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Pole to Pole

Day 74: Khartoum to Gedaref

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleWoken at five o'clock. The permits have arrived at the eleventh hour and we must load the vehicles for departure as soon as possible. The Eritreans turn up with three spanking clean Toyota Landcruisers and a smaller Nissan Patrol to take our baggage. Water, food, fuel and some of the camera equipment are roped expertly onto roof-racks and we are on our way by 7.30.

After the bouncing desert ride from Atbara to Khartoum, our progress towards Gedaref, 260 miles south-east, seems almost serene. The powerful, well-sprung vehicles glide along the metalled highway that is Sudan's vital supply line, connecting the capital with Port Sudan, on the Red Sea.

The scenery is as flat as Lincolnshire and wide green stony fields on either side of the road continue to invite the comparison. Tall minarets dot the countryside like church spires. There is industry here, in the shape of cotton and flour mills and factories producing medical packaging, glucose and glass. A grey Mercedes 500 with the red stripe of the government races past, cutting in front of an advancing truck by a narrow margin. My immediate thought is that it must be another president fleeing, and that the Sudan, like the USSR, is collapsing beneath us.

10.20 a.m. Petrol sprays out across our windscreen and we pull to a stop. The carburettor has come loose and the engine is awash with precious fuel. After some time spent trying to mend it with rope, it's decided that a spare part is required. Fortunately we are on the outskirts of the town of El Hasaheisa, and our driver Mikele goes off to locate what is required while we wait beside a brown, burnt-earth roadside ditch topped with a row of usha bushes, whose fruit looks rich and seductive but is deadly poison. A group of children gather to stare. My unbounded confidence in the Eritreans has taken a bit of a knock.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 74
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Khartoum
  • Book page no: 156

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