Wrap up

July 2013

We haven’t decided yet how much to write in the blog about our settling in, what its like to finish the trip and settle into the UK. In a way we think the trip is over so maybe the blog is over and on the other hand people have been asking how it is, and the trip ending is part of the trip.  It also feels such a different and significant time that maybe it is worth saving the memory for us and sharing a bit with others, anyway we’ll see. This may or may not be the last blog ~

A few stats to share:

Days travelled: 498

Kilometers travelled: 75,962  (47,200 miles)

Countries visited: 30

Borders crossings: 29 (doesn’t count the ones we didn’t have to stop at through Europe)

Road blocks we were stopped at: 81 (but waved through countless more! Namibia came out on top with 15)

Bribes solicited: 2 – but in hindsight one of the times we think he thought we were offering one so that may not count as he didn’t really ask

Bribes paid: 0 we didn’t intend to pay any but weren’t absolutely dead against it, we just didn’t come across it as often as expected! It affects locals much more from what we could gather. This doesn’t include Egypt. God only knows how much of what we paid went to whom and for what?!

Times we got properly stuck: 3 (two in mud and one in sand)

Wooden bridges we drove over: 44

Snakes: 31

Bites from march flies, tsetse flies and mozzies: about a billion

Health problems: a few grumbly bellies,  the odd head cold, I had a bad eye infection in southern Africa, Olly got very ill in Cairo for a few days otherwise all good. Nothing you might not experience over that period of time anyway!

Things stolen: 2  A walking stick Olly used for the Gorilla trek (literally a stick the guide cut for him while walking) that we had on the outside, tucked in the sand ladder in Egypt and a small mirror in Ethiopia

Times we felt threatened: 0 – even in big bad Africa

Number of brilliant, generous, warm, kind people: too many to count – especially in big bad Africa

We don’t really know how to end this so….. we wont. We may be back on the blog but if we are not we can be in touch anyway as we now have phone and internet!!!

Thanks for ‘listening’ and letting us share this with you, for your comments, your thoughts, prayers, encouragement and for coming along with us. For anyone who has stumbled on this as a dreamer- DO IT!!! Whatever your “it” is. Don’t worry about work, money, houses, practicalities- well you will worry a bit about that, but all of it will disappear once you are on the road. We are happy to have questions as others have helped us and besides any excuse to talk about it we will take! :) We are so so lucky and grateful to have been able to do this and not a day has passed that we havent felt it.  We have been moved, touched, inspired and changed.

Lisa and Olly

White Cliffs of Dover

12 July 2013- Loughbourgh, England

Our trip ended yesterday! Wow, what a few weeks we have had. We have been in the UK for a full two weeks and it feels like the blink of an eye and like being on another planet. We have spent most of the last few weeks in northern England and Scotland, seeing a few people and going to a wedding of our dear friends from Sydney, Alice & Tom.

Just after 9 am on Friday 28th June we easily cruised through French and British immigration- The Brits asked us “Where do you live?” We stuttered a few times and they asked if we intend to live here (you go through British immigration while still in France before you get onto the boat) and we look at each other and answered “Yes”.  So…. there you go. We prefer this ferry crossing to the last one we did (which was Egypt to Turkey) and the contrast could not have been more stark, a five-minute booking process online a few days earlier, we drove onboard, left landy downstairs and walked up stairs to a boat with shops, cafes, toilets AND we left on time! Just after 10 am we saw the White Cliffs of Dover and were without a doubt the most blown away people on the boat- no one else even glanced up from their newspaper while we stood at the window saying “Look, England!!” We were off the boat in less than 10 minutes and paused as we passed a half dozen customs officers standing around chatting – nothing different there, they didn’t even glance up as we drove past them and suddenly- we were in England. Driving on the left side after months on the right. Straight away we noticed all the signs in English and could even listen to the radio! We were on a bit of a high and wide eyes for the first bit, “We are in England, we drove here!”

Later in the afternoon Olly drove us into the town he grew up in, as we drove down the hill into town it felt so strange, especially for Olly, to be driving along the roads he knows so well and approaching his parents house in our car from Sydney.  It didn’t feel right that we hadn’t come from the airport or we weren’t being picked up at the train station.  We were met with a big warm teary welcome, all of us happy and a bit stunned! It  hit us that we had actually done it, we had driven all the way from our home in Sydney, across the world and had arrived at Olly’s childhood home.

We had a weekend of family as Olly’s immediate family all arrived for a few days together.  We spent the weekend chatting, playing with the boys (nephews) and eating. The great thing about family is although it had been far far too long since we have seen Olly’s family it was easy and relaxed, almost as though we were here a few weeks ago. To me it felt very dreamy and surreal to Olly it felt a bit easier and more natural. We showed the family our landy and the boys just loved it! They were intrigued by every little thing and of course loved climbing ‘upstairs’ in the bed. It felt very much like a visit and its hard to believe we will be here for  a while, for birthdays, Christmas etc! 

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Harry having a go driving landy

After a few short days we left again to go north to Aberdeen for the wedding. We stopped in York for an afternoon and night with Olly’s mates. Lots of reminiscing for them and catching up, a lot and nothing at all changes in three years, its funny.

Aberdeen was just brilliant. It was so good to see such good friends and watch them marry. I was feeling very out of sorts and seeing them was grounding for me.  It felt great to be a little involved in the wedding build up, attending the girl/boys things they had arranged and seeing family, meeting more family and friends of theirs and helping to set up for the reception. The wedding was beautiful and the Ceilidh  (Gaelic gathering that involves manic and energetic folk dancing) was great fun!!!  While up there we were able to have a night with just Alice and Tom and laughed our heads off and talked like we have many many times before.

We left Aberdeen and saying bye was really crap, knowing the trip was almost over and saying bye to friends was a reality check, time to start thinking of whats next, no wedding to look forward to and a reminder to me my friends are far far away.  We had a day or so in Edinburgh although we were both suffering a bit from late nights and drinking neither of which we have had much of over the past 16 months! Socialising is exhausting :) (def have not had any socialising lately!).  We had both picked up a cold but enjoyed walking around the city, we didn’t go on a pub crawl as planned by Olly to show me his old uni stomping ground. Instead we went back to the B n B we had treated ourselves to, watched telly and went to sleep early!  Oh well….. next time. Getting out and about was really good for me- being back in landy after the weekend staying in a house (Olly’s parents) and seeing the countryside which was beautiful. Our final night was spent in north Yorkshire with some very good friends of Olly’s, David and Elaine and their family. Olly has known David since he was a teenager and David married us in Ireland. We had a great barbie and sat around a fire catching up. The area they live in is very beautiful and almost impossibly picturesque. We woke yesterday to a sunny hot day as we have almost every day since we arrived in the UK and were once again told how unusual that is, especially in Yorkshire and Aberdeen. Its getting a bit worrying how often people are telling us that! We went for a walk with our friend Elaine in the morning marvelling at the beautiful dales (valleys) looking their best.

Being here is very strange and I have felt at a bit of a loss. The main word I would use up to now is overwhelming and Olly’s word is directionless. I think it’s a big change from going to living in landy just the two of us to being around people a lot and rattling around a big house. Its only been a few days out of landy but living in a house is so different, its much easier to go to the loo for one thing, there is so much more privacy, it’s very easy to do things like cook or make a cuppa, we shower barefoot and drink tap water (which took me days to remember I could do and I’m still hesitant).  It seems we are very used to and have grown comfortable with a very basic toilet and a hose hanging from the ceiling for a shower. We never smell sewage here! I guess we stopped smelling it all the time when we got to Europe, for a long while it was ever present. Showering without it is nice. :) Sleeping with walls around you is so quiet and it feels a little suffocating with so little fresh air even with all the doors and windows open. So much has happened at the roadside as we have rumbled past, out on view, but here (and in our cultures) our lives take place mostly behind closed doors and away, walking or driving down the streets it feels as though everyone is tucked away.  To me it feels contained and sterile but we will get used to it. Another big thing for me is the abundance of everything! As well as the ease of things. Want some cheese for lunch? Well there are 50 kinds to choose from in the shop. Want to chat to someone? Internet and phone available almost all the time. Need to do some washing? No worries, there is a machine for that here!  I feel both a little overwhelmed and amazed as well as a fair bit of discomfort about it. We got used to the colour, energy, vibrancy and chaos of Africa and we both miss it. I think there will be a lot we miss.

Now what? Well…. we always knew the trip would end and that’s not a bad thing. Although we could easily keep going (oh soooo easily) neither of us would travel permanently even if we could and for now the time has come.  I think its going to take a while for it to stop reverberating through my every thought and that’s ok with me. Although we are not on the trip anymore I don’t think it will ever go away. A few people have asked us “Has it changed you?” My answer is a resounding yes. I’m not saying I’m a different person but the lens through which I see the world has been altered and although I can’t yet articulate how I am not the same. I have stretched, grown. It will take a long time for both of us to process things and settle in properly. Today is the first day of that.

Landy is going into semi retirement. A few people have asked will we sell her? “NO”. She is a champion and a little tired after all that bumping and the long long distance. We are going to import her into the UK and get her registered here so we can do some holiday trips around the UK and Europe.

This has been a wonderful, moving, exciting experience, certainly the experience of a life time. To be honest I thought there would be times we got sick of it, times we would be over it, but we were so in awe of being the trip and so amazed by what we saw and the people we met, difficulties have been very few and far between. All the what ifs and curiosities didn’t come to be. What if we break down in the middle of nowhere? What if we get sick of it all?  Other people’s what ifs- what if they get sick of each other? What if we get car jacked, eaten by animals, etc etc.  Well none of it came to be. We didn’t get bored and were never sick of it and we certainly didn’t get sick of each other.  There were a few times we got frustrated with things or impatient about having to move kit to get to stuff in the early days but we just got used to it and that faded quickly. Of course there were times we got irritated with each other but only a few and not for long.  A big thing for me has been doing this with Olly. The shared dreaming, shared planning shared experiences and now shared memories – it’s so very special to have with your life partner. I have learned a lot about myself. I have also learned a lot about Olly, all of it I like, except he is an dreadful ‘backseat driver’. :) There is nothing you don’t see and know about each other travelling like we have. I love that we have set our mind to something and made it happen together, I know we could set our mind to other things and make them happen too.

Perhaps the biggest thing is the simplicity, the make do, the humbleness  A trip absorbs you, enthrall you, you are busy planning, learning, being very stimulated by the people and things you see, you are busy processing these new experiences, problem solving, interacting with people and places, although you may be moving this life becomes normal, you build up routines, become very self-sufficient, and have great fun!

The highlights are too numerous to list but we have seen some incredible nature from reefs in Aus to big cats at a kill in Africa and the people we have met have been inspiring, interesting, generous, humorous and beautiful.

L and O

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White Cliff of Dover- England!

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Charlie and Harry checking out ‘upstairs’

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Wedding in Aberdeen

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With the happy groom!

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With the beautiful bride

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A little post ceremony tipple with Alice’s brothers

Last of Europe

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Our last day in Europe, looking over the English Channel in France

June 2013, North coast of France

We saw a glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover this afternoon as we arrived. We are camped on nice grassy patch, it’s a cool afternoon here on the coast and we are both loving a little of what we love about France- some cheese and biscuits for dinner with a cheap and v good bottle of wine. We are sitting at our camp having a glass of red in our plastic Spider Man and Shrek cups loving our life in landy. It’s very hard to believe its our last night in Europe before going to the UK. Excited? Sad? Not really as it doesn’t feel remotely real yet. But our ferry is booked for 9:50am, Calais to Dover.

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Dubrovnik

A bit of a back track about the rest of Europe. We spent most of our time in eastern Europe and just buzzed through western Europe. Europe is a head spin! So organised, clean, quiet and easy.  I was far more comfortable in the less developed eastern European countries we went through. We had a brilliant time walking the walls of Dubrovnik in Croatia, what a city. It was really hot and we waited until as late in the day as we could to see if it would cool any, it did but only a tiny bit. The city walls are the most complete in the world and provide magnificent views all the way around of the shimmering sea and the enchanting and incredibly picturesque old part of the city.

As soon as we reached the very northern bit of Croatia and crossed into Slovenia (our last border crossing until we reached the UK) there was a drastic change in both landscape and temperature. We had spent the last few weeks boiling, especially in Montenegro and Croatia and everything had a real Mediterranean feel to it, suddenly the temperature dropped (felt cold to us) and the scenery was very Alpine, different trees, different smell and feel and different architecture. We zipped through Slovenia with just one night there, beautiful mountains and magnificent church spires dotted all over. One of the places we decided to have a look at (we only chose a few for Europe, not trying to see too much in a short time) was the Grossglockner Alpine road, a drive that snaked its way up towards the snow capped peaks. We ended up driving through falling snow in landy for the first and only time on the whole trip! Very beautiful and great to be in the mountains, I couldn’t resist throwing a snowball at Olly which, as it often does, backfired! The problem with a snow ball fight is how do you end it? We ran around and around landy which is fine for a while but something has to give! I knew I couldn’t jump back in landy, lock the door and roll up the window in time but I tried anyway and got a big cold splat right in the face!

Germany was a blurr, especially as I picked up a nasty head cold and was feeling pretty rubbish and dozing a lot as we made our way along the autobahn. Every car seemed to be new, spotless and expensive looking, just us rattling along with everyone passing us going at least double our speed! Germany was also where we really felt “We are in Europe” in that it must be the opposite of Africa- so efficient, polished and structured and so much of everything. We stopped to get petrol and found ourselves at a massive complex with two restaurants where you could buy everything, food, newspapers, magazines, toys- we stood there looking around at all the stuff around and feeling very happy to retreat to landy. I have a feeling I will be happy to do that at times as the choice becomes overwhelming, we forgot that is the norm (well the norm for our culture). Weird. Anyway off to Belgium where we decided we would keep going and try to find somewhere nice and small and did we ever, we ended up having a brilliant night. We randomly got off the highway, drove around a bit and found a nice small village where we stopped for a meal out in a pub, tasted some different beers, which the Belgium do so well and then found a picnic area in the woods to pull into for the night, so much better than a camp ground. Surrounded by trees and chirping birds, starting to notice how late it stays light out we happily stayed the night there. The next day, yesterday, was spent a happy time walking around Brugge tasting some yummy chocolates and a cone full of chips with a huge blob of mayonnaise, which was one of my favourite things last time I was in Belgium, yum! So tomorrow we are off to England. Wow…..

L and O

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Enjoying an ice cream on a very hot day in Dubrovnik

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On the walls, Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Dubrovnik

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Austria

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Brugge

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Brugge

Europe

June 2013- Kotor Bay, Montenegro

What a place! We are staying right across a narrow road from what must be the most beautiful bay in the world! Three steps and we can dive into the sea. The dramatic mountains drop steeply right into the bay which is dotted with gorgeous little villages clinging to the shore. Its 8:30 in the morning and already very hot in the sun. Olly is making pancakes that we are going to smother with bananas, peaches, fresh yoghurt and some maple syrup. Mmmmmm…… Our breakfast is a multicultural affair. Our yoghurt is fresh and local, our tea is from Rwanda, our honey is Egyptian and the flour is Namibian! :)

We have been zooming through countries, like one of those 10 countries in ten days tours you can do! Obviously getting held up in Egypt has taken some time off our Europe leg as we are going to a wedding of some very good friends that we wont miss so we still need to get to the UK at the same time. So we have decided to just enjoy a few places and not try to see too much. European countries are mostly so small, some of them we will just be transiting through very quickly.

We made our way to Istanbul on mostly smaller roads which was a nice way to see some countryside and played car cricket as we drive along. We were invited to tea when we stopped to get fuel, we sat in happy silence (no shared language) with our hosts, the two blokes who gave up diesel, and sipped a little beaker of tea with them. Istanbul was fantastic- what a city! It is such a mix of east and west. We decided to stay right in the city so we could have the advantage of walking everywhere, the campground we heard of is an hour from the city. We found a hostel that said it had parking although we were a bit suspicious how it could in the city but went for it anyway and figured we would sort it out when we got there. We arrived on Sunday 16th June a day with more protests planed for Taksim Square. The travel warnings about Turkey have been coming in thick and fast and more so for the 16th to keep watch and stay aware as problems looked likely. We had not had any internet for a few days so weren’t sure what had been happening but had asked where we were staying the night before and they said don’t worry about it. He also said it was just a few people, that turned out to be not the case! As we approach the Bosphorus, the body of water that separates the Asian side of Istanbul with the European side we were getting more and more excited. Even from afar the city is beautiful. As we approached the bridge we noticed large groups of police dressed in full riot gear all standing and sitting around. We assumed protesters had tried to block the bridge (which turned out to be the case) and of course the bridge is a major area of the city so police would not allow it to be blocked. We had looked on the map where Taksim Square was and knew we were not staying near it, what we didn’t know is that we would drive very near it and right through the protesters on their way there! As we drove through the city we saw a road sign to Taksim Square and were happy to be directed away from it by the GPS. We saw increasing numbers of police lining the road, certainly the largest police presence either of us have ever seen. As we drove we noticed ahead of us a commotion and the cars and buses in front of us stopping, soon we saw why. On the other side of the road but spilling onto both sides was a group pf people, we couldn’t see yet how large, wearing surgical masks, some with gas masks, many with helmets or hard hats and red scarves, carrying turkish flags and shouting, clapping, and singing. A few of the cars in front of us did a quick U turn and a few went straight. We made the split second decision to go straight. So glad we did, although it looked the most intimidating way it was by far the best thing we could have done. We were both nervous and unsure as we were not sure what we were driving into but within a minute we could see it was all fine! The group at first looked like few hundred, but as we carried on we could see many thousands of people on their way to the square. So glad we didn’t turn around or arrive a few minutes later or we would have met the protesters walking past the police we had seen a few blocks earlier. People streamed by, shouting, waving giving us the peace sign, the few cars around us honking which really got people going but there was not even a hint of aggression or anything and despite what the government might say the most obvious thing about the group of people streaming past us was that they were normal people. Young and old, lots of couples. They all looked like they were headed for dinner or something, the only thing that gave them away was they had masks around their necks and most were carrying helmets. They certainly were not a group of hooligans. No doubt the Prime Minister has his supporters but from what we can gather the vast majority of people there believe he is trying to bring Turkey towards more Islamic state, which they do not want. Turkey is guaranteed to stay secular based on the constitution and people want it to stay that way. There were clashes that night as there is every night now but we were far away and didn’t hear or see a thing.

Istanbul captured both of us. Driving through the small streets of the old town, where we stayed and found our hostel, which was tucked on a dead end back street and was the perfect place to leave landy for a few days, safely parked. We could see glimpses of the incredible buildings that seem to be everywhere in the old town and soon saw the startlingly beautiful Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) and the Blue Mosque. Wow. We enjoyed walking around the old area of Istanbul and seeing amazing buildings poking out everywhere. I also got pummelled and relaxed at a Turkish hamam (bath) and for the first time since Durban my feet are clean!

Our highlights of Turkey in a nutshell:

After the heat, dust and dirt of Egypt swimming in the blue blue waters of the Med

The food! Amazing bread, cheese, fab fresh fruit and veg, and all things Turkish, we have eaten them in other places but not in Turkey! – gozleme, Turkish bread (we don’t know it’s called here!), Turkish delight and baklava. So much better there!

The cherries, they deserve a special mention- we were given some freshly picked off a tree when we stopped for a picnic, an old couple waddled up and gave us heaps of cherries had some bread and cheese with us (we were having our lunch) and toddled away climbed the ladder and started picking again. Not a word of common language between us. So lovely and the cherries were DELICIOUS!

Istanbul- charming, full of history, modern, old- the lot!

The single most noticeable and memorable  thing by far was the complete head spin of the dramatic change from Africa, where we have been for over seven months. No doubt the ‘biggest’ border we have crossed.

We left Istanbul after spending a morning in the incredible Aya Sofya and hit the road for Greece where we did some more eating :). We have a lot to get used to in Europe- as we drove along we saw two police cars near the road and the men standing there looked up at us so we pulled over, they looked at us, we looked at them and finally they said “Do you need something?” We said “Oh, we thought we were to stop!” We are so used to road blocks we just saw them and assumed! None of that here then.  We decided at the last minute to go through Macedonia as it turned out to be a shorter route and stopped yesterday afternoon at Ohrid in Macedonia. Ohrid is a lovely town right on Lake Ohrid and we spent a very nice afternoon walking through its old crocked cobblestone streets and following the boardwalk around part of the lake. It was a busy town with eastern Europeans on holidays and people jumping in the water and having drinks. We drove down the lake and spent the night tucked away right in the far south of Macedonia very near the border, near a tiny harbour hoping the people at the hotel we were next to wouldn’t mind us staying the night there. We slept well and snuck off early in the morning for a swim and hit the road again yesterday.

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These things bring good luck and in Turkey they are everywhere- in cars, buses, on the boat we went on, in shops and sometimes you even see them in the footpath.

We drove through Albania yesterday. We only saw it from the road and  our eating stops. There must be an election coming very soon as everywhere was covered in political party flags and billboards. Albania has bunkers that dot the countryside, during communism they built 700,000! That was interesting to see.

The borders here are EASY!!! In fact we have not even had to get out of the car, you drive up and show your passport and they ask one or two things and off we go. Although yesterday coming in to Montenegro they didn’t believe our rego papers for landy were the rego papers. They obviously normally see European ones and we went back and forth with a very annoyed border guy who didn’t speak English and was just shouting in the widow “vehicle papers” over and over. Anyway we got through and arrived here…. Hot hot and found this perfect campsite. On the big front grass of a couple’s house. We had a ‘chat’ (again no shared language at all) with the lovely leathery wrinkly old man, who was just delighted to hear us say Australia. His son and grandchildren live in Melbourne and are here visiting now! After much handshaking and back patting with the lovely old fella and as soon as we could politely we rushed away and jumped into the water, ah……….

We walked along the tiny narrow road that hugs the bay, the sun very hot so we spent the walk admiring the scenery and seeking shade, another few swims and made some dinner and finally the sun set and it was cooler. This place is already on the “List of Places to Go Back To”.

Later….dreamy sigh… lovely day. We have been swimming, reading, swimming, lunch then swimming…. At some stage during the very hot afternoon a guy came in a van and opened all the doors to reveal big wooden crates overflowing with fruit and veg so we stocked up. He even had some wine, he opened a bottle let us taste it and then if you decided yes he puts a lid on it and its yours. He patted his chest pointed at the wine and said “my family” Much later after an early dinner at landy we went out for a walk when it cooled a little. A bus came tearing down the tiny narrow road and we decided to hop on, and ended up in the village of Kotor. Brilliant! We had no idea what to expect and found a small town surrounded by old city walls that surrounded the town and arched up scaling the steep mountains above to encircle a church and at the very top a fort.  We had an ice cream, sat and watched people and found a funky little bar down a tiny alleyway for a beer. What a treasure. We walked along the bay a bit to see the walls lit up at night and then went back to landy.

L and O

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Europe!

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The start of the protesters, Istanbul

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Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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Basilica Cistern

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I have always thought Turkish delight tastes like washing up liquid but these were yummy! L

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The inside of the incredible Aya Sofya- photos couldn’t do it justice.

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Out of Africa

15 June 2013- Pamukkale, Turkey

We are happy and tired. We have just got back to our camp after visiting some amazing ruins and a white wonderland. We have had a great day.

Backtrack and catch up. Well….we finally arrived in Turkey on Tuesday 11 June after 48 hours on the boat. The rest of the trip was uneventful, a good thing! The toilets were truly indescribable but we are off the boat now and hopefully that memory will fade. Anyway we arrived just offshore of Iskenderun around 8 am after our second night on the boat, after sitting outside the port for a few hours made we then docked around mid-day. We then hurriedly sat at around for another three hours waiting for whatever, we didn’t ask, why bother! We did ask about our passports however, which we had not seen since the previous Thursday when we had given them to the agent in Port Said. They had given them to someone at the port so that must be part of what we waited for. Suddenly a guy came with them and trucks started moving, we said a quick bye to the Lithuanian couple and Richard, the British guy, as well as a few Syrian families we had spent the few days with and got off the boat quickly- the trucks were happy to let us go ahead of them. We had customs meet us once we left the boat to check out landy- by far the most through check yet. One guy (who the other guy called ‘my suspicious friend’) who was in plain clothes was really tapping and knocking on things listening for hollow spaces, he was very interested in the sound he heard when he knocked on our ceiling, which is the bottom of our bed and sounds very hollow. We made it very clear we were happy to show them whatever they wanted to see, eager in fact. That might have helped as he sort of stopped looking after that. He even almost found our secret hiding place (which just has some emergency cash, nothing too exciting!). Then we were told we had to leave the port to get our paperwork competed. Of course we couldn’t take landy as she was not stamped in yet so we walked out of the port into town and went to customs where they ummed and ahhhed and stamped our papers.  Thankfully we got to the office just before it shut at 5.30, otherwise another night would be spent before we could head off.  All sorted. Finally…… we left and were free in Turkey!

What an absolute head spin, straight away from the outset, and our heads are still spinning! Almost no women cover their heads, the roads are excellent, it’s so quiet, so clean, no animals or people on the highways. There is electricity everywhere and running water everywhere (well everywhere we have been anyway). There are street lights, traffic lights- that work AND people appear to stop at them. It’s all very weird!

We just wanted to be on the road again so we drove a few hours, even in the dark- no animals or people. We had our first night in a very basic but fantastic campsite right on the water overlooking two castles and then a spent a few days driving along the coast. It was a beautiful drive at times, passing a million tiny places to stop for tea and food, which we did trying yummy fresh things here and there and the endless cups of tea they serve in small glass beakers. The first night we stopped at a roadside truckstop for a quick bite thinking it may be pretty awful. It was delightful! I realised with a sigh I needed the toilet, we spent the whole time on the ferry trying not to go to the loo. But… I walked into the toilets, this is at a place on the side of the road and I couldn’t believe it- clean with toilet that flushed no ‘water’ on the floor and even somewhere to wash your hands, amazing! I can’t get over the toilets here. As a women going to the loo is not always easy when there are none around or the ones around are a health hazard and you would much rather go on the side of the road which is not always easy with people watching your every move or two hundred Turkish truck drivers as is the case on the ferry. Anyway Olly had some meat and we shared a salad which was served with wonderful tea, fresh bread and was all very fresh and tasty and clean- at a place on the side of the highway. We were blown away. We had tea stops at a few of the tiny places perched up high looking over the Med. We also at times drove past mile and mile of massive soulless hotels full of people on package holidays, could have been anywhere. We were starting to hope where we were headed wasn’t like that! Then we arrived in Kas- a lovely low key town nestled in a small bay. Our camp site was right on the sea and easy walking distance from the town centre and harbour. We have had a lovely few days! Wearing shorts (which we haven’t done for a few months now as it’s not appropriate), using the clean toilets and just generally feeling pleased but also overwhelmed by all the…. all the something. Turkey is definitely not Europe and no doubt if we started the trip here we would notice all the culturally different things but to us its just so… easy. I have a feeling the familiar is going to be more unfamiliar to us than the unfamiliar was at the start of Africa. If that makes sense.

Olly washed landy and we enjoyed a few amazing breakfasts of fresh bread, fresh soft cheese, local honey, jam, fantastic olives, tomato and cucumber in olive oil, a boiled egg and sometimes a bit of salami or something, served with tea of course, yummy. We have taken to it after eating out the first few mornings until we found some supplies and now enjoy it every morning.

Straight away I noticed women with no their heads not covered (unusual in Egypt and unheard of in Sudan) and even short sleeve shirts. I get a lot less stares, men shake my hand and speak to me as much as Olly. Although it only bothered me a few times it’s really noticeable now that it’s not there.  Although 99% of the population here is Muslim, Islam is a moderate influence unlike in Egypt and Sudan. This is very noticeable to us, beer is available everywhere so far (illegal in Sudan and unless you are at a resort not easy to find in Egypt and there is an expectation you are discreet).

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Our view from bed the first day in Turkey

We spent yesterday out on the sea on a beautiful boat. It was a great day spent motoring along on the impossibly blue water, past ruins of an old city that was destroyed several thousand years ago in an earthquake, the ruins of a castle and old tombs carved into the side of cliffs. We stopped for swims and a wonderful lunch on the boat and after the wind picked up had a rough ride back to the harbour where we had some cake and tea.

This morning Olly went paragliding! He launched off the top of a large hillside that overlooks Kas. I stayed in town and watched him turn and twist and glide down and land right in the marina.

We left late morning today and have come to Pamukkale where we spent the afternoon being amazed by incredible Roman ruins,  built around a set of springs.  There is even a spring fed crystal clear pool with columns and ruins that you can swim amongst.  Just below the ruined city the spring water fans out into hundreds of natural, pure white terraces that cover the slope.  It is an amazing sight, pure white, as if you are looking at fresh snow.  Calcite precipitating out of the water forms barriers, damming the water into hundreds of little pools.

Tomorrow we are going to Istanbul for a few days. We have been keeping an eye on things and asking around. Although there are still protests and some have turned violent, they have been confined to a single area of the city and the protesters and government are now in talks so things will hopefully be quiet, otherwise we will just head off.

L and O

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Turkish Breakfast

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Tombs carved into the mountain- Kas

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Getting ready to land

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Calcite Terraces

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Swimming with the ruins

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Ruins of Hierapolis

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On the road (water) again

10 June 2013- Somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea (nearish Cyprus)

It’s a lovely sunny afternoon and we are sitting by Landy in the shade watching the beautiful blue Med pass, its like we are on a lovely cruise except the shade is from a truck and when we look around we see all the big trucks surrounding us, this is our little oasis on the ship.

On Sunday we went to the shipping agent office in Port Said at noon as instructed and they told us to come back at 2pm and wait across the road outside gate 20 until Faourk (a guy who works there and was sorting the extension of our visas) brought our passports. No worries, we expected that, just not sure why they couldn’t tell us things like that over the phone. Nothing could bother us that day, except not getting on the boat! So we had some lunch and then took our bags and stood on the street corner, next to one of the gates to the port and watched street life race by.  Two o’clock came and went as we knew it would, and we decided we would ring and check up on things. Our fixer came and gave us our carnet, which means landy is stamped out of Egypt and he said Faourk from the shipping agent would show us how to get landy on the boat when we arrived with our passports, Faourk should arrive in 30 minutes. The fixers job was over so we paid him the rest of what we owed. He said to ring him if we need anything else. Its funny, we are still not totally comfortable with 30 minutes not even remotely resembling 30 minutes. Thirty odd years of thinking 30 minutes in somewhere in the vicinity of half an hour overrides our experiences of the past 7.5 months in Africa. So an hour or so later we rang to check on things again, after all we didn’t have our passports or know how we were getting landy on the ship. No luck, poor Faourk was given the only English speaking customers and he doesn’t speak English. So asking him over the phone when he will arrive with our passports was futile, although as is so often the case when you know someone can’t understand you still chat away, us asking him in English when is he coming and telling him we were still at gate 20 and him chatting away in Arabic saying who knows what.

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Waiting at gate 20 for about four hours

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Ringing to check up on things- is someone bringing our passports?

We stood around for about three hours people watching on that busy street, the mad driving, the banging on gas cylinders as the sellers passing with their donkey cart selling gas to homes and businesses, the shouting of people coming past selling fish, fruit and veg and of course the constant, never-ending blaring of horns and building works, this is the sound track of Port Said and one we are very familiar with. Suddenly the gate opened and they started to let people trickle in, there were not many passengers waiting as this is primarily a trucking route so all the drivers had been waiting with their trucks. There was a handful of Syrian families and a few of us tourists. Suddenly we had to go in and start the process of getting on the boat but had no idea how to get landy or where our passports were. From here it got a bit stressful. We frantically rang the agent and the fixer over and over, both no answer. It was starting to look like there was a chance we wouldn’t get on the boat (we couldn’t go without landy and there was nobody around to ask anything). Earlier a Turkish guy had spoken to me and I remembered he spoke really good English so I found him and asked him for help, we rang Faourk together and he translated. Farouk had no idea that we were waiting for him to help us get landy on board (landy was in customs storage), this is not the agents job, it’s the fixers who had told us that he had spoken to Farouk and arranged for him to assist us with our car. Anyway Faourk arrived and was busy but took pity on us and with the Turkish guy translating our desperation, Farouk suddenly motioned for us to get into his car. We just had time to grab our bags and say a very quick thank you to the friendly guy who translated for us, I have no doubt we would not have got on the boat without him, his answer to our thanks “You’re my brother and sister, it is my pleasure”. Next thing we knew Faourk zoomed us to landy and we quickly jumped in and followed him through the massive port area to the boat. Thank god for that! We were pretty stressed by that point! We were told to wait for some trucks that were loading, we didn’t care how long we had to wait by then, we were getting on! Around 6pm we drove up the ramp and were directed to the top open deck, we were onboard!! We sat around on the top deck near landy happy to have her back and be finally onboard.  We watched the sunset over Port Said from the ship then went inside. It’s a nice enough ship, but we wont discuss the toilets. We chatted to some of the Syrian people that we had met outside and made friends with a few sweet little kids who were daring each other to run up and touch us, before sprinting away.  One man, that we met a week earlier in the agent’s office, was returning home with his family to a country that is at war, it’s heartbreaking. He solemnly told me there is no school in Syria now and his children attend school in Egypt, they have now run out of money so they must all go back to Syria. Things are very bad there he told us, very bad. I felt a lump in my throat and squeezed his hand when he left saying I hope his family is safe, he squeezed mine back and said thank you. We spotted each other amongst the people waiting outside the gate before getting onboard and I met his wife and kids. His wife was covered from head to toe with only her eyes showing, funny how that really makes you look at someones eyes.  We couldn’t speak to each other but with a few smiles and hand gestures said hello. Anyway we spent the first few hours on the ferry drinking tea, chatting to people and children coming up and saying over and over the one thing they know in English “My name is…”  Onboard is a Lithuanian couple who have been hitching around the world and an English guy, Richard who has been in Africa for a few months and is desperate to get home now. We met him the other day in town and straight away recognised the wide-eyed frustration of a fellow overlander in Egypt. He was stuck in Aswan coming in from Sudan for 11 days and they dented his vehicle. He was fed up with Egypt!

We waited onboard not knowing when we would leave, at one stage someone said it would be the next morning. We were not really bothered now we were onboard, and had given up guessing when we would arrive in Turkey! Dinner was served, rice with meat and potato soup thing and bread.  The bread is recycled, when you take your tray back whatever bread is left on it, they scoop up and pile it up and put it back into the serving line, so you are just as likely to get a bit of bread with teeth marks in it than not. Poor Richard didn’t notice it at dinner or breakfast and has just found out this at lunch today, the look on his face was priceless! After dinner we went out on deck to landy and happily got into our own bed, we are both so happy to be back in our landy! About midnight we noticed we were moving, we slowly started to glide away our last look at Egypt and Africa was out of the window of our pop top from bed. Once we were away from the lights of the city we could see the stars from bed, we love that. For safety and security you are not usually allowed in the vehicle area of any boat, as was signposted all over the ship, but in this case they didn’t take seem to take notice of that so we have spent most of the day sitting outside landy. We are on the top deck, tucked in surrounded by dozens of trucks and the Turkish drivers sitting around smoking sheesha and drinking tea. Its nicer than being inside with the TV blaring, just hours of reports of the protests in Turkey in Turkish. The trip is supposed to be around 28 hours so in theory we should arrive about 4 am but it will take ages to get into port and off the boat so we will just sit tight until we are told to drive landy off.

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Made it on the boat!

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Our spot on the ship

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Our neighbours

Still here

2 June 2013, Sunday- Port Said, Egypt

We are still here. And will be until Wednesday or Thursday. This morning was a shouting, gesturing confusing mess. The corruption and inefficiency in Egypt is really quiet amazing and also a bit disturbing. We had someone tell us today (this was a professional working in a management role in the shipping office) that the people at customs see their job to laugh, smoke, drink tea and eat and that we can put a form on someone’s desk and he most likely will refuse to sign it until he has been paid (a bribe) large enough to satisfy him. And the only way to change this is to have a nuclear bomb in Egypt and start over. Nice.

We have been stalking the bloody boat online and as always I was looking at it at 5 am and its on its way here!!!! And it is, it will arrive tomorrow morning and likely leave tomorrow afternoon BUT we wont be on it. As it sails from a different port (right up the road) we have to organise landy with customs, to get it out of this port and into that one, and we can’t get it done in time. Even though the agent and fixer have known about this since Thursday. Nothing was done on the Thursday or of course over the weekend (weekend here is Friday and Saturday). They didn’t tell us Thursday that given it was a weekend the next day it wouldn’t be possible, instead they said see you Sunday, we will sort it then. We spent three hours in loud discussions with them this morning. They think we should wait and take the next boat out of Port Said (where landy is currently in customs).  It had been strongly suggested to us by the ferry company to get on this next one tomorrow (from the other port).

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Port Said

Our visas expire the day the next boat (from this port) leaves so if it is running a bit late (which lets face it seems likely) our visas will expire. The morning started by us going to the office at the arranged time, 10 am. The person we were to meet turned up at 11, no explanation. Then he told us it’s not possible to change the port because it will cost money (which we knew) and there is NO way the shipping company will pay. Somehow I ended up with the number of the owner of the shipping company in Turkey (I don’t know that’s who I have been speaking to all morning before Ahmed strolled in an hour late for our meeting). The owner of the shipping company has apologies repeatedly, is embarrassed and this morning offered to pay the costs associated with getting landy moved to the other port. Ahmed at the agent here couldn’t believe I was speaking to the owner, who spoke to him saying the company will pay. Then our fixer arrived (two hours late as usual) and said its impossible to get it done in such little time. We had met with him Thursday afternoon and he said it was possible as long as we knew we would have to pay. He knew when the boat was leaving! Anyway on and on and on and the story keeps changing, the amount keeps changing then they tell us the shipping company rang and said they wouldn’t pay so I rang them back and he got a bit annoyed saying I did not say that! What the hell?!!! Back and forth again and again.

Getting anything done here is like standing on quicksand, it moves and you are never on firm ground. It’s like a mirage, you keep walking towards it but it keeps moving! Anyway for some unknown reason customs needs two FULL days (they close at 2pm!!) to give us the necessary paperwork to move ports. They also need an insurance policy that we will leave the port here and go to the new port without doing a runner? We pointed out that is what a carnet is.

The Operations Manager at the shipping company in Turkey (who the owner had put us on to saying he would sort it) rang me and said “Listen I had the wife of the owner (I had no idea that was the women I have been speaking to, I assumed she was a receptionist) on the phone. She is very upset, she has spoken to you and told me to get you out of Egypt! I have told the agent in Port Said to do whatever it takes, pay baksheesh, do you know what that means? I don’t mean a tip I mean a bribe to whoever to get you to the other port.” He was pretty worked up. He then said he has lived in Egypt and works all the time with Egyptian customs (He is Turkish and lives in Turkey) and said you will get to the other port but there is 90% it wont be in time and if you miss that ferry customs WILL NOT allow you to transfer back, unless you pay thousands of US dollars. I told him I didn’t know what to think as the people here keep saying something different and he said they will say whatever you want to hear! He also told us the agent can sort our visas if need be. WHY didn’t they tell us that!

Anyway we decided to leave it and stay here, it’s too big of risk. If we miss the boat tomorrow we will be in major trouble here and who knows what would happen. We asked them about the visa thing, yep they can ‘sort it’ if need be. The thing is all the time it took for us to do this customs could have been doing our paperwork to transfer ports. BUT the X factor is the bribes required and who goes for lunch or is smoking and can’t be bothered to sign a paper etc. We had to take the word of the Turkish Operations Manager. He has offered to do whatever we need even a flight out of Turkey when we get there.

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Ferry to Port Fuad, across the Suez Canal

We know this is nothing a tiny tiny blip. We are safe, we are well and we will get there. It’s all part of the trip, part of travelling. Maybe its a lesson in letting go? BUT its is frustrating and maddening that the story, the costs and process change constantly. No one turns up on time, we are waiting for our fixer now who was supposed to be here 2 hours ago. And if one more person says “Don’t worry” (they say it all the time but don’t DO anything that needs to happen!) I will loose it. I said 5 times today “With all due respect I am worried!” They also said today its 100% going on Wed or Thursday now… Uh yeah we will see. We told them they cant guarantee that!

Big love hate relationship with Egypt right now. Love the warm passionate people and the extraordinary history and culture but hate the corruption, bureaucracy and trying to get anything done! Maddening.

We’ll get there.

L

5th June, Wednesday still here……

We are getting to know Port Said well,  making friends with the staff at cafes, becoming regular sights wandering the streets.  There are not many tourists here so I guess we stick out a bit.  With Landy stuck in customs we have been staying in a cheap hotel, thankfully they have let us stay on and on, as we have often thought we will be on our way in a couple of days. We have wondered more than once what people think we are doing here for so long and wearing the same clothes!

The town is on the Mediterranean, right at the mouth of the Suez Canal, a couple of times we have looked up the street to see it blocked off at the end by a huge wall of containers gliding past, a ship heading on its way, but so close it could be part of the city.  The place is like every other Egyptian city in that it looks like an earthquake has just hit, with some buildings falling down, others being built, piles of rubble strewn here and there and rubbish blowing about.  There are some beautiful buildings still here though, especially some of the ornate wooden balconies.

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They know our names at the restaurant! Thanks Adel for the cake :)

Yesterday I was treated to a special day, heading over the road for our usual cuppa and chatting to friends and family on skype who wished me a happy birthday.  It is so great to find a place with good enough internet to catch up with people properly.  Lisa had been busy and managed to find from somewhere some decorations and a kite, and she suggested we walk down to the waterfront to watch the sunset and set my lovely pink kite free to soar above the busy beach.  Lots of Egyptians seem to come here for holidays and along the sea there was a mass of families sitting around in groups, kids racing around, karts cooking and selling corn, nuts and candy floss.  The kite was flying high and we handed it over to a little boy who was soon joined by his brother and sister.  It was great to be out of the town and away from the cars, but the brown sea and dirty beach wasn’t quite enticing enough for us to go for a paddle or a swim.  We walked back across the beach and past lots of outdoor projectors and music blaring out, getting ready to catch the families after dark.  We found our way to a cafe we had been to before and had the best sea food soup ever.  And finished our meal romantically in the dark as the power went out. :)

It will certainly be a birthday to remember, one in Africa, just.  In a couple of days I think (and hope) we will be sailing north and away from Africa, this amazing continent that we have been lucky enough to get a taste of.  So many amazing people who have been so kind to us and wished us well, so many fantastic places seen and so many unforgettable experiences, and yet we have just brushed the surface, just passed through.

O

6 June, Thursday Port Said…..

One more update. Well the 100% Wed or Thur has turned in to Sat or Sunday. We spoke to the agent yesterday who told us to bring our passports to the office today and speak to Farouk the passport guy. Our visas expire today. We arrived and were met by a rude and dismissive guy we have met before and things didn’t go well. More raised voices on all sides and Olly being pushed from an office when he asked when we could speak to someone. Anyway not handled well all around (including by us) a different guy came out and apologised to Olly that the guy pushed him and we sat and had a friendly productive conversation with him. He explained what we need to do next and we paid for our visa extensions and went on our way. We have let go, and we will leave when we leave. Its more the principle of the whole thing! We wandered back along some small side streets through the market area, fish, lots of veggies and dead cows hanging around. Interestingly the tails still have fur but the heads are skinned. We bought some fruit from our fruit guy and smiled at this place we have both enjoyed and felt stuck in. We know people now, the waiters at places we go, the old guy who sells cigarettes on the street with an incredibly gravely voice, the fruit man, the ladies at the stationery shop, the ladies who work where we are staying. There really isn’t much here so days are blending together- we read, we walk amongst the rubbish, cats and cars and smells (not relaxing but interesting). We even found one restaurant where you can buy beer. We ran into our fixer today who told us what we need to do with landy when it’s finally time to go. We are both excited to go to Europe and will be reflective over these next few weeks, the last of this amazing adventure.

L and O

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Our view

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Birthday kite flying on Port Said beach

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Birthday surprise! With the waiter Adel

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Not leaving yet

26 May 2013- Port Said, Egypt

Our ferry was supposed to leave 23th or 24th then it went to 24th or 25th. Now we are not sure, 28th? In the meantime we are getting to know Port Said well!

We arrived a few days ago and found a hotel to stay at, from what we gather there is nowhere to camp here and landy had to go into customs anyway. Almost straight away we went across the road for a cuppa and met a Dutch couple who told us the cafe has free wifi (and very good too, the best we have had for ages) they saw us drive up in landy and we starting chatting to them. They had been in Port Said ten days waiting for the ferry and had now abandoned that idea and were shipping their car back to Europe and flying back themselves, he has to be back to work Monday. They brought their car to Africa ten years ago and leave it here in different places in between coming over on their holidays for a few weeks each year and carrying on with their travels. :) Anyway we rang our fixer, Eslam who arrived later to meet us. We discussed the details of money and got that over with. He said to meet him the next morning at 9 or 9:30 ish and we would start the customs proceedings. Every other country we have been to the exit customs ‘proceedings’ has been to get the carnet stamped and once or twice they have opened the back of landy, after all most places don’t care what you are taking out of a country (with a few exceptions of course of diamonds and ivory etc). Anyway we wanted to limit the amount of time landy is in customs but Eslam strongly recommended we start the proceedings the next day, being a Thursday as the ferry was meant to leave Saturday and nothing happens on Friday so there may or may not be time Saturday to sort it all out.

We went to our room, shut the balcony door (which looks over the street and all its happenings) and settled into our room, which is very adequate (has water and a toilet AND cleanish sheet, my favourite) and crashed, the first time we have not been woken for each call to prayer. Sleeping in a building is so different to sleeping in landy! The next morning, Thursday we waited for Eslam for a while and his brother arrived and had us follow him. We put a few things in the room that we would need over coming days while landy was away and followed him a few places. First the shipping company’ s agent to get some documents done- truth be told most of the time we had no idea what we were doing as Eslam’s brother didn’t speak English and we just gave our passports when requested. It is so so worth having a fixer in Egypt, I can’t even begin to imagine doing this without one. You pay them and they sort all the rules, 20 pages of documents and plenty of back patting, buttering up and hand shaking with money goes on. We assured the shipping agent we have paid for our tickets with the ferry company but they had not received word of this yet so he just wanted us to wait until we had, with some nice talking we managed to get him to do what he needed to so we could leave and go to customs and assured him the company would send him word that we have paid. We then followed two of Eslam’s guys on motor bikes, as if they were our outriders clearing the way ahead to customs and met Eslam there. A bit of waiting later they scratched a copy of our VIN number onto a bit of paper with a pencil and customs came to check landy (all this who haw for customs!) who literally opened the back door, pulled back the curtain then closed the door. BUT landy has to stay in customs until we leave now. In case we steal a mummy and try to do a runner? Not sure. Then we took landy to customs storage and I waited there and watched wrestling with two blokes and drank tea while Olly had to go show his passport to someone else and sign a few things and drink tea. I’ve never watched wrestling before, its absurd. Anyway then we were done, a few easy hours. Now the waiting.

We have spent the last few days walking around, had a meal with the Dutch couple, watching videos on the computer at night (we have power!) and tracking the ferry online. I was feeling really positive about it all, you can never get a straight answer but we though if not Sat then surely it will leave Sunday? Then yesterday morning we looked at the website and found our ferry, Yipppeeee she left Turkey, but wait, the destination says Syros!? That doesn’t sound Egyptian, it sounds Greek! The ferry was supposed to be leaving Port Said that night and its on its way to Greece?! We rang the agent here who told us it is not leaving but maybe day after tomorrow. What does that mean? So my feisty side kicked in and I thought we are not waiting around for someone to tell us whats going on. I rang the shipping company in Turkey and was told the ferry has had engine troubles and is on the way to Greece to be fixed. Fair enough these things happen but I told her nicely but firmly they should be keeping us updated we shouldn’t find out the day we are meant to be leaving from looking online ourselves! Anyway she has assured me it will be a speedy repair and will be back in Turkey 28th to straight away come to Port Said. Mmmmmm…… we’ll see.

Anyway what to do? We don’t have landy and to get her out would be a pain as we have given our Egyptian driving permit and number plates back and we would have to get all that again plus then put her back into customs again. All of which would cost several hundred dollars. We also thought of going on the bus to Cairo or Alexandria or even flying to the Red Sea for some snorkelling (which I was heavily in favour of!!!). In the end we have decided to stay here and just have some cheap days. Going to the Red Sea would be the preferred option but it would cost a lot for only a few nights and as we are coming to the end of the trip we are coming to the end of our money so we ruled that out. Port Said is a pleasant place and we have a cheap reasonable place to stay. It’s not nearly as hot as we have been as it’s on the coast, for the first time in ages we have not been hot 24 hours a day, its refreshing!

No doubt we will be stalking the ship online in coming days. Its funny if you would have said a few more days in Egypt we would have said great but once we thought we were going we were getting ready mentally. And somehow having the choice taken means we want to go. :)  So we will potter around here more and see how it all goes. We have always known there could be things like this that happen on the trip and we have been so lucky so a few days delay here is all good. Besides as Nick (Olly’s brother) said, better to be there than floating around at sea with engine problems!

Certainly leaving Africa feels like the start of the end of the trip and we don’t know how we will feel about it all in coming weeks. Maybe Europe will be a buffer and ease us out of the trip and into the UK?

29th May- update

Ok, messy messy. Heard back from ferry company- good news, the boat in Greece is still broken and they have dissolved the contract with them but they will start another ship around 4th June. Uh…. that may be great news FOR THEM but not for us. Anyway spent yesterday afternoon thinking what to do? Landy is in customs storage (which we are paying for) but to get her out will cost several hundred dollars. So do we stay here for the 5th June ferry, assuming the date is not changed again. As pleasant as Port Said is we don’t want to stay here another 8 days, also that will be cutting it very close to our Egyptian visas expiring and we don’t even want to begin to imagine how you extend those! The other option is going to the Red Sea for some snorkelling and then come back, would be great but costly and still have same issue about dates etc. The other option is to cut our losses here, pay to get to landy out of customs and go to Israel to get a ferry (weekly service) to Italy, which is very expensive and takes about 5-7 days. So part of us just have itchy feet and think we should just make a run for the border and see how that goes. We sent a few emails regarding ferry stuff to get a sense of things so we can make a decision.

30th May update

Long story but basically we have the option of taking a different boat (the one the shipping company has stated a new contract with but they have another sailing before that contract starts) which is looking like what we will do, we just need to get confirmation.  Problem is this boat leaves from a different port, 40 minutes down the road. Uggg…..After many phone calls, emails and much waiting we have been told it leaves in two days then told it leaves maybe after four days- that one annoyed me! Maybe after four days could also mean maybe not and five days is after four days but so is five months! Anyway we think it will leave around the 2nd June and takes 25-28 hours. But we need to get confirmation of there being space for us. We have also been told today it will cost around $500 to get landy out of customs and back in! CRAZY! So we have had a spirited conversation with the fixer here. Everyone here seems to use a lot of hand gestures and talk loudly and passionately when they communicate so when in Rome…. Both men sit and talk to Olly (they address everything to Olly) and I am the one answering them half the time. We laughed (with gritted teeth!) and said NO WAY would we pay that much, he said they have to cancel the customs paperwork. I did get annoyed at one point and say “Nowhere do you pay $500 to cancel paperwork, they can throw it in the bin!!” By the time we finished the conversation it had gone down to $150. (Let me see who I can talk to, what I can do for you, etc etc)  Nothing is ever simple here and the price and process you start off with is never what it is, such hard work! We have sent the shipping company an email saying we expect they will pay these costs. We’ll see what they reply. The option of going to Israel is out- we have not heard back about the ferry leaving there this weekend and the area we would need to travel to is a no go zone according to the British Foreign Office- major problems with militants/military/kidnapping/border open and shut etc. We will leave this weekend, insha’Allah.

L

About to leave?

22 May 2013- Port Said, Egypt

We have been busy bees! Lets see what has been happening? Sickness, sightseeing and organising. Our first day in Cairo we decided to get a few bits done at camp and then try to organise a few small things for landy (a new u joint and a wheel alignment). The hosts of our camp gave us the number to a British expat here who is into landies and a group of them have a workshop. Anyway Olly rang Sam who straight away said they had a mechanic at their workshop that day, come along. We made our way over the River Nile in the mad mad traffic both very tense and arrived in an expaty looking area, suddenly more trees, less rubbish (none burning) and bigger houses. We turned onto a street and a bit further on saw four landies parked- we had found the workshop. We were welcomed by James, another Brit and shortly after Sam got back and also welcomed us and introduced us to the mechanic, Mohammed.

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First glimpse of THE pyramids

I went for a walk while they sorted landy stuff and while I was out Olly rang me and said James and his partner Lee had invited us to go on a felucca on the Nile, why not?!  The mechanic needed to finish what he was working on before starting on our landy so off we went. Before we left Olly was offered a beer which he finished as we left. It was the start of his undoing! Four of us jumped into a taxi which started and stopped and lurched down the road at one point my door swung open as we went round a corner through traffic. As we arrived at the river Olly said he felt a bit nauseous but would be fine. We got on the boat with about six others and chatted as we sailed along looking at the Cairo sky line. Olly started feeling worse and worse and by the time we got back to the shore he was grey and very unsteady on his feet. James and Lee could see how unwell he was and insisted we stay the night in their spare room which we gratefully said yes to. After taking us to their place (around the corner from the workshop where landy was) the others went off to the pub and I settled Olly in, he was very sick by this time- a fever, shivering and dizzy. Mohammed, who was replacing the u joint came over to the unit and said there is a problem, the part was wrong. He had already removed the old one and couldn’t put it back on. Olly was too unwell to deal with it and it was getting late, I just said leave it we will deal with it the next day. Just as well we were invited to stay over, as by this time Olly was really sick and we couldn’t drive landy anyway!  He was not well through the night but by morning his fever was gone, thankfully as I was quietly keeping an eye on his symptoms for malaria. He ended up spending the whole next day in bed.

In the morning I went to the workshop to see if anyone was about and start seeing how on earth I could find another u joint for landy in Cairo and how I would get it if I did. I was hoping to find someone who could instruct me where to go in a taxi and what to get (I’m not on familiar terms with u joints!).  I found Sammie, a Finnish expat who was tinkering away on a motorbike and said no worries and rang Daryl (a Canadian expat) who had the part and was happy for us to buy it off him. What a great group of people! We literally just met them the day before and within an hour were on the Nile with them and invited to stay and were helped with landy. Mohammed (mechanic) was nowhere to be found but Sammie assured me he would keep ringing him until he found him. I went back and forth between the workshop seeing if there was any word from Mohammed to the unit to make Olly drink more water and went on a few walks around the area as well, only short ones though, its HOT. I was confident Mohammed would turn up, he works for them on his days off from his job at a garage and we had paid him for the work, I just figured it would be in his own time and sure enough that evening we got a call from Sam saying Mohammed was there and the work was done. Around that time Olly started to surface and join the land of the living again. Weak and tired but feeling much better although still a bit wobbly.  As it was later in the evening we stayed at James and Less place for a second night and this time I joined the others at the pub (which is really a ‘club’ that doesn’t sell alcohol but sell raffle tickets that you always ‘win’ a drink with if you present them to the bar!) after putting Olly in front of the TV with lots of water. It’s by far the sickest either of us have been on the trip and we were so lucky to be in Cairo- plenty of chemists had we needed them and such nice people around and mainly a cool comfortable place with a toilet. Olly would have been a lot more uncomfortable if we had been in landy or checked into a hot dirty room with a squat toilet somewhere! Anyway the next morning we picked up landy and spent most of the day getting a wheel alignment, took us ages to find the place and then the power went out so they couldn’t do it etc etc etc. Finally we headed back across the river to our camp, two days after we left for what we thought would be the afternoon!

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Olly filling our water

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Cairo side street, the rubbish lines and fills a canal

That night we were both tired, I woke up with a sore throat and Olly was still weak and tired as well as wheezy, Cairo air has really flared up his asthma with all the burning rubbish everywhere especially in the evenings. This is the first time we have both just been generally tired, a bit weary. We made some dinner and decided to go to bed early. The mozzies were awful, swarming us and we both felt fed up! Between the heat and the noise we have not had two good nights sleep in a row for what feels like ages and we both feel like its caught up with us. As we went to bed it was hot and so noisy with the mosque across the road blaring (!) out the call to prayer and we could hear several others as well. Add to that the constant tooting of horns, fireworks and the odd gun shots (which we have been told not to worry about, its people celebrating, weddings etc) and dogs, goats and people talking we just so wanted to sleep. We both eventually fell into a fitful sleep, there is always that very brief time in the night when most people are in bed and before the first call to prayer of the day- its brief and its the best sleeping time! I just don’t know when people sleep here!

Anyway we woke up the yesterday a bit groggy but ready for some sightseeing. We hired a guide for the day and it was great! Going through Cairo in someones else’s car is fine! His car so his problem if we get in to an accident! Driving in landy is really tense in Cairo and we have been told by several people if we get into an accident expect to have to pay regardless of whose fault it is (which has been the case all along in Africa).  Several weeks sorting out an accident in Cairo is not the plan not at this stage in the trip. Anyway we decided we wanted to see the Sphinx so we went there first. The pyramids must be one of the most full on tourist attractions in the world to visit. People literally jump on your car when you arrive- to sell you things and camel rides. Literally jump on it! We know that because they did it to us in landy when we were going past the main entrance. Crazy! This time we went in a different entrance and it was fine and only few people there, I was expecting it to be mobbed. The sphinx is cool! I was impressed with him (her?) and seeing it and the pyramids is pretty surreal. After visiting sphinx we went into the city to the Egyptian Museum and then to a local place to try koshari which is a mix of macaroni, spaghetti, noodles, rice, chic peas, lentils and tomatoes all mixed together with a little broth of sorts added to give it a bit of moisture. It was good! We had a little look around the downtown area, Tahrir Square and saw some of the buildings burnt out in the revolution and a small protest in front of a government building. We had decided the night before to cut the day short and go to Port Said in the afternoon as we heard from the ferry company the ferry should be leaving on the 23 or 24th.  The fixer in Port Said he needs two days to clear Landy through customs, and one of those days might be a Friday – when everything is closed here.  The ferry is in Israel at the moment, so we will be lucky if it leaves on time, but we want to make sure we are on it whenever it leaves.

Our favourite pyramid experience was about an hour south of Cairo at the Dasher pyramids.  There are two large pyramids at the site the bent pyramid and the red pyramid.  It was just amazing to drive up to these unbelievably big structures (both are 105m high and are the third largest pyramids in Egypt) sitting on a gravelly plain at the edge of the desert.  A fraction of the cost, not a camel or horse ride or anything for sale in sight and literally no other people, except the guard. We went down there a few days ago and spent the day seeing pyramids and tombs at Dasher and Saqqara. We even went down into two pyramids, the Red Pyramid is entered by going down 65 metres in a narrow passageway with stale air. I was feeling a bit unsure about going down (hate being in enclosed spaces) but made my way down slowly and was glad I did, the rooms at the bottom are nothing special but it pretty amazing being inside a pyramid and wondering about all the other people who stood there over the past 4000 years! How many people have passed through there and what were their stories?

We have gotten a lot more used to Egypt, its noisy, its dusty, its busy but it’s really an interesting place and we have met such lovely people. The hassle of people trying to sell you stuff is really only in limited areas (although its full on in those areas) and outside of that Egyptians are proud, friendly, intense and welcoming people. The amount of people who have shouted out to us Welcome to Egypt! is amazing. On the way into Port Said today a guy drove past us tooting frantically (which we ignored at first at everyone does that constantly) gave us a thumbs up then further on up the road stopped when we did so he could get out and introduce himself to us and say Welcome to Egypt. You just wouldn’t get that in Australia! He then followed us for ages tooting, waving and smiling until he turned off when he pulled over so he could wave as we went past! This in a country that has had tourism for a thousand years! We have had school kids come up to us to practise their English and ask us our name, that is the only thing they know how to say so they dissolve into giggles once you answer and don’t know what else to say. Cairo is sensory overload- the sights (seeing the pyramids itself is so surreal driving through a city), the noise is unrelenting and the smell of animals, sewage and burning rubbish is ever present but 20 million people living in one place is nothing short of incredible.

L and O

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Tombs at Saqqara

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At Red Pyramid at Dahshur

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Bent Pyramid- if you look in the middle you can see a tiny speck of blue, thats’s Olly!

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We had so much fun here, mucking around laughing our heads off!

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No introduction needed, Cairo

Desert and city

18 May 2013- Cairo, Egypt

I can see THE pyramids from where I am sitting. Very surreal.  Cairo- the largest city in Africa and one of the largest in the world, twenty million people. Australia has 21 million. We arrived this afternoon and a peaceful drive it is not! We have driven in some crazy traffic but this place is bonkers! There are no lanes and constant non stop tooting of horns which makes you tense! In addition to that the space you have around your own car is a tiny fraction of what it would normally be, other cars just come so very close as they overtake or weave all around you. When driving down a road it can go from 3 lanes to 5 or even 7 it’s literally the maximum amount of cars that can fit in the space with mere centimetres between them.  We have been told all this tooting its a language of sorts, they are communicating with each other, but its one we def don’t speak! On the dual carriageway there are cars and trucks zooming all around, donkey carts, buses stopping to let people on and off and people parked up to stop for a cup of tea!

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Our home :)

We are staying in Giza (an area of the city) and its something else. Arriving we got off the main road (using a combination of GPS, a map and luck as the GPS is almost useless this far north) and onto a smaller road to make our way to our camp. Suddenly it was a different world.  Cars, donkeys, carts, water buffalo coming in from the fields, dogs, cats, tuk tuks all fighting for the same space, the road. Groups of men sitting around smoking sheeesha, children riding bikes and flying kites amongst the piles of rubbish, loads of cats and dogs picking their way through the enormous amount of rubbish that is lying all over, often the piles are smouldering, acrid smoke billowing into the thick air.  To be honest it was a bit like what I would imagine a war zone might look like- with small fires all over the side of the roads (rubbish being burnt) most buildings seem to be falling down or not finished and for some reason all over Egypt there is rubble, big piles of bricks or concrete like a large building site.  Certainly not the picture of Egypt most people who fly in and fly out would see but there is so much life happening and its intriguing and vibrant as well as so noisy and chaotic.

We briefly thought about skipping Cairo but decided we wanted to see the pyramids and a few other things in the city like the Egyptian Museum so here we are. Such a change from where we were last night- the White Desert. We really enjoyed the Western Desert especially a section called the White Desert. We stopped for a few swims in springs, travelling through a desert where you can swim is brilliant! But it was the White Desert that captured us. Its like being on another planet, white shapes bursting out of the desert sands, each a block of pure white chalk carved into a myriad of shapes by the wind and shifting sands. Our camp spot was just perfect catching the end of the day shade tucked behind a large chalk dome.  It was so beautiful and quite and we were aware it was likely our last remote camp on the trip as we wont find any of that in Europe.  Completely silent, which is so unusual, no people, birds, rustling of tree leaves nothing, you could hear the silence, almost as if our brains were trying to work out why nothing was coming in. We saw rather than heard a desert fox pad past sniffing here and there as we were finishing our dinner. We woke up early this morning to watch the sunrise from bed then dozed again for a bit and were chased out by landy heating up quickly.

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Desert sunrise from bed

Egypt is such an interesting place. It goes without saying it has an extraordinary history. It was the greatest ancient civilisation in the world and is now in the process of much more modern changes. Almost every conversation here starts with “Before the revolution…” or “Since the revolution” Everyone has their own, usually very strong, opinions about how things are better or worse. Egypt was a police state and some people seem to be a bit lost without the strict guidelines and the relative security that went with that. Others seem to be relieved and think in the long term Egypt will be better off, they just need to find their feet again. When we first arrived the trial of former president Mubarak was on TV (it has since been postponed) and the host at our camp was nervously pacing around very animated in his beliefs! Everyone seems to agree there is more crime now and people are doing it tough at the moment. We get daily travel advisories about this protest or that protest which have nothing to do with foreigners, just warnings to stay away from large groups of people in case it gets nasty, as it often does when the police and protesters clash. The hosts of where we are staying now say a lot of times it’s the same people at the protests and they are paid to be there, everyone else is trying to make ends meet. Certainly the Revolution was an incredible thing. I get the impression Egyptians are deeply proud of their revolution that they were able to do that and are now at a little bit of a loss as to what to do now! Certainly we noticed a very heavy police presence everywhere or at least the infrastructure to be heavily policed.  Mostly the police are sitting around drinking tea and smoking.

We have started to organise our ferry to Turkey. There is no timetable as such but it goes twice a week and is primarily for trucks that can no longer travel though Syria. At the moment we have a window of dates when the ferry is likely to leave- around the 22-25th May.  So our next stop will likely be on the Med, and going out of the doorway to Africa!

L

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Walking through a historic mud brick village, a verse from the Koran carved into the door lintel.

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White Desert

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Egypt

14 May 2013- Dakhla Oasis, Egypt

“Hello, Hello, where are you from? Hello, I am an excellent guide, Hello…HELLO.”  Egypt, so different from Sudan! We are in our final African country and we can’t decide if it feels African at all. It’s most definitely an Arab country and maybe just Africa geographically. It’s also a place that heavily relies on tourism and has had a mass tourism market for a very long time, mass isn’t the way to describe it now. Since the revolution there are no people coming here. We have read how busy it is seeing the sights of Egypt, to expect to see the temples with a crush of other people, well so far its been us and the temples, aside from one this morning where there were a few groups. After the peaceful curiosity of Sudanese people we are getting used to Egypt- lots of people selling you lots of things and no fixed prices so to buy almost any product or service requires haggling.

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View from our place in Aswan

We enjoyed our few days in Aswan, having a shower and a few nice simple meals on the roof terrace of the guesthouse. With a view over the small Nubian village just outside Aswan and the River Nile and watching all the life going on- people coming and going from the mosque, children playing, groups of women chatting. It’s very very hot but having a room in the guesthouse for two days was truly like another world. It was good to get back into landy though, and it was great to ‘hit the road’ after four nights away (a night when she was on the barge, our night on the ferry and two nights in Aswan). We were able to tear ourselves away from our shower and clean sheets and look around Aswan as well. Olly read up on what he wanted to see and I followed along. We went to see a quarry (married to a geologist!) :) which was really interesting. In ancient times Aswan was the place for the best granite used in temples and obelisks around the country and this quarry has an incomplete obelisk abandoned half way through excavation. An enormous thing at 40 something metres tall, the stone workers discovered a crack in it which rendered it useless so there it sits, partially carved out of the ground. It’s remarkable to see the size of it as well as the way it would have been made- basically using stone tools, such hard hard work.

From Aswan we started on our way to Luxor and stopped along the way to see The Temple of Horus at Edfu, incredible! We were both blown away walking up to this simply enormous structure. It stands at 36 metres in height and is covered inside and out on literally almost every surface with ornate carvings. The sheer scale and size of the place is mind-boggling. Walking up to it was almost intimidating as it’s so massive. We spent a few hours wandering around (with no other tourists anywhere) looking at the hieroglyphics carved into almost every space and the scenes of various offerings to the gods.

In Luxor we stayed at a small camp on the West Bank and zoomed across the Nile on a boat a few times a day whenever we wanted to go in to the city. Luxor is a city with amazing trove of ancient sights to see and the guides and people wanting to sell you things or services is pretty full on. Especially the guys wanting to offer you a horse ride, they are relentless! At times it was like some sort of weird fun fair with people popping out about every few steps or so- “Hello hello” With only a tiny fraction of the tourists they normally have people are pretty desperate for work, which is sad and must be difficult. It can get a bit frustrating after a while though when you just want to walk somewhere or have a conversation. Besides that Olly is very allergic to horses so between the pollution in the city (which we have not had for a long time) and people coming up to us on horses every minute he was very very wheezy by the night’s end and desperate to get back to camp.

We enjoyed some delicious food while in Luxor and walked around Luxor Temple at night, which we really enjoyed. Seeing it lit up at night was very atmospheric. Again the two things that made the most impact on us was the scale of everything- enormous statues, huge sphinx and towering columns, as well as the thought of what it would have taken to make these places thousands of years ago. Truly incredible, they show the depth of commitment and belief ancient Egyptians had in their pharaohs and the absolute power they must have had to get these structures built. There are literally thousands of tombs and temples around Luxor. Of course not all are open to the public and you can only imagine what there is to still discover.  To see it all you would need to be very interested in ancient Egyptian culture, need a lot of time or run around all day every day. We don’t like to try to see it all and weren’t about to start now so we chose a few things to have a look at and wandered around some of the temples and tombs, intrigued by the hieroglyphics and the stories and thoughts of an ancient culture and trying to put our own interpretations into what we were seeing. I’m amazed how well preserved much of it is, of course some is more rubble than not but given they have sat for thousands of years through weather, war, humans, pollution, politics and changes of religion its amazing anything is left!

Rather than follow the River Nile north as we have been doing for a long time, all through Sudan and southern Egypt, we went into the Western Desert, one of the main things we wanted to see in Egypt. We spent a night in the first oasis, not what many would imagine as an oasis, the classic palm trees fringing a well or pool, but a medium-sized city with a love of concrete. It is however the oasis that sustains a city in the middle of mile after mile of sand in all directions.  After driving for hours we dropped down into the oasis, obvious with trees, grass and flowers and of course people. An oasis is an area in the desert where the ground water is much closer to the surface so it allows irrigation and supports life.

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Our camp tonight

We arrived here to the second oasis early this afternoon, it’s a smaller town and we have scored a place with a pool! This morning we stopped to look at some ancient Roman graves and after we paid the entry fee we were joined by two men, one obviously the guard to the site and the other man dressed in a shirt and jeans with a pistol on his hip, he explained he is tourist police and would accompany us around the site. He then told us we were from Australia and that we had come from Luxor and even where we had slept the night before, as specific as the name of the hotel whose garden we stayed in! We looked at each other and then at him and asked him how he knew that- easy … when foreign tourists come through each roadblock phones the next and they “follow you” all through the desert that way. He knew when we had left Luxor!  The tourist police assured us we were safe in Egypt as they need tourism and proceeded with a lengthy explanation as to why Egypt needs the army back in charge and how much Egyptians hate the new president. He also assured us although he is a Muslim man he likes Christians and would give a Christian man his blood if he needed it. He seemed determined for us to understand regardless of what we see on the news most Muslim people like Christians although he also informed us all Arabs hate Americans. So we walked around looking at the historical site having a political conversation and also told him most Christians also don’t hate Muslims. We laughed as the rest of the day as the road blocks knew who we were and where we were coming from. When they asked us the usual, where are you going we were tempted to say ” You tell us!”

We have spent the afternoon in the pool and have just been out for a walk, it’s so low-key here, completely different to Luxor and nice to see this rural side of Egypt. All farmers and not a single person to follow us or want to guide us or sell us anything just a simple Salaam as they trot past on their donkey.

Thoughts have started to creep into our consciousness, we will be out of Africa within a few weeks.  Its something that had not been on our radar at all but in the last few days it has started to seem so much closer! I was writing an email the other day and it occurred to me then- we are leaving Africa soon. A few days later the realisation that once we leave Africa we are zooming through Europe (in five weeks) which means this will all be coming to an end so soon. Will we fight to keep it and struggle to let go over the next weeks or will our minds go ahead of us? Maybe it will be different for both of us as Olly has really started to imagine catching up with people, I suppose I have less of a mental imagine of that than he does.

L

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Horus Temple

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Horus Temple

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Horus Temple, the mad crush of tourists racing for the entrance

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Horus Temple

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Horus Temple

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Horus Temple

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Horus Temple

Wadi Halfa and the ferry

9 May 2013- Aswan, Egypt

We are in Egypt, rested, fed and watered after the ferry journey. The Wadi Halfa to Aswan ferry is something we have heard about for a while now, its one of those (in)famous parts of an overland trip up the east of Africa and I must say it was ok. Not the greatest time ever, but not nearly as bad as we had heard/expected. Just a long day and night.

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We arrived as planned in Wadi Halfa Sunday morning after our final night in the desert, which was spent watching the stars before bed, a beautiful big dark sky. As we entered the small dusty town we rang Mazar, our fixer, who asked us to meet him at the 3 story building. It’s an obvious landmark as it’s the only building in town more than one story. We went there and waited for him for a while then rang him again and he asked us to come to the wharf, we could get landy on the barge that morning rather than the next day as planned. Off we went for the couple of minutes drive to the wharf where we finally met Mazar, a friendly funny local guy who stayed right on top of it all throughout. We decided to hard boil our last eggs to munch on over the next few days. Mazar told us he needed our carnet (landy paperwork) and when we were done cooking to get ready as landy was being loaded soon- the barge was leaving that morning! So we finished getting the final things ready, we had packed that morning for the ferry and a few days in Aswan without landy, we heard people usually wait 3 or 4 days before the vehicle arrives.  We still were not sure when landy was to leave or arrive in Aswan or when we were for that matter. Anyway we got landy completely ready and then got the call- meet me in town the ferry is not leaving today. We went for some lunch while waiting for Mazar, it was a bit grim, a filthy place and very oily ful (beans) but what we could find. We then met Mazar for a cup of tea. On every corner in Sudan sits a tea lady- under a tiny spot of makeshift shade, surrounded by a few stools and barrels to put your tea on, she keeps some coals going all day, with her glass jars for her potions of different leaves and spices in front of her and makes tea.  Its fascinating to watch the ritual, a dash of this, a pinch of that, large scoops of sugar and pouring the water through the tea leaves for the perfect time before its served. We sat and chatted to Mazar with our hot sweet tea next to the communal water pots. The communal pots are something I find make me smile in Sudan, they are so endearing. All over, on every block, at least, in every town or village of any size are large earthenware pots on metal stands. They sit in the shade. The pots are porous and water slowly seeps out and evaporates which keeps the water cool. They have a communal cup (often an old tin can) chained to the stand.

Mazar told us the ferry would leave Tuesday some time (not yet known) and the barge for landy would leave the same day (time also unknown). He said we could camp at his house but we ended up taking a drive just out of town near Lake Aswan (which is the Nile damned) and in the heat of the day spreading our awning on the ground in the shade and laying there until the main heat passed. It was a lovely peaceful spot so we thanked Mazar for the invitation and just stayed out there. Monday morning about 8 Mazar rang and asked how close to town we were, the barge was now leaving that day, could we get there now? Yep, off we went and after a cuppa at the tea lady we were back at the wharf (24 hours after doing it the first time) and after waiting, not sure what happened behind the scenes as Mazar did it all, suddenly we were driving landy on the barge! We were not comfortable to leave the keys with the captain as we had no idea who would drive landy off and where it would stay at the other end so we kept our keys (very happy about that!) We were told the barge was leaving now, I was very sceptical about when ‘now’ would be, but sure enough while we were there they started pulling up the ramp and getting things sorted, maybe it would leave that day?! We were told to get into a small truck full of a few other local guys, no idea who and they zoomed us back into town, still didn’t know who there were or where we were going as we were flying down the road to town. When we got to town (Mazar wasn’t with us as he stayed at customs) we got our bag out and had didn’t know where to go to find a hotel. We didnt see any signs in English and hotels don’t really stand out that differently from any other building in Wadi Halfa. We rang Mazar for a hotel suggestion and got in a tuk tuk and put him on the phone to the driver who zoomed off taking us to a hotel (presumably). As always the driver was humming and singing and waving to everyone we passed, he didn’t speak any English and we have no Arabic (aside from the few pleasantries we have learned) but he smiled and waved a lot to us. We pulled up to a hotel just outside of town and Mazar was waiting for us, he got us a room, with A/C!! He told us the ferry left the next day at 5 but we would need to go around 11 or so to make sure we got a space. We spent the hottest part of the day in the room reading then went to town for some food and drink (tea and juice, alcohol is illegal in Sudan). We had a nice meal of ful, taamiya (falafel) and some potatoes in some sauce stuff (we knew our way around a bit now and found much nicer food than the day before). All served with the bread rolls they eat with everything here.  We sat and people watched for a few hours, as the sun faded the town started to come to life again. Things really are dead during the heat of the day. Places were setting rows of chairs out for a football game on tv that night (probably English football, they love it!). Wadi Halfa was bustling as the ferry had arrived and was leaving again tomorrow- no doubt the busiest day of the week, all the night passengers coming and going are in town. We watched people come out to meet friends, have tea and a meal. All washing their hands and rinsing their mouths at the communal bucket and spout. Groups of young men getting ready for the football and families having dinner as well as a steady stream of old sand blasted beat up landies tooting their crazy horns as they came through loaded with passengers and their bags still coming from the ferry. The old landies are taxis that take everyone to and from the weekly ferry.

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On the way to the ferry

We had a poor sleep in the hotel. The sheets were dirty so we laid the small blanket we brought with us on the bed and covered ourselves in a sarong (well I was covered) but were too chilly with the A/C on!! Havent had that problem for a while, but found it stifling without (worse than in landy as there was no fresh air). In the morning Olly went for fresh bread while I packed up again and we had a small breakfast in our room. Mazar arrived about 10 saying it was time to go, so we finished our tea and loaded our bags on the roof of the old landy that was taking us to the wharf. The waiting began. We left the hotel after 10 and waited at the ferry ‘terminal’ until just after 1. It was a pleasant enough place to wait, much better than I was expecting. At least we were not in the sun. It was a large building with a few fans and lots of people. Bit smelly and I was not feeling that well, for some reason a bit light-headed and nauseous all morning. About 1 ish Mazar came back and told us to come now. So we did. He took us though immigration and somehow managed to get us into the next waiting area before anyone else. We waited there for a while before a police guy came along and shouted for everyone to get out, back into the other waiting area, at least that what we assume he was shouting with his gestures and what everyone was doing. Soon we were moved outside and it was still all very calm- until the bus arrived. The bus takes people to the boat which is about a ten minute drive away. The craziness began. People went nuts trying to get on the bus. Pushing, shoving and screaming. Mazar was determined to get us on the bus so we could get to the ferry early enough to get a good spot. There was no way I wanted to squeeze on there (I hate being squeezed into small spaces) but knew I would have to get on this bus or the next, which would of course be the same so I had to take a deep breath. Olly was pushed to the back and I held back and asked if I could just stand near the doorway. There is no way we would have gotten on the bus if Mazar had not been there. There were too many people to shut the door so I just held on for dear life in the doorway. When we got there everyone tumbled off and things got worse. Getting on the ferry was an absolute mad scrum. We were now all standing in the hottest time of the day, people screaming at the security who were screaming back and pushing shoving and carrying on. At one point I thought things were going to kick off with the police and security and glanced around to see where we would go if they did. I had not been feeling very well all morning but with the heat, body odour and being pushed all over I started to feel really light-headed. They let a few people on every minute or so but more and more were crowding behind us and they seemed to stop letting people on and at one point starting shutting the doors, the screaming got worse then! I was trying to hold my ground and not get pushed over but was feeling weak. Olly was also just getting crushed, holding our passports high and was dripping with sweat. Suddenly Mazar appeared. He came up and asked if I was ok (I prob didnt look it) and grabbed my arm and did not let go- he screamed and shouted and pointed and gestured and somehow pushed and dragged me though the scrum and I grabbed the passports from Olly as he pushed though. Mazar literally ran with us upstairs on the boat and deposited us in a shady spot closely followed by his other clients (3 Sudanese guys). We found a little patch we liked near the others and rolled out my yoga mat (which I have used exactly once but it was worth taking it all this way for the ferry!) We spent the next 3 hours before the boat left chatting to people, trying to keep our precious space and reading. Just after 5 pm the boat pulled out and us and 600 Sudanese and Egyptians were on our way. It was a long night with people crawling over us, ash from cigarettes, food and general dirt from the ferry blowing onto us, the call to prayer as we were trying to sleep and a very hard surface for sleeping. Obviously not much sleep but we did manage some, more than I expected. At one point during the night I was laying there smiling as it was dark and few people were moving around (people had stopped crawling over us) and I could see stars and feel the boat murmuring away under us, kinda cool. A Sudanese guy who has been living in Sweden for 13 years sort of took it upon himself (as his duty he told us) to help us out, told us where we could get some food- in the scrum to get on someone had thrust a few small bits of paper in my hand but I didn’t really take notice, getting on was like an out-of-body expierence, turns our they were food tickets. He told us how to get our passports back, they take them when you get on and process them overnight and you get them the next day. After the 5 am call to prayer (just when it was nice and cool and still dark) we knew we wouldn’t sleep anymore so we sat up again and listened to some podcasts and watched part of a James Bond film on the ipad and generally tried to battle people off from crawling over us. Finally we could see Aswan, the border town in Egypt and soon we could see landy on the barge sitting there waiting for us, it was a good sight!

We waited on the ferry as everyone trampled each other to get off, partially to stay out of the stampede and also because we did not have our passports back as ours were not ready yet, maybe Sudanese people don’t need a visa for Egypt? Anyway they didn’t have the visa stickers so we waited. Kamal, our fixer on this side was waiting for us and eventually we decided to try to get off the boat (if they would let us without our passports) chat to Kamal and then get back on and get the passports. As we were going for the door Kamal came on and said let’s go start other stuff and come back for passports. We spent a few minutes negotiating fees etc with Kamal and making sure all was clear and off we went. We quickly moved though with Kamal in the lead and started on customs, sorting the carnet. It went quickly and soon we had our passports, with visas in them and Olly was able to drive landy out of the customs area and into the car park and soon Kamal took off to sort things in town, we waited in landy for a bit over an hour and he was back with our Egyptian number plates, Egyptian driving permits and Egyptian insurance. All sorted, we paid Kamal and off we went. We had initially expected we would not have landy as everyone we have spoken to about the ferry had to wait in Aswan for 3 or 4 days before their vehicle arrived so we had heard about a nice guesthouse. We decided to go there, the first time we havent slept in landy when its been possible. I heard the camp site here is basic (as almost all have been for the last few months) and we both really fancied a shower and hoped beyond hope this place would have an actual toilet to sit on! After wading through the horrid mess in the toilets on the ferry we were both wanting to use a toilet and change our very dirty clothes. We arrived at the guesthouse and were shown to a clean room with a bed that has clean sheets (!) and a toilet and shower!!!! Bliss! We had some late lunch/early dinner the host cooked up for us, fresh fish for Olly and delicious veggies cooked in a clay pot for me served with a cold beer, our first in a few weeks (alcohol is illegal in Sudan). After our meal the lack of sleep caught up with us and we retired to our cool room and watched a video on the laptop and went to sleep. What a night!

L and O

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Landies take people to and from ferry

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Despite the face, the food was great

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Communal water station

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Dropping landy at the barge- she’s off!

Hot hot hot

4 May 2013- northern Sudan

Its been 45 degrees in the shade but we are slowly getting used to it. It’s not too awful if you have some shade and don’t move between 11 till 4.

Sudan is wonderful! We really didn’t have much of a mental image of Sudan or much idea of what to expect, this has been the case in plenty of new countries we have been, but much more so here. After our long border crossing and our first night under the stars we carried on north and started noticing the differences, the main one we noticed straight away is that Sudan only has one foot in Africa, and at times you could forget that you are in Africa at all. We started to notice large herds of camels and in some areas they were being used more than donkeys for riding and carrying goods. Sudan is the first fully Muslim country we have come to on the trip, 99% of the population is Muslim and in addition to that its a Muslim state with sharia law. Most of the men wear long white flowing pyjama type things, which actually look rather cool to wear. Most of the women wear much more and of course all have their heads covered to varying degrees. The architecture is very different, the houses and structures are all low with flat roofs made of mud (or in towns bricks or metal) rather than the mud and stick, with thatched roof huts of all rural Africa we have been in so far. But truthfully the main thing we noticed the first few days was the heat- its stifling. Like an oven. Our A/C broke as we left Ethiopia (awful timing!) so we were driving through the sand and dust widows open, lethargic with a damp towel on our head- it works!

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It really keeps you much cooler!

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Stopped to get a puncture fixed and were of course served tea as well as someone insisting I try some food as well

We arrived in Khartoum in the afternoon and found the YHA where we camped in the car park. There were no other foreign visitors there. Sudan has no tourist industry to speak of, to say tourism is in its infancy here is an understatement. The country has had so many years of war and conflict which heartbreakingly continues still, many years of US sanctions, and was a real pariah in the  1990′s after supporting Saddam Hussein and harbouring Osama. As in many places politics has held the country back. There is an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court in The Hague for multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the president. Grim.

Once we got over the heat, the overwhelming impression is the absolute beautiful hospitality of Sudanese people. They want you to you know they are not defined by there politics. Its touching.  Hospitality to strangers is a matter of fact, a duty to others but never even a hint of it being a burden. Even in Khartoum, which of course has foreigners living there, mostly UN workers, loads of people go out of their way to literally walk across the road to say Welcome to Sudan, how are you, offer you tea, to share their meal, do we need help with anything etc etc. Their warmth is infectious and comes with no strings attached- they don’t want to sell you anything, offer you a service of any kind, ask you to shop in their place, they just want to engage with you and make sure you are ok and are delighted with visitors to their country.

Khartoum is a large modern city with good infrastructure and of course very hot right now! But there is ice cream, which was glorious as its been ages since we had ice cream. It was cooling down to 30 degrees at night and eventually our second night there we were tired enough, after only a few hours of very fitful sleep the previous nights, to pass out with the help of a wet towel draped over us. The soundtrack of Sudan is of course the calls to prayer that boom out from the many many mosques numerous times a day. Depending on where you are you can often hear it from more than one mosque. There are currently heavy travel advisories for Sudan, the Australian government recommends no travel and British government currently has travel warnings for Khartoum (risk of kidnapping of westerners) so we tried to keep a low profile, left landy in the compound of the YHA and stayed close to ‘home’ at night. We also told anyone who asked (as we have been doing for a while now) we are going the opposite direction to what we are.

We decided to see if getting the A/C fixed was a possibility so asked around and found a ramshackle A/C mechanic who had a look and found a hole worn through one of the metal pipes, it was a bit tricky to get out and took a while.  Olly stayed to help out in the sun and I hoped in a tuk tuk for a nearby cafe.  It was bliss, great A/C , internet and mango juices so I was happy to sit there a few hours. Olly of course ended up getting invited to share in endless cups of tea, served with half a cup of sugar as is the taste here, and their lunch. We are so happy we got it fixed! It’s still a landy A/C so not like other vehicles but its cool air and its a lifesaver not only keeping the temperature down but also saves having the windows wide open when a sand storm passes. While in Khartoum we caught up on all the blogs we had written offline and other internet stuff, did a bit of a shop and got our photography permit, which is a requirement in Sudan. It was an easy process, filling a form in (only one!) and (another passport photo, glad we have so many with us) and is basically a list of things we can and can’t photograph – things not allowed include bridges, petrol stations, any government buildings, anything to do with police or military and anything that could defame Sudan including beggars or slum areas.  This is the only place I have ever travelled where you get a far better exchange rate on the black market than at a bank, dollars are in demand here. Due to US sanctions you can’t use MasterCard or Visa to get cash out of ATMs so we had to rely on changing US dollars for Sudanese pounds. As recommended we limited our time in Khartoum due to the travel warnings and headed off to see our first pyramids, Meroe.

It was a few hours drive away from the city (but much longer for us because 60 km out we had to turn around as we had left the computer charger in the cafe and took ages to get back to the city to get it!) and we arrived late afternoon.  We found a place just behind a small ridge from the pyramids, it was windy so we tucked ourselves in their and walked up and overlooked the ancient ruins for a bit before dark. Wow! We were camping next to pyramids! We had a peaceful night, watching the stars and a great sleep that seemed a bit cooler to us which was brilliant.  The next morning we got up just before sunrise and walked up the dune to see the sunrise and the pyramids in the beautiful morning light. We then went and walked around them, amazing and surreal to be walking amongst well over 200 year old pyramids!! Each one was a little different, some with a stepped outside and some with straight walls. All had carvings inside the small offering chapels, attached to the pyramid facing the rising sun. We wondered about all the people we were following in the footsteps of over the past several thousand years.

By the time we left about 10 it was boiling hot and we drove on to Karima where we asked a few locals if we could camp up near the Nile and after a string of people came up saying hi (those with a few words of english) and others giving us a thumbs up they all went home and we cooked up cabbage, beans and rice and crashed out for the night, a little cooler close to the river in our spot amongst the date palms. People here are very curious about us but not at all in your face, its a very noticeable difference after Ethiopia. People just said “Salem” shook our hand and left us alone to sleep in their field. In Karima we got up early again to beat the heat and go have a look at some pyramids there and walk up the most striking feature for miles- a big sandstone bluff overlooking the Nile. What a view, it really gave us such a stark picture of the importance of the river – there would be no Sudan without it. Brown brown brown for as far as you can see with a strip of green along with house cutting through it. Although you are in the middle of the desert, you can buy bananas, mangos, eggplant, dates and other yummies because of the river, it’s the heart of Sudan. From the top of the hill we could also see the ruins of Jebel Barkel, old Egyptian style temples. We decided to go and have a look from the ground and had a brief walk around in the hot hot sun when we met a couple from Zimbabwe who work at the embassy in Khartoum.  Lucky for us they were there as a worker had the door open to an area of a temple that is carved into the side of the hill-  it was incredible. We walked in and found an amazingly well preserved 2,700 year old temple. Hieroglyphs all over the walls and some of the carvings still had paint on them. Being indoors it is protected from the destroying effects of sun and sand being blasted at them. The guy there showed us around and told us about some of them, we thought it was impressive he knew what the hyroglifics said but while chatting to him on the walk back to the office found out he is an archeologist excavating the area with a Canadian archaeologist, they only excavate during the winter due to the heat.

Sudan is the only country we have been stopped at more road blocks than the locals. We occasionally get waved through but most often stopped. The people manning them are often security services who are plain clothed so its weird handing your passport to them. They often record the details of our passports and vehicle but are always friendly and wish us well.

We have just had a few days in Dongola. After leaving Karima we cut through the desert again, on almost perfect roads, in a largely featureless flat hot desert. As with all towns it is based on the Nile. We stayed in the car park of a nice little guest house that had been suggested to us by some overlanders.  An oasis of clean (squat) toilets and a shower that sometimes has water. There was an upstairs terrace with plenty of shade and a rope bed typical of the area to lie still for the hottest part of the day, which is HOT! These simple rope beds are all over, outside of homes and shops for people to lie around during the heat of the day. I was caught out last night in the shower, for the first time on the trip the water stopped when I had soap all over me. The place is run by a very friendly Korean family who have lived in Sudan for 8 years and Africa far longer.  Isa and his fun and boisterous sons welcomed us so warmly and we had such fun swimming with them in the Nile, playing football on the beach as well as going on a great old wooden boat yesterday and finding a perfect bit to swim- a spot with a sand island and a strong enough current so the water wasn’t too mucky (after our first swim in more stagnant water we both had a sore throat the next day) the current was strong enough for us to run up the bank,  jump into the deep water and get swept down to get out and do it all over again- it was great fun, and ended up doing it over and over and over. To the shrieks and antics of the boys (about 9, 13 and 15 in age). We sailed back right as the sun was setting, gorgeous!

One afternoon we were on our way to the River Nile, all in Isa’s car when ahead of us on the road we could see some sort of convoy, as the cars in front of us pulled over and Isa did the same my first thought was a politician? Then about 20 army vehicles came through town and the scene made us feel uneasy, Isa very quickly and firmly told me not to take any photos (I had the camera on my lap but as soon as I saw it put it under my legs- I no intention of photographing these guys, photographing anything like this anywhere in Africa would be a recipe for trouble). We could tell Isa was uneasy, which made us even more uncomfortable. The convoy was a collection of open backed land cruisers and landys with large rear mounted machine guns. As they passed people on the side of road waved and shouted.  To us they looked like a group of surprisingly young revved up men. They were posing, revving engines and waving like royalty. Isa said he had never seen that in Dongola before and was most curious what was going on. The day we left we asked him if there was anything we needed to know about the road ahead or if he had heard why the army were in town, he told us people were saying they had come because there was talk of rebels in the area. He said the rebels come from the west and would never go on the east side of Nile which was the side we were travelling north on.

We enjoyed Dongola, just walking around town and having lots of cups of tea (served piping hot and very very sweet, not what I want when its 45 in the shade but it’s everywhere and when in Rome…). Our first day out we intended to just have a cuppa but saw some yummy food at one of the tiny street cafes and ordered some fuul (a national dish of sorts) which is cooked broad beans poured into a silver serving dish squeezed with the bottom of a glass coke bottle and served sprinkled with raw onion, tomato and oil as well as some green powered stuff and a separate dish of chilli sauce stuff (turns out it has crushed peanuts in it which Olly discovered very quickly!) Of course you eat with your hands, in this case using bread as the scoop. DELICIOUS! Within a minute or two we had people chatting to us (they are so so nice) and wondering how are travels are going and an English teacher wanting to practise his English and learn some new words to teach his students. We also had lunch one afternoon with the night watchman’s family at the guesthouse. They were so so lovely and served several dishes (we paid for the ingredients as to not be a burden, as suggested by Isa the owner of the guesthouse). Their simple home is home to the mum with her two adult sons, one is single and the other has a wife and five children. We squeezed around a few small tables and dug in tasting the dishes being intently watched by the elderly gran making sure we ate and ate and ate. She was very concerned when I stopped eating thinking I needed more and more. Both of our favourites was a smoky eggplant dish. Two of the others were a weird slimy texture which I found hard to get over but of course ate it anyway.

Today we are driving north again, we will go most of the way to Wadi Halfa as we need to be there in the morning by 10am to meet the fixer to sort the barge (for landy) and the ferry (for us). The fixer is a local guy who organises things for us, to get us on the ferry and landy on the barge. Apparently it’s virtually impossible to do it yourself if you are not Sudanese or Egyptian and don’t understand the finer details of the ‘timetable’ as well as speak fluent Arabic,  and besides he has to drive landy onto the barge after we have left on the ferry. We have been in touch with him all along, while in Sudan, making sure things are ticking away. He rang yesterday saying he can get landy onto a different barge the day before our ferry leaves (in theory anyway). So off we left mid morning this morning. If all goes well we will put landy on the barge Monday and we will get on the ferry Tuesday. It’s a 18 hour sailing time for us but much more than that with immigration etc and we are assuming there will be a hiccup or two along the way.

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Tea lady, Khartoum

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Khartoum

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Meroe Pyramids

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inside one of the chapels at the pyramids

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Pyramids at Jebel Barkal

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Temple ruins, Jebel Barkal

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waiting at the Nile for the boat to be unloaded of wheat so we can hop on it!

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Nile swim

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Sudan

 

27 April 2013- southeast Sudan

Haven’t had good enough internet to post blogs, so catching up on ones we have been writing offline….

 

This morning we woke up groggy as we had loads of mozzies in landy last night so we spent half the night hiding from them and the other half  trying to hit them with a map! We got an email at breakfast from the fixer that we are indeed booked on the 7th May ferry from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt – despite sharing a massive border, the ferry is the only way to go between the two countries. That’s good news, we are keen to get a Sudanese sim card and ring him to start sorting details and see how early we need to arrive in Wadi Halfa to get landy on the barge that carries the freight as well. One of the staff we have had some good chats with over the last few days at Lake Tana had the day off and was off into town to do a shop for the upcoming Easter feast which will break the fast that most people have been on for over a month. We offered him a lift and chatted as we bumped our way back to the main road to Gondar. On the way we passed heaps of animals in the road as usual and he told us an Ethiopian tale. Once there was a donkey, a goat, and a dog travelling in a mini bus taxi. When they got to their destination the donkey jumped out and paid the driver, the goat then jumped out behind him and sprinted away without paying. The dog was the last to get out and gave the driver some money and was expecting change, the driver was so annoyed that the goat didn’t pay that he sped away without giving the dog his change. From then on whenever cars pass, donkeys stand where they are proud they have paid, goats run away at the sight of a car, making sure they don’t get caught and dogs chase every car that comes past hoping to get their change. It explained a lot to us as its spot on! As it was Saturday there was a stream of people heading into town for the markets, to buy and sell. He told us there were even more than usual because of Easter, people are stocking up. People carrying chickens, massive clay pots, big baskets, and of course herding sheep, cows, goats etc. We dropped him near Gondar and he came with me while I did some shopping at a market to get some veg and helped me buy some spices we have been enjoying to take with us, it made it so much quicker than it would have been! He insisted on buying us bananas as a gift and would not take no for an answer, I could tell he was uncomfortable so just said thank you and let him.

We drove a few hours, most of the time loosing elevation, it got hotter and hotter as we knew it would.  We were sad to say goodbye to Ethiopia today, what a beautiful country and one we have enjoyed immensely, we would love to return one day. We were thinking about Ethiopia and what Sudan would hold, but that was all swept away by the border crossing.

Geeeezzzzz….. it is hot here, so dry my nose feels like its going to crust off my face, it took five hours of sitting around in the searing heat watching people pray, blow their nose in their hands, chat and generally scratch their balls to cross the border. We arrived at Ethiopian side just after 1, immigration was open but customs was closed, it was to open at 7:30 (Ethiopian time which is 1:30 our time, so only half hour away) or 9 (Ethiopian time which is 3 our time, almost two hours) depending on who we asked. So we got our stamp from immigration and sat outside the customs office for a few hours, fortunately in the shade. We changed some money to Sudanese pounds, it is a rare country when changing money with black market money changers you get a better rate than the official rate! It was a hot afternoon and we drank our very warm water, chatted with a few guys sitting around outside the office and just waited until just before 3. Hot but no worries. One of the guys who had been sitting around with us for ages then opened the office and said “Ok you can come in now” He stamped the carnet in no time then got our document stating what electronic equipment we had brought into the country and went to have a look at landy. He checked her more than anyone else has anywhere, he checked the VIN and looked inside, asked what a few things were (including our video camera which we forgot to declare on entry, Olly was quick thinking and said we had told them but they didn’t write it down, which he accepted). He had us open different areas and asked what was where etc. When satisfied he wished us well and off we went…. to Sudan.

Well… that was where the fun began- the fun of sitting in the stinking hot, waiting and being told 5 more minutes about 100 times. We first went to immigration where they asked us for copies of our passport and Sudanese visa (which we had) along with originals of course. They had us fill out several forms (all of which ask the same thing). In Sudan you are required by law to register within 3 days of entering the country. We had heard sometimes you are able to do it at the border (rather than Khartoum) so we thought we might as well get it out of the way if we could so we asked if we could register there. After determining we had Sudanese pounds to pay the fee and a passport photo each we were able to register which involved filling in another form (again same questions) and then being told to sit down, ok no worries. The minutes ticked past…. and past and other people started coming in also sitting and waiting but who knows what for- we had our passports and paperwork so they couldn’t have been doing anything with them. There seemed to be dozens of people working there, walking in and out but no one who was waiting was being served. At one point we could see them all in the other room eating. So we waited and waited getting hotter and hotter. Soon the power came on and someone turned the telly on. So we were treated to the loud Arabic TV program which kept flashing on and off. Finally a man came and went into a little glass office and called us up, asked for our paperwork and after we paid the fee to register (around $50 each) he fiddled with some more papers, passed our documents to someone else and gestured for us to sit down again. After waiting awhile we decided we would go and wait near the counter as a gentle reminder and finally they came out with our passports, stamped into Sudan and with the additional sticker indicating we have registered as required.

Right…. now on to customs. We were directed to a large warehouse that was partitioned into a few offices, all empty. In the front waiting area the two staff were laying down watching telly (really!) One grunted at us to wait so we did. After awhile we gathered nothing whatsoever appeared to be happening so I asked Olly to ask him what we were waiting for. Someone was praying and would be back shortly. Ok, more waiting. Then he gestured for us to go to a large shed with the ceiling falling in, stinking hot with about 10-15 men walking in and out but always at least 10 at any given time. They seemed to ‘work’ there but weren’t doing anything (to us anyway). They asked us to sit down and wait, so we did. We sat for ages while they just all walked in and out, having a coffee, some chatting, a few praying, one guy sleeping. We asked again what we were waiting for and to speed things up a bit and told them we had to drive to Khartoum tonight so need to go (its a long way). We were told “The General is eating” When the bloke said wait 5 minutes please I thought we need to step it up a bit or we will be sleeping here. I haven’t sussed out how they will respond to an assertive women yet up here so I was trying to keep my mouth mostly shut, but I had to speak up then we went back and forth insisting all we need is a stamp in the carnet and we can’t wait any longer, someone else must be able to do it. We stayed there and insisted over and over. So one of the guys who had been lazing in the shed the whole time said he would take the carnet and be back- no way. We said we would go with him, we figured he could disappear and we could be told to wait for who knows how long. So we followed him into the first building and he proceeded to do it all! Very very slowly and tediously but he did it. He copied the carnet details and Olly’s passport details into about 5 or 6 different places. Just as it looked like it was going to happen he produced a stamp which was broken and couldn’t find any staples to put all of his paperwork together. By this time we were silently grinding our teeth.  Olly insisted he keep going. He fixed the stamp and finally 3 hours later we made our way to security the final hurdle which strangely involved a few smiling blokes asking us where we come from? Australia? Oh kangaroos! And said Ok bye and we drove past them. At 5 hours for both sides that is by far and away our longest border crossing yet! We have since read that Sudan has the largest bureaucracy in Africa, we don’t know what they base that on but it rings true to us! By the time we left it was almost dusk so we only drive 50 or km up the road before stopping and after drinking lots of water and rinsing the dust and sweat off our faces we felt heaps better. The stars are amazing tonight and we hope to get some sleep in the heat.

Sudan!

L

Castles and Lakeside retreat

26 April 2013- Lake Tana, Ethiopia

We have just spent a couple of nights in Gondar in the west of Sudan, Gondar is a big town that was the third major capital of the Ethiopian region in the 16-1700′s.  The centre of town sits just outside the walls and watchtowers of a royal enclosure.  Each emperor added a new castle to the complex of buildings inside, that include the remains of 6 castles and numerous other buildings including churches, two lion cages, a library, wash houses and stables.  It was great to be guided around and hear the history of the palace and how it was successively built up, after the guide had showed us around we went back to wait out the heat of the day in one of the balconied castle rooms and chatted away for ages.  The town itself is a busy place, bajaj (tuk tuks) whizzing everywhere, cafes in squares offering juices and snacks, lots of donkey and carts hauling stuff around the place.  We walked down from our car park campsite for breakfast on our way to the castles on our first morning and Lisa found a spot in a cafe out of the sun while I posted some fantastic postcards of Ethiopia from the 1970′s, of what seemed to be the first concrete tower block built in Addis, quite an attraction!  When I got back Lisa was chatting to a guy who was having a breakfast of avocado juice and a cake, he was having a few days away from the Addis and seeing some of his country.  We ended up having a great chat, and after discovering there were no eggs (every breakfast item on the menu was egg based) we ended up having juice and cake for breckie too.  Modestly but very generously he paid for our breakfast as he left, I can’t imagine that happening in Sydney or London.  On our wanderings around Gondar, we found Dashen House, an open court-yard with plastic tables and chairs, a popular place serving local beer and simple food.  After a few hand gestures and pointing at someone else’s food nearby we ended up with a couple of great draught beers and a plate of food all for a couple of dollars.  We have found Ethiopians so friendly, kind and quick with a smile and joke. The security guard at the hotel we are camping at nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard we were from Australia.  He was an older gentleman and didn’t speak a word of English but with a massive grin and immense pride showed me his mobile phone that had an Australian number saved in it.  It turns out that his daughter lives in Oz and the next day he brought in some treasured photos of her and his grand kids, carefully unwrapping them and showing them to us, he then phoned his daughter and thrust the phone out to us so we could speak to her.  Well, his daughter lives in Perth and has a very proud Dad back in Gondar, happy to have shared his family with us!

Yesterday after breakfast we walked to a nearby church, one of the most beautiful we have seen. We removed our shoes and entered in separate doors as is necessary and we met with almost every surface covered with fresco paintings depicting scenes from the bible. The priest who minds the place had a few words of english to point and show us a couple of things but mostly we just sat in silence and took it all in.  Although the hotel had a very friendly security guard, it is often difficult to sleep in car parks, so we were very glad to be on our way and heading to a campsite for the first time in Ethiopia.

We arrived yesterday afternoon to the edge of Lake Tana to a lovely place run by a friendly Dutch couple, Tim and Kim. It has been so relaxing! We are camped under a massive fig tree (not a car park in sight!) which provides needed shade and when we get up to go to the loo in the morning nobody is standing right outside the door looking at us. We have had all of our laundry done (never do it ourselves anymore, no washing machines anywhere and we are not hand washing our sheets, it would be a mess. So we hand it over to the professional who hand wash them). We have clean sheets, so nice! We joined Tim and Kim last night for a communal meal with the other two guests staying in one of their little rooms they have. It was a nice evening with a few beers and Lisa and I had a game of scrabble and finished the grog we had in landy before going to Sudan, where it is illegal.

We have decided to head for the border tomorrow. We don’t know yet when we need to arrive in Wadi Halfa, in the north of Sudan, to get our ferry to Egypt so we decided to carry on.

O and L

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Debre Selassie Church, Gondar

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Church ceiling, angles looking down on everyone

Lalibela

22 April 2013- Lalibela, Ethiopia

We had the day in Addis walking around, stopped for a pastry and hot drink (as half of Addis seems to be doing at any given time) and even tried a coffee, yuck. Ethiopia is the home of coffee and everyone says its great. We are not coffee drinkers but thought we would give it a go. We both found it very bitter and had to eat our pastry to get rid of the taste. :) We went to visit the excellent cultural museum and then went to the National Museum to see Lucy and her mates. After studying anthropology I felt I should have known more about it all but hardly remembered a thing.  As expected Addis is a busy crazy city- cars, bikes, animals and people all over streets and footpaths. Of course the traffic is impossible. There were a lot of people begging, far more than we have seen anywhere- its difficult to see. We are so fortunate and its hard to reconcile that.

We left Addis a few days ago and drove half way to Lalibela, stopping in a town and once again camping in the car park of a hotel. Not for the first time I found myself standing under the shower head all ready for a shower, with the ever-present smell of sewage and turned the tap… no water. Got dressed and went to get the bucket and cup, I really don’t mind that option, in fact I am fond of it. At least it’s water and enough to get wet with. Sleeping in car parks is, perhaps not surprisingly, not peaceful so we ache for our peaceful camps of Australia and early in Africa. Oh well, no doubt its car parks for a while yet for us. We spent the night trying to sleep and listening to the night watchmen, just as we started to doze the call to prayer started and we were awake again.

The last 100 or so km of the drive to Lalibela was on a dirt road, most of the roads in Ethiopia so far seem good, paved and the best overall we have seen for a while. This little road was a beautiful stretch winding through the mountains and a few small villages with literally every person waving at us. Although it was slower and bumpier it was nice to turn onto a small road- you always see so much more from a small bumpy road than you do from a paved road, travelling at speed and having to be so vigilant of other vehicles in your lane and all the people and animals.

Many of the children here work themselves into an absolute frenzy when we drive past, their shrieking gets higher and higher pitched until we can no longer hear them. They run along side landy shouting “pen, pen, exercise book”. We can’t believe there are (have been?) people silly enough to just drive around handing out pens to children. No doubt with good intentions but it seems to us it doesn’t take much thought to see that it’s not useful. The funny thing is when you stop and talk to them the are calm and just say hi and tell you their name. We have experienced the (in)famous ‘farangi frenzy” in Ethiopia where people (mostly children) just go mad- shouting and shrieking “You You You” whenever they see us. Although it is a bit full on we have not found it too bothersome and mostly just laugh or wave and occasionally shout “You You” back, that bemuses them. We’ve not had the problems some people have mentioned of children throwing rocks at us, only a few times, nothing too worrisome. One thing we have had to get used to in Africa but even more here is we ALWAYS have people watching us- from first thing in the morning to last thing at night and it’s not at all unusual to have someone leaning on landy at some point during the night. We have found generally people in Africa have a very different sense of personal space and its common to have someone right next to you or for example if we are sitting in the back of landy with the door open to have someone walk up and stand right in the door and lean in and touch things and look at us. it has taken some getting to. I still can’t imagine what is so interesting about us brushing our teeth!

Anyway we arrived in Lalibela in the afternoon and after sorting landy’s spot in the car park (yep car park again) we went for a walk around town to get our bearings and stretch our legs. At the moment its fasting time in Ethiopia, in their calendar it is lent, which means no meat for locals and yummy food for me. We had a feast our first night- ordering a fasting beyaynetu (platter of injera with about 6 or so small vegetarian dishes and sauces poured onto it) for me and beef tibs (bits of beef and peppers cooked in sauce in a clay pot) for Olly. My fasting dish was easily enough for both of us so we had a lot of food- too much really.  We now know one fasting plate is always enough for us both.

We have heard from a few people the churches in Lalibela are a must see in Ethiopia. They are. The town sits high on a ridge overlooking a dry stark landscape and has eleven old churches. In the 12th century, after travelling to Jerusalem, King Lalibela decided he wanted to build a second Jerusalem in Ethiopia. Historians (or whoever looks into these things) think it would have taken many thousands of people (perhaps tens of thousands) twenty some years to construct these buildings but some locals, including our guide, believe it was King Lalibela who worked during the day and an angel that worked at night, explaining the seemingly miraculous buildings.

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Yesterday was Sunday and as we walked down the hill towards the churches with our guide a flood of people in white shawls were heading up after the Sunday morning masses. We paid the entrance fees and headed towards the first church.  It was hidden as we went down a ramp and some steps towards it, we were both looking down at our feet at the rough steps, when we got to the bottom, looked up, and stood with our mouths open, and gasped.  We had walked down into a deep ‘trench’ surrounding a large building with pillars all around it, the roof was level with the surrounding rock on the outside of the ‘trench’.  Olly knew the buildings were carved into rock and I thought they were built of stone, and hadn’t realised they were carved from the surrounding natural rock.  We took our shoes off in the door way and stepped into the dimly lit interior. Going inside we were memorised and the enormity of their excavation hit home.  We realised then that masons must have chiselled the outside of the building, then into the door way and from there removed all the rock from the inside as they went, chiseling the entire inside of the large pillar vaulted church!   Inside was cool and dim, as though we had stepped into a cave, shafts of sunlight picked out the small cross-shaped windows.  Thin carpets covered the uneven floors, where it didn’t quite reach the floors were polished by hundreds of years of bare feet.  Looking up into the gloom we could make out crosses and carved patterns in the vaulted ceiling connecting the robust square pillars.  We walked around slowly as our guide pointed out details and the symbolism of the church construction.

There are a number of ways the churches struck us, the immense task of actually constructing (excavating!) them is mind-boggling, they are also startlingly beautiful buildings with arches, fresco paintings and superb details carved into the ceilings and pillars.  All the time we were looking around a trickle of locals came in crossing themselves and kissing the cold stone pillars or kneeling down, touching their forehead to the floor in prayer.  Each church has its own unique features but all are beautiful and have the odd person in a quiet corner huddled over a prayer book mumbling melodically a prayer over and over. These 800 year old buildings are not museums or ruins but are alive in this deeply religious country and are used daily for services or rituals and especially pilgrimages.  In the first church the priests were rubbing a gold cross onto someone who had ‘bad spirits’, we were told that church is often the first port of call for anyone who is ill, blessings and holy water are thought to cure most ills, only afterwards would someone go to a clinic.  For us it was like watching something from another world and time, the woman with bad spirits was lying on the floor moaning, the priest rubbing and bumping her with the cross and moving her into different positions while pushing the cross into her body. This was a special cross, made of solid gold and is only brought out on Sundays (it is protected because it is pure gold and weighs 7 kilos, and was once stolen and sold to Europe, but thankfully was recovered and returned).

We are enjoying Lailbela, and will have another day or so here before heading west to Gondar area.

L and O

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Not in perfect focus but shows the inside of the first church, the scale

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Fasting Beyaynetu

Ethiopia

18 April 2013- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

It’s a rainy morning in Addis and cold (well relatively)! Addis sits at 2000m, so much chillier than we normally wake to. We arrived yesterday afternoon and took hours to drive from the southern part of the city to the northern part (where we are staying) through traffic that doesn’t move a great deal and if your side of the road is backed up just drive over the median and go up the other side, which then of course gets backed up quickly with cars going two ways.

We went on a food tour last night- mmmmm. The food here is brilliant. Not everywhere has a national cuisine and the staple in many African countries we have been to is pap (called all different things) but is essentially a maize meal based plain starch. Other things often include greasy chicken and chips (which are soggy) etc and we cook very similar things over and over (beans and rice with cabbage is a staple) so we are delighted to have so many new and interesting things to try! We had enquired about the food tour earlier in the day and said we didn’t know what time we were going to arrive in Addis. We arrived at 3:30 and had to meet at a church in the south of the city at 4:30 which we didn’t think there was any chance of doing because it had just taken us hours to do almost the same thing. Staff where we are staying (camping in the car park of a guest house in central Addis) said it should only take 30 ish minutes in a taxi so off we went. We jumped in and arrived 15 minutes later after beeping and zooming our way through the chaos that is Addis. We feasted- we went to four different little local places and tried heaps of different things. My favourites were a sour goat cheese and a lentil dish. Olly’s favourites were a very rare beef (a dish called gored gored, which is basically lightly cooked chunks of raw meat) and chicken wat (which is a bit like a curry or stew with minced chicken and a boiled egg) everything was served with injera, a thin, large, spongy sour pancake type thing that is served under and with most (for locals, all) food here.  Its one of the staples and would certainly be the equivalent of bread elsewhere but is more than that, as it’s what you eat everything with, tear a bit off and fold it around whatever you are eating, including very saucy or juicy dishes. Delicious!!!  Usually the food is served on a large silver platter covered in a large injera and different dishes are dumped around the platter on the injera and you dig in communal style. Yummmmmoooo! It was interesting to hear a bit about the different foods as well, something you don’t know when you try things on your own, gave us a bit of info on what we were eating and have been eating.

Ethiopia is a feast for the senses! It’s so different and there are interesting people, sights, sounds and smells everywhere you turn. What a place- Ethiopia has a different way of expressing time (what we would say is 7 am is 1 o’clock to Ethiopians) they also follow a different calendar with 13 months in a year and are 7 1/2 years ‘behind’ our calendar. There are many many different tribes (all with fascinating and different cultural, dress and practices), and an incredibly interesting history. We have noticed it is very simple in many ways, especially in the rural areas – there is much cultivated land but no mechanical equipment being used- wooden plows pulled by bull and most of the people use sharp sticks for their work in the field.  We have really noticed we are no longer seeing people carrying things on their heads as we have for months but in pouches on their back made of animal skin or cloth.  There are few private cars, plenty of trucks and buses and UN vehicles but most people and their goods get around on donkey drawn carts- piled high with people and produce, often driven by a child. Women here carry the load of the country on their back, literally. The other day we approached what we thought was three donkeys carrying massive loads of grass, one had a much larger load than the other two- we said wow poor donkeys and as we got closer noticed the one carrying the larger load was an elderly women. We have seen this a lot everywhere we have been in the last few days.

We spent a few days at Konso cleaning Landy and resting up from our northern Kenya experience as well as checking our the local market and a local village (with a guide, well done and low key).  We then headed north to Arba Minch and checked out a lodge (that has camping) that had been suggested to us, amazing view over two lakes and the Rift Valley but a bit pricy for us (to camp in the car park outside the lodge!) we decided to have lunch and leave the noise and heat and go up the mountain. Lunch was delicious and we were a little awkward as we tried eating with one hand only (the left hand should not be used) and then made our way up to a simple perfect place with a few small huts and a patch of flat for us to camp on. What a view! We set up the chairs and enjoyed just looking out over the Rift Valley and talking about all we have been seeing and our impressions of this fascinating and different country. A bit later a friendly German guy came up and said he had bought a goat and had it butchered as he is sick of fasting food- it is the time of year here when Ethiopian Orthodox Christians (which make up at least half the countries populations) do not eat animal products and do not eat until 3pm each day (3pm Western time which is actually 9am Ethiopian time). He invited Olly to join him for some goat soup which was delicious but made Olly cry real tears from its spice! We left the next day after sharing some fresh ginger tea with the German guy, a French girl and some staff and headed north again to a nice camp on a lake in the town of Awasa. On the drive down children popped out onto the road dancing all sorts of crazy dances as we drove past!

In Awasa we camped on the grounds of a very basic hotel right next to the lake, they let us use a room for the toilet and shower (we didn’t bother with the toilet but the dribble of cold water in the morning was nice). We made dinner and sat next to the lake until the mozzies chased us inside. Yesterday morning when we got up and got breakfast ready it was the first time in ages nobody was starting at us, it was amazing. Just us, no one watching. We were not sure where we were headed so after breakfast we had a look at the map and calendar (our visas expire at the end of the month) and decided to head north. We had wanted to go to the mountains near where we were (Bale Mountains) but decided to go north to where we want to spend most of our time and to make sure we have plenty of time there and if we have some days after that go to the mountains up there (Simien Mountains). So off to Addis yesterday. The roads here are rather good. A LOT of people (including so many children!) on the road and of course heaps and heaps of cows, donkeys, goats etc but otherwise driving is ok. The main thing is the kids, keeping an eye on them, although they look after herds of animals and are obviously used to the road, there are not actually many vehicles on the road in some areas so they get startled when you drive past. Goat herders or not they are still children, a make shift toy (plastic lid that they roll on end- very common) rolled in front of us the other day and sure enough a child nearly darted out in front of us to get it.

Today we are going to get a few bits done and then go to some museums- Lucy lives here (Lucy the v v old ancestor of humans)! We will likely leave Addis tomorrow and start north again.

L

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Typical village, southern Ethiopia

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Market day

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Konso Market

North and Ethiopia!

12 April 2013- Moyale, Ethiopia

We are here, we are in Ethiopia. I’m sitting in the back of landy and I can hear the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque nearby. Olly has gone for a shower, it’s a smelly shower/squat toilet with just enough (cold) water pressure to splash the dirt from the floor onto your legs, but to us its great!

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Little camel!

The last few days have been hands down the most tense of our travels. We arrived in Ethiopia an hour ago and have not been stamped in by immigration. The guy wanted to go home early so he told us to come back tomorrow! So we have crossed the border driven into town to find this hotel and parked up in the car park- so happy to see it! We had a ten hour drive today from Marsabit in north Kenya through an area prone to bandits on v v bad roads. Travelling in a remote area is sometimes a little tense at first, then we settle in and love it, with the added security concerns it was nerve racking. There is no reason to believe they target westerners but we could get caught up in it same as everyone else. Anyway we are here safe and sound, although exhausted. Arriving here was manic, after days with nothing but scrub, lots of mud, a few other vehicles and camels suddenly there were people everywhere, coming up to landy, motorbikes, donkeys- busy busy and they drive on the other side here, which we only just found out about!  Friday is fasting day here so they only eat vegetarian food- we are wasting that eating in landy and going to bed early but too tired to face everyone staring at us.

We had planned to drive into Ethiopia via Lake Turkana and had been given various suggestions of which route to take.  Some said go one way- better roads, others said more bandits on the way with the better roads. We opted for less bandits and the most recent suggestion and headed off. We made it several hours down a perfect paved road and then suddenly it stopped and we bumped onto the dirt. The next roadblock we were stopped at the guy said the road we were going down might not be very good but give it a go, we could always turn around. We asked about the security situation and he said should be fine. So we headed off. This area of Kenya is very exotic and feels far far away from everything. We stopped to let some air out of the tyres and were approached by three tall men, carrying spears and interesting looking, very intriguing for us.  They were wearing a colourful piece of material on the bottom, nothing on the top and rubber shoes. They had some ritual scaring on their bare chests that were criss crossed with thin beaded necklaces. Their hair was plastered to their head with something and covered in a hair net looking thing. Each had numerous thick beaded bracelets as well as chains down their faces that tucked under their chins.  They must have thought we were interesting looking as well, they watched us curiously for a while, laughed at us and pointed, talking amongst themselves and waved at us as they walked on.

The area started to look more and more arid and we started to see people herding camels, a first for us. The women we went past were a flash of colour,  bare chested with massive thick beaded neck pieces that went half way down their chest. It took a little while to get used to seeing herders with machine guns over their shoulders but they all just waved and smiled. Some had a spear and a machine gun (often with an umbrella as well!). Fascinating. The road was ok, although difficult to follow at times and large sections were washed out. We got briefly stuck once and then came upon a very muddy wet spot. Olly got out and had a look ahead, it only got worse. He also met a herder who remarkably spoke English (not many people up there do) who said the road was impassable ahead, no one had been through recently. Being on our own and given if it rained heavily (which is has been most afternoons) it would just get worse, we felt uncomfortable enough to turn around. There was one other road that headed the way we wanted to, near Marsabit so we headed there for the night- thinking the next day we could either go up the dreaded Marsabit to Moyale road (which we have heard much about it being awful and not very safe) or try this other way to Lake Turkana. That evening in Marsabit (the day before yesterday, feels like ages ago though!) we decided to do the first because we could get no other info from anyone about the other route to Lake Tukana and were concerned about spending hours driving and having to turn around again. We decided to push on to Ethiopia and go for it in a long day. We set off right after first light yesterday and off we went on the infamous Marsabit to Moyale road.

Without a doubt this is the worst road we have been on since we left Sydney.  The rains had come to northern Kenya and the road soon became a sloppy mess, we were splashing and slithering along, Olly working hard to keep us pointed down the road.  We felt good that we were making our way and although the road was wet the mud wasn’t deep and we thought to ourselves that this wasn’t going to be too bad, just a long day.  That was until we came upon patches of thick, deeply rutted wet mud, with trucks littering the road and poking out of the mud at different jaunty angles, all stuck fast.  We stopped and thought the worst, we may be stuck here for a while, Olly got out and walked up to the trucks and chatted to the drivers and discovered that many of them had been there for days, including a bus full of passengers (including children) that had been stuck for a week!  Glad we’re not taking the bus, we left the passengers with our fresh food (they had nothing to cook with) and headed on, can’t help a stuck bus, they have to wait for it to dry out.  Another 4wd had been through that day so we decided to give it a go, and with the engine revving and Olly trying to guide Landy around the trucks without sliding too close to the edge of the track and into the surrounding mire, we made it past.  After a few hundred metres of thick mud and hearts pounding we were glad to make it to dry land on the other side.  We came across similar sections three or four more times, most with stranded trucks littering the way, it was a battle to keep up enough momentum to carry on, but not going too quick when crunching over rocks or through dips and bumps.  At one bad point we skirted around the righthand side of a truck only to miss a better track bypassing this bad section off on the left, by the time we realised it we couldn’t turn around or stop as we would be bogged, we carried on another 100 metres past another truck, just managing to plough ourselves through the thick mud.  A section of the mud with big rocks came up and Olly momentarily slowed down as we grimaced and ground over them, that was it, with our momentum lost we struggled on a few more metres and came to an agonising halt.  Jumping out it didn’t look that bad, the wheels weren’t bogged in that much, then we looked underneath and realised we were sitting on the chassis and pushing a mound of mud in-front of us.  Out came the spade, but the mud was sticky and solid like potters clay.  This didn’t look good, we had at least 100 metres of thick deep mud behind us and 100′s of metres in front and no way to get our momentum going again.  We were no longer concerned in this section about bandits as there were enough people around with the stuck trucks but we didn’t want to spend a night or two out here, at least there was a couple of trucks nearby for company.  Just as all this was sinking in a Red Cross vehicle came up in the other direction along the side road and slowed as they past.  I could tell they wanted to keep going but their goodness got the better of them. They stopped and Olly ran up to them and asked if they could pull us out, to our great relief they said yes.  After hooking up three tow ropes the marsh between the two roads was bridged.  They pulled but Landy stayed still, after what seemed like an age, the mud let go and Landy crept forward, then lurched through the ditch and onto the good road.  Olly had asked me to stand some way away in case the rope broke so I was standing in deep mud, Olly jumped out and said, “Thank you, can I hug you?” and without waiting for an answer gave the big Kenyan bloke a crunching hug! Another vehicle a way behind us who were also stuck were helped out by an army 4×4. We were happy to see the army and stuck to their vehicle like glue the rest of the way to Moyale, felt much more secure with it in sight! There are few vehicles on the road and seemingly no other private ones. We saw buses, trucks and land cruises, which are public transport of sorts and packed to the brim with people as well as a few aid agencies vehicles and one UN with an army escort. By the time we hit the bad mud we were no longer concerned about bandits there were plenty of people around, all stuck, by then the road became the main concern.

We pulled one vehicle out, bursting at the seams with people, limbs hanging out here and there. And finally bumped our way into Moyale and were met with lots of waves and smiles and people asking us how the road was. We were told a few days ago no one got through for four days. So happy to be there, landy unbelievably caked in mud, plenty on the inside as well, both of us filthy and tired. We decided to go ahead and cross the border.  We arrived at (Kenyan) immigration and the guy asked where we were going (I’m amazed how common of a question that is- where else would we be going, we are at the Kenyan/Ethiopian border!) He said we close at 6 (it was 5) and we asked what time do they close the other border ( we have learned to ask this), his response was “Oh its closed already”.  Ok then, we wont go (DUH!) then he rang them and said “No they stay open until 6 as well”.  Ok then, we will go. No worries getting through, although we had to explain why our passport and carnet was already stamped in Nairobi (because we expected to cross where there was no border).  No troubles, they laughed at our muddy clothes and said see you next time in the dry! Off we went, crossed over and met with someone telling us immigration was closed, its Friday and he wants to go home early. He made sure we had visas (they are not issued at the borer) and said come back tomorrow, we open at 8. Shit…. we thought we were in no mans land- the space between borders but nope all was fine. This border has no no mans land, you leave Kenya and are in Ethiopian. So off we went- in Ethiopian for a night without officially being there. We are stamped out of Kenya on the 12th and into Ethiopian on the 13th, never had that happen before.

13 April 2013- Konso, Ethiopia

The showers and toilets were less great/exciting today. I gagged a little this morning. Today was another long drive, or it felt it anyway. We need to stop for a few days and recoup a bit- clean landy up. Our tolerance felt less today bouncing and bumping. But we are in Ethiopia! Exciting!

We went back to immigration and customs this morning and it was an easy with the staff friendly and professional. Customs asked us what electronics we have with us (we told them, nothing to hide after all) and noted it on a sheet we have already been asked for at road blocks. He also came out to landy with us and compared the VIN number to the one on the carnet, something that has not been done since landy was in the container in South Africa.  We left the chaotic border town today after officially entering Ethiopia this morning.

Our impressions of Ethiopia so far- with all the people and animals on the road and the concentration it takes its much harder to drive on the other side of the road, the only other place we have met this was Rwanda where the roads are must less chaotic. We have heard Ethiopia is full on, with somewhat aggressive begging and people in your face. We have had lots of stares and waves but nothing out of the ordinary. The road has been ok, some bits paved and ok and other bits bumpy and rough. The landscape has gone from pretty flat and green to rolling hills and green and finally to a cultivated patchwork. We have seen plenty of people on the road, lots of donkeys, goats, chickens, the usual and also camels which is not something we normally see padding down the road with their gangly legs and massive feet. The houses have all been sticks and mud so far except a few bits of tin in the two small towns we went through. Lots of children, the population here is very young, tIny little half-dressed kids herding animals so much bigger than they are.

We are now in Konso near the Omo Valley. Just as we arrived it started pouring rain so we are tucked away in landy. We are high up on a ridge and view of hills into the distance is nice, we think, we only saw it for a minute before the weather closed in. Assuming its dry tomorrow we will stay a few days to tidy landy and Olly will have a look under and make sure all is well after our rough treatment of her! Today we met Tom, a South African/English guy who is cycling from Cape Town to the UK. I actually wanted to cry for him when he told us about his last few weeks. We pulled up next to him on the road and said G’day and offered to fill his water bottles and have a chat. He had cycled up the v difficult road we just drove up, it was not too muddy but of course a challenging time, only to be told he could not get a visa at the border (he had thought you could) and no amount of pleading worked so he cycled 8 (!!) days back to Nairobi to get a visa, caught a truck back up and took the road again in a land cruiser with 19 other people in it, which got stuck numerous times, “The worst experience of my life.” He admitted he is feeling very worn and defeated at the moment. He needs to stop somewhere for a few days and take a break but has used half of his 30 day visa for Ethiopia to get about 50 km in (the visa started ticking in Nairobi). So he feels he has to keep going. We didn’t keep him long as he had a further 70 km to ride for the day. Wow. We were both sort of silent in thought after that! Cant imagine! We will think of Tom anytime we hit rough roads the rest of the trip!

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Mt Kenya

A back track and small catch up- The day we left Nairobi we didn’t get on the road until afternoon but we were determined to get out of the city, even if not far. We ended up getting a little lost trying to find our intended camp for the night, a guesthouse near Nyeri, in central Kenya. We finally found the place and it was so worth it! It’s a beautiful guesthouse that has a very basic area to camp, a bucket shower and pit toilet but beautiful- we woke each morning to clear views of Mt Kenya and it was so peaceful. We could only hear the odd buffalo in the bush. The guesthouse feels very much like you are in someones house, but not in a weird way so we really enjoyed a few days there. We stayed longer than we would have except we arrived on Saturday and needed to do a few things before heading to the remote areas of northern Kenya. The next day being Sunday and Tuesday being a public holiday (the swearing in of the new president- happy to not be in Nairobi for that) things took a bit longer to get done, everything closed. So we stayed four nights and really enjoyed the company of the owner, Petra and the other guests. One night we had dinner in the house, a communal family style meal and as we set off to walk the few hundred metres back to the camp area the night watchman insisted on accompanying us, which I though was overkill but figured we should just let him do his job. We were glad he did, as we approached landy we heard a noise in the bush which turned out to be a buffalo- buffalo are massive animals and running into one in the dark would not be wise. He said, “back up and don’t run”. We did as told as the watchman shined the torch on the animal, apparently they don’t like that, and we heard him run off. We spent our days pottering on landy, reading, chatting to the people there and also went to a local game reserve for a day and enjoyed the beautiful plains and forest of the area as well as saw animals- heaps of rhino!

In Nanukyi, only a few hours up the road we stopped for more landy parts and a women came up and offered us a place to stay in her garden, as it was afternoon we took her up on the offer. She texted us directions (she had to leave and go somewhere) and came home a few hours later. We ate our left overs with her in front of a roaring fire in her very colonial house- she is a white Kenyan born and raised. With a lion skin on the floor and incredible pictures on the walls from Kenya years ago. We had a nice shower and retired to landy for an early start. So kind of her! People with kids always seem to think of their kids when they meet us, she has children our age who have also travelled. And she herself drove through Afghanistan in the 70′s!

L and O

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Look at that horn!

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very stuck!

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Village, northern Kenya

Nairobi

6 April 2013- Nairobi, Kenya

Our last morning in the big smoke. We have been busy so its taken us a few days to finish the blogs and get them posted. We had several reasons to come to Nairobi and most of them we have managed to do.

Working on landy has kept us busy, getting her a bit tidy after the recent dusty and then muddy days, it was time for a service and a full check up and we’ve been told she is in great condition, music to our ears and a testament to Olly for looking after her so well. We also spent two days sorting our Sudanese visas. It involved a lot of running around (well, mostly sitting in traffic which is awful, it takes about an hour to go a km or two!). Using the most recent info we could find (there is no website for Sudanese embassy) we knew we needed a letter of introduction from our respective embassies, some passport photos, and copies of other bits and pieces. We obviously have to go to two embassies so it took a while. On Tuesday after speaking to the mechanic and putting our washing in to be done (clean sheets!!!!) we set off for the Aussie embassy. After much sitting in traffic and getting through security at the Aussie and British embassies (both heavy, esp the British) we finally had the letters in our hands. After more traffic we got to the Sudanese embassy, the woman behind the counter gave us the application form that is in Arabic and English  (a first for us, it included a question on your religion and blood type) and then stood up and without a word walked out and locked the door behind her, the security told us she went on lunch and would be back at two! We came back at two and were told “No this wont work, these letters will be rejected”. Although the content of both letters from our embassies was adequate the letters MUST say at the top- Sundanese Embassy, Nairobi or they would not be accepted. The consul himself came out and had a chat with asking us where we live, we answered Australia and he said “Oh, I love Australia I will be happy to give you a visa… when you fix the letter”. So off we went back to the British embassy first, which was closed for the day. So 7 hours from when we started we went back to camp no further ahead, expect knowing what to do the next day. Yesterday we set off in the morning and repeated it all again. Both the Aussie and UK High Commission staff laughed and shook their head when we said what the problem was. They changed the letters with no hassle and we dropped them off with no additional hiccups. She even said we could pick them up that afternoon, so we went back a few hour later and now have Sudanese visas!

One of the main reasons to come here was to hopefully meet up with some others going north to do the next leg of the trip with. All along we had hoped to share the next leg with others for security and safety (its rainy season, if we get stuck etc). We heard Jungle Junction is normally a busy place with people going north and south, with the elections there are just not many people here and none going north so not to be.

Olly has been changing the broken shock absorber and we even stopped by a shopping centre- a massive new modern place the likes of which we have not seen anything like since Cape Town. I even had a hot chocolate!

Yesterday we visited the elephant orphanage, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. For one hour a day visitors are allowed to watch as the little ones, who are orphaned due to human activity (poaching mostly) are fed. Gorgeous! This organisation does great work and all of the elephants are ultimately reintroduced into Kenyan national parks.

We had to venture into the city to get our passports stamped out of Kenya, where we are crossing into Ethiopia has no border post so we needed to do it here, after being literally being ignored by important people behind desks we managed to persuade them to stamp our passports, and we met the best security guard who let us double park right outside the building.

A few days ago we ran into Monique, the lady we met at the Maasai Mara and she kindly invited us for dinner last night. So our final evening in Nairobi was spent enjoying the company of Monique, Augustino and Yannick, their three-year old son. We feasted on a very nice meal and had a good night.

We are off today- we will start making our way north. The next leg of the trip will likely be in some ways the most challenging and ‘different’ as we start heading for vastly different cultures of Ethiopia and Sudan. We are excited!

L and O

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Maasai Mara

1 April 2013- Nairobi, Kenya

We are at Jungle Junction, a well-known overlanders haunt in central Nairobi and strangely the main sound we can hear around us tonight is the deep, loud croaking of frogs! We arrived in Nairobi this afternoon after an amazing time in the Maasai Mara. As far as animal encounters go yesterday was just incredible and one of the best days of our trip.

At the lodge just outside of the Maasai Mara there was one other group camping- a small group from Nairobi. An expat and her teenage son as well as a couple (he is Kenyan and she is Dutch) and their little boy, all away from the city for the weekend. He has a small tour company (great guy if you are coming to Kenya let us know, we will give you their details) and goes to the Mara a lot with clients. When we arrived we all said hi to each other and I chatted with them a bit while Olly was in bed. We were talking about hiring a guide and asked his thoughts on it. He said they had a guide (or spotter really) already (a local Maasai guy) and we were welcome to tag along with them early the next morning (yesterday morning).

So yesterday we were up while it was still dark (safari days as we call them always involved getting up v early!) and off we went following their landy. We were out for only a few minutes when the Maasai guide managed to spot some lions that we would have never seen! Having two 4x4s meant we could go on tracks that you wouldn’t do alone, especially as we had heavy rain the night before so we slipped and bumped our way down lots of small tracks, the most 4x4ing we have done for a long time.

What an afternoon! Them in front of us with their roof popped up (they have their landy kited out with a roof that clients can stand and look out) so the Maasai guide was standing out the top looking across the endless plains. We came across our first cheetah not much later, sleek and elegant looking. Walking across the wide open savannah. Soon we came across a group of five lions lazing under a tree and further on four young cheetahs laying down with full looking bellies. We saw a serval cat (very rare to see we were told) and very beautiful, a little like a small cheetah with slightly different markings.  It was turning out to be an amazing day, we saw our first black rhino in the distance as well as many buffalo, zebra, ellies and giraffe.  As something new was spotted we received the beep beep of a text from in front saying cheetah… serval… eagle…!

The light was just starting to fade and we continued to follow the other landy down small tracks, slipping and sliding and through water crossings.  We were wondering how we would get out of the park as it was passed the gate closing time, but they knew what they were doing.  We came up over a hill and saw a pride of lions, as we approached we could see they were with a kill. This is something we have not seen yet in our travels although we have often hoped we would. There were seven cubs and six adults all tired and fat! Next to one of the big males was a large carcass, mostly a rib cage that he was still gnawing on occasionally but for the most part they looked finished with it for the time being. One of the cubs was chewing on a leg that was bigger than him and wrestling with it.  We sat watching intently with the smell of fresh raw meat wafting in through the window, if you closed your eyes you could have been in a butchery. Light was really fading now and we reluctantly headed off, about 500 metres up the road, right next to the track we came across something that took both of our heads a minute to actually take in- two cheetahs who had just killed an impala. They were both crouched down, frantically eating, faces disappearing into the body, all we could hear was the ripping and tearing of flesh and the scrape of tooth against bone.  Every now and then one of them would look up, face covered in blood and almost with panic look around nervously.  It was getting dark and hyenas were probably not far away so right now they had to eat as much as possible as quickly as possible before they were driven away.  It was such a mesmerising sight, raw nature laid out in front of us.  The blood was luminous red, almost glowing in the twilight, still pumped full of oxygen from the impala’s last dash.

Once again we reluctantly had to get moving the light was almost gone and a black storm was rolling in.  Soon we were splashing along, the rain lit up in our headlights, as we followed two red tail lights wobbling along in front of us.  We had no idea where we were going or how to get out of the park so we couldn’t lose them.  We followed them to camp through a back way out of the park, not really believing what we had just seen! We spent a few hours over a beer reliving all that we had seen, and were told this wasn’t an average day in the Mara.

This morning we made our way through the park in the rain (we had to stop so Olly could take off a broken shock absorber while I was on lion watch) and arrived in Nairobi around lunch time. Being a public holiday we couldn’t get many things done today but we are ready to do washing, landy stuff and head off first thing tomorrow to get our Sudanese visas.

L and O

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He was so full he could hardly walk!

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