Readers of this column who have been following the epic trek of Captain Levison Wood, aged 31, of Cheadle Road, Forsbrook, in his attempt to become the first man to walk the entire 4,250 miles of the river Nile from Rwanda in central Africa to Egypt will have learnt of the heartbreaking decision to abandon part of the walk because of fighting in the country of South Sudan. This was recently reported by this newspaper in the episode titled 'The Battle of Bor'. Further to that extract taken from his diary, Levison has further explained his decision by detailing a far more graphic explanation of what took place.
Day 134 - South Sudan: Too Close - "Upon our arrival in Bor I knew I was in a war zone
"Soldiers, policemen and armed civilians flooded the muddy streets.
"I was immediately apprehended and arrested by a heavily armed 'soldier' and taken to a compound that resembled a scene out of an eighties film set.
"I was immediately surrounded by gun toting men in every kind and colour of camouflage uniform, each wearing berets of all colours, shapes and sizes.
"Taken before the governor's representatives, who were sitting under a tamarind tree in the state compound, the local commander told me politely, but in no uncertain terms that now was not a good time to be in Bor and my presence was not welcome in the town.
"Stating that, 'Local armed youths were storming the UN base nearby, to which I had been heading, and they were still monitoring the outcome of the attack, as it was still in progress!' He made it absolutely clear that he would not give me permission to continue with the expedition north.
"The town itself has been destroyed by the war. In the outskirts, entire villages had been burnt to the ground, looted and abandoned.
"Destroyed tanks littered the side of the road like rusting hulks and the smell of death and decay is everywhere.
"Mass graves had been the only way to bury those killed, and a weeping lay preacher showed me where 17 members of the clergy had been murdered inside his beloved cathedral – now only a shell of a stone and wooden structure riddled by bullet holes and charred by fire.
"Ruined and destroyed, the once busy market place stood silent and empty, burnt to the ground by rebels in January.
"The banks that surrounded the square were ghosts of their former selves, scarred with shattered glass and pot marked by gunfire.
"An ATM machine hung like an eyeball out of its socket on the outside wall. Inside credit cards, cheque books and filed accounts were strewn across the floor.
"Rebels and government soldiers alike had used the banks date stamps to plaster the walls with evidence of their pillage, in a twisted sense of humour.
"Messages of defiance adorned the walls and pillars were scrawled with graffiti illustrated how the town had changed hands four times.
"After taking some respite in the charred remnants of the South Sudan hotel, where all the doors had been smashed open, lights smashed, I discovered for myself later the truth of the situation.
"At dusk with the light fading, I witnessed at first hand the battle of Bor.
"The sky was suddenly lit up by tracer fire, heavy machine guns rattled in the streets and the dull thump of mortar rounds shook the ground.
"A large mob of Dinka youths were shooting into the besieged UN compound, supposedly in retaliation for the Nuer celebrating the fall of the town of Bentiu in the north of the country which had fallen back under rebel control.
"Reports that later emerged from the fire fight detailed around sixty people had been shot and hacked to death during the attack.
"UN peacekeepers were forced to return fire and the battle swept backwards and forwards throughout the long night, leaving the wounded and dying in the streets.
"It was plainly obvious that any attempt to continue my journey further north would be foolish and stupid.
"My two nights in that hellish place was enough for me.
"I heard that the rebel fighters were staging a massive offensive on the key towns which straddle the Nile - Bentiu, Malakal and Renk to the north of Bor, all of which were part of my journey following the Nile.
"During the following days battles raged around these towns and certainly hundreds, possibly thousands, were reported killed.
"Walking this part of the Nile in peacetime is difficult enough as I would have to navigate around the 400 miles of the world's largest swampland, the Sudd and at the same time carry enough food to last for three weeks.
"Add to that the scheduled, rainy season which begins during May which only adds to its size.
"These difficulties would have posed a sufficient challenge in itself.
"I would have faced these problems gladly and was prepared to accept what nature had in store.
"However the additional burden of dodging bullets without any logistical assurance of any food or water beyond the swampland made the task just impossible.
"Deciding that it would be foolhardy and reckless to try to walk through the middle of a war zone, in which people are starving and dying, I made the heart wrenching decision to fly from Juba to North Sudan and continue my journey from there.
"While I won't be able to walk this stretch of the Nile I will carry on with the expedition on the other side of the war zone - and one day, in more peaceful times, come back and fill in the gap.
"I'm obviously very disappointed but it's the right decision, for many reasons and ultimately out of my hands.
"I only wish now for peace in South Sudan and hope that people can get on with their lives."
Levison's family who live in Forsbrook said: "We know how disappointed he must be having taken this decision.
"He has spent over three years in planning the expedition and having already hitchhiked and served on several front lines from Afghanistan to Iraq and has been to a multitude of dangerous locations such as Colombia, Burma, Iran, Syria and Palestine.
"We know that he would never have taken this course lightly and covering the distance would present no problem what so ever.
"Our hearts go out to him and we only wish we could stretch across the sea and give him a big hug and tell him that everything's Ok.
"Naturally we are so grateful that he is safe and back on the trail but we know one day he will return and complete the journey, that's just the way he is."
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