I like travelling by road. You see more, you stop in interesting places and you meet and talk to fellow travelers (because you are bumping along with them in an intimate fashion for hours and hours). Road travel gives me more of an illusion of safety, because I am not thousands of miles above the air in a metal shell. Although I realise it is the least safe way to travel.
I have found road travel and the condition of roads is also a hot topic of conversation in South Sudanese towns. This is partly because people in towns use roads frequently to visit family in rural areas. And because the condition of these roads (security and general maintenance) has very real effects on daily life. South Sudan is a major importer of food and commodities rather than a producer, so if the main roads are bad, supplies drop and prices rise noticeably. The road connecting Rumbek to Juba (via Yirol) is a prime example. This road goes through very low land and is in a bad condition. This means that in the wet season fuel and food doesn’t reach Rumbek (and Wau and other places) as well as it should.
I recently took the road from Rumbek (in Lakes State) to Wau (In Western Bahr el Ghazal State). This road is actually good, for the most part. The journey took 6 hours. From Rumbek to Mapel the road in is good condition. Mapel, an important SPLA barracks is over half way and you reach it in 3 hours. The last 3 hours, although a shorter distance, to longer to cover on account of mud and potholes.
The major landmarks on the way are Cuiebet – a small town about an hour from Rumbek. The road then goes through a big wet season grazing area, on the border between Lakes and Warrap. Here there are currently thousands of cattle visible from the road, being taken through pasture submerged in water. Cattle and people up to their knees in flood. Cattle keepers were walking the herds on the road to avoid the flood, much to the irritation of everyone else in the car.
Leaving Lakes State you soon reach Tonj and stop for lunch and pass through vehicle checkpoints.
We made a further stop at the turning for Mapel to unload food (for the army? I wasn’t sure)
Then uninterrupted driving till we reach the outskirts of Wau and passed through another checkpoint to check foreigners ID.
Arrived in Wau at about 3pm