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20.04.2011 - Mali – Home

Our time in Africa was short now; in a few months we would be back in Europe, back in the UK, back home. Read more..

Khartoum – Gondar

May 25th, 2010

In Khartoum we found friendly faces and heat, lots and lots of heat. See our photos at

 Arriving in Khartoum it was amazing to hear other stories from the desert route. A trio of English guys in a Landcruiser had hit sand dunes at 45 mph, launching themselves into the air and damaging the underside of their car on re-entry. Some of the Dutch guys from Orange Trophy also had problems; a couple of guys bent their chassis and front axle whilst attempting to cross the desert in the least suitable cars, whilst they had also managed to loose a portable welding kit somewhere in the Sudanese sand. We gave ourselves a quiet pat on the back that we had navigated our most challenging stretch thus far without major incident.

Sunday 2nd April

Khartoum itself was a strange experience because despite there being a capital city to see and explore, the heat was so unbearable and disabilitating that no-one really left the campsite. Instead it was a time to chat, fix fiddly bits on the cars and relax after the desert. Temperatures hovered just below 50 degrees most days and, just as the sun dropped and we hoped for some respite, the humidity from the nearby Nile ensured that we stayed sweat soaked for the rest of the evening and night.

We had some issues with the car electrics as the inverter and fridge were draining our entire battery supply by 40% overnight, whilst running their internal fans to forlornly try and get back down to the normal operating temperature. Normally this would take 2 full days and nights. Additionally the fridge kept cutting out, which we figured was due to overheating.

 So, to combat this, we got drastic and cut holes in the metal and wooden bulkheads as in front and behind the fridge to try and improve air flow.  Whilst they allowed the fridge to run fine whilst driving with the windows wide open, it was still nowhere near enough to allow the fridge to run whilst we were static.

The heat also finished off the glue that retained the sound proofing material all over the cab, the resulting being that as we were driving along bits kept falling off left right and centre. Fed up with re-gluing we obeyed the old adage and decided that, “if we can’t duck it, **** it”.  Thankfully the duct tape worked, so our ears are given that little bit more of a rest.

After three days in the heat of Khartoum, we were ready to leave. Now, we’re by no means poets or great orators on the level of Barack Obama, but we do at least like to claim we have a basic grasp on the English language.

Occasionally, we have even been known to use long words, to construct grammatically correct sentences and even, very occasionally, engage in witty retorts to one another. However, in Khartoum, in 45 degree heat, we were lucky if we could remember what our names were.

Granted, we have both experienced this dissabilitating effect before, but not without having first downed a bottle of tequila.

So, keen to regain some of our faculties, we loaded up our kit and fired up the Landy. We were joined in convoy by the Swedish boys Adam and Alexis (, as well as by Jan the German biker (to see Jan’s mechanical advice videos, just type ‘Germans with big wrenches wearing leather’ into Google).

 Then, just as we went to leave Khartoum, the boys couldn’t get one of the bikes started. As the bikes were so new and had been performing faultlessly it was suspected that it was something really simple that was causing the problem.

Sure enough, a quick sniff of the fuel tank confirmed that they had filled up from a diesel jerry can at the campsite, rather than with petrol. Alexis’ tank was drained and we towed him along the road to pump out the diesel from the engine and fuel lines. Within a few hundred metres his bike was singing again. Adam’s had taken on less diesel and was running, albeit smoking a lot so the boys decided to just get going and play it by ear.

We headed for Ethiopia, camping that night in the bush just off the main road, with the border still about 250 miles away. As we stood eating our dinner, Adam pointed out a scorpion scuttling between our feet. Naturally, there was a lot of shouting and swearing, following which we all made up elaborate excuses and headed quickly to bed.

Monday 3rd April

Very early next morning, we made some good progress in the relatively cool 35 degree heat. However, as we approached the border, we suffered a recurrence of our overheating problems. After removing the thermostat and strapping the bonnet to the roof, we managed to stabilize matters and arrived a few miles from the border late that evening.

Nonetheless it had been an incredibly stressful day, often pulling over every 20 minutes as the temperature gauge went berserk. We were so grateful to have the other guys with us, standing around in the middle of nowhere waiting for the car to cool. The boys were great, constantly waiting and never once being impatient.  Cheers lads!

We continued to drive as a group from Khartoum, bush camping in the Sudanese countryside and trying not to crack too many German jokes at any one time.

A lot of military action was visible just before the border, with a number of garrisons making it impossible to camp close by. Maybe this was the silver lining of our temperature problems and lost miles from the previous day!


Tuesday 4th April

Turning up at the Sudanese side of the border bridge, we quickly sorted the stamp for the Carnet, paying $13 for the privilege.

Over on the Ethiopian side, everything changed. The immigration office is situated within a crumbling mud hut; the ‘officials’ inside dressed as if they were on their way to the pub. All semblance of organization and authority that we were familiar with had gone out of the window.

We had to do some serious arguing with Ethiopian Customs to prevent them from stamping our Carnet, as Ethiopia is not involved with the Carnet scheme and it is not required. All that was needed was a temporary import form. However, they wanted to stamp the Carnet anyway.

We wanted to save a page in our precious yellow booklet as it will be touch and go whether we fill it with the number of countries we will go through, and getting another sent out would be bloody expensive. We pointed out the text on the reverse of the Carnet which states clearly that Ethiopia is exempt from the Carnet scheme (for certain vehicles). Even this took some persuasion but, finally, we were through!

The difference between countries is immediately apparent. The people appear from nowhere; Ethiopia is the continents second most popular country behind Egypt and, just like entering Eygpt from Libya, that line on the map represents a huge cultural change.

Very keen to reach Gondar (our home for the next month) on the same day we shot off from the border, our temperature gauge still suggesting we were at times risking damaging the engine. It was a dammed frustrating day, pulling over constantly to cool the car, driving with no bonnet and doing everything we could to try and protect the engine.

Nevertheless, it was a stunning road with deep cut valleys and high cresting hills either side, complemented by twists and turns, not unlike some of the alpine roads we were enjoying just 2 months earlier. It was probably the most scenic and enjoyable road we had yet travelled along and we tried to enjoy the views and experience as much as we could despite the stress the car was giving us.

Chugging up the steep hills, at over 2000m, the temperature gauge would ping into the red so it was paramount to try and carry as much momentum as possible from each downhill section. Strapped inside our three tonnes of Solihul steel, we felt every steep up and down, coupled with sharp turns left and right. It beggars belief to think that until a few years ago this was a mud road – which people would still cross in the rainy season!

The bikes were coming and going in our rear view mirror, stopping for photos and videos and then catching us back up in no time. At one point we didn’t see any of them for about half an hour and just as we were questioning where they had got to, Alexis came flying up explaining that Adam had a puncture and had stopped a few km’s back to fix it.

We kept moving, aiming to find somewhere quiet for us all to eat. Ha, fat chance of that! We entered various small towns and were mobbed each time we stopped. In one town we stopped and Tom jumped out to grab bread and water, meanwhile Alexis and Carl could count almost fifty people around our car and his bike.

Whilst it started with innocent staring we sensed that the mood was changing slightly and as a couple of over-eager locals grabbed Alexis’ arm Carl started the engine and shouting to Tom to hurry up, got to get out of here! The shock on these people’s faces as Alexis’ KTM V-Twin sprang into life was just brilliant as it is dammed loud and they all pretty much fled as he revved the bike. Whilst all of these people around us may have had no bad intentions, previous experiences in Egypt with kids climbing all over the car and stories from the guys of their time in Albania had taught all of us to move on ASAP. Just get moving!

Unfortunately Adam was having similar issues whilst fixing his flat tyre, though judging by Jans video footage his 50 or so onlookers were much better behaved, intent simply on staring at these two beings from another planet with white skin – at least that’s how the ‘farenji fever’ in Ethiopia feels at times. (Farenji meaning foreigner or white man)

We pressed on to Gondar as the others would catch us up. We eventfully arrived in Gondar after roughly 3 hours and, as the boys went off in search of food, we all realised something wasn’t quite right as Adam’s bike was constantly back firing, turning heads everywhere along the street.

After a quick inspection, it was immediately obvious that the exhaust had cracked in about 6 places and then sheared in two; the boys thought this was a result of the higher exhaust temperatures resulting from running with diesel mix, not just petrol.  Unfortunately for their bikes, the exhaust helps pressurise the valves (as we understand it) so Adam was now stuck in Gondar until a fix could be found.

That evening we caught up with a few of Carl’s friends, as he had lived here for 3 months 5 years ago. It was impressive to see that the place appeared to have moved on, the horse and carts around town had now been replaced by small rickshaw affairs, which were everywhere. There were lots more (modern looking) hotels and the variety and quality of western food had vastly

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