Moyale Road

The drive from Addis Ababa to Awassa is only one hundred and ninety miles. The road is generally good and the hotel I was hoping to stay at, The Haile Resort, is less than a mile off the main highway.

As is often the way the most difficult part of the journey is finding the correct road. Indeed the town of Awassa was only mentioned when we had been on the road for forty-five miles. However the drive was otherwise straightforward and we arrived at 11:30. I was met on the steps of the resort by the General Manager, no less. An educated gentleman that has spent some of his life in Sheffield and Cambridge, England he was aware of MG and genuinely interested in the drive. The Haile Resort is a gem of a hotel set on the banks of Lake Awassa. Associated with Haile Gebrsalassie, the Olympian athlete, the hotel has all the health and fitness facilities you could want.

Chris sent me a text informing me that Dorothy’s radiator had a small hole and the head gasket was also blown. He was hoping the mechanic would complete the repairs that day, in which case he would only be two days behind. Then the final straw for Chris; he returned to England because of serious illness in his family. Apart from the upsetting news affecting his family, he was extremely disappointed at not being able to complete the odyssey.

I travelled on from Awassa towards Moyale, the Kenyan border and the reputedly worse main road in the world. I was determined that I would give it my best try. The distance to Moyale was around three hundred and twenty miles and my only real concern as I started out was that I hadn’t enough fuel and there was none available in Awassa. I stopped at every village along the route that had a fuel station only to be told “Diesel only, sorry” After driving some sixty five miles a garage attendant that originally told me he had no ‘benzene’ as they refer to petrol. Seeing the obvious concern on my face he summoned me to move the car over to another pump and confirmed he had petrol and would fill Bridget’s tank. It then became obvious to me why he had at first denied my request as fuel gushed out of a leak near the hosepipe’s nozzle.

Although the road surfaces for the first one hundred miles were poor and the temperature was fairly warm everything was going perfectly, which should have been a warning to me. Suddenly, without any warning there was a loud bang as an oncoming truck passed. This was followed by Bridget’s windscreen becoming opaque and because I couldn’t see a thing we crashed into a huge pothole and bounced about through several more. I braked hard and brought Bridget to a halt as quickly as possible, but the damage was done. I looked first at the crazy-pave pattern of the windscreen although I could see clearly through a hole some six inches wide. Then I looked down at the steering wheel and realised the wheel itself was ‘off centre’ suggesting that there was some damage to the steering gear.

I smashed out the remaining glass and proceeded to drive with my hat pulled down over my forehead, wearing my sunglasses and holding a mask around the remaining part of my face to prevent glass shards still in the windscreen frame from flying into my face.

I travelled in this manner for a distance of some one hundred and thirty miles before arriving at the border in the town of Moyale. I wanted to cross into Kenya quickly and couldn’t believe that the exit from Ethiopia took only fifteen minutes and then we approached Kenya. The immigration officer was perfect, being friendly extremely courteous and quick. With my visa stamped I proceeded to the Customs office to declare my car and have the carnet stamped. The door was locked. The compulsory border guard, that could easily deny entry to an invading army, approached and said “They all gone home” I asked how I could declare my car and he said “Just go, they not here” Needing no second bidding I started the engine and entered Kenya.

Bridget was clearly wounded bouncing about, suggesting she had shock absorber problems again and the offset steering. She was clearly not in the right condition to attempt the Moyale/Archers Post road. I decided to do what most people do and hire a truck to haul Bridget to Nairobi where I would be able to correct her problems.

It was arranged and Bridget was loaded into what I can only describe as a camel, cattle or sheep truck depending on what livestock was to be moved. She had her wheels tied off in just the same way as she was when loaded into a container for her sea travels previously. I was to be picked up the next morning at 08:00.

At 09:30 the hotel owner took me to where convoys of these lorries form-up and there was the truck with Bridget. We were not to travel alone. In the cab, apart from the driver, was a family of three, myself and another male passenger. In the back of the truck along with Bridget were some five other people, two passengers, one mechanic and two ‘goffers’. Also loaded was a range of packages some measuring as much as five feet, by two feet, by two. Some of these were placed strategically around Bridget.

The convoy left at around 11:00. The road is really a track consisting of a granite base with compressed sand and mud. The trucks that use the road daily have worn deep groves over time and natural ground movement create steep steps, crevices and potholes. Bridget would not be able to straddle the centre mound of the groves because she would ground like a beached whale. Then there are rocks and boulders all over the place that would cause serious damage to ordinary cars, whereas trucks are high enough to pass over them although they must still take care not to let their wheels actually run over them as that causes them to lurch violently.

Finally long stretches of the track are corrugated. If you can imagine riding a bicycle over some corrugated iron the effect is similar except everything is several times bigger. There are two schools of thought on the best way to pass over these sections; the first is to drive very slowly and the other is to drive at a velocity that causes the wheels to almost fly from crest to crest.

The total distance of this road is some three hundred miles, of which approximately half is corrugation. Our truck was driven down this track at speeds of up to seventy kilometres per hour! During the first section the truck had two failures of its breaking system followed by one puncture. The goffers jacked up the rear of the truck and removed the offending wheel and quickly removed the tyre and inner tube. There was a large rip in the tube and so one of the goffers climbed onto the roof of the truck and removed several other tubes. None of these were new and they chose to use one with at least five existing patches that I could see. They fitted this, tested it and re-fitted everything. When they removed the jack the tyre immediately went flat. This time they used a puncture repair but it still had to be done a third time before it was ready to go. Whilst they were working the sun set and I was fascinated to watch four different thunder storms in a ninety degree arch off in the distance. We started off again, into the night, and it started to rain. It quickly turned into a deluge. We arrived into Marsabit town some one hundred and forty miles from the start and the truck pulled into a side street. I thought at first they were going to eat which was supposedly the only thing they were due to stop for. However, there were trucks everywhere you looked and then we heard the road ahead was closed to all traffic.

We settled down for the night having found no accommodation available. The next morning it was still raining heavily and no traffic was leaving. It was almost 14:00 before it was deemed worth attempting the next section. All the potholes were filled with water and large ponds often covered more than half the track. Worst of all there were several sections where the sand, mud and water had mixed into a deep sludge that was dangerously slippery and long sections up-hill.

I lost count of the number of trucks, particularly those with trailers, which were stuck at crazy angles in deep sludge and slewed across the road. A bus we came across had been there for two nights complete with its passengers. We actually completed the bad section in some thirty six hours. My body ached from muscles continually flexing to counter the violent rocking from side to side as well as the bouncing caused by the corrugations. I had drunk three bottles of water and eaten a small packet of biscuits. Unfortunately Bridget had fared far worse.

Fortunately I had already contacted Jan Thoenes in Nairobi and he had arranged some workshop facilities with the CMC Motors Group, Landrover Division. I had Bridget delivered there where I examined her on a hoist. The initial analysis showed that in addition to the windscreen, shock absorbers and a roll bar link arm that were damaged in the accident, I would need a new exhaust, brake line, fuel line, fuel tank rear off-side light cover and front number plate. Also, the sump guard was badly bent and would need re-shaping, the floor pan damaged, passenger door damaged, broken exterior trim and 70% of the paintwork badly scratched. She looked pitiful and will need considerable restoration and a re-spray when she returns home.

Having now had the opportunity of examining all the damage I am convinced that much of it was caused when Bridget was loaded onto the truck. The force of some of the blows that caused the damage was very considerable as demonstrated by the sump guard, hit so hard that the eighth of an inch steel support was bent forty five degrees and denting the sump that it guarded!

I contacted Moss Europe at about 3:00pm GMT and gave them the list of items I would need to be able to get back on the road. By 4:00pm they had confirmed that the parts were with Fedex and should be with me on Monday. That is one hell of a service.

In the gallery are photos of the Moyale Road and the truck that has caused so much trouble, and also a set of photos of Bridget in CMC’s workshop. She will come back and finish the run.

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