Monday, 26 May 2008

The Journey So Far...

Having now departed African shores, and as we prepare to cross the Australian outback, now seems like a good time to recap on our journey so far.

We left London on 25 June 2007, still buzzing after the previous afternoon’s get-together at the Windmill Pub on Clapham Common where we were farewelled in style by our friends and family. The UK was in the middle of a wet summer, and it rained heavily as we headed out of London town on our way to Ash, where we stayed with friends before our ferry crossing the next morning.

We spent our first few days in Belgium, fine tuning our routines and storage arrangements. After a detour north to the Netherlands to stay with more friends, we pointed south, heading through Luxembourg and into France. We were still encountering a lot of rain, and the awning was paying for itself, giving us somewhere dry to cook and eat.

In southern France the rains finally eased and the temperature rose. Now we noticed that the engine temperature on the Land Rover seemed to rise quickly on hills, probably due to the amount of weight we were carrying.

Over the Alps into Italy to stay with more friends near Piacenza, we then headed for Venice to be tourists for a day. From Venice we headed north (weren’t we meant to be heading south?) into Austria. We even helped in a helicopter rescue of an injured walker near the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.

Our reason for going north was to visit the German equivalent of the AA, the ADAC, in Munich in order to collect our Carnet de Passages en Douane. This is the document that would enable us to take the Land Rover across borders without too much hassle. We also took the opportunity to have some steering components replaced and a wheel alignment whilst in Munich.

From Munich we headed north-east across Germany and the Czech Republic and into Poland so that we could visit Auschwitz Concentration Camp. This was an amazing place to visit, and brings a new level of comprehension of the atrocities carried out there and in other camps during World War II.

Southward bound again, we crossed Slovakia, with a slight deviation to Vienna to collect some mail. Vienna would be our last truly western city until Cape Town, so we celebrated making it that far by enjoying a Weiss bier on the banks of the Danube.

Slovenia was beautiful, and seemed like a lost fairy-tale kingdom. We enjoyed a hot day boating and swimming at Lake Bled, and we were amazed by the underworld-like Skocjan Caves. On to Croatia, and we nearly got blown away by the high winds coming over the mountains and slamming into the Adriatic Sea. It was a windy night in the roof tent.

Due to insurance restrictions we were unable to cross Bosnia and Serbia, so instead detoured around through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, where we spent a few days at the Black Sea.

The border with Turkey marked our exit from the European Union. Istanbul was fascinating – east and west crash together here. We spent a full day at Gallipoli, and for the most part had the place to ourselves. The walk from the shore at Anzac Cove up to Lone Pine and the top of Chunuk Bair really made us appreciate the difficulties and hardships faced by the Anzacs in 1915.

Across the Dardanelles, we were now officially in Asia. Our sight-seeing highlights included Troy and Ephesus. We enjoyed our two weeks or so in Turkey – the people were very friendly and hospitable. The carpet that we bought in Cappadocia will always bring back those special memories.

The only visas we had arranged before leaving the UK were for Syria, so we needed to be there before they expired. Syria has extremely cheap diesel, but charges a diesel tax of $100 per week. We exited after six days, having visited Aleppo, Crac des Chevalier, Palmyra and Damascus, and with nice full diesel tanks.

In Jordan we had intended to apply for transit visas to cross Saudi Arabia in order to get to the United Arab Emirates and Oman, but although we tried a few times we were refused. In the end we decided to revise our travel plans and drive through Egypt instead. We had a chance meeting with ‘The Duke’ who allowed us to camp on his land for the five days we were in Amman. After visiting Petra and Wadi Rum, we spent some time on the Red Sea in Aqaba diving while we waited for a new Carnet (to include Egypt). We made friends with a French family, Jeff, Estelle, Jeremie and Hugo, who were in the same predicament as us, and we were to see them again later in our travels.

Although part of Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula is very different to the rest of the country. We managed some more diving in Dahab, and the snorkelling at Ras Mohammed National Park was spectacular. After a quick trip to the top of Mt Sinai we made for Cairo, unfortunately arriving in the dark on a Saturday night. The traffic was the craziest we have ever seen. In Cairo we applied for and were granted visas for Sudan. In order to avoid the bustling Red Sea resorts on the coast and the compulsory convoys alongside the Nile, we headed to the Western Desert which forms the edge of the Sahara, and made our way to Luxor , where we made new friends in Louis the Dutchman and the Dutch Bikers Luuk and Guido. In Luxor we hired a couple of clapped out bicycles and spent a very hot day riding around, visiting the Valley of the Kings and seeing the ancient Egyptian tombs. The ferry to Sudan leaves from Aswan only once a week, though due to public holidays we were forced to wait an extra week before we could depart. Aswan is not really the best place in the world to kill a week. By this time, our French friends had caught up to us again, and another two motorcyclists from the UK, Cathy and Glyn, also arrived just in the nick of time to catch the weekly ferry.

For the first few days in Sudan we all travelled in convoy, made up of three four-wheel-drive vehicles and four motorcycles. This section of the journey, following the Nile toward Khartoum, was the roughest section of road we had encountered so far. Construction of a new highway is well underway, so soon there will be asphalt all the way. Cathy and Glyn eventually made their own way off, and then Jeremie came down with Appendicitis, so the French hurried off to Khartoum on their own. After getting our visas for Ethiopia we made an overnight trip to camp out near the dramatic windswept pyramids of Meroe, and then made for the border. Our travels in Sudan were confined to the northern areas, so we were well away from the trouble spots in the south and Darfur.

Within 24 hours of crossing the border into Ethiopia we had climbed 3000 metres in elevation, and the temperature had dropped by 30ºC. In fact, that night it dropped below freezing in the tent. The highlands were spectacular, and the highest we got to in the Land Rover was a pass at 4200 metres. After visiting the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela we made our way to Addis Ababa, and managed to track down Louis the Dutchman. It was good to see him again.

We exited Ethiopia through the less-travelled Omo Valley, coming into Kenya beside Lake Turkana. The roads in northern Kenya are pretty bad, and one of our front shock absorbers blew up a day from Nairobi. Highlights in Kenya included camping next to grazing hippos beside Lake Naivasha, and relaxing beside the Indian Ocean at Tiwi Beach. Fortunately we had departed Kenya well before the disputed elections.

Into Tanzania, and on to Dar es Salaam. We parked the Camel at a campsite and went to Zanzibar for four days. This was the longest we had been away from the vehicle, and it was hard to adjust to hotel rooms and bought food. The Spice Tour was great value. Back on the mainland and on our way to Malawi for Christmas, one of our front springs snapped. Luckily we could still drive with it, and managed to get a temporary replacement the next day.

We arrived at Chinteche Inn on the shore of Lake Malawi on Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner consisted of roast chicken and veges cooked on a fire in our cast-iron ‘potje’ (camp oven) and it was delicious.

For New Years’ Eve we made it to Flat Dogs Camp at South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. This was the beginning of the wet season, and it rained heavily to welcome the New Year in. We drove into the park and spent a day studying the game, seeing giraffes, zebras, elephants and even some lions among other creatures, as well as lots of birds. We completed our stay in Zambia with a day at Victoria Falls, where we even managed to walk over the bridge and put a foot in Zimbabwe.

In Botswana we drove through the Chobe National Park towards the Okavango Delta. Unfortunately we got a little stuck at one point, but with a little digging and jacking and a bit of a push from some locals we managed to get out and carry on along our way. On the way north to Namibia we went to the Tsodilo Hills, and saw some very interesting bushman rock paintings, thousands of years old.

One of Namibia’s most popular attractions is the watering holes of the Etosha National Park, but it had rained a few days before we arrived and consequently the animals no longer needed to frequent the holes for water. We had fun in the puddles though. Further north we saw the Epupa Falls before making our way to the Skeleton Coast and Swakopmund, then inland to Windhoek. Here we caught up on a few necessary jobs on the Land Rover, including installing a new fuel tank and set of front coil springs. We also visited the huge dunes at Sossusvlei, and we were lucky enough to have the whole place to ourselves.

The South African border was the most orderly we had been through in months. In Springbok we collected our friend Ianthe, who accompanied us for a couple of weeks as we zig-zagged our way down the coast to Cape Town. It was good to have someone along for the ride. We finally arrived at Cape Point just over eight months from when we had left London. In Cape Town we carried out a few more essential repairs, as well as taking the opportunity to have our gearbox and transfer box both looked at in preparation for the next leg of our journey. We visited a few of Catkin’s relatives, eventually making it to Knysna via Cape Agulhas, the southern-most tip of Africa. From here it was back to Cape Town to arrange shipping to Australia. After days and days of cleaning, scrubbing, polishing and repainting, we finally loaded the Land Rover into a container, and sent it by sea to Australia.

In the meantime, we spent another week or so in Cape Town before flying to Perth via Dubai. During our stopover we also took the opportunity to see some of Oman, with five nights in Muscat. We have now been in Perth for just over a week, trying to understand just how it is you go about temporarily importing a vehicle into Australia. The Camel is scheduled to arrive this week, so with a bit of luck, by the end of the week we will have convinced the Customs authorities to let us have it back. Then we can finally get on our way, into the outback.

In the eleven months since leaving England we have visited 31 countries in four continents, driven over 44,000 kilometres, crossed both the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn as well as the Equator. We have swum in the Black Sea, floated in the Dead Sea and scuba dived in the Red Sea. We have also swum in both the Indian Ocean (warm…) and the Atlantic Ocean (cold!). We’ve crossed deserts and mountain ranges, baked under hot sun and sheltered from torrential rain, but after 335 days on the road, we still have a great journey ahead of us before we finally get to little old New Zealand.