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A Day Full of Adventure

Gondar to Metema

I did a bike trip about nine years ago travelling from East London to Cairo. Three of us on KTM 950/990's and another on a BMW 800. The trip had many interesting tales to reminisce about but this particular day takes the cake.

Gondar in Ethiopia to Metema, on the Sudanese border, is 200km. All of it downhill as we leave the Simien Mountains and ride down to the Sahara Desert. We thought we would get through the border and head for Al Qadarif but this was the day that Sudan was splitting into two countries - Sudan and South Sudan. The civil war in this region has been well documented with the atrocities of al-Bashir in Darfu, a region of Sudan.

As we rode down the mountain pass we saw hundreds of white-painted UN armoured cars and other vehicles gathered on the side of the mountain. They must have been expecting trouble as it seemed every UN soldier in Africa was on stand-by. When some Ethiopians heard we were going into Sudan, they asked if we wanted to hire some soldiers to protect us! We discussed the situation between us and decided if the border was open, we were going through.

On the way down the mountain, I was admiring the view and thinking how nice it was with no-one running up to the road to hurl stones at you (which seems to be a national pastime for children in Ethiopia - I wish someone would donate soccer balls to them to keep them occupied) when a goat appeared right in front of me having slipped out from under the armscor barrier. At 100km/h there was a collision leaving an expired goat and myself sliding across the tarmac with my bike sliding out in front of me. Luckily no damage to the bike and with my protective gear, I suffered only severe road rash on my elbows as well as a few chips of elbow bone in the joint itself, which later hampered my beer drinking. I was aware that the goat owner would be demanding a huge amount in compensation so it was best to hasten down the mountain and rather face whatever was happening in Sudan.

At the border post I noticed that people were leaving Sudan and that we were the only ones going into Sudan! The border crossing took about six hours as the fellow at the Sudanese border post had to fill in documents in triplicate (no carbon paper) and also had to translate from English script to Arabic script. When he finished writing, he was so relieved that he raised his arms in triumph. This was also the border crossing where a farmer from Fort Beaufort area had his passport stolen a year previously. So we were very alert watching the movement of our passports for six hours, as well as me watching out for an irate goat farmer. I sighed with relief when the documentation was complete and we could proceed.

The next hurdle was to find a place to sleep as it was going to be dark in less than an hour and al-Qadarif was still 150km away. Every 10 km along the road was a machine gun nest which later stretched to one every 20km. Not sure what they were expecting but we did not stop to ask them. As the last few sunbeams shot over the horizon we happened across an excavation or quarry next to the road. As the landscape had flattened out, we thought this would be a good place to camp for the night as we were out of sight of anyone driving past.

It was also a good place to have a few beers that we had purchased in Gondar and cook camel meat in a potjie. We found out later that alcohol was forbidden in Sudan and you are given 10 lashes for every beer! One of the guys went up to edge of the quarry to recce the place and returned to tell us that there was a machine gun crew placed about 200 m down the road. We quickly cooked about ten packets of two-minute noodles and mixed two litres of Kool-Aid and took it across to the three Sudanese soldiers. By means of sign language we asked if we could sleep in the quarry and I'm sure our presentation of supper did a lot to sway their decision. I think we were the safest foreigners in Sudan that night.

Apart from us being oblivious to the fact that beer was illegal, we were also oblivious to the fact that we were camping in the Dinder National Park that contains between 50 - 80 lions! Ignorance is bliss!

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