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.

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!