to feel much worse however and my mid-morning was really quite out of it. I felt dizzy, feverish, and every muscle in my body ached and said, STOP, sleep, rest, which was of course impossible, so I pushed on.
I was actually quite useless and it was about all I could do to drive and hook-up the tow rope or winch when required. By the end of the day we had covered about 15 km and got stuck many times. I was incredible frustrated with the landy as the thick mud would completely choke up the wheels robbing me of just about all the power the little 2.25 liter engine could muster. The mud tires I was running were also the worst thing for this mud. Instead of affording greater grip and flinging off the mud, the sticky clay just gripped harder onto the deep lugs of the tires until I had clods about 3/4 meter wide on each tire. It was sole destroying to have to lie down in the wet mud and spend 20-30 mins under the car removing this
horrible stuff to free up the drive gear. It was just thick clay that you had to remove with your bear hands bit by bit. That evening I had reached an all time low and felt terrible despite taking prescription strength pain killers. I could hardly managed to scrape the mud off my aching body and just collapsed in the rooftop tent will muddy cloths not really knowing where I was. I remember waking up sometime in the night feeling desperately thirsty and guzzled down about a liter of fluid in one go, then collapsing down on the bed again. I woke up several times before morning completely drenching in sweat. This did not help with the mud at all, but the way I felt, I just didn't care.

We set off again, this time the clouds had set in and it was drizzling making the mud even wetter, heavier and thicker. Once again, we would examine the route and see how it went. Sometimes one vehicle would get stuck, sometimes we would all make it through. I ended being somewhat of a burden to the other two vehicles as I would continually get choked up with mud and have to stop to clear the wheels or we would get stuck and need a tow. The mud was sometimes so thick on one of the front wheels (we have a diff lock in the rear) that it locked that wheel so the other one would hopelessly spin. This was an incredibly frustrating time for me and the only thing that made it bearable was the thought that with every ounce of mud I removed and every meter of progress I made forward, I would be closer to being back with my wife. I distinctly remember being under the Landy, laying in wet horrible mud jamming my already aching fingers into the thick clay stuck between my wheel and leaf springs and twisting off small hunks thinking that with this small hunk I am closer to being back with Gena. Then I would repeat. With this small hunk, I am closer to being back with Gena. I really think that this stopped me from going nuts. Had I have been feeling 100%, to be honest, this might have been fun in a crazy way.

After all I have been thinking that things had been too easy up until now and wanted more of a challenge which is what this was. But dealing with these conditions while feeling terrible was no fun at all. At the end of this day and after maybe 15-20km of progress, we hit the main "road". While not really a road, it was a decent track that had been laid and although still muddy and deeply rutted in places, it was a infinitely better than the muddy fields of the past few days. We bushcamped again and I looked forward to the next day and the possibility of a day without having to clear off mud and clay and a day without getting stuck.

The next morning we set off along the road which went from OK to good, to very good and before long we had made it to the first large town of Gedaref. We immediately found a shop with cold drinks and quaffed a nice cold coke. After filling up with cheap petrol (about 350 Dinars per imperial gallon = 30 UScents per liter or $1.20 per US gallon) and finding some veggies, we were about ready to head off to Khartoum some 400 km away until a guy on a bike (actually a cop) came up to us and said we needed to come and register at the police station. So we loaded up and followed him on his bike towards the police station. About half way there, he gave his to bike to someone, came up to Andys discovery, opened the door, pushed Jacky over and got in. I couldn't believe how rude he was, he didn't ask, just barged in. This was in stark contrast to everyone else in Sudan who had thus far been incredibly friendly.

When we arrived at the police station, he said that the office was closed and we would have to wait until the next day. We were furious as he decided he would keep our passport until the next day. We argued for about 1 hr but he refused to change his mind. As a protest we decided to camp right outside the gates of the police station! The next morning the officials who registered us was very apologetic about this one official and said that nobody in the station likes him. The whole registration process took most of the rest of the day. We had to go to Army Intelligence, as well as some other offices, while they filled out all sorts of forms and trip permits. While this was going on, I decided to hook up my ACD (Auxiliary Cooling Device), an extra radiator I bought in Addis that I was going to plumb into the heater inlet and outlets to help deal with the heat of Sudan. In fact it did not go too smoothly, so I didn't manage to connect it up fully by the time we were ready to leave for Khartoum. We didn't get very far that evening and bushcamped about 200 km from Khartoum along side a river. I was starting to feel much better and actually socialized with the rest of the group before going to bed.

The next day we made it to Khartoum and checked into the "National Camping Residence". Our plan here was to get info about the barge from Wadi Halfa to Aswan in Egypt, get our Egyptian visas, do so vehicle repairs, and then head off north towards Egypt.

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