Mission improbable

02/06/2015 16:35

Written by Bob Gibbons

The following anecdote is taken from Bob’s diary in 1976, from an overland trip on which he was a client. This extract was originally written while travelling through the Central African Republic.

Bahr Al Ghazal, Southern Sudan, 26 January

Left Bangui then spent three days in Bangassou with brake trouble and officialdom delays. Drove on to Obo, road shocking; it’s really an overgrown track and ferries not working. Delayed by a broken back spring. Next day a tooth came off the crown wheel on the back axle and made a neat hole in the diff cover. Just past Obo the second diff blew. With the rest of the party setting up camp in the bush for some time, the driver, Nick, Dave and I set off to look for parts in Wau, 300 miles further on in Sudan. No traffic at all, so we had to walk the 40 miles to the border, mostly in the cool of the night until some villagers warned us about frisky animals with big hungry mouths and fluffy manes. Ate stale bread and shared some tins of fish. Spent the second night in a village – invited to stay in their little thatched mud house. It was quite something – we were offered food and some straw matting; such hospitality, a pity about the bugs in the night, though.

Hitched from the border to Wau on the top of an old Bedford truck, overloaded with a boisterous host of passengers clinging to sacks of grain over every bump of the dirt road. It was hell under the burning sun, stomach cramps threatening at any moment. (A great story to relate from the comfort of leafy England later – you know, great white ashen-faced hunter explores the Sudan by exotic lorry.)

Wau, Sudan, 27 January

Dave took Nick, who was very ill, off to Khartoum by plane. I found a complete axle in the customs house, but they weren’t going to part with it. A few haggard-looking travellers arrived on the train from Khartoum, a five-day trip. Slept in the police station courtyard with other travellers. No beds, just sand and no spare parts.

Tuesday, 3 February

Back at the stricken truck the locals had been bringing food; water was found a mile away. The camp was set out with loos, a cold store on the evaporation principle, a summerhouse with mosquito nets all round, and a shaded area of poles and leaves. Early next day, Aussie Dave and Kiwi Mike set out to walk to Obo, where a mission was rumoured to exist. Next day they arrived back with a big Unimog from the mission, proposing to tow the truck there.

Thursday, 5 February

An amazing day – replaced the old Bedford axle with an abandoned Mercedes one. Had to replace one bearing; luckily the truck’s one was exactly the same. The mission people welded the truck propshaft on to the new axle with the only electricity and welding gear between Bangui and Juba. The brakes didn’t really work and we had to put four discarded bald Land Rover tyres on the wheels. The girls kept us all plied with great fruit salads, pineapples, papaya, bananas and lemon juice.

En route, 10 February

Departed from the mission, full of trepidation. Nearly came off the road where some terrible rock steps in the track barred the route. Had to camp and use rocks next morning to build the road up under the truck. It took six hours to get 50 yards. Had a puncture afterwards, but got the tyre off using a screwdriver, hammer and jack handle. Used one of the two patches left and later got stuck in a mud hole for hours. Met some tourists going west; our notoriety has spread along the bush telegraph – ‘So you’re the lot who’ve been stuck for weeks.’

Crossed into Sudan, all the officials were most helpful; they could hardly believe their eyes, with the truck a good two feet lower at the back than the front. Had another puncture; we seem to be on three rear wheels longer than four.

Nairobi, Kenya, 24 February

Finally pulled into the big city. Ate almost continuously for three days; mostly bacon and eggs at Brunners and cake at the Thorn Tree Café.

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