Four Wheels Around - A Road Trip from the UK to South Africa

In February 2009 we are setting off on the trip of a lifetime from Brighton, E-Sussex, UK to South Africa. Furthermore, we are raising money for the British Red Cross along the way. This blog will cover our preparation until we leave and our adventures whilst we are on the road.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The end

I am now writing this more than 6 weeks since we returned to the UK. Our story needs to be finished and it is time for me to say goodbye to Africa.

My last entry left us leaving Swaziland and heading into South Africa for good. We made the decision not to visit Kruger but instead to visit Hluhlwe-Infolozi which is not at all far from the Swazi border. A much smaller gamepark but we had heard great reports about it and with limited time we felt we might get to see more animals due to its smaller size. We stayed at a nice backpackers place just 1.5 kms from the gate and we made an extremely unrealistic aim to get up at 6 and into the park early to try and spot the more nocturnal animals. Obviously being us this didn't go quite to plan but we were still in the park pretty early and we spotted a fantastic array of animals including, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos (x 4!) and lots of lesser known animals such as wildebeast and nyala.

It was en route to Hluhlwe Backpackers that Alex observed that the idle speed sounded out of synch on the Landy. Not another problem. He adjusted it and hoped for the best. Driving through the gamepark the acelerator suddenly sounded as though it was stuck, revving loudly and smelling horrible. We stopped the car and hoped there wasn't any lasting damage. We carried on from the park to St Lucia. St Lucia was another place we had been recommended by South Africans and also by my Mum who visited a few years previously. We decided to check it out. We found a half refurbished backpackers lodge that was nice and cheap and had a television, and we settled in for a few days. The weather was terrible, everyone we met observed at how at home we must feel as the weather was behaving in such an English fashion! Being British we braved the weather and went for long walks along the beach spying hippos, monkeys and birds.

St Lucia had a very villagy feel about it. Everyone seemed to know each other which was a bit weird. It did, owever, seem to be very safe, no electric fences of prison bars of residents gates here! The locals warned us that our only concern regarding our safety in St Lucia would be Hippos strolling up and down the high street!

The curse of the piston rings.....
It was when we were leaving St Lucia that our final disaster struck. After a few few minutes of the engine turning over she finally cranked into life and barely 200 yards along the main high street the accelerating sounded stuck again and smoke poured from the exhaust covering the entire high street. We came to a stop and oil was pouring out from the engine bay. Really not a good sign. I think we both knew at that moment that it was the end of the road for Carol the Land Rover. Alex ran back to 'Budget backpakcers' where we had been staying and a nice chap called Quentin drove down in his Toyota to tow us to the one and only garage in St Lucia. We examined the engine, the force of whatever the problem was had pushed open the oil cap allowing all the engine oil to explode out. The mechanic pinpointed the problem as a broken piston ring and informed us that it was a very BIG job! We pretty much accepted it was over then. We knew we needed a new engine and there seemed to be no point repairing the old engine when we had such a small distance to travel now and with so many other issues not even connected directly to the engine we would still have problems. We had still been contemplating what to do with the Landy when we reached Capetown and we were getting shipping quotes daily. It was prooving expensive. Another option, selling the vehicle in SA was even more problematic due to import regulations now the vehicle was a right off we had even less clue about what to do. We placed a panicked call in the direction of Paul Gowen at the RAC in the UK to discuss our options now that the car was effectively off the road!

It turned out there was a way out for us and Carol. We could surrender the landy to the South African Revenue Service. SARS. Basically, we would hand it over to them, they do what they want with it and get a free car and we get all the relevent squiggles and signatures on our carnet de passage and hopefully our deposit back in the UK. We did not want Carols final resting place to be with a mean customs department but in a way it was kind of fitting as now she would always be in Africa where she belonged. Afterall she was no good to us in the UK in working condition let alone after the engine had blown up.

It was Friday September 11th when the engine blew up in St Lucia, we were expected to be at Durban Airport by Sunday morning to pick up Alex's parents on Sunday morning. We had to think fast. We reserved a hire car from Durban arport and organised a lift in the back of a pick up truck to Durban. The guy that gave us a lift was a bit mean (he tried to charge us a small fortune to sit in the back of a bakkie on a trip he was making anyway) but eventually he got us to a back packers in Durban. As we had no time at all before the arrival of Pegrams senior we had to leave Carol behind. We left her with the mechanic and aimed to go back post Capetown to sort through our stuff and get Carol towed down to the nearest SARS office for unconditional abandonment. it out a lot of extra miles onto our journey but if we could fly back from Durban it would work out ok.

That day a lot of tears were shed, by me mainly. I felt as though our trip was over and I just wanted to go home. Neither of us could believe that the car had actually given up the ghost and that we were now just backpackers in South Africa rather than part of a special overlanding club that we had grown to love. Carol had become our home since Febuary and we were seriously attached to her.

The rest of our time in South Africa passed quite uneventfully. We travelled with Alex's parents in our speedy little hire car - a Toyota no less which just sealed the irony for us. We visited some beautiful places, gorgeous baches, game parks, mountains, and we made it to Capetown. It was great to get there but it would have been so much better and more significant if we had been with the Land Rover. Nevertheless we enjoyed our final few weeks in Africa.

We dropped the Pegrams off at Capetown airport and we set off back in the direction of St Lucia to deal with all the paperwork and say goodbye to Carol. Apart from the slightly dodgy mechanic who we left the car with at St Lucia, we suffered no crime in South Africa. Note to anyone who ever breaks down in St Lucia - don't use the mechanic Shawn - he may steal all or some of your things and pretend to be a nice guy.

We flew back fro Johannesburg in the end. A whole month after the demise of Carol. I was incredibly sad to leave Africa, but so excited to go home and see all my family and friends after 8 months on the road. 8 months in Africa changed me in many ways. My opinions have changed about a number of things and my outlook on life has changed a great deal. I miss Africa so much, I completly fell in love with the continent and anyone who is reading this and even vaguely thinking about setting off on an overland trip across Africa, what are you waiting for? Just go!

Remarkably we have both settled back into English life quite quickly and without trouble. I expected it to be a lot harder. Yes I had post trip blues for a few weeks but it has passed and now I am finally able to reflect on what we have actually done!

We drove over 17 000 miles, across 3 continents, over 8 months in a Land Rover purchased for 800 pounds!

It is a pretty remarkable feat and leaves me thinking what can we do next that will top what we have just done. To answer that I am not sure we can beat that for some time, I have certainly got the travelling bug and after just 6 weeks back home I have a serious case of itchy feet but I also think it is time I grew up, settled into a career of some sorts and returned to real life, so to speak, at least for a while anyway. So until next time...wherever we decide to go.....Goodbye!

I hope you have enjoyed our adventure! Goodbye xxx

Check out Land Rover Monthly issues sep, oct, nov and dec (out now) to follow our adventure!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Swaziland and South Africa

Volunteering in Swaziland

Hiking in Swaziland.

Milwane Nature reserve, Swaziland

I am writing this from the UK, from home. We have been home for 2 weeks already and I have decided it is about time I updated the blog and finished our story.....

Back at the end of August we crossed into South Africa for the first time. It was a long awaited moment but due to reoccuring car worries it was not the momentous occasion that either of us anticipated. Nevertheless as soon as we got across the border from Mozambique we found pick n pay and treated ourselves to a lovely bottle of South African red, some steak and fresh salad! We then headed straight for Nelspruit where we had been recommended a mechanic to fix some of our problems.

We had heard so many South African's discussing the problem with crime in South Africa that we were immediatly concious of it and felt a little nervous from all the hearsay. We asked advice from the hostel and the manager informed us that he had been mugged 7 times in the past year in downtown Nelspruit. We quickly developed a routine of no bags and no valuables when we were walking around. It was a far cry from the quiet and quaint streets of the UK where you cold carry all your worldly possessions around and feel relatively safe in the knowledge that you are unlikely to be pounced on by someone weilding a kinfe or gun. I felt uneasy throughout South Africa, especially in the larger cities. I did not feel uneasy due to any personal experiences but rather due to all the rumours. I quickly came to the conclusion that South Africans like to discuss the crime rate in the same way that the British people like to discuss the weather.

We left the mechanic to work his magic but unfortunately even he was a bit stumped by the state of Carols engine. Everything was going wrong at once and we knew that we were on borrowed time. We were in South Africa but we so wanted to get to Capetown! We understood that short of a new engine and new parts which did not seem to be too readily available we just had to go on as we were and hope for the best. At this stage we just kept everything crossed and carried on.

We left South Africa as quickly as we had arrived and got back to our original route to Capetown via Swaziland. Arriving into South Africa we had suffered something of a reverse culture shock. We were so used to rural Africa, mud huts and thatched rooves and suddenly we were transported into a far more western culture. Paved and interlinking roads, fully stocked supermarkets, all mod cons! I found myself missing 'real' Africa almost immediaely. I wasn't ready to leave it yet. So I was quite happy when we crossed over the border into Swaziland. Straight away it felt more 'African' but with all the mod cons of its neighbour.


Swaziland was beautiful. Spectacular scenary, lovely people, full of tradition, it felt 'African'. We headed straight for Ezulwini valley where King Mswati II lives in the Royal Palace. We parked up at a lodge/sloping campsite - Lidwala where we came across yet another Land Rover issue. This time it was the problematic passenger window which had been getting more and more difficult to wind up and down for weeks. It had been repaired once before in Ethiopia but the mchanism gave out again. The window fell down into the door and refused to budge. We took the door apart and examined the rusty winder. It was truely destroyed and so we had to improvise. The car was on its last legs and we knew that so we decided not to fix it. Instead we scouted around for some wood and cut the wood into 3 sizes to allow the window to be in the fully up, half up or completly down positions. It wasn't the most convenient solution, every time we stopped Alex had to jump first and run around to let me out. He looked very gentlemanly although we both felt a bit silly. We took a hike/climb to the top of Shebas Breast a mountain overlooking the valley. We were accompanied by a random South African who chain smoked his way up the mountain in the midday heat.
We spent 6 days in Swaziland visiting the Milwane Nature reserve. The best thing about this nature reserve for me was the freedom to follow guided walks around the nature reserve. With the absence of the big 5 you could undertake self guided walks of varying lengths in relative safety. I say relative safety; we did come across a few crocs who were far too close for comfort!
We hung around sunny Swaziland a few more days before getting back on the road towards Hhuluwe National Park in South Africa only 150 miles or so North of Durban where we were meeting Alex's parents on September 13th. Little did we know that the few days between Swaziland and Durban were set to be some of the most eventful we were to have on our whole trip!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Nearly home

Just a quick message to tell everyone that our trip is almost over, we are currently in JoBurg, flying home on thursday evening, back to the UK.

A lot has happened to us in SOuth Africa over the last month or so that I havent had the time or energy to write about. Once home I will reminise over the past 5 weeks and tell you all what happened.
A sneak preview is that the Landy's engine blew up but horray we did make it to South Africa!

Until next time!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Pictures as promised....

On the road in Mozambique...
Tofo Bay beach, Mozambique

Tofo bay

Vilankulos, the beach that literally seems to go on forever!

Vilankulos again.

Alex testing the water at Cape Maclear, Malawi

Cape Maclear. Beautiful Lake malawi. It really does not resemble a lake but looks just like the sea. Most of the beaches are like this and the water was incredibly warm.

Nkarta Bay, malawi. me trying to master a canoe!

Harold the touchaloce, our new friend...we haven't worked out how we will get him back to the UK yet...

Lake Bunyoni, Uganda

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

More belated updates...where to start

Du toa busy few weeks and soaring internet prices my updates have been apalling. To breifly recap:

Since I last wrote, we were in Blantyre, Malawi. I haven't managed to include any information about Malawi. I can just say NO we didn't see Madonna and YES it was amazing! One of my favourite countries, gorgeous weather and lovely beaches. Yes we swan in Lake Malawi, you would too if you could see it. One day soon I will include some pics from Malawi and a bit about what we did!

From Malawi we crossed into Mozambique and after some time spent arguing with the customs department regarding insurance they let us through incurring just minimal charges! We spent 10 days in Mozambique where we discovered further problems with the dreaded landy. We found a diesel leak in the engine and the expansion of numerous other leaks under the vehicle. We have got to the point now where we are beginning not to wrry so much about the car, we have repeatedly had trouble getting her repaired successfully and now we have got so far we are just willing her to make it to Capetown. These views were further enforced when we came across some pretty useless 'mechanics' (if you can call them that) who made some terrible attempt at fixing the diesel leak in Vilankulos. We spent 5 nights or so in Vilankulos. It is a slightly run down but stunning stretch of coastline. When the tide is in it looks like any other beach...but then the tide goes out and you have the most incredible beach you have ever seen. You can't really do it justice with words of photographs but trust me. The sand goes on forever with patches of turqpoise water along the beach. Lush!

Due to our inreasing worries about the car we were reluctant to travel alone along the pot holed and often long and slow Mozambiqan roads. Luckily we met a lovley Italien couple in Vilankulos who just happened to be driving the same way as us at the same time! They were in a Opal (Vauxhall) Corsa, rental car. Quite what we thought they could do in their tiny little hatch back if we broke down, I don't know, but the moral support was great! We headed down to Tofu Bay for some more r'n'r on another stunning beach in the sunshine. Just to rub it in! We were only there for two days but that wa sprobably for the best as they had a lovely small lively market place in Tofu town which sold some gorgeous things. I got a bit carried away shopping (although much haggling was had) and Alex got a bit cross!

From Tofu we headed to the South African border. Our original intention was to travel via Swaziland into RSA. However, with the car worsening we decided instead to head to a town just over the border from Mozambique and RSA called Nelspruit. The beauty of this relativly undescript town is that we had been recommended a mechanic there and last resort there was a Land over dealer there. We decided instead to get the car fixed (fingers crossed) in Nelspruit and then head down to Swaziland and reenter RSA at Kwa-zulu Natal.

I have no time left at this internet cafe, so I will leave it here... We are currently in St Lucia In south Africa. We have spent the day at Hwhulue Game reserve where Carol came into close contact with several giraffes and some rhino! More on that next time.

P.S: Go buy Land Rover Monthly, October edition out now with a follow up story about Alex and myself.....

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Tanzania and Malawi - a belated update

We are currently in Blantyre which is a large city in Southern Malawi. Today it rained. I don't mean african rain, the type when there are short and heavy burts of rain, tropical almost with violent and exciting thunderstorms. I mean English rain. The type where it drizzles for most part of the day. The sky is grey and as my mum would said it is generally very misog! Recently we have both been feeling a little homesick. We have been on the road for 6 months now and we are nearing the end of our trip. We are still loving it but sometimes I find myself less enthusiastic about our journey than I was a few months ago and getting more easily frustrated by Africa! When it rained today we suddenly felt very at home in this strange Malawian city. It has not rained like this for us since Istanbul which was back in March so it was quite a novelty.

Anyway, enough about the rain. You get that all the time in England....

Since i last wrote we have been on a whirlwind tour of North Western Tanzania which was interesting to say the least. Leaving Rwanda we entered Tanzania at a very remote and unvisited corner of the Country. That meant the guidebook was virtually useless and equally Tracks for Africa had no info regarding accomodation etc. We began a ritual of hammering out 200 + miles each day (which in our slow Landy meant we were on the road for hours at a time) and rolling up at a reasonably sized village each evening to search for a hotel with secure parking! We managed to find one each night and we even actually slept in a room one night which had a tv....(which crackled) and a shower (cold) and a clean toilet (squat!). Another night we slept literally under a mosque which called out 3 times, very loudly before 6 am! Our first night in Tanzania we slept in the Courtyard of a hotel, I think maybe Muzungus had not done that before and they were quite bemused by us. They neglected to tell us that the courtyard was infact the venue for the local disco. By 10pm it was full with 100 + locals who were completly battered and dancing and sitting around our car.

We only had a transit visa through Tanzania so we made haste. The roads were mostly good, except one terrible road from Dodorma to Iringa! Alas we did not have a fantastic impression of Tanzania. Perhaps because we were massivly off the tourist trail. We found people were not the most friendly, the service seemed pretty poor and at some points we felt uncomfortable and intimidated. That said it was an interesting few days!

After a few days relaxing close to Iringa at the Old farmhouse (maybe one of the best campsites in Africa!) we headed off to Malawi spending a night close to the border at a Christian mission.

We have had a fantastic time in Malawi. We have met a number of great people and spent a lot of time chilling out on long sandy beaches. That update will have to wait until next time. Hopefully I will be able to upload some pics of Malawi to go with it!

Tomorrow we head off to Mozambique, we think we have 2 Countries and about 2500 Miles to go until we reach Cape Town............

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

From being a farangi to a muzungu, 3 weeks in Uganda

Being a ‘Muzungu’ in Uganda was very different to being a ‘farangi’ in Ethiopia. ‘Muzungu’ seems to be used in a more affectionate manor than ‘farangi’. Uganda people at once struck us a being lovely and as a whole this rung true the whole 3 ½ weeks we were based in Uganda. We based ourselves in Kampala, at our delight we were settled at Alex’s friends bungalow not too far from the centre where we enjoyed such luxuries as a fridge, oven and dvd player for our time there.

Much of our focus in Uganda was centred around the eagerly awaited arrival of my Mum and younger sister. They were scheduled to join us inEast Africa for just 9 days so we knew our time with them would be action packed. We let them discuss and decide what they wanted to see and do and we just came along for the ride. Well Alex was chauffer and I was navigator.

We spent a night in Jinga, hopping onto an overpriced muzungu tourist boat to see the ‘true’ source of the White Nile. It was vaguely momentous for Alex and myself since we have been following the Nile on and off for months since leaving Cairo. We stayed at a fantastic old colonial house in a quiet suburb of Jinga. Beautiful gardens where we parked old Carol. It was in Jinga when we discovered to our dismay that Carol the landy was still using a LOT of engine oil. This was the problem that we had supposedly had fixed the week before in Kampala. We were left with 2 main options considering this revelation;

1) Give up! Drive to the nearest port –Dar as Salam in Tanzania and ship the car and us fly home. It would be disappointing but with a vehicle like ours who can blame us…
2) Carry on…..

After some discussion between Alex and myself, we both realized how much we really want to make it all the way to SA. We worked out we have roughly 4500 miles to go and considering we have already covered 12000 then we really are on the home straight so to speak. We decided on the 2nd option and put our minds at ease we headed into Kampala and purchased 40 litres of diesel engine oil (cheaper in bulk buy!) to set us up for the rest of the journey!

Anyway, back to the Ramsay’s trip to Uganda. Post Jinga we headed off to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, stopping off close to Fort Portal to see some waterfalls, crater lakes and caves. Very nice they were too. In the QENP we headed off for a game drive. Although we only had the patience to continue for 2 hours, (It had been a long day, there were bloody tetse flies aplenty and it was very hot) we managed to spy a leopard! Or rather Lucy managed to spy a leopard and it was not just one….but 2!!! It made it all worth it and we were all quite happy! That evening due to a lack of affordable inside sleeping arrangements, Mum and Lucy were victim to a very small, A frame tent Alex and I brought along for emergencies. It was unfortunate that they were rudely awakened by a large and terrifying elephant in the middle of the night who decided he wanted to get a little too close to their tent. He explored around it and sneezed on the tent which was too much for my poor Mum who came knocking at Carols door shortly after.

After all the dramas at the national park, the last few days of my family's holiday passed uneventfully. After they left Alex and myself got Carol some new shock absorbers, tinted her windows..... and set off in the direction of Rwanda. Last night we spent an afternoon and evening at Lake Bunyoni. It was absolutely stunning. It is possibly the nicest, most beautiful place we have visited yet. The lake was so still. We hired a canoe. Not that you can call it a canoe it was more of a hollowed out tree trunk and we set off oars in hands for a little row across the lake. A pleasent afternoon was spent rowing and on our route back to camp we came across some fellow overlanders sitting within some trees. Sue and Stu. Fellow Brits we have heard a lot about then but not actually met them up until now. We moored up and a nice few hours was spent trading tales and sharing advice.

This morning we set off for the Rwandan border. It was a pleasent surprise not to incur ANY costs at the border. We already have COMSA insurance and British nationals are not required a visa. We were through within 10 minues and off onto the fantastic Rwandan roads to Kigali. Rwanda is as beautiful as Uganda if noticeably poorer. The Capital Kigali is modern, with shopping malls. Remarkably it has boda-bodas (moter bike taxis) with registered boda-boda drivers who not only wear helemts themselves but provide them for their passangers! A bit of a change after the mad boda-bodas in Uganda! We shall spend a couple of days here, getting used to driving on the right and seeing and hearing the French language before we set off, Tanzania bound!

Before I go I must alert you all to go forth and buy the september edition of Land Rover Monthly which should be out in the shops (W H Smiths sell it for sure) any day now..... there should be a nice feature all about us and Carol for your enjoyment!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

From Ethiopia to Uganda, Via Kenya

The border crossing at Moyale was quick and easy. The Ethiopian side of the town was like any other small Ethiopian town, without power, probably without water! There is not any land mark to speak of that separates the two countries at this border, there is a small no mans land which we quickly crossed and suddenly we were at the more modern and organised immigration and customs department in Kenya.

We were luckily able to obtain a transit visa as we would not be in Kenya long enough to take advantage of a full visa. It cost $10 (US) each. We purposefully arrived late into Kenya (getting through customs minutes before they closed for the evening) so as we could make and early start along the first leg of the Moyale toIsiolo road. We intended to reach Marsabit the following evening. We wanted to find somewhere to stop for the night but options were limited in Moyale, Kenya. We decided to ask if we could park up at the police station for the night for security. They were more than willing to let us park and they even sugested a nice patch of grass where we could pitch our tents! (If we had tents that is).

As helpful as they were they managed to present quite conflicting views about security on the dreaded road. One officer argued that it was imperative that we took an armed escort or joined the 9am convey. Another said that although there had been no incidents of late the 'shiftas' (bandits) could strike anyone and anytime and if we were to go it alone along the road that he hoped 'God would be with us'. His comments unnerved us a little but after discussion with Mandy and Jacques we decided to go alone and to go early so we could make sure we made it to Marsabit before dark. We have met a number of people going North in the past few weeks who all went it alone and had no problems, at least no problems of the shifta kind. Every person we met who had taken that road had suffered mechanically because of the roads condition.

Setting off the next morning our main worry concerned the state of the road rather than tribes with AKs! After all the hype the road was not as bad as expected. Don't get me wrong. It was pretty terrible and we managed to crack our suspension in 2 places but we managed to do the road very easily in 2 days. We set off at 7.30am for both stretches and we spent about 9 hours on the road, constant driving to cover 250ks (ish) each day. The condition of the road varied, from, very sharp stones on the stretch from Moyale to Marsabit; to deep ruts and very intense corrugation from Marsabit to Isiolo. The corrugation we found particulary tough as we juddered along for 9 hours. We would get some speed up along the corrugation and suddenly find ourselves clanking into a deep rut, probably a cause for our suspension breakage.

In Marsabit we stayed at a Swiss guy called Henry's place. I am not quite sure what he does in Kenya but he bakes good bread. The camp spot was lovely but it was very windy.

As we drew closer to Isiolo we had really had enough of this bloodyroad. Mandy and Jacques were storming ahead in there Toyota Land Cruiser which doesn't rattle as much as our 24 yr old Landy and we were both getting incredibly frustrated by the slow speed at which we had to travel. About 20 miles out of Isiolo we suddenly saw workmen, building a new road. Although it was no where near complete they had set p a detour off the main track which was uncorrugated, smooth and sandy. It was a welcome releif after miles of juddering and we happily sped off through the sand for the last few miles to tarmac.

In Isiolo we breathed a sigh of relief and Alex and I set out to buy a nice cold coke. We stopped at a small shack and as the old Kenyan woman took our shillings she remarked, 'you white people are dangerous!' Alex and I looked at each other and asked 'why' she retorted back 'you bring the H1N1 to Kenya!' although she didn't look too cross with us personally we still quickly drank our cokes and hurried back to camp. We later discovered that 34 Brits were being kept in Isolation in Kisumu (which was on our route to the Ugandan border) after an outbreak of H1N1. We also read in the same article that all cases so far in Africa barr one have been 'imported' = white cases. We later decided that if Kisumu was having a bit of a swine flu problem perhaps we best take another route to the border to avoid any unnecersary hassle. We detoured instead to the border via Eldoret.

We sadly didn't manage to see much in Kenya as we speeded through as fast as Carol would let us. A few things we did notice/experience include:
  • We crossed the equator 4 times in 24 hours!
  • There are about 5 'butchery's' in every village. Butchery's are everywhere and often they are attached to a hotel. There seems to be a smell of raw meet where ever you go!
  • It is surprisingly cold at the equator.
  • Kenya seems very modern. Maybe it was because we had spent the last month in Ethiopia, but to us Kenya was very Westerned with an African slant. Or maybe it is African with a Western slant! Either way it felt very organised and 'sorted' after the disarray of Ethiopia.
  • They have power and most of the time water! Somebody told us that Ethiopia sells a lot of its electrcity to Sudan and Kenya! How ironic when Ethiopia is in darkness 4 days out of 7!
  • Kenyan people were very friendly. Even the old Woman who resented us for bringing H1N1 to Kenya was still pleasent towards us. Everyone was helpful and friendly. It was nice to drive along the road without hearing the dreaded 'you you you you you' or having rocks thrown at us.
  • All the children go to school! During the day it seemed that there were no children on the streets as in Ethiopia and to a certain extent Sudan. Instead you don't see the children until late afternoon when they are all walking home from school in their colourful school uniforms.
  • The roads are appalling! at least the ones that we drove along. If they are tarred they are potholed!
  • We visited Thompson Falls and camped up at Thompson Lodge. Stunning location and inside the lodge is a fantastic bar! The falls were not bad either!

From Kenya we crossed the border with Uganda on sunday afternoon. We made haste to Kampala where we really have to get the car fixed. For a while now we have been using a ridiculous amount of oil and pumping out a horrible amount of white smoke. We concluded it was a compression problem and thus likely a problem with the piston rings... In Kampala we are staying with friends of Alex's, the Bowermans who are currently back in the UK. We have been recommended their local mechanic and as I write poor Carol is undergoing a delicate procedure! Hopefully she will recover soon and we can stop spending so much money on engine oil!

On Monday my Mum and sister are coming out to Uganda which will be very strange seeing them here after being away from home for 5 months but it is very exciting and I am counting down the days! Hopefully they have a good idea of what they want to do here and give me and Alex a rest from planning!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Ethiopia continued:

In Ethiopia it was impossible for me to update the blog for a couple of reasons. Firstly the speed of the internet connections which i mentioned previously was incredibly slow and unreliable. Also I was unable to access this site which meant I emailed updates back home and my family back updated the last entry for me.

When I last wrote we had just reached Addis Ababa. We spent 5 days there, 2 at Wims Holland House, a rather disorganised affair but with great food. From there we went to meet some friends of my Aunt Ros, called Annie and Colin. Colin is currently working out in Addis with the organisation VSO. His jobs sounds very interesting if not tough and he and Annie seem to have settled in well in Ethiopia. They were very hospitable and it was lovely to stay in an actual house, in a real bed, with a real shower etc!

We clebrated my birthday which was very strange being so far away from home. It made me feel a little homesick not being able to celebrate with my family and friends but it is just another day! Luckily Mandy and Jacques (The SAFs) and Celine and Guianne were on hand to help me have a good time. We went to a restaurant partly because it had a largeand varied menu which offered something other than 'injera'. When it came to order we were all quite enthusiastic about the impending meal. The waiter informed us at every order, 'we do not have, finish' ('Finish' seems to be used all over Africa as a synonym for 'we do not have') so our choice was restricted to Ethiopian national food or spagetti! When the food came it was actually very very good, I wish that the same could have been said for the Ethiopian wine. Axumite....

After the meal we tracked down the retro bowling alley in the Genet Hotel that we had been told about. We had a nice, very fast game of bowling (as the bowling alley was due to shut) and had a few drinks at Wims place.

Addis Ababa is a grimy city, like most towns in Ethiopia it has open sewerage drains and a distinct lack of electricity and water. It does however, have a certain charm to it and some very good museums. Including the 'Lucy' exhibition, a 3.3 millions year old copy of a skeleton found In Ethiopia back in the 1970s. The ethnographic museum is also worth a butchers.

Post Addis we set off with Mandy and Jacques on a slow meander towards the Kenyan border. We stopped for a night at the tea coloured Lake Langano in the rift valley. We had a swim but the sight of a hippo not too far away caused us to abandon the swim pretty sharpish. From Langano we headed off to Awasa stopping briefly in rastafarian centre of Africa - Shashemene.

In Shashemene we got offered a lot of ganga which we politely refused and visited the banana art gallery. The gallery is run by a rastafarian named Ras Hailu Teferi (B.A.N.D.I). He creates art using the leaves, bark and flowers of the banana plant. He uses no colours, stains, dyes in the process. It is all natural. I was quite impressed with the gallery and particularly liked a few of the pictures. B.A.N.D.I was very helpful in his explanations regarding, Haile Selaisse aka Ras Tafari, Ethiopia and Shashmene's importance in the Rastafarian way of life.

We headed South to lakeside town of Awasa where we found a beautiful spot to camp very close to the lake. We went to look at the facilities at the campsite and came backto find the car surrounded by and covered with monkeys. Vervet monkeys and even Colubus monkeys were hanging off and around the cars. We spent a few days in Awasa relaxing by the lake, the weather was good and the scenery was beautiful. From there we drove down to Arba Minch. Arba Minch is famous for its crocs and for a small national park. In Arba Minch we visited a crocodile ranch. This ranch is basically a farmand we were informed that it had a number of purposes.
1) To educate people about crocs.
2) To conserve them.
3) To sell their skin to the Middle East.
I will let you reserve judgement about that.

In Southern Ethiopia we had our first taste of African wildlife. In Necsher National park (Arba Minch) we saw baboons, dik diks, crocs, hippos, an abundence of bird life, zebras. On of the fantastic things about Ethiopia's national parks is how un touristy the remain. They are very cheap, we are talking a total of US$20 for 2 people and a foreign vehicle for a 24 hr period. In Kenya we are talking US$50 pp for a day entry so you can imagine how much it costs for a foreign vehicle and overnight camping on top. The wildlife is not so dramatic as what is on offer in East Africa but nevertheless it was lovely to be able to explore a national park without seeing another tourist.

Our final stop in Ethiopia was Konso. By this point we had pretty much had enough of having things thrown at us and persistantly being shouted atby anyone and everyone andso we decided to make a bit push for the border from Konso in one day. Whilst in Konso we stayed at Strawberry Fields a lodge/campsite that focuses on permaculture. Konso has a lively monday market which I visited before we left.

The border crossing from Ethiopia to Kenya was as easy as Sudan to Ethiopia. We managed to buy a transit visa so we could pass through Kenya within a week and reach Uganda where some of the Ramsay and Janczer clan are heading out to Uganda next week. I will update about our Kenyan adventures later, including our adventures on that infamous bandit Moyale to Isiolo track!

Friday, 19 June 2009

June 16th;I have abandoned any updates since we left Khartoum mainly because the internet connection in Ethiopia is frustratingly slow. We are currently in Addis Ababa, the capital, where we have finally managed to find something other than tempremental dial up. We arrived in Ethiopia nearly two weeks ago now and as soon as we crossed the border and started the long drive uphill into the mountains we nnoticed a welcomed decrease in the temperature. Goodbye to the 50 degree days and hello to 30 degrees maximum and rain! It has been a long time since we have seen rain and it was a refreshing change to the never ending dry desert we experienced throughout Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia has represented a change in the trip for us. The religion here is a mixture of local religions, Islam and Orthodox. The Orthodox Ethiopians take religion very seriously with their last pennies going into the village Church collection boxes. With the shift in religion the culture and society here is very different to that we have experienced in the many Islamic countries we have spent the last two months in. As soon as we crossed the border we saw Women, not only on the street but baring their shoulders and wearing skirts above the knee! Furthermore, at the border crossing there were advertisments for local brews and each village has an abundence of little pubs and bars serving Dashen and Tej! is noticeably poorer than any country I have visited before in my life. At the Metemma border post the stench of shit and urine was apparent immediatly and it seems to be prevelant throughout the country. People poo where ever they want, even on their water source, or on their doorstep. The begging is also a lot worse here than I have seen before. It seems some idiot gave a lot of Ethiopian children pens sometime ago and now they pester every passing ‘farangi’ (foreigner) for more. They repeat the same story every time. ‘Please give me a pen and 5 birr so I can buy an exercise book and go to school…..’ It is very sad to see the children begging and to resist their pleas but I fail to see how groups of farangis giving them pens will help matters? I have a funny feeling they are taught a number of phrases and words like that mentioned above, and ‘give me?’ and ‘money’ which their parents send them out to beg with. Maybe I am wrong but from what I have seen here of ‘aid’ it seems that things that are donated like pens, food or médicine, far from being used to directly help those who need it they are just sold on to other people o have the money to buy it thus by passing those that actually need it. Alternatively a child is sent out by the parents to beg and anything you give them will go straight back to the parents for Tej money? Ethiopia has made me very cynical. It has made me think a lot more about third world poverty, how far aid helps and how far people want to help the themselves. Ethiopia is a stunning country. It has beautiful mountain ranges and miles and miles of spectacular country side. It is sad to see that much of this country side is being excessively farmed and deforested. We visited the Simien Mountain national park which has peaks like Mt Ras Dashen rising up to over 4000 metres. Many indigenous people still live within the park boundaries so even in such a protected landscape the agriculture is apparent. However the Simiens are not to be missed we spent two days trekking around the second base camp, Sankaber at over 3200 metres. It is compulsory to be accompanied by an armed scout whilst in the park. It was amusing to see a guy armed with an AK 47 sitting behind us in Carol! Still he was a nice chap with a kind face and he knew his way around the mountains like the back of his hand. We did not feel as though we needed a guide as well. Up in the mountains we had our first brush with Wild life. Whilst walking we came across fields full of hundreds of endemic gelada baboons. We were able to sit less than a metre away from the animals watching them feed and groom. We spent our first few days in Ethiopia relaxing at Tim and Kim village in Gorgora. Tim and Kim are a dutch couple have set up a community based project here. They are working to set up an Overland/campsite/lodge accomadation for travellers. The work is being carried out by local people and part of the idea is that profit raised will be ploughed back into the village. What they are doing is incredible and the campsite on the northern shore of Lake Tana is idyillic! We spent many days there relaxing! Between relaxing at Tim and Kims and trekking in the mountains we also spent a few days in the historial town of Gondor. There are old castles and palaces set among gorgeous grounds that remain from the days when Gondor was the Countrys capital and also some beatiful painted churches to see. In Gondor we met a lovely Chinese traveller who we call Sky. He joined us in our trip to the mountins and hopefully we can catch up with him again when we head south.After spending a week or so up north we set off on the long journey to Addis Ababa. We stopped off at Bahir Dar to view the dissapointing Blue Nile Falls. It seems back in their day the water fall was one of the most impressive in Africa! Now it is little more than a trickle due to a hydro electric plant that uses the water. Despite that it was a pleasent walk. In Bahir Dar we managed to esemble something of an ‘overland’ crew! We met a French couple Guillame and Celene who have since hopped into the back of the landy and accompanied us down to Addis. We also met an Ozzie couple Jackie and Scott who we have sent in the direction of Tim and Kims! In Bahir dar we also met up with our faithful travelling companians Mandy and Jacques who we hope to cross to Kenya with for the infamous Moyale to Isolo road… We have heard nothing but bad news about the road from the border South into Kenyan. Although once notorious for banditry it has been deemed by the South African bikers we met in Khartoum as ’the worst road in Africa…’ in terms of the road condition. We will have to judge this for ourselves in a few weeks time. Ethiopia is a difficult country to travel th rough. On the road we get shouts in every village from locals. ’You you you you you’ or they shout or ’farangi farangi’. Although many are just excited to see us and want to speak with us there is also a more sinister side to it. On a number of occasions children have thrown stones or sometimes full on rocks in the direction of Carol. Others spit at us and the rest just run after us begging for money. The roads are often not great to say the least which means we go very slowly giving the stone throwers a better chance at a hit! Despite the frustrating side to Ethiopia we are still having a good time here. We have met a number of lovely people and seen some beautiful things! We plan to spend a few days in Addis to get the car fixed…. Again… dont ask. Celebrate my birthday and see some sights before we head south for a week or so before we reach the border.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Carol in Khartoum.........

We have been in Khartoum for over a week now and we are both really charmed by this city. One of the reasons we have spent so long here is that we decided it was high time we treated Caz to a service. Although Alex has been trying to maintain Carol mechanically on a regular basis (and for a non mechanic he is doing a good job) she was overdue some tlc and during Egypt her oil leaks had worsened.

We drove to the industrial side of Khartoum where in delight we came across 'Land Rover Street'. Alas, quite recentlyLand Rover have ceased trading with Sudan (more red tape and African beaurocracy) which means there is no longer an offical Land Rover dealer in Khartoum and genuine spare parts are difficult to obtain. Thus 'Land Rover' street in Khartoum is ver limited and full of spare parts that are 'made in China' (the story of our lives at the moment), especially compared to the plentiful supplies of Toyota Land Cruiser spares! However, we didn't know this so we perservered with our service. It turned out although Carol has coped extremely well with the miles so far that her oil seals had gone. This was a bigger job than we realised and next thing we knew the engine was out and there was a mechanic in the engine bay! (Pictures to follow).

To cut a very very long story and an even longer day (10 1/2 hours) at the mechanics short we had to go back to the mechanics a number of times as we were not happy with the job. Although the seemed comfortable with the engine and obviously the oil seals really did need to be repaired, she was still leaking. On our second visit they changed the gasket on the sump (we think this was a bit of a bodge and unfortunately we will have to change it properly at a later date) and installed a new fuel pump.

Our saving grace came in the form of British expat, lets call him Derek and his wife lets call her Daphne. We met Derek quite by chance and he invited us along to a evening at the British Embassy. We spent an enjoyable evening last Friday amongst the company of expats and aid workers and Derek being extremely knowedgable about Land Rovers was able to offer us some very helpful advice. Derek and Daphne invited us round for dinner and Derek and Alex got to work completing Carol's service last night. They checked the remaining oil leaks, changed the fan belt etc and gave Carol a new lease of life. We had a fantastic meal with Derek and Daphne and we are extremely grateful for their hospitality towards us!

With Carol, pretty much back on the road we are read to set off to the Ethiopian border. We have been joined at The Blue Nile Sailing club by Quintin and Julie who we met back in Cairo last month. They have turned up, with 3 kittens in tow so much of the past few days has been spent cooing over the tiny balls of fluff. They are a few days behind us so we will have to say bon voyage again and hopefully we will be able to rendezvous again further on the road to South Africa.

Despite spending much of our time in Khartoum at the mechanics we have managed to do a bit of sightseeing. We have visited the confluence of the Niles. Where the white nile from Uganda meets the Blue Nile from Ethiopia. There is a very noticeable blend of the two rivers.

We have visited a number of museums, all of which were cheap or free. We have been extremely impressed by the information and organisation of the displays in them all. On friday we went to see the Whirling Dervishes in Omdurman. A religious dance that takes place ever friday before prayer. The atmosphere was very hypnotic with lots of chanting. We also had a wonder around Omdurman souk where I managed to bag a few pressies for people back home and we went on a boat cruise along the Nile with the South African bikers. So our time in SUdan has been extremly enjoable if a little stressful. We have heard quite mixed reviews of Ethiopia. We are not entirely sure what to expect. We know that there will be a lot of hassle from locals which we fear will be reminiscent of Egypt. I think that we will have to make up our own mind about Ethiopia so we will update you from there when we can. In the meantime, another Country nearly finished and a new Country ahead for us to explore. We are only able to explore a set path through Sudan due to ongoing Security concerns and war in certain areas of Sudan which is a shame as the areas we have visited have been great and some of our favourite places to date. Hopefully one day this troubled Country will be able to work itself out and open itself up to Tourism a bit more. In the meantime it is beautifully unspoilt for travellers as there is a distinct lack of tourists (infact the only foreigners are aid workers, or overlanders) and the route we have taken (Wadi Halfa - Khartoum) has been fantastic to travel through. Hopefully the next few hundred miles to the border will be just as nice!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Aswan, Egypt Wadi Halfa, Sudan and beyond...

It has been a long time since I updated and that is due to the lack of reliable Internet connections in Sudan. When we arrived here last week I was immediatly surprised with how technologically developed Sudan is. Mobile phones are everywhere, in the most remote of villages you see people on their phones. The internet is more sparse. We are currently in Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan. There is internet here it is cheap and popular. Out of the capital connection seems rare.

I feel as though there is so much to write about since we left Egypt and even from the last few days we were there. I will give you a brief summary of a few things we have been doing and what has been happening to us, as otherwise this post could go on forever.

  • EGYPT! Before we left Egypt we stayed at a lovely camp called adam's place. The guy who runs it Yaya is an eccentric but lovely character who has a lot of interesting things to say. It is about 10k from Aswan central and on the outskirts of a quiet village. Anyway, one night we had left our washing out to dry on our makeshift washing line. We retired to bed, in the morning I went to reclaim some clean clothes for the day only to discover all that was left of our laundry was my manky old towel and one sock. Gutted. Somewhere in West Aswan their is a Nubian wondering around with my pants, Alex's shorts and t-shirts and one sock on.
  • West Aswan: We took a cycle on our new bikes to a little Nubian Village just across the West Bank from Aswan. As we stopped for some refreshment we noticed a naked man. Now this man was completly starkers. He had some kind of string beeds around his waist but other than that all was on show. The funny thing was that noone batted an eyelid. The man and women throughout Egypt would happily stare at me as I walk past because I am white and unveiled but seeing a mad naked man wondering through the village is normal - obviously!!
  • The Aswan - Wadi Halfa ferry: We had to say good bye to Carol......temporarily. We spent a day down at Aswan port trying to deal with the infamous boat. People were boarding the ferry from about 10am. There was a barge to follow the boat as well, which was being loaded up with anything and everything, including our cars. Boarding the boat felt like we had left Egypt (even though we still had 19 hours before we docked in Sudan). The whole environment was different to what we were used to in Egypt. Most of the passengers were Sudanese, they were all so happy to chat to us and they were all so proud to be Sudanese. The first thing that struck me about Sudan on that boat trip was how everyone was smiling. Everyone looked happy. Nothing was too much trouble for any one. It is something that I have come to love about Sudan in the week we have been here so far. The Sudanese seem to be some of the most happy and generous people who go out of their way to help you. Not once have we been asked for Baksheesh! Obviously, we have met a few individuals who have tried to rip us off and their are quite a few beggars on the streets of Khartoum but these people are not unique to Sudan and in every country we have been to, someone along the way has tried to rip us off, but so far our experience here has been incredibly positive.
  • I went off on a bit of a tangent there with my enthusiasm about the Sudanese, going back to the boat trip. We had our air conditioned cabins. It was nothing more than a small cupboard with 2 bunk beds but it had air con. I was cold for the first time in weeks! The extra money we spent for the bed was worth it for the air con.
  • Arriving in Wadi Halfa immigration takes place on board. As kwajas (foreigners) and being only four of us on board we were ushered to the front to have our paperwork completed. We used a fixer called Magdi. Fantastic guy, incredibly helpful, although coming from Egypt we were a little cautious about him when we first met him. As we came in to dock there were 3 doctors waiting to come on board the boat. They were wearing scrubs and surgical masks. Us foreigners were quickly summoned from our cabins and taken to the canteen where each one of us had to undergo a few questions and have our temperature monitored. The motion of the boat had made me feel a little light headed and nauseus and earlier I had even sneezed. I could just imagine being quarantined upon arrival in Sudan, how inconvenient would that be. Luckily we all passed our medical (no swine flu here!) and we waited just one day in Wadi Halfa before the barge arrived and horray, both cars on board and safely through customs and into Sudan!
  • Sudan: We spent about 5 days travelling down from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum. There are many different ways you can take the trip and we opted for the road running along the Nile via Karima and Ataba. We have heard a lot about the infamous road running from Wadi Halfa to Dongola in reality it was a lot better than expected. There is a lot more tarmac than we anticipated and where there isn't tarmac you can see the Sudanese working to build it. We covered about 200 miles off road, corregation, sand, dust and gravel. Carol (and Alex) behaved extremely well apart from letting a lot of dust in.
  • We bushed camped all the way down to Khartoum for a number of reasons. Obviously it is free so it saved us money, but also the Sudanese just don't seem to care. We camped up in the desert, on farmers land by the nile for 4 nights and no one bothered us. (Obviously we asked the farmers!) We drove through Ataba and on that particular day the temperatures had really got to me. I wasn't feeling too good and so Alex and I decided to treat ourselves to a night in a hotel with some air con and showers! We soon realised that staying in a hotel in Ataba was not going to happen. We were turned away from every hotel we asked in on the basis that they were full. We knew that this was lie (tourism doesn't really exist yet in Sudan so I doubt their hotels are full) I went in one to use the toilet to toilet and 3/4 of the rooms were open and empty. We were not entirely sure why we were so obviously discriminated against. We were informed by a cheery passing taxi driver that in the Ataba region there are higher taxes and mountains of paperwork associated with letting foreigners stay.
  • Khartoum: After a solid 6 days on the road. Some tarmac and a fair bit of sand we arrived in Khartoum a few days ago. We are camped up at the Blue Nile Sailing club with surprise surprise a view of the blue Nile. It is here in Khartoum that the White Nile (originating in Uganda) and the Blue Nile (rising in Ethiopia) converge. We haven't been to see the confluence yet but we will do before we leave. The Blue Nile isn't very blue. We have be joined at the campsite by some overlanders going the other way to us.. 3 South Africans on bikes and some fellow English in a Landy. It has been interesting to hear their points of view and recommendations about countries that we have yet to visit.

The above, is all a bit jumbled. I think the heat has gone to my head. It is daily around 45 degrees here. I am getting used to the extreme temperaturs, finally but I am still having trouble adjusting in the evening. During the night the temp does not seem to drop below around 30 degrees. In the UK we are lucky if we get this on the hottest day of the year! The heat is actually insane. I can't describe it. There is a constant hot wind which makes me feel like I am in an oven. I never feel cool. Standing in the sun for even a minute you feel as though you are burning and we are drinking on average about 6-8 litres a day of water each. (In 'normal' conditions it is recommended to drink around 2 L per day). We can't get enough water, we are always thirsty and water does not quench our thirst! It is ok for Alex he can wear pretty much what he likes but I have constantly got a long scarf drapped around me to keep me respectable. I get very cross!

So it is so far so good in Sudan. We are putting Carol in for a service tomorrow. She has done close to 8000 miles since we left the UK and it is about time we gave her a bit of TLC> We were very over excited when we found a whole street dedicated to Land Rover shops. SPare parts, old and new galore and someone to service her!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Luxor to Aswan

We have driven nearly 2000 miles through Egypt and now we are right at the bottom. Aswan, the last major city before Sudan. Travel on road to Sudan is basically impossible. The road after Abu Simbel is not open and thus the only way to Sudan from here is via a weekly ferry that travels along Lake Nasser fron Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa, Sudan. Our ferry leaves on monday at an unspecified hour. We have arranged with the famous Mr Saleh for us and our Landy to be on this boat, inshallah.

We have heard a lot of rumours about this infamous ferry. Researching prior to speaking with Mr Saleh we had heard very mixed reviews regarding the trip from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. Slightly out of date travel guides speak of passenger ferry's towing a barge with the vehicles, or separate boats leaving on different days for the passengers and the vehicles. I think is the method of transportation that the Lond Way Down team took. The reality, at least for us is neither. We travel on the passenger ferry that takes perhaps 24 hours (after our nightmare with the Aqaba -Nuweiba ferry we have opted for first class) and the vehicles travel on a separate smaller boat that leaves at the same time but arrives a day later than us. I will be happier once we have tickets in hand and are on the way to Sudan.
We have arrived in Aswan days in advance to prepare for Sudan. As there is little reliable literature regarding the ferry processes and costs we wanted to ensure that we were here in good time to organise ourselves on to next mondays boat. As it turns out we can't do an awful until saturday when it is all systems go with mountains of paperwork, buying tickets, returning our Egyptian number plates to the authorities etc. In the meantime we are stocking up with tinned food, making use of the internet, having a few drinks etc, in preparation for a few weeks in a very poor and dry country. I mean dry in 2 senses of the word, yes it is a lot of desert, a possible 40 - 50 degrees and with very little rain. Also alcohol is illegal in Sudan so the next few weeks will be a bit of a detox!

Alex and I at our campsite in Kharga.

We have spent over a month in Egypt which is a third of the trip so far. Egypt has been the most infuriating Country that we have visited so far and also one of the most beautiful. The constant hassle and daily haggling becomes repetitive and boring. It seems that being a foreigner in Egypt you are seem as a 'walking wallet'. Everywhere we have been it has been a constant battle to get a fair price. We started off a little naive not really too sure of what prices should be. After nearly5 weeks here we have more of an idea. We have found ourselves arguing when we buy everything. From even the most basic, day to day essentials such as drinking water and food. As soon as we are spotted by an Egyptian it is as though doller signs light up in their eyes. 'Quick a Westerner, hike up the prices by a billion per cent!'. If we were just on holiday here for a week or even two then this would not be a problem as we would be more enthusiastic hagglers but now we are just so tired and bored of haggling. After 3 months on the road so far and with dwindling funds for the next 5 months every penny counts for us, and so we find ourselves haggling over the equivalent of about 13 p (GBP) on pretty much a daily basis.

Below left: Pumba (of Jacques and Mandy) and
Carol in the desert.
Below right: Alex jumping into the hot spring.

Above left: Me next to the Red Pyramid at Dashur. Above right: Carol with the sun set in the white desert.
We made a rash decision the other day and purchased bikes each. We considered bringing bikes with us on this trip from the start. They would be so convenient to us in big cities and towns when we don't want the hassle of driving in, finding parking etc. We contemplated hiring bikes but we decided lets just buy them. So we did. We bought them from a nice young man who we feel gave us a reasonable price. One of his selling points was that the bikes are 'made in china'. Good quality Chinese bikes. Dubious. We are hedging bets as to how long until they fall apart. We are very excited by the new bikes and we have already made use of them both in Luxor and today in Aswan. The main problem we have at the moment is transporting them. They fit on the roof but they are not stable. Yesterday we travelled from Luxor to Aswan with them in the back. This however is definately not a long term solution. Ideas welcome!
We feel ready to leave Egypt and move on to the next country. Above are a few more pics from our time in Egypt.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


Alex on the sand dunes near Cairo.
Me about to take the plunge in a hot spring. Dakhla Oasis

Sunset over Luxor

Sand Dunes near Cairo

Carol in the New White Desert
More to follow soon! xx

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Cairo to Luxor, via the Western Desert

We are nearing the end of our time in Egypt now and I come to that with mixed feelings. Egypt has been stressful for us. We have been chasing documents around the Country, first in Cairo and now in Luxor. We have become extremely frustrated with many aspects of Egyptian life. I can easily say that travelling independently, Egypt has been the most difficult country yet.

We left Cairo on monday...finally! We set off to the Western Desert Oases firstly to Bahariyya. We stopped just outside a small village called Bawiti. The oases are very quiet. It is far off the beaten track and although there are tourists they are few. In Bawiti we visited the Museum of the ten golden mummies. They were stumbled upon quite by accident, by a donkey in 1996. They have since found thousands of mummies in an area in Bahariyya called the Valley of the Golden Mummies. Excavation is still underway. The mummies on display are well preserved. We happened to find and English speaker involved in the excavation who helpfully explained (without demanding Bakeesh) the history of these mummies. Knowing a little about them made the whole experience far more interesting. He explained the legend behind the symbols on the casts and what era of Egyptian history they are from. We also visited a few tombs in the area. It was a refreshing change not to be surrounded by tourists after the hustle and bustle of Cairo.

From there we set off to the next oasis, Farafra. We didn't stop at the oasis itself ut instead we spent a night in the New White Desert. The scenary there was beautiful. Stunning rock formations and miles and miles of sand. It was lovely to spend a night wild camping but at the same time the remotness of the desert was eerie. It was so quiet that every sound was magnified and it is easy to see how easy it would be to get lost when all the rocks and sand dunes look the same.

After Farafea we set off to Mut in the Dakhla Oasis. We spent again just one night here. There didn't seem to be too much going on in any of them. We we directed to a hot spring by our campsite and we set off there on thursday morning. It is called the magic spring. I think maybe it was actually magic. It was a shallow sand pool and at the centre was full of bubbles rising up from the middle of the earth. When we reached the bubbles the ground just dropped away and our legs were sinking beneath liquid sand. The pressure of the bubbles pushed us straight back up again. We spent a good 2 hours relaxing in the spring, jumping off ledges of different heights. Well that was Alex more than me.

We spent thursday night in the final Oasis of the four that link Luxor to Cairo in a loop. Kharga. All the way through these desert roads security had been tight. We had to sign disclaimers saying that we did not need military or police accompaniment everywhere we went. There were check points every 30 or so miles where we were asked repetidly the same questions.
'Where are you from' 'Where do you go' 'Where do you stay' 'Passport please'. Etc etc. Then they radio through to the next check point so that they expect you. We never experienced any hassle at the check points the police and military were very friendly. It was just an annoying interuption. The fact that security was so high made us more worried about our safety. It is though they are waiting for something to happen but we are not sure what. In Kharga the police and military on 2 separate occasions followed us even though we requested to travel without convoy. We really did not feel that we required a police or military escort. Seeing 5 armed policemen in a truck in the rearview mirror is a tad disconcerning. We wern't worried originally but seeing the level of security puts the frighteners into you!

Since Syria we have become so used to seeing armed security everywhere we go. In Jordan after every check point there would be a soldier, gun poised, waiting on top of a military tank. Egypt is not that over the top in terms of the guards being ready to fire, so to speak but there are check points at every corner and even our campsites are guarded by soldiers. It is a bit weird but bizaarly we have got quite used to it and we no longer even really acknowledge amount of security and the fact that many of them are standing behind bullet proof shields waving a gun as you walk past.

Yesterday we arrived at Luxor. We arrived in time to catch up with Jacques and Mandy and Jon and Linda who had left us behind in Cairo a week ago. We spent a nice evening catching up with them but then today they have left us behind again, this time in Luxor for Aswan and Abu Simbel! We have just 9 days now until we are ferry bound for Sudan. I am feeling a little aphrensive about visiting Sudan but I am also excited as I always am as we leave one country and set off into another.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The moral of the story is: Don't rely on the Egyptian post!

It has been a few days since I last wrote. I have neglected to update, mainly because our situation has remained unchanged. We are still in Cairo!

We left Cairo breifly and wild camped in the desert for a night with some expats that we met through Mandy and Jacques. They were hospitable and put us up for a few nights prior to the desert trip, offering us a slice of luxury after 10 weeks on the road! We spent a day driving up and down sand dunes with them, getting stuck, being dug out and carrying on. Then on a more depressing note, for this trip is about moving forward and not turning back. We had to go back to Cairo. We left mandy and Jacques on the road to Bahariya which was very strange and sad as we have been travelling with them for 3 weeks now.

As I have mentioned in previous posts since our troubles at the Jordanian/Egyptian border we have frantically been relying on the arrival of replacement vehicle documents from the UK before we can proceed to Sudan. Despite them being sent from the UK nearly 2 weeks ago, they have failed to arrive at our campsite in Cairo. Obviously this has meant that we have been unable to stray to far from Cairo until the documents arrive.

The expats that we met thought it was hilarious that we were relying on the Egyptian post for something this important. We have spent the last week or so kicking ourselves for not using DHL! After we returned from the desert we decided to be more positive. Returning to the quite nice but mosquito and fly ridden campsite was a depressing thought so we had to look on the bright side. We decided to take matters into our own hands.

Yesterday we set off to central Cairo more specifically to the main post/sorting office we wanted to take the bull by the horns. We knew that our letter was in Cairo as it had been registered as 'arrived' online. If they weren't going to bring it to us we would have to go and get it ourselves! It seemed a bit of a shambles at the main Post offie. We were ushered from one office to another. Many parts of the central post office had no telephone connection or internet so our reference number was proving useless. In the meantime, I had developed crippling stomach pains and had to go back to the campsite leaving Alex on the mission alone.

Whilst I was recovering from my possible food posioning Alex had been given yet another address at where our letter may or may not be. 'Inshallah'. He turned up at another, different central post office in Cairo and reached the letters floor to be informed that it shut at 1.30pm. It was by then 3pm and Alex was not happy! At this point he had a mini rage. He started rattling the door, demanding to be let in. He wanted to find the letter himself. Security were called and they escorted Alex out of the building, cruically, without the letter!

We had to leave it there yesterday and try again today. Miraculously my food posioning had passed and I was able to accompany Alex back to the central post office to make sure that he didn't get into any more trouble. We spent a long while sitting around watching all the post office workers do nothing as someone tried to track down our mail. They spent a while on the phone, they rummaged through files and folders. They eventually came to the conclusion that our letter was in a small post office in a village not too far from Giza pyramids. 'Inshallah'. So we set off again, and ended up basically at a shed full of men, doing nothing. Ofcourse.

Within seconds they had located the letter! It had been opened ofcourse, but it was there and the document was inside! Horray. We got over excited at this point as the reciept of the document is our ticket out of Cairo. On closer inspection it appeared our letter had been sitting in the 'shed' since 27th April, hello mr postman it is now the 3rd May! This 'shed' is just 2 miles from our campsite, surely someone could have popped it over to us?!

Anyway, this is all water under the bridge now as we have our document. The post office worker ridiculed us by asking for Bakeesh. Alex asked the taxi driver to inform the worker at the shed that it was him who owed us Bakeesh as we had spent a small fortune on taxi fares tried to find this dammed letter when he should have delivered it in the first place. This shut him up and off we went.

So tomorrow we can finally get back on the road. We will be heading towards the white desert oases en route to Luxor, Aswan and then in 2 weeks Sudan! The moral of the story is the Egyptian Post is incompetent and disorganised. End of!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Crazy Cairo

We are still in Cairo. Well I say in Cairo, our campsite, rumoured to be the only campsite close to Cairo is 10 k out of town, in Giza. It is a lovely little refuge, a sanctury away from the hustle and bustle and extreme craziness of every day Cairo life. However, it is a pain to get to. We like to leave the car at the camp and make our own way into town. Via taxi was proving to be a bit of a dent in the budget so Alex and myself have been experimenting with public transport. In the last few days we have joined the locals on mini buses, tuc tucs, VW camper vans converted into Mini buses and metro trains. The first day it was great fun getting involved with it all, but now the novelty has worn off it is becoming a bit of a hassle! There is major road improvements taking place around the area of town we are staying and it plays havoc with the traffic. It took us two hours to get home from Downtown the other night. We finally got back to camp to find we were locked out! Needless to say a random wondering man who let us in (who I had not seen before and who I have not seen since) was not best pleased with us.

We have been trying to make the most of our time in Cairo, but on a budget. We visited the Dashur pyramids instead of the Giza Pyramids. Going inside a pyramid is very strange. Definately not for the claustrophobic! We had to climb an almost vertical ladder 65 feet down through a tunnel into the centre of the pyramid. The Dashur pyramid site was great. You need your own transport to get there so there were very few tourists. There are two pyramids there. The red Pyramid which is open to the public to enter and is extremely well preserved. Also the Bent Pyramid which as its name suggests, is rather an odd shape. This one is not very well preserved but still worth a look.

We have also been to Coptic Cairo which is also known as Old Cairo. This area predates Islam and has a number of churches. Most famous the Hanging church which is still used today as the Christian and more specifically Greek Orthodox centre of Worship in Cairo.

visited the Egyptian museum. Full of anciet Egyptian relics apparently there is so much to see there that even if you allowed 1 minute for each exhibit then you would be there for 9 months. This is according to the Lonely Planet. As it was we amused ourselves for 2 hours or so, but as we are not really museumy people this was more than enough for us. What frustrates me the most and has done throughout this trip. Is the lack of information at museums. I went into theEgyptian museum, yes to admire the relics and artefacts but I would have found it far more interesting had there been a little bit more information about the history of them. There is a number of rooms dedicated to Tutunkarmun which is fantastic but there is no information bout who he was!

We are currently waiting on the arrival of some car documents from the UK to our campsite. It is taking longer than expected, hence why we are still in Cairo. Hopefully the mail will arrive soon and then we can get back on the road!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Some piccis!

Here are a few pictures from recent excursions in Egypt! I am having some serious issues with computers and the internet and memory cards so sorry it is not many pictures.

The River Nile, Cairo

Getting some welding done in Ras Sudr

Me and Alex feeling pretty tired after watching sunrise on Mount Sinai

Sunrise from Mount Sinai

Alex paddling in a lagoon near Dahab.

Dahab beach
Ahmed giving Carol a facelift in Dahab.

Jacques, Mandy, me and Alex enjoying a celebratory bottle of vino after getting into Egypt!

Carol and her Egyptian number plates!

A visa mission in Cairo

There are a few things which we always dread doing on this trip. Crossing borders and obtaining visas! We have taken the philosophy after research that it is best to apply for our visas en route in the capital cities of the preceeding country if we cannot obtain visas at the border. There are many embassies in Cairo so it seemed like a good place for us to get both the Ethiopian and Sudanese visas in anticipation of the next month.

The Sudanese and Ethiopian visas are not without their problems. We had heard that to acquire the Ethiopian visa we would need proof of onward travel in the form of a plan ticket for example. The Sudanese visa process is meant to be extremely difficult. Letters of recommendation from embassys, sponsors from Khartoum we had heard horror stories of the process taking weeks.

It seems we were lucky on both accounts. The Ethiopian visa process was relatively simple. We filled in the form, paid 30 US dollers each, left our passports over night and hey presto we picked them up this morning with the visa inside.

We headed straight for the Sudanese embassy in the Garden City part of Cairo and were informed there that we would need a letter of recommendation from our embassy. This seems a complete waste of time as surely our passport alone is adequate proof of our identity and needing a further clarification from the British Embassy is just a joke! Despite our views we had little choice in the matter so we set off to the British Embassy, literally next door to the Sudanese Consulate and spoke with them. It seems they are used to this request from Sudan and as it is a common overland transit from North to East Africa. Acquiring the letter was a quick process. They have a standardised letter for this purpose of which they just printed us out a copy of and sent us on our way. We used one letter for both of us which Sudan seemed happy with. The catch: The letter cost 240 Egyptian pounds which equates to about 30 GBP. Alex was not impressed and has spent the afternoon grumblingto me: "What do we pay our taxes for!?''

Back at the Sudanese embassy, once we had the letter the process was extremely well organised and quick. We filled in our forms, provided the necessary photo copies and passport pictures and left our documents with them. We went off for lunch and headed back at 2.30pm to pick up the visas. They were very friendly and helpful at the Sudanese embassy, far more so than at the British embassy. The only drawback was the cost. It was 1oo dollers per visa which has crippled us! The visas for Sudan are valid for one month from today, supposidly when we reach Wadi Halfa within the month, immigration will stamp us into Sudan for one month from date of entry.
So far so good.

Cairo seems like a nice place. Unlike some of the big cities we have visited it has greenery and despite the hectic traffic the pace of life is quite relaxing and pleasent. The river Nile separating Cairo from Giza is beautiful and far more tropical than the river Thames! Yesterday it was obscenely hot, with temparatures reaching 38 degrees (according to the good old BBC) today it is overcast (horray!) and a far nicer temperature!

Yesterday Alex and I needed some more passport pictures. We got them taken in a Kodak shop in Giza. No photo booths here. We were sent upstairs to sit on a stool whilst the photographer took our picture. It reminded me of having my school picture taken when I was a kid. We then watched as he uploaded it onto his computer and magically airbrushed us to perfection. He neatened up Alex's facial hair and removed the sunburn from his nose. They tidied up my hair and removed any blemishes from my facee I don't think we have ever had such flawless pictures taken of us. I am quite sad that I will have to part with them for visas.

Next stop is the Pyramids tomorrow. We can see the tip of the big one from our campsite so we will attempt to walk there tomorrow.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Dahab and beyond....

We have finally left Dahab! It was difficult, and even 4 days on I am still hearing pretty much daily echoes of resentment from Alex and Jacques, along the lines of 'I miss Dahab...' or 'This campsite is no Dahab is it?' As nice as Dahab was, it was time to go and so we set off in the direction of St Katherines Monastry and Mount Sinai on saturday.

We reached Mount Sinai with a cunning plan. We decided to try and grab a few hours kip in the car park before embarking on a hike up to the summit at 2am to reach the peak for sunrise. We were dismayed that we had to have a guide to accompany us the 7km or so up the mountain. This rule I believe has only recently come into practice after a German guy just wondered off the path and over the edge of the mountain a few months back. We didn't need a guide, to be honest the path was pretty obvious and there were a number of other tourists taking the same route (the camel path) up to the top for sunrise so it was near impossible to get lost. Unfortunately we had to pay for this compulsory guide and he didn't come cheap! We reached the 2285m summat in good time, and waited for sunrise. I can safetly say that I haven't seen bvery many sunrises and although the trip up Mount Sinai is a bit of a cliche it was cool to see sunrise as it was pretty spectacular. We hiked up and down during the night and early morning, thus avoiding the scoorching daytime heat and we were back at the carpark by 7am ready for our next destination.

There is a lot of religious significance associated with Mount Sinai which is also known as gebel Musa (Moses Mountain). Different religions placing the occurance of different events here. There is very little information about this at the site. All we were aware of is that allegedly the 10 commandments were recited to Moses here by God.

From St Katherines we drove in the direction of Suez. Wedidn't expect to make it all the way there that day, it was quite a distance and we were all pretty knackered from our long hike! We ended up in a small town called Ras Sudr. We found a camp where they initially quoted us EGP10 per car per night (around GBP 1.25) then after some consideration decided to up that price to EGP 100! We weren't having any of that and promptly hot footed it away from the camp to motorway services where we spent the night instead. The camp wasn't even that nice. The Womens toilets looked as though they hadn't been used for years (probably because the beach is a bit of a no go area for Women) and there were no showers. There was very loud and repetitive Egyptian music pumping from a DJ booth and lots of chicken bones and litter on the beach! The service station was far nicer! Indeed, that night we were so tired after being up since 2am that we slept from 9pm until 8am the next day!

In Ras Sudr we deiced to try and get a few things fixed on Carol. She was in need of some welding and our leisure battery was playing up. We managed to get a lot of welding done. The water tank had a leak and the jacking points at the back of the vehicle were rusted through. The lack of health and safety was incredible. Spark and fire were flying all over the place and there was no protective clothing being worn, not even protective glasses. The guy doing the welding only had one thumb, we didn't ask if it was a welding accident or not?

We got back on the road to Suez. To reach Suez we had to use the tunnel which allows you to cross the Suez Canal. The Suez canal severs Africa from Asia and allows for transportation via water between Europe and Asia without having to detour around Africa. It was opened in 1869 and it is still extremely well used and important today. Crossing the canal signified reaching Africa proper for us. We stopped in Suezto make a few enquiries about reaching Sudan. We had heard that there is a ship that sails from Suez to Port Sudan. We knew it was a long shot but we wanted to double check that Aswan to Wadi Halfa is the only viable route for us into Sudan. We drove to the port and asked the guards where we could sleep. They directed us to a car park, it had some shade which has become a determining factor for us these days, as so we went for it.

We went to boat spot by the canal and at once become celebraties. People, mostly children, were fascinated by us. They followed us, poked us, took pictures of us (mainly of Mandy and I) from all angles and wanted as much attention from us as possible. It got frustrating after a while as all we wanted to do is relax and it was difficult as were suddenly the talk of Suez. We watched a few ships and even saw some dolphins which was far more interesting than boats!

Our make shift car park/camp site in Suez seemed to be a bit of a sketchy area! We noticed a few syringes strewn around and even some weith nneedles. We were told that these were from the drug users. Nice! The manager of the car park was very concerned by us. We were recieving quite a lot of attention from passing locals and he seemed keen to protect us from that! Suez was a very strange place or at least downtown Suez where we were camping. There were people just pissing in the street. Walking along they would lift up their robes and go there and then. Others were sleeping, just in the middle of the pavement or under some bushes.

Suez to me, has a lot of potential. It is a nicely set out city. It has the crystal clear waters of the canal, a lot of green areas and nice promenades. Unfortunately it has been destroyed. The locals leave litter everywhere. The green parks are covered in crap, dirty nappies, the remains of picnics from the previous day etc. It does seem to be a trait common to much of the Middle east but it seemed especially bad here.

Now we are in cairo. It is chaotic and very hot. We are camped up outside of town in a pleasant enough if mosquito ridden campsite. We are on the visa trail today trying to secure visas for Ethiopia and Sudan and then we will explore Cairo properly and obviously visit the Pyramids. The drivers are insane. I understand why our Carnet cost so much for Egypt now. The drivers cut each other up, they over take and under take, drive three abreast on a dual carriage way and they seem to have no concept of space, speed and distance. The Cairo ring road was mental to say the least. There is no use of lanes it is more of a free for all. At one point there was not even any lane markings let along lane use! We got a shared taxi into town this morning which was pretty scary!

Anyways, many things to do today and we currently don't really know where we are exactly let alone how to neagotiate our way back to camp later on today!
Photos to follow soon...I promise!