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, 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!