Journal 9

The Road to Wadi Halfa

(aka Wadi HELLfa)

January 06

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Thanks Updated 15.03.06 Virtual Tour of Mel Please join us - added 20.02.06

The week diving from Port Sudan was a nice break from the long, hard road. One of the highlights was that there was beer on the boat, great after two weeks of being sober in Sudan. Sites included the Blue Belt wreck, which was carrying Toyota cars in 1979 when it sunk. Andy was hoping to find some spares for Mel, as she was in need of a few bits and bobs and was made in 1978! But unfortunately it was all a bit too rusty. We also dived some sites that the famous diver Jacques Coustou explored on his research vessel Calypso. Still left on the seabed were some of his shark cages and also part of an underwater "village". This had been inhabited full time for 30 days and nights, and they carried out experiments here such as diving down to 100m (on air) twice a day for a week (amazingly no one got bent). There were a few dives on sites with ripping currents, sheer walls and loads of sharks. The climax to the weeks diving was the wreck of the Umbria. This blew Andy away and you could hear him underwater squealing with little grunts of pleasure! The wreck was an Italian ship that was scuttled to stop the British obtaining the 360 000 aerial bombs and other war supplies that she was filled to her gunnels with.

Grey Reef at Shaab Rumi Travelly at Qita el Banna
Toyotas Skylight on Umbria Wine Bottles on Umbria
Engine room on Umbria Stacks of bombs Turtle at Qita el Banna

On the last night we took full advantage of the beer onboard and before we realised it, it was four in the morning. After a few hours sleep we made our way to the airport feeling a little worse for wear. Our plane was delayed an hour or so, but eventually we arrived back in Khartoum and decided to head straight off northwards to Wadi Halfa. We had a long way to go on a road that the guidebook described as having "the worst corrugations in the whole wide world!" and we only had three days because the ferry to Egypt left on Wednesday.

On the outskirts of Khartoum we were stopped at a police check point. He asked us for 900 ikies for registration, but after having paid forty quid each for this at the border we decided to just drive away. We were sure it was con anyway as we hadn't been asked at the previous check points. The tar road towards Dongola was full of potholes, Cheryl told Andy to go slower (five times), but of course he knew best. But after hitting head-on one pothole too many we heard a clanking sound. Pulling over to inspect the car, the radiator was leaking, the main leaf spring had snapped and the steering rod had been bent. Grabbing a bucket to catch the radiator water, the afternoon and evening were spent patching her up. Luckily we had a spare leaf spring and after some cursing, wiggling and banging Andy got it into place. The radiator was damaged by the transmission being pushed forward when the spring broke. We fixed that with some miracle two-part glue.

Road to Wadi Halfa Road to Wadi Halfa Fixing leaf spring Houses North Sudan

On Sunday morning we were at last ready to set off. After 340 km the tar stopped and we drove through rough dirt roads and villages sitting on the banks of the Nile. Along the Nile were row upon row of fields with impressive irrigation systems to bring much needed water to their crops. Donkeys and camels stood sheltering in any shade that they could find. Everyone waved and smiled pleasantly as we continued on our way. We wanted to get to Dongola before six, to catch the last ferry across the Nile to the East bank. However 25 km before Dongola we hit another pothole and heard another ping! and the replaced leaf spring broke. With no more spares we would have to get it fixed in Dongola. We arrived just as the sun was setting, and stopped at a garage. Andy took off the spring in record time and then disappeared off with the mechanic to try and find a new one. I eventfully found half a leaf spring buried in someone's back yard. (I wonder what else was buried there, you could probably build a whole car). I then had to cut the old weld off the spring from where it was repaired in Uganda. This meant going to someone's house and in his bedroom was a grinding tool. Afterwards, we had to drill a hole in the other part of the spring and hope that it would all connect together. Unfortunately the guy who owned the drill was out. The mechanic convinced me that it would be OK which meant that the right front wheel would be two inches more forward than it was supposed to be. We got it together by ten and after politely refusing an invitation to stay at the mechanics house we headed to the ferry to catch the first one in the morning at six.

Eager to carry on up the road we awoke at quarter to six to make sure we got onto the first ferry. It finally arrived from the other side at eight thirty and we reversed on with a couple of trucks, a few hundred people and a donkey. We also noticed that our oil seal on the rear wheel had broken again.

Camels on the Road to Dongolo Dongolo Ferry Port Sudan

The road was not too bad, but slow, as you had to wind your way through dusty villages. There is no set road you just keep heading north on the most obvious track, sometimes having to turn back as the track abruptly ends in the middle of a paddy field. We carried on heading northwards, past palm groves, slowly eating up the miles. We heard another clinking noise and then the engine started to get hot. Stopping to have a closer look, the radiator was leaking again. We were right in the middle of a village and as we started to take the car to bits a small crowd was growing (about 36 at the last count). They offered us food and assistance with getting the radiator out, not letting Cheryl do anything, since it was "man's work". Oh well, keeps my hands clean! The blades on radiator's fan had been snapped off by the vibrations from the whole car being misaligned, due to the bodged leaf spring. After trying to fix the holes in the radiator the blades had made, with the glue and cigarette butts, it was still leaking. So we managed to find a "garage" which could solder it back together. The mechanic first had to build a small fire, while Andy was the bellows boy. Meanwhile about fifteen children hung off the car and giggled at us strange white people. With the radiator now fixed we chucked it back in, but didn't bother replacing the fan as it was so destroyed we didn't think it would do anything. By about five we were off at last, with an hour to go before sunset. We drove about 20 km when the engine was getting too hot again. Stopping to refit the fan and find another radiator leak, the sun faded below the horizon. After some dinner we carried on and drove till midnight, as we were well behind schedule if we were to catch the Egypt ferry.

On Tuesday we were up early again and still ploughing away at the road. The corrugations were teeth rattling and I cringed at the thought of what more damage it would do to poor Mel. The corrugations always looked smoother on the other side of the road. Taking it turns to drive (well, Cheryl drove for an hour!), stopping frequently to top up the radiator water, we made reasonable headway, if somewhat painfully. This road really was turning out to be a journey from hell, and it was disturbing when three men rode past on donkeys and an image of the three horsemen of the Apocalypse crossed my mind. Would we make it?

Three Men of the Apocalypse The Main connecting route of Sudan Stuck in the Sand

At a small village we stocked up with as much water as possible as it was the last water until Wadi Halfa. We asked the locals how far it was to Halfa and they said 160 km. (At the average speed of 20km per hour, this would be about eight hours drive). The crowd of villagers watched as we headed down the road, waving goodbye. After another 15 km, the road suddenly disappeared. Trying another track, this also vanished into the midst of rolling sand dunes. Darn and other superlatives! We were completely lost in the middle of a vast sandy plain, with a mountain range looming around us. Deciding to head back on ourselves we spotted a man on a donkey in the distance. INTERCEPTION!!!!! Leaving the tracks we raced over the desert to catch the man to ask for directions. He confirmed that we had to go back to the last village and head around the mountains. Thanking him we went to set off. But Mel wasn't going anywhere as she dug into the soft sand below. Nonchalantly a donkey looked on as, with the help of the local man, we dug ourselves out of the sand. It took a few tries but eventually we pulled free and got back on track. I needed a pee and Cheryl said, "don't waste it pee in the radiator". I decided that it would be better to pee on the engine as that might cool it down a bit.

About two hours later we were back at the village, smelling like an African urinal, restocked with water and refilled the radiator again. Since we were in a rush we decided to take the radiator cap off before it had cooled down. Ushering the children away from the car by impersonating explosions, Andy nervously removed the cap. A huge geyser of boiling water shot up about two metres into the air, much to the excitement of the on looking children.

Still leaking, we decided to see if our SAS Survival book had any tips on fixing radiators. It suggested pouring in some egg whites. Worth a try. After Andy's impersonation of a chicken laying an egg (one child thought he meant toilet!?!) the villagers happily gave us a couple eggs from around the corner, where several chickens were scratching around in the dust. They refused any payment for the eggs and again invited us to dinner, but we still had a long way to go.

The road turned away from the Nile and headed into the desert. I worked out that as the radiator was leaking at 3 litres per 20 km, we would need 24 litres of water, we had 40 so no worries! That was until the road started heading up hills and after just 9 km we had to stop and wait for the radiator to cool down before refilling it. Would we make it? Amazingly though, after that the egg white seemed to work and we didn't need to stop again. We carried on until we were only about 10 km from Wadi Halfa, keeping awake by singing Christmas carols. It was about 11.30 by the time we stopped. We slept in sight of the lights of the town and at last could relax a bit.

We drove into the town on Wednesday morning and headed straight for the ferry office. We were intercepted by one of the local touts that help you, for a fee. Being so shattered we didn't argue too much. At the ferry office we were given the news that the ferry would not be leaving until Saturday. Or maybe next week or the week after Inshalla (god willing). Great. Wadi Halfa is a hole. Will we make it?

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