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.

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!