Saturday, 29 December 2007

Christmas on Lake Malawi

After the delays in Dar es Salaam, broken spring and our quest for fuel we did not know whether we were going to make it to a good spot in Malawi for Christmas;. In Mzuzu we stocked up on cash, after queueing at the ATM for one hour, diesel and we bought the elusive frozen (semi frozen) chicken for Christmas day. We then made it to our intended destination of Chinteche Beach and it was lovely.

During the night Santa seemed to have located us and filled our sleeping bag bags we had left attached to the fly sheet. Gavin received a new pair of flip-flops. I am so pleased that Santa correctly guessed his shoe size and I received a couple of very interesting books which Santa must have found in an obscure bookshop in Mzuzu.

Christmas morning we attended the local Bandwe Presbyterian Mission Church. I had been told that the service was from 8-9. When we eventually found it, at 10 past 8, I realised that the start was at some time between 8 and 9 so we were not late at all. All during the service more parishioners drifted in and the congregation increased in size at least 10 fold from when the service first started. Although we had been told that the service was in English it was still quite difficult to follow as the pastor often became quite excited and kept lapsing into Chichewa and shouting. Luckily the gentleman next to us would attempt to interpret for us. My concentration was also interrupted by the very noisy baby in the next pew breast feeding and burping, the dog which took great interest in the altar and in the pastor’s leg and the numerous cell phones ringing at regular intervals. The service was held in a large new church, very close to the old church. The Pastor informed us that old church had been built in the honour of Mrs Somebody’s (yes he did say Mrs Somebody) memory, he also explained that Mrs Somebody was the wife of the Missionary and had died soon after giving birth to her son who also died.

Initially the singing had been rather weak but as the numbers of singers swelled and everyone got into the swing of things it was magnificent and during the final hymn (I did my best to keep up with the Chichewa not having a clue what I was singing) drums were taken up from underneath the pews. At the end of the service Gavin was slightly taken aback when we were asked to come to the front to introduce ourselves, but we were made to feel very welcome and were asked to sign the visitors book.

There was anther white lady at the service, from Scotland, who gave us some background information on Mrs Somebody, whose name was Mrs Martin. She was friends with one of Mrs Martin’s daughters, now 80 years old living in Scotland, and they had set up a foundation to provide funds for the girls schools in the area. The original idea had been Mrs Martin’s in the twenties. She also explained how her friend had returned to Bandwe when she was 60 and learned for the first time that she had a baby brother who was stillborn, no one had thought to tell her. Apparently Mrs Martin died soon afterwards of black water fever.

Back at the campsite we set about roasting our chicken. Gavin did the manly thing and looked after the fire while I tended to the chicken. After the usual problems of fires not starting etc we sat down to Christmas lunch in true Bowley fashion, rather late. I had been a bit worried about how the chicken had been stored so ensured that it was well and truly cooked- it certainly was, it was falling off the bone, but still very succulent. This was quite good because we did not really have a good knife to carve it with. The potje performed fantastically- the spuds were roasted, the carrots sweet and soft and onions juicy. But we noticed a massive change to our appetites. Normally the two of us would polish off a bird with stacks of potatoes and vegetables. This time we were full and there was still half a chicken left.

Boxing Day was spent lazing around, catching up on laundry, baking bread in the potje and swimming in Lake Malawi.

In the campsite were some more overlanders in a 4 wheel drive truck. It has taken them 14 months to get this far from Austria, and they took a ferry from Genoa to Tunis. It is quite funny, now when we talk to other overlanders, we all know the same people up and down the continent. The other thing is that overlanders seem to have a very different view of the countries they visit, compared to backpackers, people who are working for NGO’s or other tourists. We often have to keep some of our opinions to ourselves but with other overlanders we can freely discuss the problems and frustrations we have had making our way through Africa.

Malawi has been very refreshing compared to Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania in terms of far fewer people demanding money etc from us. Although one man did ask us to buy his corn on the cob (for about 5 times the usual price) because he was hungry, when we suggested that he might want to eat the corn on the cob himself he just looked blankly at us. Also in Malawi the towns are well organised and clean, the countryside is lush and full of carefully tended crops (although we are here during the rainy season). Even the driving is considerably better with fewer lorry wrecks by the wayside.

Further down the coast of Lake Malawi we stopped at Senga Bay for a few days. This is more of a town than the other places we have visited so there are many more people around. Yesterday I walked through the fishing village right on the beach negotiating my way through the drying nets and men either repairing them, sleeping or talking on their cell phones. Behind the beach are rows and rows of fish drying racks- the smell is really quite overpowering!

From here we head to Lilongwe and then on to Zambia.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

It’s been an eventful few days since the end of the last entry. We have now left the coast behind, although we had to depart Dar es Salaam with unfinished business, as the day we left was a public holiday (for the end of the Muslim Haj). We still did not have the vehicle insurance we had been trying to buy since Nairobi, and publishing the last entry had to wait until we found an internet café in Morogoro. We did manage to stock up at a supermarket, though, and best of all, we finally found a Potje, or Dutch Oven (the cast iron pot type – not the other one…). Catkin has been dreaming about all the new things she will be able to cook in the pot, like bread, pizza, chocolate cake(!), stews, scones and even roast chicken!!! I have been dreaming about eating all of the above (especially the roast chicken. I love roast chicken). Tonight we are finally trying it out for the first time, with bread.

Morogoro was a bustling town. We ended up camping for free at an hotel – the Canadian owner seemed most unwilling to charge us for the privilege of parking (and sleeping) in the carpark.

From there our route toward Iringa took us through the Mikuni National Park. I thought I was pretty smart when I was first to spot a baboon by the roadside, but I was well and truly trumped when suddenly Catkin shouted out “ELEPHANTS!” And there they were, just wandering along not far from the road. We stopped and watched them for a while, and ended up seeing quite a few throughout the journey through the park.

We were aiming for a farm campsite just south of Iringa, where we had heard you could buy tender steak from their farm shop. Sounded too good to miss.

Near the end of the day we were alarmed by a loud noise that sounded like scraping metal as we went through a depression in the road surface. There was no way we could scrape anything, and a quick inspection of the underside of the Land Rover and the road revealed nothing. We carried on to the campsite, but a few new knocks and clunks on the way suggested that all was not okay. A closer inspection at the campsite revealed the worst – a broken front spring. And on a smooth sealed road!

In the morning we decided to go back the 50km to Iringa to look for a new spring, rather than carry on the 200km or so to Mbeya. The people at the campsite gave us a name of a place to ask for, and we ended up dragging one of their employees around town to various new and used parts stores. In the end we settled on a used spring, with a plan to get some good new ones in South Africa where they should be cheaper. We pushed on for a bit until we found a quiet spot in a forest, then while Catkin cooked lunch I whipped the broken spring out and put the good one back in. So far so good.

That was yesterday. Last night we stayed at Matema, at the very top of Lake Malawi, and today we crossed the border into Malawi itself. We have ventured up a steep zigzag to Livingstonia, and then descended again in a quest for fuel. Luckily we have found a campsite that is willing to sell some of their generator fuel to us so that we can make it to the next filling station. Tomorrow we head further down the lake to find a nice spot to set up camp for a few days, and spend Christmas.

Seeing as we are south of the Equator (although still in the tropics), we have just had our fourth “longest day” in a row after following summers around the world over the last 18 months. This one was the shortest longest day I’ve ever experienced though, with about 12 ½ hours between sunrise and sunset. Not quite the same as London or Queenstown.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all, especially our friends and families. Keep safe,
Gavin and Catkin

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Jambo, hakuna matata

After a delightful interlude at Lake Naivasha, listening to the Hippos munch and stomp around at night whilst sitting round a campfire (Gavin finally used the axe) and watching the birds and monkeys during the day (black and white colobus and vervets) we passed by the Longonot crater in the Great Rift Valley and out to the white sands and swaying palm trees of the coast, via Mombassa. The access road into Mombassa took us through one of the most foul towns ever, with people walking barefoot ankle deep in rubbish ridden stinking mud. After our usual tour of the port (somehow we always end up at the port, could be Gavin’s secret hankering to ship the car straight back to NZ) we found our way through the city. Mombassa is a colourful vibrant town with music playing everywhere and women wearing bright kangas and headscarves.

Tiwi was our first beach since the Red Sea. Although the Red Sea is stunning underwater it really does not have the most exciting coastline whereas Tiwi was a tropical paradise. I gorged myself on fresh windfalls of coconut, which I surprised myself by really enjoying- nothing like those horrid bounty chocolate bars. The juice was very sweet but I really liked the nutty flesh. The locals slice open the coconuts adeptly with a small machete, I resorted to smashing them open with a hatchet. That evening we were invited to a fish Braai. We ate crayfish, tuna, snapper and greenfish. It was delicious but we think that most of the fish would not have been legal in New Zealand because it was undersized; I have never seen such small tuna fish.

We spent the next day of snorkelling and exploring the larval overhangs (where larva met the ocean and hardened, somebody please help me with the geological name for this), blow holes and caves and pools of water even hotter than the ambient sea water temperature. Reluctantly we then headed south to the Tanzanian border. Our next campsite near Pangani was even better than the last. We camped just behind the beach, they had hot showers (although the humidity was very high, hot showers are such a luxury for us), beautifully scented frangipani trees and even an internet place next door along a footpath fringed with bougainvillaea.

At Pangani we made our way to the ferry to cross the estuary only to find the ferry looking rather bereft. After enquiring I found out that it was not working “maybe later”. We decided to go around rather than wait for it to be fixed and when we bought fuel everybody seemed to know that it was not working. One suspects that it had not been working for a while so I guess that the two lorries waiting (the drivers had made themselves very comfortable) may still be waiting.

It was a fairly slow, rough but very pretty drive to the main road through small villages and plantations of sisal, coconut, pineapple and sugar beet. Once we hit the main road it was only a few hundred kilometres to Dar es Salaam. The road was in good condition and the bus drivers and lorry drivers have vehicles they can drive quite fast whilst not appearing to have any understanding that there are other vehicles on the road. I think it was only once we were forced off the road. Amazingly there are many police check points. Here the police check that you have a silly number of warning triangles and attempt to extort cash out of unsuspecting drivers. One successful technique has been to feign an interest in Premier League football, lucky for us the BBC World Service seems to be as obsessed with football as is the rest of the world so we know the latest football gossip- enough to get us out of trouble so far.

All through Africa, as cyclists ourselves we are generally impressed by the loads people carry on their bikes. Loads vary from a 3 seater sofa (shame we did not get a photo of it) to numerous sacks of potatoes or four or five jerry cans of water or the whole family. However we really thought that this spare wheel was not going to get this cyclist very far.

To reach the beaches and campsites closest to Dar es Salaam one can either use the Magogoni ferry or drive an extra 50km. How bad can the ferry be we asked ourselves as we approached the city a good hour and half before sunset? Long after sunset we emerged off the ferry, battling with all the pedestrians and cyclists so again we had to find a place to stop in the dark. We could not find the place we were looking for and when we saw Kim Beach advertising camping we went for it. This place was also hard to find and eventually we found ourselves on the beach and guessed that this must be it. With our torches we found the ablutions block, crawling with cockroaches and a shallow freshwater well. The humidity is so high that everything takes ages to dry and we really wanted a shower. It was quite late so we made do with a strip wash. In the morning we discovered that Kim Beach is some sort of Eco Tourism place and cost a fortune. Not only were supposed to pay too much for camping overnight but if we wanted to stay during the day, despite having paid to camp, there was an extra fee to pay! It sounds as if eco tourism here means provide nothing and expect a lot. We had more pressing things on our minds, such as getting the computer fixed which did a great big burp and refused to work, so back into the city off to Dell computers we went.

We spent the whole day in Dar es Salaam waiting for the computer to be fixed. At the end of the day expecting to have the computer ready and eager for us to use it again we were given bad news. The problem could not be fixed and they would have to save our data, wipe the hard drive completely and then re-install the programmes, many of which we do not have with us. The technician was not there to talk to so we arranged to return first thing in the morning to discuss it with him; to find out what he had tried and which programmes he could re-install. The next morning Gavin was not feeling well at all- anxiety about his beloved computer I am sure. So off I trundled back on the ferry back to town. This time I did not have to wait long as a pedestrian but as the ferry approached the other side I was showered, as were many others, by boiling water from the ferry engine’s radiator. The ferry is quite tightly packed and the panic that ensued was not pretty.

At the Dell place I had to pretend that I knew something about computers to the technician. Luckily Big Brother Rob had found a “method” on the internet for fixing this problem, but we were not confident in trying this out on our own and potentially losing all our data. So in my most diplomatic way I suggested to the technician that he might want to give it a go before wiping everything. Oh, no he says, wiping it is the only option, he has tried everything. Amazingly when we returned the next day he had not had to wipe the hard drive and our programmes were still there. We were very relieved.

Now we were free to visit Zanzibar, so the next day we packed a bag each, left the car at the campsite and braved the dalla dalla (public transport) and the Magogoni ferry again to catch the ferry to Zanzibar, the Spice Islands and heart of the slave trade.

After a three hour crossing we emerged into Stone Town which is delightful mixture of Arabic and colonial architecture backdrop for everyday Swahili life overlooking the turquoise ocean. It is also the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, his home is now a restaurant. We dined at an open air market in the evening and then chatted to other guests at the hotel until bed time. Now that we are in much more touristy areas than before we are meeting many other tourists and travellers, rather than other overlanders and it is so interesting to find out why other people are travelling. Overlanders are very much a breed separate to other travellers.

The next day we joined a spice tour which took us to spice farms where we saw, tasted, smelled, rubbed the plants and berries etc from which many spices originate and learned all sorts of interesting facts. Such as, nutmeg has quite potent aphrodisiac properties, the guide even gave us the recipe for lovers porridge. After a delicious lunch of fish curry (not Gavin’s favourite) and a swim we visited the Magapwani slave caves. After slave trading was made illegal the traders would secretly hold slaves (200 hundred at a time) in these caves and those who survived would be taken underground through a network of caves to waiting ships.

We had been told of the beautiful beaches right at the north of the Island (Nungwi) so we headed up there on the dalla dalla after the spice tour. After travelling in our own car for so long it was fun to be squashed into the back of the truck as people loaded chickens, coconut husks, bicycles and all manner of stuff. I did not even have to hang on because I was so firmly wedged in. We had also had been told, by a local, that high season had not yet started, that it would be easy to find accommodation and it would not be very expensive because all the resorts were more on the east. How misled we felt when we arrived. Our guidebook also described a place we did not recognise. Sure enough the beach was pretty, but there was resort after resort without a break. We eventually found a hotel which basically had running water, a mosquito net and a locking door. After a swim in the moonlight we went in search of food. All of the food was at inflated tourist prices, fine if you are on two week holiday to escape the European winter, not so great for a hungry G&C looking for some value. Even the food in the shops was ridiculously priced. We settled for bland rice and bananas from Mama’s café after asking a local where he ate.

In search of affordability and normality we headed a few kilometres south to Kendwa and found a banda (hut) on the beach where we chilled out for the next 24 hours before returning to Stone Town and catching the night ferry back to the mainland. That evening, having ordered our food in advance, we dined at a local café where the food was fresh and delicious (more fish curry for me) and a third of the price in Nungwi.

Zanzibar was a lovely interlude on a beautiful island rich with culture and tradition. It was fun to be backpacking again but it was also good to be back at the car, our home. After a day of and ministration in Dar es Salaam we will head away from the Indian Ocean, with some regret because it is lovely, towards Malawi where we hope to find a good spot for Christmas.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Slip Slidin' Away

We enjoyed Swiss Henry’s slice of heaven in Marsabit so much that we ended up staying for two nights. It was the best campsite we had been in for ages, with clean, hot showers, a small round shelter (which we used – it was raining) and, of course, the bakery. It was a great place to relax after the rough journey to get there. We had heard that there was only 300km of rough, corrugated road remaining, and from there smooth seal all the way to Nairobi. Well, that might depend on what way you go.

We certainly had the first 300km of rough, corrugated road. Marsabit is quite high, and when we left it was raining in the mountains. The road was wet, so what is normally a dirt road was now a mud road, but that was okay. Once we got lower down the surface was dry and hard, and that was where the corrugations began. Big corrugations, and no matter what speed you go it feels like the car is going to shake apart.

We travelled slowly, to ease the trauma, and we were in no hurry. Just before we were planning to stop for lunch there was a loud “Bang!” like a large rock hitting something solid, accompanied by a new smell. “What the heck was that!?” I asked as we stopped to check it out. The tyres were okay, but looking under the car there was a lot of oil dripping from somewhere, and a trail of oil on the road behind us. I’m sure my sun tan completely disappeared as I feared the worst. Could this be the end? Closer inspection was required.

Fortunately (on the grand scale of things) it turned out to be one of our front shock absorbers. We had heard of others who had shock problems in Kenya and Ethiopia, so had been driving fairly conservatively to avoid suffering the same fate, but in vain. Anyway, we could drive on and fix it in Nairobi in a couple of days, although it was a pretty bouncy trip from there on. At times we felt like we were in a boat, bouncing over the waves. Despite the problems, we still made it to our planned destination of Isiolo that evening. At this point in our journey, we have covered about twice the distance we did in the Suzuki SJ in the Mongol Rally last year, but we have definitely had more than twice the car trouble!

We had planned a slight detour to Lake Naivasha enroute to Nairobi, and despite our faulty shock absorber, decided to stick to this plan, and to see how it went. Our route took us close to Mt Kenya, although we couldn’t see it as it was covered in cloud. Next on our “Tourist’s Checklist of Things To Do in Africa” was crossing the Equator, marked only by stopping for a quick photo next to the touts and me welcoming Catkin to the Southern Hemisphere (although I keep forgetting that now that we are in Kenya she is South African - perhaps because she hasn’t shouted yet for winning the Rugby World Cup…). I’ll tell you one thing though – it’s a lot colder and wetter around the Equator than we expected! At least we should begin seeing a lot more of the Southern Cross from now on (I managed to see it just before dawn on our second night in Kenya, at about 04ºNorth, low on the horizon). If you’re interested, the sunrise at the moment is about 0615hrs and the sunset 1830hrs.

Things were going well, so we decided to head for the lake. Our map showed a fairly direct route in that direction, with only a short section where the road was unsealed. What followed was a exiting afternoon of mud, which is great if you are a pig or a hippo, but not so great if you want to get somewhere before the sun goes down. Our first unscheduled detour took us up a track that kept getting narrower and less well defined until we finally decided to turn around when it started going in the wrong direction. It had been raining quite heavily, and by this time the dirt roads were getting very slippery. On our way back to our last known “point of certainty”, we came across a minibus that had slid of the road and was having trouble getting going again. The passengers were very well dressed, and not really in a position the push it out in the conditions. Never mind, Camel Trophy Land Rover to the rescue. As we pulled up, I could see them all eyeing up our winch, and our fate was sealed. We couldn’t get past anyway!

The only other time we had used the winch was to pull out a few old tree stumps in Kerswell Green, but I tried to make it look like I knew what I was doing. The Superwinch made light work of it, and in no time at all the bus was back on the road, and I was being thanked profusely by the driver and all the passengers. Catkin had made good use of herself taking photos and slipping over in the mud! Back on our way, we found the right road and things were going well. Until we turned off the right road onto another wrong road.

Once again we found ourselves on a narrowing track, and our GPS was telling us that the direction we were heading in wasn’t the one the map was telling us we should be going. It was getting late in the afternoon now, so we decided to carry on, as we knew we were heading toward the largest town in the area, and there we could reassess our plans. The track surface was wet clay, and quite slippery with it, so we were taking it pretty cautiously, crawling down hills in first gear low ratio. We were going okay though, until we came across a truck in the middle of the road, with lots of people milling around, looking suspiciously like it was stuck! The driver jumped in and had another go at driving out in order to get out of our way, but only succeeded in sliding completely into the ditch at a precarious angle. Once again we saw sparkles in the eyes of the onlookers when they noticed the winch on the Camel. So we got to use it for a second time. This time, however, the truck just kept sliding along the ditch, and was refusing to pop out onto the road. To begin with, we were only making it worse. Someone suggested filling in the culvert trench that had been dug across half the road width so that we could drive past and pull the truck out backwards. Catkin had the best idea though. When they opened the back of the truck for something she saw it was packed full of soft drinks and wheat! “Get it all out!” she told them. So we waited while everything was unloaded onto the mud. Even after unloading it was still a struggle, but eventually the truck came out back on to the road. Cheers all round! The driver, who had been looking very worried, was now very grateful, but as Catkin noted, failed to offer us a Coke each for our troubles.

Not much further down the road we edged past another truck stopped on the slippery road, and then proceeded to get our front and rear wheel on opposite sides of the ruts in the road. We were heading sideways down the hill, and I won’t tell you what Catkin said. But it was okay, I told her, because I had the diff lock on. Always seem confident is the key. At the same time we had some mad drunk running alongside us trying to ask us something or give us a present, I don’t really know what he was up to. I had to ask him to be quiet because I was trying to concentrate on driving. Eventually he gave up in disgust, or perhaps shortness of breath.

Further down the road we came across another bus stuck across the road, and while we were waiting to see if our recovery services were required again, a van got stuck behind us. We were trapped! Luckily, both got their passengers to push them out of trouble.

When we finally got back to the main road, it was getting close to sunset, so we started looking for a campsite. Nothing to be seen, so in the end we cut our losses and decided to head directly for Jungle Junction in Nairobi, arriving well after dark. It had been a long day. Luckily, arriving in Nairobi at night was not quite as bad a arriving in Cairo at night.

Jungle Junction is a place for overlanders to stay, meet other overlanders, swap tips etc. It’s a house in the suburbs with a huge garden for camping, and also has rooms, laundry services, a communal kitchen and so on. It’s been quite quiet while we have been here, but it was good to see two Swiss backpackers that we had met in Bahir Dar in Ethiopia.

Our first job on the Saturday morning was to try a find some shocks. Well we certainly got a shock when we asked what the price was. They are majorly expensive here. Tip to any other overlanders planning to travel through Kenya – bring a set from home! After shopping around, we found a set from a reputable company that were only double what we would have paid in the UK, instead of five times the price at the first place we went to.

Since then we have installed the said shocks, changed the engine oil and filter, been to Immigration to register our arrival in Kenya, to Customs to have our Carnet stamped in and Catkin has washed the car. We have also finally been able to catch up a little bit on our internet-based activities such as email, banking and the all important blog.

From Nairobi we finally made it to Lake Naivasha, staying at Fisherman’s Camp, where hippos come out of the water at night to graze on the grass on the other side of the electric fence.

After passing through Nairobi again we have made it to Tiwi Beach on the Indian Ocean coast, as a staging point for our advance to Tanzania. The beach is just what you imagine a tropical paradise to be like, and we are parked right down by the sand.

Originally we had planned to go through Uganda and Rwanda, but have decided against it now for various reasons too boring to go into here. And no Kenyan Game Parks for us unfortunately, as we are quite attached to our arms and legs, which is what they charge you here to get in (maybe they feed them to the lions). Zambia and Botswana will hopefully provide in that department, at a more reasonable cost.

P.S. Tractor Fans: I forgot to mention last time that after Egypt we started seeing Massey Ferguson’s all over the place again, although not too many in Ethiopia. I think Turkey still leads with the most though.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Happy birthday Rob from across the plains looking at Kilimanjaro but too cloudy to see it at all. Heading to the coast. Have a grand day.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

I love the smell of fresh bread in the morning

It was all going so well at the Michelin workshop until their car hoist collapsed, with a major hydraulic fluid leak, with our car on it. Luckily only two of the wheels were off at the time. It was then a bit disconcerting to see all the workers scurrying around with trolleyjacks, which also kept slipping and breaking, while other workers were hanging onto the roof rack in a vain attempt to take the weight off the brake discs. Gavin took control and we located the axle stands and made everything decidedly more stable. The only apparent damage was a bent brake guard which Gavin fixed. Once they had successfully fitted and balanced our three new tyres we were happy to leave.

After stocking up on essentials, such as loo paper, powdered and fresh milk, butter and even some fresh meat we planned to depart Addis Ababa. We collected Gavin’s passport and a not so brief return visit to the Land Rover dealer to purchase some gaskets and seals for the rear diff and transfer box as he had now decided that we were losing a bit of oil. Finally we were underway, heading south to the Great Rift Valley. Despite fairly good tar seal the road was slow; littered with the usual carts, poor drivers and their poorly maintained vehicles, motor-tricycle taxis, livestock, pedestrians and cyclists. Also, as usual, our map was a little off the mark and the distances were considerably longer than indicated. So what should have been a couple of hours, to Lake Langano, turned into a night-time expedition. Not advisable considering that the other drivers seemed to think that headlights are not necessary and there were still a few carts and pedestrians on the road. We had been advised not to bush camp in this part of the world so we were relieved to find the motel we had been recommended, we camped right by the lake.

The next day it was a short journey to the hot springs at Wondo Genet. They had a couple of pools and separate male and female showering areas. Entering the ladies area was reminiscent of the Hamman I visited in Aleppo. The hot, hot water gushed out of pipes protruding from the hillside and I was greeted by the sight of a rather corpulent naked older lady sprawled over the ground underneath one of the pipes. There was also a young mother with her two toddlers enjoying a wash. It was wonderful just sitting being pummelled by the water. When we left the queue outside was quite big, it was at the end of the day and many of the locals used the hot springs as a bath house.

The southern part of Ethiopia felt like a different country to the north. Firstly the people were much larger and louder than in the north. The land management was also very different with evidence of larger crops, there were far fewer people walking, instead they rode on carts pulled by donkeys which were also much bigger than those in the north. The women however, still always seemed to carry the heavy loads such as 20 litre water containers while the men had the important job of carrying their stick.

Instead of heading to the border at Moyale we headed south west to the Omo valley which we heard was very interesting in terms of different tribal peoples and the scenery. Also it meant avoiding the infamous Moyale Road, apparently rife with bandits and big sharp boulders to trash your car on. After filling our fuel and water tanks in Arba Minch we headed to the border. Unfortunately we had spot of bother with some police at a barricade by the Bawit river.

There are a few of theses barricades dotted around and generally after waiting, someone appears and after enquiring where we are from and where we are going we are on our way. Not so here. These police officers first of all wanted a letter of some description which we were certain we did not need then they decided they needed a “fee” from us! This we were positive was not required. When the truck beside us was allowed through the barrier we also decided to go, the police however had different ideas. Out came the guns etc so we stopped. Gavin got out of the car to try to reason with them but they then seemed terrified of us and started running away to behind their fire. What was a bit more worrying was when they started sending all the locals away! I just sat in the car thinking that this was not the time for me to give someone a telling off.

So we were at a bit of a stalemate. They would not talk to us but they would also not let us through and were keeping their guns cocked (or whatever you do with guns), not a good time to test my theory that they had no ammunition. Having made sure I had parked the car in the most inconvenient place; in that it blocked the road for any more traffic, I decided to get out the chairs and sit in the shade to wait it out. Eventually a truck turned up, then another. One of the truck drivers spoke good English and helped resolve this impasse. After it became clear that they wanted a bribe for me trying to go through their barrier it also became even more apparent that they were not going to get one from us. All of a sudden we could leave, there were a few firm handshakes and everyone was all smiles and we were on our way.

We made camp that night in solitude. Not a single observer turned up. Also the area did seem to be much more sparsely inhabited than the rest of Ethiopia we had visited. When the sun set we found out why: We were in mosquito hell. Despite a smoky fire, mosquito coils, citronella candle, a useless ultrasonic insect repeller device and even resorting to fly spray, I was bitten nearly 20 times through my specially selected trousers and shirt. Thankfully I had washed before the sun went down.

The next day at Turmi we met some very friendly police officers at the barricade who asked us to take lunch to their colleagues 20 km down the road at the next barrier. Not wanting to have more guns pulled on us we happily obliged them. Or at least we would have if we could find their colleagues. After over 40miles we arrived at Omorate (a border town miles from the border). We ended up giving the lunch box to the Immigration man there and hoping for the best, just hoping that the intended recipient found some food from somewhere.

Omorate is a decidedly unsophisticated town but it did have a man with whom I could change our last Ethiopian Birr into Kenyan Shillings, whilst a kid (young goat) the size of a kitten looked on. A very helpful man told us the way to the border, the turn off was 17km back at a sign indicating that there was a health clinic down the sandy track.

We did not really know anything about the tribes living in the area but given the variety of styles of dress there seemed to be a number of different ones. Most of the women were bare breasted and clearly the Ethiopian Tourist promotional posters depict the girls with the most “fresh” figures, never the women who have had 5 or 6 children or their mothers! Many wore skirts made from cow hides which they also used as backpacks. Both men and women wore lots of necklaces and some rubbed some ochre coloured substance on their faces and into their hair. Some of the men had ornate hair dos with different coloured mud raised up at the back with a feather poking out. Apparently this indicates he has been successful with a big kill over the last year. I am not sure this big kill relates to tribal warfare or to buffalo (I don’t think it relates to tourists). In general these people presented themselves with a lot more dignity and pride than many other people we have seen in Ethiopia wearing filthy clothes and their children with filthy faces and bodies, always with the outreached upturned palms. I am not sure how these tribal people have retained their ancient ways in the face of all the temptations the modern living poses. The area is not very easy to reach but it is also not that isolated and tourists do come here. I don’t know what the tourists do, look at them, pay them to take a photo?

The children along the more main road were certainly relatively tourist wise. They would do tricks and little dances or hold up souvenirs to buy as we drove by, inevitably if nothing is given an upturned palm is offered.

Later on that day we had another odd police encounter at a barricade in the middle of a sandy plain, with a few shacks nearby (maybe they were expecting us to bring them lunch). Anyway after explaining we were going to Kenya we were told we must ask the man standing by the car his permission to go ahead. Permission Gavin duly asked. He was met with a very blank look. So we thought we would show them our passports. Again a blank look, then we were nodded through.

We drove for another 5km and made camp. Luckily I had finished my wash before the locals arrived, having followed our tracks. However, they brought good news- we were in Kenya. The strange barricade 5 km back was the border. When our next visitor arrived, with his herd of cows, I was half way through cooking dinner. He sat and watched us for a while. I think “Big Brother” has not reached rural East Africa yet, so they make do with watching us. After some time he got up to leave so we nodded and waved goodbye. Fatal mistake, he thought we wanted him to stay. So he sat down again and made himself even more comfortable. His herd wandered off while Gavin and I were admiring the full moon as our tummies were rumbling louder and louder. Eventually he got up to leave. We quickly ate dinner fearing more company and lo and behold half an hour later he returned and appeared to settle down for the night with his wooden pillow. Just as we were going to go to bed ourselves he got up came over, said something, waved and was off. We were half expecting him to find him waiting for us in the morning. Despite all this he was quite magnificent to look at; very tall with excellent deportment, wearing a bright cloth to retain some modesty with a touch of face paint here and there.

The next day we made ourselves known to the police in Ileret, a town comprising a police building, their radio antennae and not much else. The route the police suggested took us through the Sibiloi National Park, along Lake Turkana. I did ask if we had to pay Park fees and they said it should be OK because we were driving through. Not so, after driving 70 km, crossing sandy river beds and lava fields we came to the park rangers who wanted a rather considerable sum of money from us. After much discussion we turned around and went back the way we came. Only a delay of 5 hours or so.

Our brand new tyres were already receiving a bit of a hammering from the rocks and lava so at lunch Gavin again played swap the tyres, replacing the rear tyres with the old ones. As we continued on our way we saw no-one, the last vehicle we had seen was yesterday lunchtime. We were really pleased with the privacy this would offer until just before stopping for the night, on the 4th Parallel, the transfer box lever broke. We were unable to select low ratio or apply the diff lock, essential for this terrain (for people with scant technical know-how, like me, this is what helps the car drive up really steep slippery slopes and negotiate technical routes).

The prospect of getting stuck and running out of water in the biggest middle of a dry nowhere was not appealing. We had not seen a well since before the border.

Lucky for me I married a most practical and manly chap (the Frenchies called him MacGyver) who repaired it. So after another omelette dinner we slept easily, well would have, if it had not been a howling, hot gale.

The next day we actually came to a town, North Horr. The people did look at us as if we had come from outer space but they still pointed us in the right direction for Marsabit. That night we ran our water tank dry and our reserve can did not contain as much water as we thought it did. However, my plan of having the fridge and camelbaks fully stocked with water worked and we made it to Marsabit the following afternoon with litres to spare.

We had heard, by word of mouth, of a place to camp called Swiss Henry’s Place. We had also heard that his wife set up a bakery. That clinched it for us-we had to find it. We had some co-ordinates which turned out to be a bit wrong. As we were driving around the hills beyond Marsabit a Land Rover approached and it was Swiss Henry himself. True to form the bakery was great and we gorged ourselves on fresh bread and butter. I even bought a cake to celebrate Averil’s birthday.

Gavin had been fretting for the last two weeks because we had not been able to send any text message or emails and was concerned that his family would be worrying, so he was really pleased to finally get a cell phone signal. Apologies to anyone who might have been worrying.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The long and winding road

This post was written at Lake Langano, Ethiopia, on 20 November 2007.

Our stay in Bahir Dar was rounded out by a day of sightseeing. In the morning, we took a cruise on Lake Tana, visiting a number of island monasteries. We only went into one (due to budget constraints – there is an entrance fee to each), but the murals inside were brilliant, telling various stories from the Bible and history.

While out in the boat we also had a look at the outlet into the Blue Nile. In the afternoon, we drove out to see the Blue Nile Falls. The falls, known as “Smoke of Fire” are hailed to be 450 metres wide, with spray reaching up to a kilometre away. We were both quite disappointed here though, as the adjacent Hydro scheme draws off most of the water, so the massive falls shown in the posters were reduced to a mere trickle. Worse still, we had paid to go and see them. Catkin wasn’t happy, and someone was going to get it…

First in the firing line was the unwitting carpark attendant, an employee of the tourism bureau. He had asked us what we thought, so we told him, suggesting it was unfair to charge to see the falls at low flow. He happily gave us the name of the Head of the tourism bureau and suggested we discuss it with him, and then had the gall to ask if we could give him a pen. This was his fatal mistake. After having been asked for pens by almost every child in Northern Ethiopia, Catkin let him know in no uncertain terms that he would NOT be receiving a pen from us.

So, the next morning it was off to the tourism bureau office. The Head wasn’t there (maybe he was hiding from Catkin?), so a deputy listened to what we had to say. He was very apologetic that the falls were much reduced from their original splendour, but it seems that is just the way it is, and I don’t think our suggestions to stop promoting them as they were, and in particular, to stop charging tourists to see them, will go too far. He did, however, give us some brochures on Lalibela, which was our next port of call.

He also, a bit unfairly probably, got a bit of an ear-bashing about the behaviour of the children we had encountered in Ethiopia. Almost without fail, after the initial “You! You! You! You!” greeting, the children demand money, pens, t-shirts, “a trouser”, food, medicine, etc. Often it is from children who look healthy, are well dressed and on their way to or from school, with a bag of schoolbooks, but they seemed to have picked up this bad habit of demanding something for nothing from foreigners. When you see the number of Aid agency vehicles cruising the countryside, you can’t help wondering if they are part of the problem rather than the solution, for all the good work they do. Anyway, suffice to say, a tourism department official wasn’t really able to comment on the education of the nation’s children. Later, in Addis Ababa, we happened to walk past the Ministry of Education offices, so I had to quicken our step and point to something on the other side of the road in the hope Catkin didn’t notice, or she would have been in there tearing strips off them.

Always keen for an adventure, we opted to take our ageing tyres on what would hopefully be one last voyage of discovery for them. We had been warned that the road to Lalibela was bad, with many stretches consisting mainly of sharp rocks and large sections under reconstruction by the Chinese. Anyway, it was worse than we expected. Our speed average 25-30km/h for most of the day. After our late start from the tourism bureau, we weren’t able to make the 300km or so by nightfall, so found a reasonable place to camp for the night. In the morning we only had about five or six people stop to watch us eat breakfast and clean our teeth, so it was a good result.

Lalibela is famous in Ethiopia for its numerous rock hewn churches. Of these, 11 are in the town itself, and you buy one ticket to see all 11. Unfortunately, the ticket price (for foreign tourists) doubled a year ago to an extortionate sum, but fortunately (for us anyway) the churches are grouped in three sites, so we quickly worked out that we could buy one ticket and share it. While I was waiting outside one site for Catkin, a “deacon” came and asked if I had enjoyed the churches. I asked why the tickets were so expensive, and was surprised to learn that the money pays the salaries of the priests and deacons. Hmmm…

The late afternoon was spent mending yet another puncture, but it was very pleasing to sit at the hotel at the top of the hill and enjoy a beer as the sun set.

From Lalibela, we were heading to Addis Ababa. More bad roads in all direction, but we decided to take what looked to be the shortest route (although not the main road).

We encountered more stone throwing little boys. I reversed back to one, but he took off at the speed of light. Another, I stopped and jumped out to chase, but my dreams of apprehending the offender ended in a cloud of dust when I slipped over in the gravel! The grazes have nearly all healed now, thanks for asking. Immediately after one incident a white Land Cruiser from Save the Children went past. I reminisced about collecting door to door in Warkworth for Save the Children when I was young, and now here were the very children that have been saved, throwing stones at my car! We joked about a new charity called Stone the Children. Ah, it was funny. We laughed.

The Scenic Route we found ourselves on for the next two days didn’t quite match what was on out map, but most of the time was generally heading south, which was the right direction, so we kept going. I don’t think many foreigners travel this way, as the reactions of the locals were totally different to what we had experienced in the more tourist oriented areas. The scenery was spectacular, crossing three deep canyons, with very steep descents and ascents. Low ratio on the transfer box got a good workout, and we only got two more punctures. And Catkin thrilled the locals in one town by driving the wrong way around their only roundabout, because “some cows were in my way!”

We even made our way into a closed area of roadworks, because we didn’t take the detour (which wasn’t marked…). Anyway, after telling the man in charge “we have to get to Addis Ababa, tonight” he let us through, and sent an escort to make sure we didn’t go the wrong way. We had been having trouble finding a good campsite that night, and it was now dark. We finally did find a spot by a river, and had our coldest night in the tent so far – down to minus 2.5ºC. Icicles all round. Pity I shaved the beard off in Sudan.

We only had a short distance to go the next morning to get to Addis Ababa, and most of it was on a very good asphalt road. Unfortunately, the ability and skill of the Ethiopian drivers is inversely proportional to the condition of the road. Actually, no. They are terrible whatever the road condition, but terrible and FAST on a good road.

There were a few things we needed to sort out in Addis, and top of the list were applying for Kenyan visas and finding the Michelin Man to see about new tyres (although it was now Saturday, so these would have to wait until Monday). In the meantime, we filled in the time with doing our washing and checking email. Although there is plenty of internet access in Ethiopia, all of it is dial-up, and all seems to run through a single server, so it is slow slow SLOW. As for our blog site, we couldn’t even get onto it, let alone publish the post we had been carrying around for a week. Very frustrating, but that’s just the way it is. In the meantime, we have kept writing the blog posts so that when we do get somewhere with decent internet (probably Nairobi now), we can foist them all on you at once.

We have ended up spending a lot more time in Capital cities on this trip than we thought we would. Lately, there have been visas to apply for along the way, and often we need to by a part or two for the Land Rover. We usually save our washing until we are staying in a proper campsite or hotel, and sometimes we even splash out and go out for a meal. Here, we went to the Addis Ababa Restaurant, and I had ribs. And it was just ribs with lots of meat and no vegetables to get in the way. Man, was it good. And I had beer, too. Ribs and beer – delicious.

Also in Addis Ababa, we caught up to Louis the Dutchman, whom we last saw when he departed Khartoum four days before we did. It was good to see him again, and get a few more pointers about our planned route south, as he has been that way before. He seems to have turned over a new leaf, too, as we never saw one bottle of Coke touch his lips, where previously we had seen him often drink three or four in a row.

Finally, on Monday, after applying for a Kenyan visa for me (British Catkin would have needed one, but South African Catkin doesn’t) and buying some exciting Land Rover parts, we found the Michelin Man, and he even had the right tyres in stock to match our (almost) unused spare. All was going well until we broke their hoist…

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Bonfires and Baboons

This was written in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, on the10th of November 2007. Due to very poor internet facilities in Ethiopia I am posting this from Nairobi.

What a difference a day makes. As soon as we entered Ethiopia we started climbing and the temperature plummeted, but more of that later.

The day we left Khartoum turned out to be a long one, complicated by getting lost in both of the towns we went through. In Wad Madani we ended up at a dead end on a dusty football pitch on the Nile and in Gedaref we got caught up in a diversion that took us through back yards and drying laundry. A very kind taxi driver led us through the dusty, cobbled (if we were lucky) rutted tracks to where we could pick up the main road again. The road from Khartoum to Galabat on the border was very good. Except for our little detours we were motoring, clocking up the most miles driven in one day since we left Worcestershire.

That night, being November 5th, Gavin had a little surprise. He pulled out a small packet of sparklers and despite not having a guy to burn on our rubbish fire we celebrated Guy Fawkes Night in style.

By now we had left the desert behind. We camped in a crop field surrounded by properly sized trees, grass and such vegetation we have not seen since Turkey. Of course we also had the insects to entertain us. The locusts were huge and the grass hoppers and other bugs were into everything, up a sleeve, frying in the flame of the stove and adding protein to our pasta.

Departing Sudan was far more simple than entering and in no time Gavin had all the paperwork completed. I stayed with the car because there is no point me trying to sort out the paperwork in an Islamic country, and we do not like leaving the car unattended at borders where there are always many dodgy geezers hanging around. We then crossed a rickety bridge into a far more chaotic Ethiopian border post. There were people everywhere. Ladies carrying umbrellas to shelter the baby on their back, border guides offering their services and horse drawn carriages. Interestingly a number of young Ethiopian men approached me, advising not to change money at the border, that there are banks in the next town and that many Ethiopians at tourist destinations are not to be trusted. Entering Ethiopia was also very simple. After a passport stamp and ensuring that we had yellow fever certificates we were on our way.

Ethiopia is a beautiful country and much of it mountainous. The countryside seems to be evenly and quite densely populated and the main method of transport being Shank’s Pony. There is never a stretch of road where we do not see either people walking and/or livestock grazing or on the move also. I think that the people are also very fit, considering that most live at altitude and they are on the move the whole day- the children are certainly fast running after us. Gavin likens some of the villages to fairy villages. They are very picturesque with thatched rondavels. The people are petite as is the livestock. I have never seen such dainty cows, tiny lambs, all the donkeys look to be miniature and the horses are more the size of donkeys. Much of the day to day living seems to take place in the outside and the country just feels to be bursting with life with human activity, lush vegetation, ,birdsong, the sounds of insects and animals making the noises they make.

We had been told a few things about Ethiopia in advance. One was about how bad the roads were. Indeed the road for the next 200km or so to Azezo was a bit of a bone shaker as was the road to Simien Mountains National Park. We had also been warned about the children; that they throw stones and are always asking for pens, money etc. Later on we decided that the children are in fact a type of pest and we need a type of child repellent. Anytime we stopped children would gather around; “are you poor?” they ask, “give me pen, give me money, give me your clothes ….” the demands never end which is similar to their presence. The worst times are early in the morning and in the evening when they are on their way to and from school. We have to get up half an hour earlier so that we can complete those private ablutions, one prefers not to have an audience for, under cover of darkness.

Despite being in the opposite direction to our destination we headed up to Simien Mountains National Park to observe the endangered Walia Ibex and the Gelada Baboons. On the way we stopped off at Debark to pay our park fees and arrange to pick up the obligatory armed Scout (Awaco) at 7.30am the following day. During our lunch stop we were amused by a group of honeystealers, attempting to nab some of the sweet stuff from a bees nest in a eucalyptus tree.

The extremely conscientious Awaco, complete with AK47, was punctual the next morning and after realising that he did not know how to open or close the car door we were on our way. If a man is not carrying a big stick or umbrella he is carrying an AK47. However, we have not seen ammunition anywhere so I was not too worried. Also, Awaco did sit in the back with his thumb over the barrel, most of the time, which was most reassuring!

The road out of Debark was a shocker with football sized sharp boulders as cobbles, livestock and people everywhere, but back on the open road the track improved for the 40 minute drive to the entrance of the park. One child threw a stone at us which hit the rear window. Conscientious Awaco, now having figured out how to open the car door, was almost out of the car before I had a chance to stop. Off he ran, nimble as a mountain goat, after the children, returning with the offending boy. But we did not know what we were supposed to do with him. Awaco did indicate that we could tie his hands together and take him with us! Not sure that was such a good idea, so after some finger wagging and stern looks we sent him on his way. Once in the park the flora changed from pastoral agricultural land with barley crops and grazing to a more alpine belt with arboreal heathers and hypericum. The heathers were wonderful, hanging with thick lichen (remember Gavin’s “beard” at Ohau, Mum?). Higher up the only vegetation was the giant lobelia. We saw many raptors gliding and diving and the Gelada baboons were not at all shy and great fun to observe. They seem to spend the whole day sitting in the sun feeding by tearing up the grass and preening each other. The odd male will also act as the urge takes him to make marital relations with a chosen female- as I said, they are not shy.

That afternoon we decided to test our fitness at altitude by climbing the hill behind the campsite. For the first half hour we were huffing and puffing, but taking it very slowly. Then quite suddenly we felt so much better, first Gavin and then myself. Our breathing was much easier, my legs did not feel so heavy and I had more energy. We made it to the top quite easily and were at about 4000 metres. Certainly the highest I have ever been. Needless to say storm clouds were gathering and the view was not so great.

On the way down we came across a group of shepherd boys clustered around a very smoky turf fire and looking rather bedraggled as they huddled under their blankets. They were toasting barley which was delicious.

Closer to the camp it started to rain and by the time we were back at the car it was hailing and becoming very cold. We quickly erected the awning and had a brew. As night fell it got colder and colder. Overnight it was 2 degrees Celsius in the tent. Considering that the coolest temperature we had experienced in months was 25 degrees and that was only just before sunrise, we were really feeling the cold. We were really glad for our Swandris.

Up with the sun in the morning we saw Walia Ibex which are quite majestic and spent more time watching the baboons. The young were hilarious as they cart wheeled up and down vertical rock faces. As the sun melted the frost the Park was seething with life. Everywhere we looked there were insects, birds and mammals scurrying along. After breaking camp we drove up the Bawhit pass, recording 4300m altitude on the GPS. I think that is the highest the car is ever going to reach in its life- imagine driving higher than Mount Cook. Amazingly enough, just past the top of the pass were four men, just sitting by the side of the road.

Then it was back to Debark to drop off Awaco. On the way another child threw his stick at us. Gavin stopped and reversed but the child was off. Again Awaco made chase. This time he returned with a few boys but not the naughty one. He wrote down their names and proudly retrieved the felonious stick as evidence, which he indicated he was going to make a report about. Now when we see a child with a mischievous glint in their eye and something hidden in their hand we just drive straight towards them and they scarper pretty quickly. This missile throwing behaviour is not so bad for us so far, but we have heard of some Overlanders with dents in their cars. For motorbikers and cyclists it is a real hazard.

In Gondar we visited the Berhan Selassie Church where we were introduced to the Ethiopian Orthodox style of church decoration, quite vibrant and unique. After stocking up on a few groceries and filling our various tanks we continued south. Expecting more slow and rocky roads we anticipated a long drive to Bahir Dar. What a pleasant surprise, it was tar seal all the way and the journey was only a few hours. We camped in the grounds of the Ghion hotel right on Lake Tana with its wonderful bird life and plantations of coffee and banana. Lake Tana is also the source of the Blue Nile (although it still looks brown to me). Gavin has been stocking up on meat (lately he has been obliged to become almost vegetarian) and we have enjoyed a few beers with other overlanders around the fire soaking up the mild tropical atmosphere.

We plan to visit some of the Coptic Monasteries on the many islands of Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls. Then we have to decide whether to tackle the rocky slow roads and cross over to Lalibela or just head straight towards Addis Abiba. Michelin have so far been rather useless in locating a tyre dealer for us and a couple of the tyres do look as if they are about to fall to bits, but I will not say anything about holes in rubber because I really do not want to tempt fate.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Happy birthday Averil! Hope you had a good day. We're safe and sound in Kenya. Poor comms - previous message from a week ago. Hopefully can update in Nairobi.
Lalibela fantastic, very bad roads. After 3 days in Addis Ababa have parts tyres and visa - now ready for Kenya via Omo Valley. Unable to access blog here!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Spectacular! A week in Ethiopia. All well. Have new entry ready to post but limited internet! Hopefully can post in Addis Ababa in a few days time.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Going Solo

With the Dutch contingent safely on their way to Ethiopia, and the French back at the campsite after a few days at the hospital, Catkin and I headed north to see the narrow pyramids of the Royal Necropolis of Meroe. It was quite strange at first to be back on our own again, having to find our own way after spending most of the last few weeks following the Land Cruiser of Louis the Dutchman.

We had first heard about the Meroe pyramids on BBC radio programme ‘Excess Baggage’, and seeing as we were passing through Sudan, thought it would be rude not to visit. Although much smaller than the more famous pyramids at Giza, the setting is far more atmospheric. These really are out in the desert, windswept with drifting sand, and not a tour bus or Russian tourist in sight. We camped that night in the area behind the pyramids, and by the morning we were also slightly windswept and covered in a light coating of drifting sand.

While we were there, a man on a heavily laden little donkey came over to see us. He told us he had a ‘supermarket’ and started listing what he had for sale. In reality he had more of a ‘little souvenir shop’ so we politely explained that we were not interested in buying anything. He continued his sales pitch, and despite her new found hard-nosed resolve to refuse to purchase anything when hassled, I could sense Catkin beginning to weaken toward this chap, who, she thought, was obviously just working hard to make a living. He completely blew it, however, when he whipped his mobile phone out of his pocket and asked if he could plug it in to our car to charge it. We waved him away, and he trundled off into the sunset.

Coming back from Meroe we took an excursion to have a look at two temples, Musawwarat and Nagaa. We didn’t know anything about them, but they were marked on our map and we felt like some more desert track driving. Permission is required to visit the sites, and this can be arranged at the entrance, but the US$10 per person price tag to see a pile of stones with little or no explanation was a little steep for us. We did have a good drive though, and even managed to get stuck in the sand briefly, so the big shovel got its first use (we have another small folding shovel for other more delicate “desert operations”, if you know what I mean). We did manage to drive out, and eventually made it back to Khartoum.

In Khartoum we have visited a big supermarket, but it turned out to be a big disappointment. We had been anticipating stocking up on a few of the harder to get items on our shopping list, but although there was lots of shelf space there wasn’t actually much there, and what there was is very expensive. A 1kg box of Kellog’s cornflakes was US$12.50! On our first visit, the Dutch Boys noticed how Catkin’s face lit up when she saw the shelves of cornflakes, and how disappointed she was that they were too expensive for us to justify buying. They decided to buy a box for us all to share for the few days that we were together, which was very kind of them. The carpark is always full of big white four wheel drives with various UN and aid agency logos on the doors, so I guess that explains the high price tags. Back to the local markets for us…

We are staying at the Khartoum National Camping Residence, which is a big complex with lots of dormitory rooms, bathroom facilities and an athletics track. At the moment there is a large group of students and teachers from all over Sudan staying for a two week English camp, so we have had lots of people coming to practise their English with us.

Yesterday, Bernard and Maria, a German couple who we first met in Aqaba, also arrived at the campsite. It has been interesting to catch up with them, compare experiences and find out how their journey has gone since we last saw them about six weeks ago.

The National Camping Residence is at 15º 31’ 13” N, 032º 34’ 22” E. Sunrise for us at present is at about 0645hrs, and sunset at about 1820hrs. The temperature during the day is typically around 35ºC-40ºC, and it hasn’t been dropping much below 30ºC overnight, although last night was much cooler. When we are on the road, we tend to get up early enough so that we can be on the road at sunrise, when it is still relatively cool. We try to stop at least an hour or two before sunset to allow some time to do our daily chores, relax with a cold drink etc. Of course, we stop during the day for breaks as well.
We have travelled 21870km since leaving London. Yesterday we carried out our third oil and filter change of the trip. We are changing the oil every 5000 kilometres at present, to combat the effects of the poor quality diesel available. Also yesterday, we had another puncture, bringing our total for the trip to 11 so far. The Hi-Lift jack is now mounted on the roof rack so that we don’t have to unpack the car every time we need to change a tyre. We are still searching for a new tyre to match our barely used spare, but still no joy. We are hoping for luck in Addis Ababa, where perhaps mud tyres might be more common. I have even asked Michelin to tell me where I can buy their tyres on our route, but so far they have not responded!

We plan to depart Khartoum tomorrow, spending another night in Sudan before crossing to Ethiopia. Although we’ve been told that Islam is gaining popularity, the main religion in Ethiopia is Christianity. We will be looking for a Bible so we can read up on the events associated with the places we have been to in the last few months, and we are looking forward to being able to buy beer again!

Once again, we’re not sure if we will be able to make contact until we reach Addis Ababa, so if you don’t hear from us for a while, don’t panic!