38 Bus to Addis Ababa 2008

In October 2008, 11 intrepid explorers set off from Weymouth in a double decker bus. An ordinary double decker bus (a Bristol VR for those in the know) which had been though a few planned modifications. The idea had originally been to enter the Mongol Rally in a Reliant Robin. Obviously, these plans changed a little. 

The bus was purchased for £1500 from Brijan Bus Company in Hampshire where it had been used up until October 2007 as a school bus. It was brought down to Weymouth where it went through a transformation. During the next year the interior was stripped, most of the seats removed, bunks and settees installed, a kitchen area and storage units. Upstairs became the lounge and the rear section of the roof was removed to create a beer terrace and outside toilet.

It wasn’t all hard work. We had to test it some weekends and learn to drive it. As it was now officially only a 17 seater, it fell in to the classification of mini-bus. It was taken for weekends away to Bridport and Wiltshire. Posh camping.

Once we hit the road on 3rd October 2008, breaking down for the first time at Tescos in Dorchester. A distance of 7 miles from home. Having fixed the sticking brake, we drove solidly for 4 days, stopping overnight in Belgrade on the second night, but otherwise driving night and day using our 7 drivers in rotation. Steve ‘Eileen’ Priddy had his very first taste of double decker driving on an autobahn in Germany and even managed to trigger a speed camera.

As we crossed the Bosphorus in Turkey, marking the border between Europe and Asia, the sun came out and soon after the landscape changed from green fields and drizzle to arid land and eventually desert. From Turkey, we entered Syria late at night. Despite many pre-conceived ideas found the locals to be warm and friendly.

From Syria we moved on to Jordan. The Dead Sea and Petra. A ferry crossing from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt to avoid entering Israel. The drivers of Cairo are notoriously awful. Driving a large bus on the wrong side of the road with cars weaving in and out of the traffic, motorcyclists with no helmets or lights, dodging through the oncoming traffic, roads cordoned off with boulders. Truly a driving nightmare. Cairo alas saw a number of the team departing. Those who remained pushed on to Luxor and Aswan and the Lake Nasser.

The ferry across Lake Nasser proved to be an issue. Due to it’s size, we had to charter a barge to take the bus across in to Sudan. The loading of the bus was hair-raising as the ramp was at an angle to the dock. We were within inches of losing the bus over the side of the dock and the back of the bus was damaged in the process. 

Wadi Halfa, the arrival port in Sudan and our home for several days alas. A squalid town with nothing going for it. Firstly we had to wait for the barge, then we had to wait for the leaf springs on the bus to be fixed.

Finally we were able to leave Wadi Halfa behind us and tackle the daunting Dongola Highway. An unpaved road through the Nubian desert. Since the trip this has been paved, but on our journey it was not, leading to frequent opportunities to bury the bus up to it’s axles.

Finally, the dust gave way to tarmac and after 3 days of struggling through fine powder, rocks and the sort of terrain that you should never inflict on a double decker bus, we were back on the open roads of Sudan, heading for the Ethiopian border at Metema.

The road from Metema to Gonder in Ethiopia is only 250 km long. I wrongly assumed this would take us 3 or 4 hours. With some serious climbs and 9 breakdowns later we limped in to Gonder after nightfall with the bus leaking oil and hydraulic fluid. More repairs in Gonder and after collecting my wife and older son, we were back on our way towards our final destination in Addis Ababa, taking in Tisisat Falls, the start of the Blue Nile on the way.

And so we flew home from Addis Ababa, donating the bus to a charity on the outskirts of Addis. It’s still down there as far as I’m aware. I got back to England and had so many people ask if they could come on the next trip that I knew I’d never get them all in one vehicle. Hence the idea of the Windy 500. Nowhere near as hard core as the trip to Ethiopia but it involved a lot more people, giving participants a great experience over 3 weeks and raised plenty for a local charity.