Addis To Omorate

Leaving the thriving metropolis of Addis Ababa, we went on our way to meet up with the other members of our posse for the trip into the Wild West that is Turkana, a land where cows owned by people of one tribe are rustled by members of another tribe, often resulting in bloodshed. When I have my hair rustled it affects my cow’s lick, but that is all.

We spent a night at Lake Langano, getting one wheel about a foot into the air along the way as we navigated some proper 4×4 terrain. Although the highly skilled driver did eventually get a high five from the chief navigator / camera person, said camera person did not film or photograph the momentous occasion as she was too busy apologising to the car for the unnecessary abuse as there was another perfectly good route to the lake about 4kms away. Glass coke bottles are an extremely important commodity in Ethiopia, and before we had packed up to leave, we had a coke bottle nazi from the camp’s restaurant forcing us to decant the cold, unopened cokes we had bought the night before for the journey the next day into a plastic water bottle in order for them to be flat and revolting by the time we wanted to drink them (I know, flat Coke is a First World Problem and people around the world are deeply affected by this).

We drove to Arba Minch, staying in a campsite with a beautiful view over two lakes far below us and resident warthog. We also got to meet the Ethiopian soccer team, as they were staying at the same venue for a friendly game against the local side. I donned my In-Dire-Need-Of-A-Wash-Bafana-Bafana T-shirt for a photo with them, which very nearly didn’t happen when Jules tried to get them to say “Bafana Bafana” instead of “Cheese”, and then very nearly lost my top when their coach came back later for a pic with us and the beast, thinking I wanted to give him my top in exchange for one from him when I am “next in Addis”.

The next stop was a town called Konso, where we met up with the 3 bikers, Ray and Wendy. We had the pleasure of having to travel to the local Department of Trade and Industry to get permission to purchase diesel. This involved trying to find the correct office, then some sums to work out how much diesel I thought I would need because “I would like to fill up with diesel” is not the correct answer, then off to another office to get a stamp to make it all official. We have worked out that if you want anything in Africa, all you need is a knife, a potato and some ink. Unfortunately I forgot to make a “Please don’t bullshit faranji’s” stamp so we had to pay an extra 2 Birr per litre for the “generator for the fuel pump”.

The bikers had already spent a night at a hotel in Konso, paying more for the room than a married couple would pay to dissuade homosexuals from staying there, and as they didn’t want people to think they were rich homosexuals we went to find somewhere else to stay. Fortunately we made a plan with an old guy who looks after the Konso museum on top of a hill with an amazing view and no children asking for pens or money. For this privilege all he wanted was for us to buy a ticket each to have a look at the museum. This was really interesting, with information about the tribes in the area including statues with giant penises on their foreheads to remember their heroes and other statues with penises chopped off to show the enemies the heroes have killed. The way they live is reminiscent of the blue guys in Avatar, with “Generation Trees” and other beliefs very foreign to our Western upbringing. With the tour of the museum over we set up camp and he offered us a sip of some beer he had been drinking that his wife had made. I don’t think Guinness’s Chief Brewer needs to start looking for a new job just yet.

Charlie (The cyclist we met in Addis) had joined us before heading on his way through Turkana (Us: 4×4, Fridge, Water, Spare Tyres, Hi-Lift Jack, Recovery Gear, Hi-Vis Jacket, Battery Operated Mosquito Killing Tennis Racket, In Convoy with 2 other cars and 3 motor bikes etc. Charlie: Bicycle, Spare Tube, Bicycle Pump, Puncture Repair Kit, on his own).

The museum guard had a quick ride on Charlie’s bike and nearly came a cropper when he fell, AK-47 pointing in all the wrong places, hitting the ground hard, but fortunately not going off.

The next morning we slipped the old man a few Birr each, something he clearly wasn’t expecting and the poor guy got tears in his eyes. Leaving the town we were treated to village children dancing on the side of the road and then running up the car wanting money as we went past. Each village seemed to have its own dance, the ultimate being a whole bunch of kids doing headstands. The villages started to thin out and people and livestock started to disappear and for the first time in Ethiopia we could stop for a wee on the side of the road without having to worry about “Give me Pen”.

Even though the road was mostly in good condition and we had a bunch of people we knew travelling on the same road as us, the stretch from Konso to Turmi has got to be the most “In the Middle Of Knowhere” Jules and I have felt this trip. We had all gone our separate ways to meet up later, and saw no cars and almost no people as we entered a beautiful valley with hills in the distance. The people we did see looked like they were straight out of National Geographic – western clothing had all but disappeared, and we saw tall men covered in scars from having designs branded all over their torsos, outlandish hairstyles and generally carrying AK-47s. The ladies were topless, a lot of them wearing animal skin skirts with red mud in their hair. Gradually the guns disappeared and were replaced by sticks and funny little chairs with a dual purpose – seat and pillow to prevent hair style from being messed up.

In Turmi we stayed at Mango Camp, a campsite next to a river bed with loads of trees covered in fruit for us to pick. It was market day in the town, so we went to see if we could get any more supplies for the next leg of the trip and have a look at the people. For some reason there are always a few people who think faranjis are too stupid to be able to shop for themselves and hang around pointing out where the shops are and what you can buy in them and then asking for commission afterwards. Without trying to sound condescending, there is quite a good chance that I have been into more shops than you, not even mentioning online shops like Amazon and eBay, which incidentally would blow your mind, and generally the only thing that has ever prevented me from successfully buying something is my wife pulling up the handbrake. I know what 2 minute noodles are. I know what rice is. Bugger off.

We all chipped in and bought a goat for supper, which one of the Archie’s slaughtered and butchered back at the campsite (9 people travelling together in the middle of nowhere – 3 Chris’s and 2 Archie’s).

The local people in the area are from the Hamer tribe, where boys become men by jumping over cattle and women are whipped and left with scars on their backs for life. Wife beating is also apparently an acceptable social norm.

From Turmi the next stop was Omorate to get passports and carnets stamped before entering Kenya.

Lalibela to Addis

We went to have a look at the Blue Nile Falls near Bahar Dar. Declining a guide we ended up with an unofficial guide anyway, plus about 20 kids following us trying to flog their wares. The falls were ok, but I believe they have been affected by a hydro electric plant, and only improve later on in the rainy season. We paid the “guide” a tip, bought a rubbish piece of cloth from one of the kids for waaaay more than it was worth due to faranji guilt and as we were leaving a couple more kids wanted pens etc. Fortunately you can appease them by giving them empty water bottles (I know – selfless, beatification and sainthood to follow shortly). Unfortunately we only had one water bottle but we did have two empty coke cans. I asked the guide if the child would find a can useful. “Yes, and can I have the other one for my child please?”.

We haven’t worked out how to deal with seeing this level of poverty first hand, and there have been strong feelings of guilt due to how lucky we have been our whole lives. We have resorted to humour to try and take the edge off, but when you moan about the fact that the document you are reading is stuck on landscape when you hold your ipad in a portrait position, a sarcastic comment from your other half doesn’t always go down well. Seeing another tourist with a child with flashy light-up soles on their shoes running around a town where people are either barefoot or wearing crappy luminous plastic sandals doesn’t help things either. I can only assume that the reason for the earlier tantrum was that the battery had died in one of his shoes. First world problems are real problems too!

From Bahar Dar we did a 170km trip to Lalibela in 7 hours. We have probably been driving a hell of a lot slower than most, but having read a horrific post from another couple who killed a little boy who ran in front of their car and seen the way toddlers are left right next to the side of the road to run around unattended, as well as the total lack of looking before crossing by everybody else we are absolutely paranoid about hitting somebody. It is exhausting driving so slowly, constantly being on the lookout and waving and smiling.

The site of a faranji in a car can raise the sort of bloodlust you would expect in a medieval battle, and some of the kids get so worked up it is similar to when you over-excite a puppy and it wees on the floor. One kid took advantage of his goats being in our way, screaming and jumping and acting as if Father Christmas had gone into his local pub leaving his sleigh parked inside the grounds of a young offenders institution with his bag of presents on the back seat. Thank God for central locking!

Lalibela was spectacular. We arranged for a guide through the hotel we stayed at (Tukel Village – camping in their garden was expensive at 300 Birr a night, but they had clean loos you can actually sit on and hot showers with good water pressure). We organised a guide throught he hotel as we didn’t want the hassle of sorting out the proper guides from the chancers, and were keen to learn a bit about the churches. At 400 Birr he wasn’t cheap, but he spoke good English and was extremely knowledgable, although he kept dropping not so subtle hints about the various things his clients had given him – brand new pair of hiking boots in the post, new torch, and a free trip to Belgium in September if the Belgian embassy decides that he will actually return to Ethiopia. We also splashed out and got ourselves a “Shoe Man” out of faranji guilt and fear of having our shoes stolen from outside the church as you have to take your shoes off each time you enter a church. When you take them off he puts them together neatly, and then hands them back to you when you come back out. Our guy was quite skilled and only dropped Jules’ shoe lace into a puddle once. When giving him his tip at the end we thought we were being quite generous by giving 3 times more than what we had been told the average daily wage for a labourer with his own spade is, but doubled it when our guide told us the lucky guy only gets this great opportunity for 3 months a year because there is a rota.

The tour of the churches was like being Whatshisname, every woman’s dream action hero symbologist in a Dan Brown novel – is that even a real job? Everything symbolises something – 3 windows for the Holy Trinity, 10 pillars for the 10 commandments, something else for Noah’s ark, etc etc. We also got to see the chanting rooms (mentioned in the previous blog post – turns out Somebody Else’s Child’s Awful Picture of a Fire engine is another person’s Monet because we overheard another tourist asking where she could buy a CD of the chanting). Even the drum they use to keep us awake at night is loaded with symbols – 2 sides to represent the Old and New Testaments, and the hide used to tie the drums represents the lashes Jesus got. Interesting factoid – did you know one of the wise men was from Ethiopia?

The really incredible thing is that the churches are all still in use. We had our tour on a Sunday and there were still people milling around all day even though mass starts at 5 in the morning. This goes on for 2.5 hours and you have to stand the whole way through. To help you out you can get a prayer rod – a long pole with a small bar on top that you can lean on like a crutch.

After the service the priests stay inside the churches to heal people with the Lalibela crosses – big intricate crosses that are rubbed on the bodies of the faithful. Occasionally you hear a loud scream when it is rubbed on a person who wants to be healed. There is also a fertility pool – a deep pool of water next to one of the churches where ladies who are infertile are lowered in on Christmas Day (7 January in Rest of World Calendar). Based on the amount of green stuff growing in the water, there could be some truth in this.

When we organised our guide we had already planned an early start and therefore finish and I think he was quite greatful for that. Other guides weren’t so lucky or happy, because Ethiopia was playing the most important game of their lives in the afternoon. Against Bafana Bafana. A match that could see Ethiopia qualify for the World Cup for the first time ever. We had been invited to watch it in town by the guy at the hotel reception in what turned out to be a venue made from bluegum poles, black plastic bags, flour sacks and posters of various football clubs with a 26 inch tv for about 150 people. True to African form, they had music playing until kickoff and then realised they hadn’t tuned the tv for the match. I almost predicted a riot.

Bafana Bafana scored first.

Ethiopia scored.

Followed by an own-goal from Bafana Bafana?

Leaving Lalibela we drove to Addis Abbaba via Lake Hayk, initially driving on proper 4×4 road (woohoo), then more 4×4 road (enough now), and then pristine tarmac up steep mountain passes with amazing views of countryside hundreds of metres below stretching into the distance. In Addis we stayed at Wim’s Holland House, meeting up with Ray and Wendy again, three English guys who are travelling on motor bikes, and a guy called Charlie who has been travelling through Asia for the past 3 years and is now on his way down Africa all on a bicycle he picked up for about £100. Really nice people, except “When We” want to tell a “When We” story Charlie almost certainly has a “When I” story to beat it without even trying. That is an adventure. We are effectively sampling the beers of Africa.

We’ve got another week or so in Ethiopia and are then driving in convoy with two other cars and the bikers into Kenya along the east side of Lake Turkana. This will be the most remote part of the journey and should take about a week before we are in what resembles civilisation again.

Lake Tana to Simien Mountains

On a bullshit management course I went on a couple of years ago we were told about delivering difficult news with a Bad News Sandwich – if you want to tell somebody that they’re effectively ineffective you start with a slice of something good, throw in the negative filling and finish off with another positive slice. “Nice haircut. You’re fired. I really liked the picture of your wife in her bikini on your Facebook page.” Please excuse the broad generalisation, and there have been many exceptions, but what we have experienced of the people of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia so far has been a Good News Sandwich. Egyptians will try everything in their power to take money from you – a slice of Bad News. The Sudanese will do everything in their power to make you feel welcome and shower you with gifts – a helping of Good News, with some cheese and pickles. Ethiopians make you feel guilty about being richer than if Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck pooled their money and then won the lottery – another mouldy slice of Bad News!

Within 5 minutes of driving across the border we heard a scream of “FAAAARRRRAAAANNNNNJJJJJIIIII” followed by 50 children rushing out from wherever they had been hiding to shout in high-pitched voices – “You you you, give me money”. Further on we were greeted to “You you you, give me pen” and then even the “You you you” became less frequent and we had “Hello Money” or “Hello Pen” as we went past each village. We had been warned about children throwing stones at the car and as we want to be able to pass it off as a little old lady’s run-around one day we have been driving really slowly with the windows open smiling and waving until our hands want to fall off. We watch children bend down to pick stones up as we approach and then drop them when we smile and wave, kind of forcing them to wave back even though I’m sure they would far rather be throwing stones – I know I would!

Ethiopia brings new meaning to begging with about 60% of the people waving and as we get closer their hand immediately changes to either beg for money or food. Sometimes we don’t even get a “Hello”, just a “Money”. Life is extremely difficult for people over here, and I don’t think watching or commentating from the window of a fancy 4×4 gives us any idea of just how hard it is. There seems to be a hell of a lot of sitting down doing nothing, but mainly there is bloody hard manual work going on, and it doesn’t discriminate on age or gender. Children younger than 5 are out all day either fetching firewood, looking after goats or cattle, or fetching water. My nephews, the lazy buggers, just go to school and play in their rooms full of toys while getting cuddles from Mom.

Still in convoy with Ray and Wendy we went to Lake Tana to stay at a place called Tim and Kim’s. Tim and Kim have created a great site, with space for overland vehicles, as well as huts for backpackers and chalets. They have a stocked bar and restaurant offering whatever is available at the time, but it was all superb. The toilets are spotless and the showers are refreshing (marketing speak for cold) and this is a great place to spend a few days doing absolutely nothing. Like the rest of what we have seen of Ethiopia, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Serious birdwatching is a religion of sorts, and I imagine that instead of getting 7 virgins in heaven, dying from a twitching jihad sends you to heaven in Ethiopia, based around Lake Tana. Where else in the world do you hear the words “Another Bloody Fish Eagle”?

We took a kayak out onto the lake and went around some islands with some Monasteries. Fishermen came past with their catches in papyrus canoes – White Fish, Catfish (Barbel) and Tilapia. The locals don’t eat fish, and the catch is mainly dried and sold to Sudanese farmers for cattle feed, although we picked some up for dinner – Barbel is surprisingly tasty! We saw some hippos with a calf, as well as plenty of birds with names we know and plenty more with names we don’t. In theory you’ll be able to see around 70 different species in a morning. The Big Breasted Bed Thrasher still eludes us though.

One thing I have found difficult to accept is the large number of guns floating around – masses of people walk around with AK-47s or old hunting rifles. Apparently there was no money for people who fought in a war in the past, so they were given guns as payment because there were plenty of those lying around. These are now passed down to the oldest son, obviously with relevant training and permits and they are never carried under the influence of alcohol or chat.

From Tim and Kim we went to the Simien Mountains, still travelling with Ray and Wendy. We went via a town called Gonder, with an old castle and a lovely old church with exquisite pictures on the roof and walls, and a strange rule banning ladies who have had nookie the night before or who are having their monthly visit from Auntie Flo from entering (I’m not sure how else to say this without sounding crude or embarrassing grannies, but still keeping some juvenile humour!)

Gonder has a shop called “Best Supermarket”. In a town where most shops are little corrugated iron stalls with a window relativity comes into play again and we were treated to a cornucopia of 2 Minute Noodle Flavours (Beef, Chicken or Vegetable), biscuits (Digestives or Digestives) and some homemade peanut butter. Fully loaded with supplies we continued on our way, waving, smiling and “Salamnoing” (Salamno is hello) our way down the highway, averaging about 25km/h because of all the people, cows, goats and suicidal donkeys.

Outside the Simien Mountains in a town called Debark we stayed in the parking lot of a hotel called the “Semen Hotel”. Using the word “Relatively” again, the loos were “Relatively” clean. The kitchen was a different story altogether, and having survived playing Russian Roulette throughout Turkey, Egypt and Sudan I had one more go with the Injera (local sour pancake that looks and tastes a bit like grey rubber with bubbles) and Meat Stew. Gory stories aside, the guy who invented Ciprofloxacin will get a Sudanese welcome from me if he ever decides to visit South Africa, followed by an Egyptian kiss on the shoulders, and if he is a bird watcher, when he dies he will go to Lake Tana.

Fortunately Ray and Wendy had some space in their car as you can only enter the Simien Park with a scout, a man with an AK-47 and very little English. He was very helpful and a bastion of male chivalry. At the campsite in the park he went to help a lady who was trying to lift an incredibly heavy load onto her shoulders. Instead of carrying it for her, he helped her lift it onto her back, then walked back to the hut with her while she carried it. You might be wondering where I was and why I hadn’t helped her with my own good manners. Cast your mind back to the previous paragraph and then take your pick between sitting feeling like death in the car, lying feeling like death in the tent, or squatting feeling like death hovering over a long drop.

The Simien Mountains are a bit like the Drakensburg in South Africa, but on a grander scale, with incredible views stretching for miles, beautiful flora, and Gelada Baboons, the coolest animals we have ever seen. The baboons are the most chilled, docile and spectacular animals in the world, and we spent ages sitting right beside them watching them groom each other, eat and generally muck about. They are also obsessed with their penises, which was hysterical. The baboons alone are a reason to visit this country.

We were also really lucky to see an Ethiopian Wolf, although fleetingly (according to the Bradt Guide to Ethiopia it is the most rare of the world’s 37 canid species and listed as critically endangered on the 2000 IUCN Red List. I imagine 13 years on the outlook for it probably hasn’t improved much so we were extremely lucky). The next day we carried on up the mountains to find the Ibex. Up until this point the central diff lock had been behaving, but in the mountains with rain, hail, muddy roads, and steep drops on the side of the road leading to cliffs below it decided to get stuck again, so we had no 4×4. At just under 4,000 metres above sea level we were getting out of breath when walking, and the same altitude problems started to affect the beast. We had hardly any power and at one point were unable to go above 1500 RPM in first gear. Foot flat on the accelerator and no forward movement is not a good place to be when you are in the middle of nowhere on a steep hill with nothing but some 2 minute noodles and digestives and are still weak from vomiting out both ends. Fortunately there were Ibexes right near where we were stuck, so we were able to have a quick look at them, then leave Ray and Wendy snapping away with their camera while I fixed the spring again. Problem solved and we were able to use low range again.

After the Simien trip we said our goodbyes to Ray and Wendy, with tentative plans to meet up again in Addis, and went back to Gonder on our way to Bahir Dar, a town south of Lake Tana. In Gonder we went to the Dashun Brewery and had a couple of beers in a great beer garden. Driving into the brewery parking lot meant we first had to be searched. Jules was searched by a lady and I was searched by a man who gave me the current quote of the trip. He said he needed to frisk me so I said “as long as you don’t touch my penis”. His response was “I won’t – it is very bad for a man, but women must always touch it because it is gifted”. They then had a quick look in the cubby hole of the car, leaving the one or two other places a person searching it might want to look alone before letting us through.

That night we stayed in the parking lot of another classy establishment called the Belegez Pension, with toilets full of fortunately flushable floaters and plumbing and wiring that would make a health and safety official in the UK add a few floaters of his own out of sheer terror.

We had a really tasty meal across the road at a restaurant called “Master Chef” and then bedded down for the night. And then the chanting began. Please can somebody bring back “Allah Akbar” at 4 in the morning! It was like having Tarzan sitting next to your ear playing a Jew’s Harp through a Vuvuzela from 10 at night until 6 the next morning with the odd didgeridoo being swung around wildly and hitting you on the back of your head . The only advantage of this was that the odd hour of sleep I got had some colour as the combination of ghastly noise and Larium had me dreaming of Buddhist monks doing “Real Magic” – chanting and making flowers grow out of the ground instantly and turning them into fireworks and then people doing spectacular acrobatics started shrinking before my eyes. In my dream I told Jules about the “Real Magic” and then felt really foolish when she said “Don’t be stupid, it’s just an illusion – we see stuff like that in Covent Garden all the time”.

The next day we hot-footed it out of Gonder, stopping to fill up with diesel and give the beast a much needed clean for the vast sum of 50 Birr (about R25).

All of a Sudan

The night before the ferry we went to KFC to minimise the risks of spending any more time in the ferry loos than was absolutely necessary. We arrived at the port to chaos – hundreds of people pushing and shoving as they tried to get through customs with massive bags and boxes full of things they had bought in Egypt to sell in Sudan. With a limited number of seats on the ferry – about 150 more than officially allowed, there were quite a few people who had arrived hoping to get a ticket at the last minute only to be turned away at the gate. Some people were not happy. We were ushered through quickly, skipping the queues and mayhem due to a large number of greased palms compliments of our fixer and the not insignificant amount of money we had given him.

After slipping a bit more to the captain we were given a quieter place on the deck and the use of his fridge for our water. And then we waited… and waited… and waited.

The ferry filled up until we couldn’t see any more of the deck – even the lifeboats were full of people. We had the luxury of our little piece of deck in the sun, with a small amount of shade as we sat on boxes with life jackets – I imagine 1 or 2 less than there were people on board. Raymond and Wendy joined us, a Dutch couple who are doing roughly the same route in a Land Rover, and Dave and June, another couple who are backpacking down to South Africa. Jules will never be the same again having had to go to the loo. Without trying to invoke a commentator’s curse, I think worse ones will be hard to find. We were on the ferry at about 11 in the morning and arrived the next day at about 2, smelling and looking like we had just stepped out of a salon, so about 3 Egyptian Hours.

In Wadi Halfa we met our fixer Magdi, filled in all sorts of forms and got into my kind of taxi – a Land Rover that is older than me, and quite possibly my old man. There is definitely some truth to the saying that a Land Rover is always sick, but never dead (no longer talking about my old man). We were given some not so pleasant news that the barge had engine trouble and had to go back to Aswan (been here before Mary?) and then we went to our hotel to learn about relativity. We stayed at Cangan Hotel, with A/C (air cooling, not air conditioning) and an ensuite bathroom at 80 Sudanese Pounds per night. The loo is a hole in the floor with things of unspeakable horror inside. It could have been better. Scary thought – it could have been worse. Cangan Hotel is the Hilton of Wadi Halfa. Relativity! Congratulations Nanford Guest House of Oxford – it has taken 6 countries to knock you off top spot of worse place to sleep, but not by much!

We met 3 guys who are travelling from South Africa to Dublin on Scooters ( Great stories, it’s just a pity we couldn’t share them over a beer.

While waiting to get the cars off the barge the customs official found out we are South African and then proceeded to recite “Long Walk to Freedom” from memory. It turns out that he had been translating it into Arabic for his diploma, but after starting it he kept saying “Tomorrow I will translate 5 more pages”. We asked why he had chosen such a large book to translate and he said that the book had been split into 4 sections and 2 people got their Master’s degrees and 2 people kept saying “Tomorrow…”.

With the cars back after 4 long nights we left Wadi Halfa with Ray and Wendy and headed out into the desert where we wild camped along the Nile near a village with mud huts. While we were setting up 2 ladies arrived from nearby with a bowl of dates for us, and then they wanted us to stay at their house. We visited them the next morning and they made us coffee while we all tried to understand each other.

We tried wild camping the next night as well, but a couple of policemen arrived and made us follow them to the police station nearby to camp. A night with temperatures in the 40’s, dogs barking and howling constantly, people talking, blaring TVs and mosquitos, followed by a 4am call to prayer meant that tempers were pretty short the next morning and Jules and I started the day with a pact that anything we said to each other that day could not be brought up in a future argument. We drove past some pyramids and got a few pics, but with the temperature reaching 50 degrees, all of us exhausted and gatvol from the sleepless night we skipped the 100km round trip to the Meroe pyramids and headed to Khartoum.

In the desert we experienced a dust storm. This stripped the paint off Ray and Wendy’s roll bars on their Land Rover, filled our air filters with sand, and ripped bits of metal out of the condenser for our aircon.

If you are in the market for a fridge, I can highly recommend an Engel. In the heat of the desert (did I mention 50 degree temperatures?) we turned the fridge to 11 and at times even had ice in our water.

Khartoum comes with a “Beware of Kidnapping” travel warning from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We had quite a few kidnapping attempts to invite us round for tea. Khartoum also has a Steers, and after eating Foul, Potato and Goat Stew and other tasty treats, we both needed a burger badly. We stayed in a “campsite” called National Camping Residence, which looks like an old army barracks with an area to park next to a stage for holding rallies. After Wadi Halfa the toilets were ok, but still not brilliant, although I believe infinitely better than the infamous Blue Nile Sailing Club a bit further on. There was also a large Minaret that appears to be used by people training to be Immams – more frequent than other mosques, louder, less like Meat Loaf and more like Bob Dylan.

We tried going to the Dinder National Park, but when we arrived at the entrance we were told we had to go back to Gedaref first for permission, about 150km back from where we had come, so we decided to skip it and spend another night wild camping before crossing the border into Ethiopia the next day.

On the way back from the park gates we went through a little town with a market and stocked up on fruit and vegetables. Meat was available, but we aren’t that brave yet. It involved flies and legs of beef with skin on and hooves. As we walked through the market we were followed by a swarm of children like 4 Pied Pipers. Before getting back into the cars we had a photo shoot with everybody and then headed off to camp.

Sudanese people are every bit as friendly and hospitable as people who have been there say they are, and it is nowhere near as dangerous as people who haven’t been there say it is. In Egypt your fixer gets you a fan for the car (because if you buy it yourself they will charge you more. I will get you a good price. I will then blatantly pocket a portion of the cash you have given me for myself and then go on about what a good deal I got for you). In Sudan you ask somebody if he knows where you can get a sticker for your car and he sends somebody to get one for you and refuses to take your money because it is a gift. On the ferry we met a guy called Abdalla, who told us that wherever you are in Sudan, no matter how rich or poor the person, if you arrive at their house they will invite you in for tea, food and a place to stay. In Wadi Halfa we met a guy called Tarig who sat down with us for dinner and then disappeared half way through to pay for all of us. In Khartoum we were invited to tea on the side of the road by an old man, Mohamed, who was visiting a friend in hospital. He tried to pay the tea lady for our drinks and she refused to accept his money because we were her guests too.

If our fragile little white bodies could have handled the heat a bit better we would have stayed longer, but unfortunately Sudan was just too hot, so we rushed through it. If only the rest of the world could be a bit more like the Sudanese.


After a week of being horizontal we headed off to Aswan to start the next leg of the trip. Along the way we stopped for somebody who had just written-off his car. From the state of the car we were expecting the worst, but the driver was sitting on the side of the road, clearly shaken, but fortunately with no visible injuries. He refused any help, almost as if he didn’t want to be a burden. All we were able to do was give him some water and have a quick game of pictionary at the next police check-point to explain to them that there was an accident down the road.

In Aswan we met Mohammed, our fixer for the ferry to Aswan. Imagine our surprise when the price we had been quoted in his email had gone up. The explanation we got was that we can give some money to customs to help them search our car. If they don’t have this extra bit of help then they have to do the job all by themselves, and maybe they decide that you should register all your kitchen knives or you have to prove to them that your spare tyre really is only full of air. Then suddenly it takes 3 days to search your car and in that time the ferry leaves and you have to stay for another week. We were also told that we could go on Thursday to put the car on the barge – “which is better because the barge is higher in the water so it is easier to drive on. It is also better because if your car is on the barge then you are guaranteed a place on the ferry.” After going past customs and having our car thoroughly searched (pointing to a water bottle and asking if it was for water) we found out that the barge would only be ready on Saturday and we would have to leave the car in the port – “which is better because then the barge can be loaded with other stuff first so your car won’t get damaged.”

This involved being moved from one office to the next, giving back our Egyptian number plates, having the carnet stamped and things written down in large official looking books, then waiting for the car to get signed in to stay in customs until Saturday (fee attached for storage etc). Fortunately all this was happening with typical African efficiency because we then found out that the barge was now ready – “which is better because now we don’t have to come back on Saturday”.

We wouldn’t have been the only overland vehicle stuck in customs. There was Land Rover from South Africa that had arrived on the ferry from Sudan. We didn’t understand the full story, but from what I understand, guy didn’t have money to get the car into Egypt at the time, said he was going to the bank and would be back in a bit, 7 years ago. Now the car sits, untouched.

We had originally been told that the whole process would take an hour or two. While we waited an Egyptian hour or two we met a Sudanese man who was sending some stuff back on the barge. Sudan is the one country our travel insurance refused to cover. Mention Sudan to somebody from South Africa or Europe and you get a funny look followed by an “Isn’t Sudan very dangerous?” When we told him we were from “Ganoob Africa” we got a funny look, followed by an “Isn’t South Africa very dangerous?” It transpires that Sudanese people are not dangerous, they are all happy, and the only thing dangerous about Sudan is the sun. He would also like to come to South Africa to buy a wife and two lions to take back to Sudan.

The barge that was ready actually wasn’t quite ready, so in the Egyptian hour or two we went and waited in some shade where I sat on a bed frame with a Sudanese barge crew member with my African phrase book and he tried to teach me some Arabic. Incredibly friendly guy. With the lesson over I got out my hammock and tied it to two poles in the shade for a snooze and got a thumbs up from him as he inspected my knots. High praise indeed!

When the barge was almost ready we drove the car down to load it on. There was just one more thing to be loaded onto another barge – a great big bloody steel sugar cane press with gears and motors etc, which was “carefully”pushed on, toppling onto other things, ripping other packages, knocking about 20 pots and pans into the water and then coming to a rest wedged between the barge and the bank. I always thought Afrikaans was the best language to use to shout and swear at people, but it sounds like a poem about love and ponies written in French when compared to Arabic.

We eventually drove the car onto a barge, extremely grateful that there were 20 people telling us what to do in Arabic with their own made-up hand gestures instead of just one guy because that is more helpful and far easier to understand.

“Park in the middle”
“Shouldn’t I park to the side in case another car comes?”

The barge captain came to us for some medical help because of terrible problems with his stomach. Fortunately we went on the hectic first aid course because after finding out that he had been to a wedding and eaten far too many pigeons over two days we had the knowledge to prescribe him some Rennies and he was much happier. Hopefully it helps with keeping the beast in one piece and above water.

Having left at 8:30 for an hour or two to get the car onto a barge we got back at 4:30. That evening we went to have supper at (please don’t judge us) McDonald’s before going for a walk in the bazaar, where I had a haircut. The guy gave me my first eyebrow trim ever and then did the hair plucking thing on my cheeks that ladies have done with a piece of cotton because they are sadists.

The next day we went to Elephantine island, a lovely place with Nubian houses and quiet dusty paths without the constant “Welcome to my shop, no charge for looking, welcome to Alaska, where you from? Ahhh South Africa, bafana bafana.” We were hijacked by a charming guy who lives on the island and calls himself Symbol because his red hair is “a symbol for the Nubian people”. He took us on a tour of the island for free because he “effing hates effing money and just wants to improve his English”. He then took us to his brother’s house for tea and before we knew it we had been sold a boat trip to the Nubian beach. I’m really glad we went though, because the scenery was beautiful, with king fishers flying around, lovely plants on the river bank, and even “magic trees” – masses of large Mimosas with leaves that fold when you touch them. My mom calls them “kaaitjie roer my nie” (kittie leave me alone) and they last for about a week before they die because kids keep touching them.

The Nubian beach is basically a riverbank where desert meets the river and people go for picnics and a goof in the Nile. While I swam Jules sat in the shade on the boat listening to the boat guy’s music (ranging from Egyptian music, to “got a pocket full of green and yellow faces to buy me some ho’s” rap to Lionel Ritchie). When we got back I started researching how to treat bilharzia before we headed out for supper (local food this time – by the end of this trip we will have stomachs made of cast iron. Township dogs will bow down before us as we drink Egyptian tap water, eat the salads and taunt the gods of gyppo guts). Symbol was hugely entertaining and a great laugh. I would definitely recommend trying to get hold of him if you ever come to Aswan. You can get hold of him at or 00201003598282.

I had foolishly shown an interest in a game of backgammon being played at a souvenir shop when we first arrived in Aswan, so having used up my “tomorrow’s” I sat down to learn Egyptian backgammon outside their shop. Halfway through the game water came out of a manhole cover near us and ungodly smells attacked the lining of my nose. My coach casually rolled the dice and kept playing, so I sucked it up and carried on. After a while I became numb to the smell, but that didnt stop me from gagging occasionally. Fortunately a honey-sucker arrived and the guy had to attend to his shop, sweeping rising “water” away from the entrance, so I made a hasty retreat, without any guilt about not going inside to buy a plastic camel.

The next day was going to be a quick trip to the ferry office with our fixer to buy our tickets, followed by some touristy things like going to see the unfinished obelisk. I’m not sure if you’re spotting any trends yet, but the office was closed so we had to wait for it to open. Do you remember how we were told that having a car on the barge guarantees us a ticket on the ferry? From our fixer: “you are very lucky – I managed to get you the last two tickets.” Do you also remember how it was better that we got the car on the barge on Thursday so we wouldn’t have to go back to the port on the Saturday? If you remember that then you probably also remember that we didn’t need to park to the side of the barge in case there was another car. You might be surprised to hear that we didn’t get to see the obelisk on the Saturday because I had to go back to the port to move the car so that another one could be driven on.

We also paid our fixer Mohammed his fee today and although he had quoted us in dollars he had told us that Egyptian pounds would be fine. For some reason he was annoyed when we paid him according to today’s official rate as seen on instead of the “black market” rate. I think all is good and we are still good friends because I said I would put his details on our site so that other people can use his services.

Mohammed’s details are on his website – He is a friendly guy and although the process seems quite disorganised I guess it is pretty typical and mostly out of his hands. He has been very helpful and responds to emails and phone calls quickly and when he gives you a time he is there at that time. He can also organise felucca trips on the Nile and excursions to Abu Simbel.

Jules and I have a new saying for things like this -”would you like a cup of TIA?” TIA is a TLA for “This Is Africa”. TLA is a TLA for “Three Letter Acronym”.

Jules is extremely lucky to be celebrating her birthday on the infamous barge from Aswan to Wadi Halfa tomorrow. 45 degree heat in the shade with flooding loos. She has also got a thoughtful gift from a loving romantic husband, a fan that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Sorry ladies, you had your chance about 10 years ago but you all blew it.

No pics I’m afraid – the laptop is in the car, on a barge, in the port, on a dam (or at least it was / they were last time we checked). Will upload some when we next get a chance, along with colourful descriptions of ferry loos and flies, and if you’re lucky a couple of pictures of those too.

Luxor to Red Sea

In Luxor we stayed at a campsite called Razeiky Camp. This is a hotel with a large garden / sandpit and as we sat nursing ice cold beers in the afternoon heat we were told grand stories of yesteryear by the manager (who reminds Jules of her dad, but for the sake of keeping wills intact no photo was taken), times when the garden was full with 20 cars at a time doing overland trips, the hotel was full of guests and the shop was open. Apart from some locals who had come to use the pool we were the only people there. The “overland” toilets weren’t pretty (coming from people who haven’t been on the Aswan ferry yet), but they opened one of the hotel rooms to let us use the ensuite bathroom. Nothing special, but clean enough.

Jules and I fixed the jammed diff lock, an easy job now that I know how, but one that requires removing the centre console and gear lever to get to a little springy pin that pops out of where it should be back into place. This takes about an hour or two to fix. I was reminded that men and women have a few differences when I started climbing under the car to detach the gear lever and was stopped by Jules because I was in my nice shorts and would dirty my t-shirt too.

Tourism in Egypt has been decimated since the revolution 2 years ago, and streets we expected to be full of people were empty. Huge car parks for sights such as the Valley of the Kings had about 3 bus loads of people while we were there, with space for 50. As we drove around the area we passed alabaster workshops where locals carve scarab beetles and other touristy things. Most of them were closed, as well as most of the shops. Last time we were in Egypt we were met by cocky cheerful souvenir salesmen, mainly using charm to sell their stuff, willing to haggle, but generally getting what they wanted for their wares. This time round we were met by desperate people. One old man nearly started crying when we didn’t buy his carved picture, even though he had done the haggling for us, starting at 50 pounds, ending at about 3 pounds. I never thought I would say this, but it was heart-breaking not being able to help souvenir salesmen.

Our aircon and fan haven’t worked since we arrived in France. Jules has created a poor man’s aircon, filling a spray bottle with water and keeping it in the fridge. A quick spray on the neck and arms works wonders. I’ve updated my wardrobe to include a beigy lime-green kandura (dishdash). This has cooled things down for me a bit in the car – I guess 100 million Arabs can’t be wrong. The problem is that wearing it has cooled things down for me a bit in the romance department as well if you know what I mean, nudge nudge wink wink, a nod is as good as a wink to a blind bat, know what I mean, know what I mean?

We left Luxor to go to the Red Sea for some diving, peppering the beast with runny tar as we went over a new stretch of road. This has resulted in me getting several bollockings, first for getting tar on my brand new kandura, then my swimming costume. We decided to skip the really touristy Hurghada, and are staying further south in a town called Safaga. It isn’t the most attractive town, but we were treated to some excellent snorkelling a bit further north in Soma Bay, walking on a 400m jetty from the beach to get to an amazing reef. Unfortunately that part of the bay is full of resorts that would break our daily budget significantly. We found a cheap but clean hotel called Orca Village in Safaga right next to a dive centre on the beach. They have space for camping, at 10 euro’s a night, but for 5 euro’s extra we opted for a spacious double bedroom with ensuite bathroom, aircon and patio right in front of the sea. For some reason nobody wears board shorts on the beach, so we have been treated to an eye-watering display of speedos. We were only going to be here for 2 nights and have a few dives, but the “urge to submerge” has been so strong that we decided to stay for a week. This is where we start trading in birthday futures and it looks like I’m getting my present for my 40th 7 years early.

The dive sites have been good, with spectacular drop-offs and beautiful coral boasting full of fish the Red Sea is famous for. When we were in Dahab 8 years ago there was a German guy who had built his own motorbike to do a trip down Africa. His first stop was the Red Sea and after a few dives he sold his bike and stayed. I can almost relate to that, although Jules and I are convinced there is a template for people who work at dive centres. Basically you end up with the same person in a different body each time with stories from when they were in Ko Pan Spam or equivalent place in the Far East and had dolphins and manta rays bringing them breakfast in bed each morning. You also get the arrogance that comes with them being “in the know” and able to catch the local mini bus taxis into town for the same price as “locals”.

I dived a wreck called the Salem Express, a ferry that sank in 1991 with about 1500 pilgrims on their way to Mecca. It was a spectacular dive, although a bit spooky knowing that about 400 people lost their lives when it sank.
Apologies for the somewhat boring post, but the past week has been more of a holiday than an adventure. Diving, snorkelling, reading, sleeping. Jules has been brave enough to risk being beaten up by playground bullies by reading a book from my eReader and I have been able to trade diving stories with people from the time I was in Kaplow and had turtles making me cups of tea.

From here we head to Aswan to catch a ferry to Sudan, a place with temperatures so high that you turn to religion to thank God for the invention of beer, only to discover that He has a slightly warped sense of humour because it is illegal there.

Police in the desert

As a student I had a Mini 1275 with a 34 litre fuel tank. Filling up a 90 litre gas guzzling 4×4 along with several 20 litre Jerry cans in Egypt 15 years later is considerably cheaper. In Cairo we paid 1.1 Egyptian Pounds per litre. I’ll let you do your own currency conversions and calculations, but if you’re too lazy it is cheaper than bottled water.

Initially we were trying to decide whether to scuba dive in the Red Sea or head out into the White Desert instead. In the end we have decided to do both. After hours of driving with desert around us we arrived in a town called Bawiti, looking for fuel to save me having to resort to one of two equally unappealing tasks – syphoning fuel from our jerry cans on the roof and getting a mouthful of diesel, or climbing onto the roofrack, unlocking the jerrys, lowering them down, climbing off the roofrack…

Unfortunately the famous Egyptian diesel shortage is a reality and we couldn’t find any. Somebody approached me and offered me a 20 litre jerry for 80 pounds, still cheap, but having got a taste of really cheap diesel after Europe, we held out. In Bawiti the beast was among family, with masses of Land Cruisers, young and mostly old driving around.
From there we headed into the Black and then White deserts, blown away by the sheer beauty of them both. I was like a kid at Christmas, desperate to go off-road for the first time since our 4×4 driving course, only to have my hopes dashed when the diff lock jammed in high range again. Because of this and the fact that we were on our own in the middle of nowhere we did some risk management and I behaved, staying away from where the big boys play. I still managed to get stuck once, but letting the tyres down solved the problem and we went to find a place to wild camp. The White Desert has got to be one of the most spectacular places we have ever been to, and that night we were treated to one of the best night skies I have ever seen, lucky enough to have a new moon. If only we hadn’t been such fools and had brought along some beer or even a Coke. Idiots!!! While we were preparing supper a guy came past us with about 4 camels, gave us a wave and carried on into the desert as the sun was setting.

When justifying the expense of shoes, my philosophy has always been to work out how much it costs each time I’ve worn them. If a pair costs £60 then the first time you wear them has cost you £60 and you are an idiot. The next time you put them on you are immediately down to £30 per use and things are looking up. On our way to Farafra the next morning we came across a guy who had broken down in the desert. Currently the cost of using our booster cables makes us idiots, but next time it will be halved! In Farafra we managed to find diesel and then spent the rest of the day going from one oasis town to the next, being greeted by friendly waves and hoots wherever we went. Careful not to make the same mistake as the day before I went into a shop to buy some cokes (5 Egyptian Pounds for a 330ml can or 5 Egyptian Pounds for a 1 litre bottle). Fortunately only 1 of the 4 bottles I bought was Sira Cola, made in Egypt, with almost identical logos and branding, a similar initial taste followed by an aftertaste of cough medicine and bile.

In hindsight having a section in our blog about brain farts was a bit foolish as it implies there will be more. Arriving at a village in one of the oases to see an ancient Roman tomb I had a brain fart. Needless to say we didn’t get to see the tomb. It was probably rubbish anyway. More about this to follow.

From there we drove to a town called Al-Kharga to find a place to camp for the night. Along the way we got 1 use closer to justifying the expense of our snatch strap, towing a broken-down police van full of policemen for 50km from the middle of nowhere in the desert to the town. The thermometer in the beast said 44 at one point. When we finally arrived at the town I got a bit of man love from the police chief as he hugged me and kissed my shoulders several times, then shook hands, then had photos, then swapped phone numbers, then more hugs and kisses on the shoulders.

That night we found a place to camp behind a large sand / rock dune at the end of a road that might / might not be being built. While we were here we paid homage to our Portuguese friends in the UK and had a wartmelshpiepspietcompteesh (watermelon pip spitting competition) which Jules won. Speaking of which, watermelon is a rubbish fruit. It is too big, there are too many pips, juice leaks all over you and you get sticky. You wrongly remember that it was really tasty and refreshing the last time you had it and are sorely disappointed as you gag your way through each piece. Jules on the other hand loves it, but agrees that there is too much, so although I win the argument, I still have to eat the watermelon we bought earlier.

We got a phone call from the police chief asking / telling us to come round to the police station the next morning which we dutifully did. There I got more hugs and kisses, Jules had her photo taken with him and one of his subordinates gave us his breakfast and drink, leaving himself with nothing to eat for his shift out in the desert for the rest of the day, but refusing to take no for an answer. We at least managed to get him to accept a packet of biscuits we got in Turkey (I won’t write about how we didn’t really like the biscuits because they have a funny taste and are so dry you need a cup of water to help you swallow them because then we would sound like arseholes). They were on the brink of escorting us all the way to Luxor when I managed to get out of this by telling them we needed to get some diesel before we could go. They then all push-started their now working(ish) police van and we had a police escort to take us from one service station to the next until we found our diesel, using his siren every now and then so that we could jump the red lights. That might sound grand, but jumping red lights isn’t such a big thing in Egypt – you get hooted at if you don’t.

Port Said to Cairo

Egypt has a lot of mosquitoes. You would think the author would have warned us about this when he wrote about all the other plagues in the Old Testament. When we finally left Hotel De La Post the room looked like a murder scene with splotches of blood all over the place after four nights of gruesome attacks and counter attacks. No sign of the mouse again, but Jules managed to squash two cockroaches with her shoes. In the hospitality industry Hotel De La Post would be a “Johnny No-Stars” (a Johnny No-Stars is a guy who works at McDonalds. The stars are based on how many times his picture has been on the “Employee-of-the-Month” wall). At least it was cheap and we had hot showers.

With our bags back and the two of us now vigilant, seasoned travellers, we went through the process of getting our car out of customs. This involved walking down busy streets dodging piles of dead fish and other litter as we followed various members of Eslam our fixer’s gang of lackeys. We entered a run-down building opposite the port to get our bill-of-lading documents and receipts. We had to do this several times, going up an old lift without proper doors that had a verse from the Koran playing each time it was used. Once this was eventually done, Jules disappeared to sort out the rest of the paperwork with the fixer as the car is in her name. I was left waiting in a coffee shop and started wondering if we had been a part of some big scam and now not only had I lost the car and the money for getting it out of customs, but also my wife. Jules arrived back a bit later with Eslam and the car. He took me to one side and told me that everything had been sorted, but there was a bit of a problem in the region of 400 Egyptian Pounds that had to be paid on top of all the other cash to get the car out without it being stripped and having each item individually inspected. I responded with a “but we don’t have anything to hide”, and he followed this up with a “they would have found something and made things very difficult with us so I made the problem go away, and now because we are such good friends I am willing to pay half of this so that we can remain good friends” – or something to that effect.

While we were in Port Said we spent quite a bit of time in a restaurant called Popoyo with pictures of Popeye all over the place as it had wifi and was quite cheap. We spent some time looking for things to do in Port Said, but the best we could find was “go to Cairo”, so once we had the car back, that is exactly what we did.

The road to Cairo was in relatively good condition and although it wasn’t too busy, we still ended up with terrible squints as we tried to keep tabs on people overtaking from the left, right, driving towards us on the wrong side of the road, stopping, pulling in front of us, the odd unmarked speed bump, potholes etc etc. Then we somehow made it to level 2 and arrived in Cairo. Fortunately we didn’t have to do much town driving, as there is a ring road that goes around the outskirts of the city. The place we were looking for was about 2km from the pyramids, so we also had a relatively well-known landmark to lookout for. When we were in Egypt about 8 years ago and were driven around everywhere we got the impression that the pyramids were between Cairo and the desert, with sand dunes and desert stretching out past them into the distance. In our naivety we didn’t realise that this particular desert is only about 1 or 2km of sand and behind it is Dreamland amusement park. I hope I haven’t spoiled the illusion for anybody else reading this!

We have been staying at a place called Ibis Garden Camp, run by a couple Sue and Halal. Effectively you get to park your car in their driveway and then get the use of their garden which includes a sparkling blue swimming pool. They live on the 6th floor which is mostly a covered patio with plants and a view of the pyramids. Getting here meant driving through roads covered in litter alongside pools of rancid green water breeding millions of super-powered mosquitos that think Tabard is a tasty garnish for your arms and legs. Although quite expensive (100 Egyptian Pounds per person per night) they have been really hospitable, and helped organise us a driver (Walid, great guy) to get to the embassies to sort out our Sudanese visas. We’ve also been blessed with target practice for our electric bug zapping tennis racket, which has become a veteran with more mosquito kills than there are numbers. As mentioned earlier, Tabard is absolutely useless over here, but we’ve been told about a spray a lot better called “Off”, which works brilliantly. I guess there wasn’t space on the spray can for the first part of the brand name.

We arrived in Cairo over a long weekend, so had to wait to sort out our visas. In this time we took the beast to get its photo taken with a pyramid, visited the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel and Coptic Cairo, as well as the pyramids and tombs at Saqqara (a must see, and only about 15km from the guest house). The Coptic part of Cairo had some incredibly old churches and we were shown around one of them for free, something that left us speechless as everywhere else you can’t fart without somebody asking for baksheesh.

“Welcome to Egypt” is the first thing you hear when you meet somebody in a touristy place over here. To the uninitiated this seemingly innocuous comment is extremely dangerous and should be handled with care. “Thank you” immediately puts you on the back foot because the “You’re Welcome” you get back means you now owe him something in return. You can’t ignore the guy because that would be rude. Effectively you’re screwed. Fortunately we’ve been here before and have become slightly wiser, so when the guy at the Saqqara Tombs shows you his keys and pretends they are the keys that will open special doors to never before seen sights, I was able to avoid him by showing him our car keys and saying “don’t worry, I have my own keys”. We loved watching other tourists with their little arsenals of tricks to try and make their way past souvenir salesman, unofficial official tour guides and camel rides, some succeeding, but most failing hopelessly and ending up with the same plastic pyramids, wooden camels and all sorts of other crap we ended up with last time we were here.

While being taken around Cairo Walid took us to get some Egyptian food for lunch, treating us to Koshery, Foul and Falafels, which were all very tasty dishes. At Saqqara I was also happy to find loads of Bee-Eaters that had made their homes in a sandy slope next to the museum.

To get the Sudanese visa you need a letter from your embassy, so off we went and while we were waiting in the queue for the South African embassy to open Jules forgot where we were and announced loudly to me in Afrikaans “Ek wil ‘n nommer twee he” (I need to have a number two). We were greeted by a friendly guy called James who gave us the quote of the trip so far – “If you think you can, then you can, but if you think you can’t, then that expectation of failure alone will lead to failure”. Fortunately we thought we could, and managed to leave with a letter on the same day. Other than having to wait a day to get our Sudanese visas this was a relatively painless, although costly procedure (745 Egyptian Pounds or $100 each).

We are currently in Luxor, having spent a couple of days in the desert. More on this soon(ish).

Turkey to Egypt

Two posts in one day? A public holiday in Egypt with a car stuck in customs allows for these little lucky breaks. We arrived at Iskenderun on the Friday to buy our ferry tickets. These were bought through an agent for Sisa shipping, Remon Travel. Tickets weren’t cheap – $180 each and another $590 for the car. We spent a lot of time waiting to find out when the ferry was leaving – either Saturday or Sunday. Saturday was spent lying on some grass reading our books while we waited. We were told on Saturday evening to be at the agency at 9:30 the next morning. We spent 2 nights at a strange campsite (Palmera camping) on the outskirts of the town with no showers, so got to wash our bums and front bums on the beach in front of the fishermen with our own shower. On the second night we were invited to dinner with 3 Turkish friends who had gone there to do some fishing and have a barbeque. We were treated to lamb chops, steak and a delicious Turkish salad laced with chilis (we always seem to eat chilis before a long journey!). The evening was spent communicating via google translate, and they attempted to teach us some Turkish dancing. We also got to sample a Turkish version of Ouzo. With the odd exception, the Turkish have been the most hospitable, helpful and friendly people we have met in all our travels.

On the Sunday we arrived at the travel agency to find out what time the boat was leaving and were greeted by hundreds of Syrian refugees, fleeing the fighting for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, loading bags on old rusty red trucks. It reminded me of the opening chapters to the Grapes of Wrath, and Jules and I both became quite emotional seeing it all.
We spent the rest of the day in a compound with the Syrians and Turkish truck drivers, waiting for the ferry to be ready. With no understanding of Turkish and our passports disappearing to various corners of the port, sorting out papers for the car, scorching sun and dirty loos, this wasn’t a highlight of the trip.

On the ferry we couldn’t walk two metres without somebody calling us over to introduce themselves and ask us where we were from. I got to play backgammon with a couple of Turkish truck drivers for a few hours, Jules broke a personal record and read a whole book in 1 day with time to spare, and we got to meet some of the Syrian refugees, finding them to be incredibly kind and in good spirits, despite all the horrors they are currently going through. Towards the end of our journey we were shown some horrific videos on a phone by a hair dresser turned freedom fighter. They were extremely graphic, including a video of his dead brother. He was on his way to deliver them to various news agencies. Jules and I both found this extremely upsetting, and where we normally would have moaned about things like boredom on a 27 hour long ferry trip and dirty loos, I guess we both found a bit of perspective.

Sleep deprived we finally arrived in Port Said at about 10:30pm and were greeted by police in riot gear in case things got out of hand. We met our fixer Eslam Elshamaa (his details are – Tel 002 0128 9220 002, email We left the car with various other cars and trucks in a garage in the port after a search by customs and at around midnight we went by taxi through crazy streets full of hooting cars and people shopping with little children to our cheapest hotel yet (Hotel De La Post, at 95 Egyptian Pounds (about £9) a night. We were greeted by a mouse at the top of our stairs and cockroach in our basin, and plenty of mosquitos popping in to say hello throughout the night.

The next morning while waiting to be picked up to sort out the car we met two other groups of travellers, waiting for the ferry back to Turkey. have travelled from all this way from South Africa in just over 1 month in their Hillman Imp), and who have travelled pretty much the whole world in a 1960’s Beetle. It was great to meet you all, even if it was only for a few minutes.

We threw caution to the wind and left our hotel with our bags, naively thinking we could get our car out in a day. We spent the morning being moved from one place to the next by Eslam as he wheeled and dealed his way around the city. On our way back to the hotel he put our bags on the roofrack of a taxi and as we were about to get in the taxi it raced off into the distance with our bags, never to be seen again. Fortunately Eslam had the presence of mind to take down the licence plate and after a couple of hours in the police station we got a call to say the guy had been caught and our bags had been recovered. How they found him in a city of taxis we will never know! This has been a pretty hectic couple of days and after the morning’s escapades, we were really glad to come back to our hotel room, which suddenly seemed quite appealing!

Welcome to Africa!!!

Due to today being a public holiday, with any luck we should have the car on Thursday (Inshallah), to head out to Cairo for the next leg of visa admin (Sudanese visas) and crazy city driving.

More Turkey

At the campsite we were staying at in Cappadocia a large overland truck arrived with about 20 people on their way to Australia over the next 5 months. Unfortunately when there are a large number of people in the same campsite you have to share precious things like hot water and water pressure. You also invariably get yourself into at least one Mexican tooth-brushing stand-off. If somebody starts brushing his / her teeth before you, you can reasonably assume that they will finish before you and nobody will judge the other’s tooth-brushing habits. What really happens is both of you continue brushing for far longer than you would normally, each waiting for the other person to stop so that in your mind you can congratulate yourself on how well you were brought up, and how unhygienic the other person is. Or maybe it’s just me, and everybody else in the world really does brush for 3 minutes, spit, then continue for another three.

The people who own the campsite also run a ballooning school, with about 20 hot air balloons and Land Cruisers to tow them. Still trying to redeem myself from being conned so easily by an almond salesman I decided to use some initiative and see if I could speak to the guy who services them. You know you’ve found a decent mechanic when his friend is rugby tackled by another guy and rather than helping him to his feet he checks his oily, looks at you and laughs (this is when you’re minding your own business and somebody humiliates you by sticking their fingers up your bum to check your oily). While we were waiting for the oil to drain during the service he went and got some tea for us and we then spent some time watching his friend proudly showing off his Chevrolet Impala, revving it to show how the engine makes the whole 2 ton, 5.2 metre long tank shudder. The mechanic was adamant that the oil we’ve been using is the wrong stuff and the reason we’ve been going through so much. The beast then had its first wash in a while, with a floor brush and high pressure hose and I was shown his Land Cruiser – 4.2 Litre with 4 massive spot lights on the roof and front and rear diff-locks etc, etc. I grunted and thumbed up in the right places and pointed to ours and said “baby one”, which is apparently the funniest joke in Turkey at the moment. As I was leaving he ran back to his car and came back with a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne for me to take home. Probably a first since cars were invented. The service cost us 300 Lira (about £110 including oil and filters).

We went to see an underground city, discovered in 1978 by the same guy who tried to sell us stuff at the curio shop outside (proven by a photo of him in the book he wanted to sell us, even offering to sign it). This was spectacular, with little tunnels leading to bigger chambers underground, with massive circular rock doors to roll into place and protect them from attack if they were discovered. Real Indiana Jones stuff if you can take screaming hyperventilating busloads of other tourists out of the equation.

He gave us directions to an old church out of the way, where we were greeted by a strange tour guide bringing out tea and biscuits and “dried grapes” and we knew there was going to be some money changing hands later. The church was spectacular – originally it was all underground, but some of the hill had collapsed exposing it to the outside world. He showed us where the pigeons were kept for email, the winery and various other interesting things. With the church tour over he took me to see his “tunnel”, effectively another “underground city” untouched by the Turkish board of tourism. In I stupidly went with my torch, first crouching, and later on hands and knees, and was treated to a long corridor, with no lights for tourists, plenty of spider webs, and once I reached the first chamber and saw collapsed areas leading to the maze of chambers below, and the bone of a dead animal, plenty of imagination.

At the campsite (Kaya Camping) we met Thomas and Susanne (, a lovely German couple who are travelling the Silk Road, heading east on their motorbikes. A bus arrived on our last night and created a wild panic as everybody else raced to get to the showers before all the hot water was used up by the hordes of passengers. Their fears were unjustified as the bus is home to another German couple, their two toddlers and dog. They have been travelling from India. We had a great last night chatting over a couple of drinks with Thomas and Susanne, before wishing each other safe travels.