Driving in Sudan

After driving in Egypt, Sudan is like, well, a different country. The locals can actually see the road markings here, which was good thinking from Mohammed, the Sudanese God of Roads. Not only can they see said markings, but they generally stick to them. Lanes are adhered to, for the most part, and drivers mostly do things like they should.

The Sudanese are a lovely, incredibly hospitable nation of people, and they seemed perfectly happy to share their great roads with a farangee vehicle. They share it with a multitude of animals, too, topped by the mighty camel, just like in Egypt.

The main purpose of this driving series of posts is to lightheartedly pour scorn on the habits of the local drivers, but I find it quite hard with Sudan. I will say that they don’t know how to queue, but this seems to be endemic to everywhere but the UK, where queuing was invented by a gentleman named Tarquin Fitzwilliam Queue in 1158, while waiting for a fish supper and mushy peas one evening in downtown Wolverhampton.

The roads are, for the most part, great. When you arrive at the outskirts of small towns the flawless, wide, highway instantly vanishes and the dusty, bumpy, unpaved track begins, but it’s no big deal. Tuk tuks dart around everywhere, using every part of the road, and often pay no attention to rules such as which side of the road/dual-carriageway to drive on, but this is the same the world over with these guys. It’s scary how young some of the drivers are, and even more scary when you see a family of 20-odd spilling out of one with animals and luggage.

The highways are fantastic, much like in Egypt. I guess it’s easy to build roads through the desert? Egypt and Sudan are the only places I’ve ever used cruise control, and I used it the vast majority of the time. Knowing we were travelling at a legal-ish speed and were improving the fuel economy made it an easy choice for me, even though the price of fuel was literally less than that of water.

A fuel station in Atbara which actually had diesel. Along with a huge queue. Which we skipped.

The major problem we had to deal with in Sudan, related to driving, was the diesel shortages. We knew ahead of time so filled extra 20L + 35L plastic jerrycans before crossing the border at Abu Simbel, giving us 205L total which meant we had a range of about 1400km. While in no danger whatsoever of running out, we came across our first station which evidently had some diesel, in Atbara. It wasn’t hard to tell it had diesel due to the 70 or so trucks queued up. A quick bit of guessing, followed by a slow bit of arithmetic, and we reckoned on at least 3 hours of waiting. Instead, we called our Sudanese fixer, Mazar, who asked to speak to someone in charge. I walked up to the pumps, to find a large African man sitting beside the pump wearing a green army-like outfit of some sort, clearly the boss. I indicated he should speak to the person on the phone, he talked for 30 seconds, gave me the phone back and asked me to reverse Chuck up to the pumps. I hesitated for only a microsecond, then scampered past the dozen or so locals who were vying for position with their plastic containers. Rather than become an angry mob, as I tried to position the truck with the skill of a stoned youth on his first driving lesson, they helped. I tried to give the attendant a tip, but he smiled and refused politely. The punters seemed happy to let me push in. Maybe we Brits have been getting this queuing thing wrong all along? I have no idea what Mazar said, but I doubt it was the “I just told him you were travelling all the way to Khartoum and needed fuel” that he told me he said.

Perfect siphoning technique: hoist the container, keep the hose high, suck and… yup, diesel in the mouth time.

Next time we wanted fuel, but again weren’t in desperation, we mentioned it to our hosts, Aziz and Lumya. A quick chat and they arranged for our two jerrycans to be filled by her brother who ran some schools and therefore had become something of an expert at finding diesel for their schoolbuses. When we picked the jerrycans up the next day, they wouldn’t accept any money. Whilst fuel is cheap in Sudan, this was incredibly generous of them considering the shortages. We then had lunch with Lumya in Ozone Cafe, where she did the Sudanese host thing again and paid for us. Guys, we owe you big time! Incredibly. Nice. People.

Not all the roads are amazing, though. The roads in the south east, on the way to the Ethiopian border at Metema, were horrendous. Tarred, but the potholes are terrible, and massive. For this reason, the concept of a side of the road to drive on becomes pointless and even dangerous to your car.

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