17th November – 20th November

On our way from Addis to the Bale Mountains we got sidetracked for a couple of days at lovely Lake Langano.  We only intended an overnight stay, but found a great place to camp at the future home of Karkaro Beach Cottages, and decided to stay for a couple of nights.  Sean fished, I hung my hammock & thought about our plans for Kenya.  It was just us there.  We had fires in the evening, and in the mornings were woken by a deranged Hornbill, who had taken exception to his reflection in our windscreen, so spent a good 30 minutes each morning bashing his brains out trying to peck his ‘rival’ to death.

Honestly, it's tough this overlanding malarkey

Honestly, overlanding is hard work....

Enough of this relaxation, the Bale Mountains were calling so on Tuesday 18th we upped sticks and headed upwards and Eastward.  The road into the mountains was being upgraded and was in an incredibly bad state, tarmac hasn’t got this far yet, and we drove for about 6 hours at an average of 15mph.  Elsie continued to exceed all our expectations and handled it all, potholes, corrugations and mud holes without complaint. 

13,500 feet up in Ethiopia

13,500 feet up in Ethiopia

In our 2 nights in the mountains we broke our Africa altitude record, had our kitchen box raided by over familiar warthogs, saw 4 of the worlds rarest canids-the Ethiopian Wolf-which turned out to be common as muck, but only in a 200km sq area. 

Jackal in Fox's clothing?

Jackal in Fox's clothing

We saw our first kill in all our years of visiting Africa, albeit an Ethiopian Wolf ie a jackal in foxes’ clothing eating a rat!! 

Wolf biting some sense into a Giant Mole Rat

Wolf biting some sense into a Giant Mole Rat

We also drove over Africa’s highest all weather road.  Not bad for a 2 day side trip.  To repeat my previous sentiments about cold.  The Bale Mountains are freezing, literally.  We were above 13, 500ft on our second night, and the guides reckoned that with wind chill it was about 15 below.  We took advantage of an empty lodge and it’s wood burning stove, and managed to avoid an icy death, but only just.

That shiny stuff is ice

That shiny stuff is ice

My biggest oversight of this trip has been in the wardrobe department, and I sorely wished I had brought a hat and thermals.  Sean crowed incessantly about his daft Timberland hat, and I was very jealous.

Thursday 20th – Monday 24th November

Phew!  Back to the heat, we stayed overnight in Awasa, at a hotel where we were strangely treated like VIPs.  I think the owner got the wrong idea when Sean mentioned our website, and possibly hoped for a favourable review.  Awasa was a buzzy, busy little town, with an extraordinarily healthy population of Marabou storks, which were perched in all the trees around town.  We had a drink at a rooftop bar, and then had a strangely sporadic dinner where everything we ordered arrived separately. 

Friday 21st November

Today we drove all day, and nearly made Kenya, but not quite.   First of all we tried to use up as many of our Ethiopian Birr as possible & went a bit crazy in a supermarket, coming out with sparklers and balloons, amongst a few more sensible tinned goods.  We then set off for Moyale on the border.  As per usual the scenery was stunning.  The surroundings were firstly lush and tropical, with banana plantations & then the road dropped onto a plain, with Acacia scrub, red earth and termite mounds.  We started seeing wildlife, duikers, Thompsons Gazelle, bustards and baboons.  It felt very exciting to be back in the sort of Africa that we first fell in love with. 

We reached the border at 5pm but the immigration and customs offices had closed so we were stuck on the Ethiopia side. Drat!

A final word on Ethiopia:  All over Africa and the developing world children beg for pens, money and sweets, and I don’t find it distressing.  However, when a well-dressed, well-fed adult puts their hand out it is beyond the pale.  Ethiopia appears to have lost both its ability to control its population, and its dignity.  Approximately 50% of its population is under 16, resources are stretched to breaking point and the whole country appears to exist on handouts from Europe and the US.  I can’t see that continual external aid will create a happy ending for this country.

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Oh, for adult supervision….

November 20, 2008

Some of you may have noticed some discrepancy in the timeline of my latest posts.  I’m very sorry for any confusion caused, and no, we haven’t returned to Sudan via the Sheraton..  This is purely down to my forgetting to press the ‘Publish’ button.   If there is anyone out there who knows WordPress, and can tidy up this blog please get in touch! ;-(

PS hoping to cross Kenyan border tomorrow, we are both in very fine form, hale and hearty.  Update and new ‘Bad Parking’ episode to follow shortly!

Desert sunrises, Nile sunsets

November 20, 2008

Nile Sunset

Nile Sunset

Tuesday 28th October

Since leaving Aswan I have suffered paroxysms of guilt, thinking that I’ve been overly harsh on Egypt and its people. This is probably a symptom of the bleeding heart liberalism that I am prone to from time to time. We’re on the Wadi Halfa ferry and it’s great to be on the move again, albeit with Elsie aboard some barely floating dongola about 10 hours behind us.

We arrived at the ferry port as instructed at 9.30 on Monday only to find that the fuel station shown on the Garmin didn’t exist so we had to promptly turn round and head all the way back into Aswan to fill up our tank. Diesel is in short supply until we reach Dongola, so this was tedious but necessary. Back an hour later Mr Salah met us and finessed Elsie through customs (read what you like into that but the car wasn’t searched.) Another hour of bafflingly illogical stamping, sticking and form filling (one official with 3 stars on his shoulders filled my name in as LONDON, Multiple) and we’re through and drive down to the dock. Where we wait. And wait. There is plenty to distract and amuse, Sean uses up one of our meal tickets and has what looks like a pretty passable standard chicken and rice meal. We watch from the boat as the hold of the barge is filled with the most improbable mix of cargo, from Toshiba twin tub washing machines and fridge freezers, to wooden window frames, an enormous amount of red onions and plastic buckets, the contents of which we discover a few days later, are pickled vegetables.

Our fellow travellers include 2 Italian guys on bikes, 2 Polish couples on bikes, a South African biker we’d already met in Aswan called Johann, and an English couple, Mark and Felicity who are driving a Landy 110 called Bob. All of us are planning to go all the way to Cape Town. There are also a couple of Polish women who are backpacking, and a mystery cyclist but he hangs out on the deck as he is rumoured to speak fluent Arabic.

Land Cruisers & red onions

Heart in mouth I drive Elsie onto the barge at about 5pm, and then all we can do is wait some more. The westerners are segregated into a small area of deck outside the wheelhouse, the rest of the deck is utterly covered by African passengers and their luggage. Our First Class cabin, although pretty grotty, is a welcome refuge from the crush, and when one of the Polish girls shows us the switch to turn off the air conditioning it’s a bearable temperature. We stay up on deck as the sun goes down, chatting to our fellow travellers, and then at about 7 the boat seems to move, I go for a quick look and see the barge pulling away ahead of us. Bye Elsie! It is very disconcerting to watch the car fade into the distance, we have so much invested in her. Having seen Adrian & Linda’s hopes dashed in Libya I’m very conscious of our dependence on our car.

Stay up on deck for a while wondering at the amazing night sky and enjoying a clandestine beer, chilled to perfection on the artic air conditioner, and then some fuul and bread, and bed.

Tues 28th October

Woken this morning by everyone scurrying out to look at Abu Simbel, and Sean flicking one of our First Class cockroaches into my bed by mistake.

Abu Simbel, which was moved by UNESCO when Lake Nasser was created, was as expected, thronging with tourists, but looked pretty impressive as we sailed by.

We docked at Wadi Halfa at about midday – Hello Sudan!! We were soon found by the local fixer who took our passports, and whisked us through immigration, and into a taxi to the Deffintoad Hotel. We had a brief hiccup when the fixer wanted to overcharge us all $12 each for registration, but this ‘mistake’ was soon rectified, leaving the fixer $130 out of pocket. For those of you who are interested registration in Sudan costs $30 maximum and don’t let anyone tell you anything different. There is not much to do in Wadi Halfa, except drink shay at the tea stalls, and provide amusement for the local population.

Wadi Halfa side show

Wadi Halfa side show

Wednesday 29th October

The barge arrived, it was a relief to see Elsie intact and above water. The unloading of the cargo was hilarious to watch – what do they do with all these red onions?? – and eventually Sean drove Elsie off over a makeshift ramp and some folded tarpaulins.

At 5pm the formalities were over, and we all drove off into the sunset, to our first Sudanese bush camp

Wednesday 28th October – Sunday 2nd November

Between the Nile and the desert

Between the Nile and the desert

These days have been blissful, some of the best of the trip so far. The road has run alongside the Nile and passed through a series of small Nubian villages. There is virtually no other traffic, except donkeys, and everyone waves and smiles.

Laid back Nubia

Laid back Nubia

At the first village we reached, overlooking the Nile, we were greeted by a bunch of lovely Nubian ladies, who expressed a keen interest in Sean and Vicek, clearly on the look out for tall men.

Nubian Lonely Hearts Club

Nubian Lonely Hearts Club

We’ve bush camped every night, the Nile on one side, the desert on the other. We’ve had occasional visits from villagers, who have mostly just watched us, bemused, but a couple of nights we’ve just been completely alone, away from anywhere, watching shooting stars, and drinking our smuggled beer around the fire.

Camp visitors

Camp visitors

The driving has been challenging and great fun, sometimes the ‘road’ is nothing more than a kilometre long sandpit, which has been tougher for the bikes than for us. Our little convoy has shrunk to just us and Johann, a South African biker, on his way home from London. Mark and Felicity headed off straight after Wadi Halfa, making a beeline for Ethiopia, the Italian bikers were next to go, seeking a hotel in Dongola, and then, sadly the Poles suffered a fuel pump failure, so we lost them South of Karima, but promised to catch up in Khartoum.

Sean helped dig a pick up out of the deep sand south of Karima, and lost his second pair of shoes so far, so we scored him a replacement pair in Atbara. Are these so uncool they’re cool??

Tragic!

Tragic!

Monday 3rd November

Sadly our desert idyll has drawn to a close, and after a brief visit to some more pyramids at Meroe we’ve reached Khartoum.

Still speaking ;-)

Still speaking 😉

We’ve run out of US Dollars, and are having an interesting time trying to get more money as due to US sanctions the usual credit cards, internet banking etc doesn’t work in Sudan. Grrr! We’re heading for the Ethiopian border in the next couple of days. Watch this space!

Big African Adventure my foot. We have spend the last 24 hours languishing in abject 5* luxury at the Sheraton in Addis,

Pesky palm trees blocking the view of the musical fountain!

Pesky palm trees blocking the view of the musical fountain!

thanks to the far reaching influence and global connections of those handsome and powerful men at Hayes Control Systems (www.hayescontrols.co.uk – purveyors of splendid interior automation and industrial control systems).

As a result of their tireless wrangling and expedition support we have been fed and watered handsomely, and would recommend the Sheraton to any other tired overlanders who might be reading this 😉 The pool is particularly nice

32.3 degrees - perfect!

32.3 degrees - perfect!

So, once again, Hayes Controls we love you – Cheers!

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

Long time no blog…….

November 14, 2008

Tuesday 4th November

The only place to camp in Khartoum is the Blue Nile Sailing Club, which sounds much more romantic than it is.  It’s ‘Unique Selling Point’ is Kitchener’s gunboat, Malik, which is now beached in the car park, and in whose shade we are camping. 

British fortitude!

British fortitude!

Spend the day getting Elsie’s aircon fixed, and in fruitless pursuit of folding money.  Due to US Sanctions the only thing that works in Sudan is cash, and if you don’t have it, you can’t get at it.  Eventually gave up and borrowed a float from Piotr, one of our Polish biker chums, which should see us through until we get to Ethiopia, where normal service should just about be resumed.

For no reason at all here is a very short video clip of me having fun driving in Sand:

Wednesday 5th November.

Time for another push for another border, and we spend the day driving.  The landscape changes character completely, away from Semi Desert, to a much more agricultural environment.  On either side of the road are huge fields of cereal crops, some sort of UNHCR project, and completely unlike the small, family plots that we’re used to seeing in Africa. There are also really big herds of cattle everywhere.  The villages along the side of the road are all made up of little round mud huts with grass roofs, and it’s all much more like picture book Africa.

 By the side of the road we meet a huge herd (?) of camels, and have a total failure of a sign language conversation, so we’ll never know where they were going.

Sorry, me no speak camel driver

Sorry, me no speak camel driver

As we get closer to the border we run out of camping options so find a village and ask the head honcho if we can camp there.  He generously agrees, and I suspect he regretted it later as our presence caused a near riot, with everyone crowding round to get a look at the weird foreigners, and various people from the village made futile attempts at crowd control.  It was great fun although we were all too exhausted to stay up much past 8pm.

Curious village kids

Curious village kids

 Thursday 6th November

The racket from cockerels and donkeys ensured a very early start, and after a thank-you gift of several packets of custard creams for the chief’s wife, we were at the border by 9 ish.  Getting out and in went really smoothly, and suddenly we were in Ethiopia and seemingly, another world.  People were everywhere, and it was hard just to drive out of the throng in the ramshackle border town. 

We started climbing up into the hills on a gravel road, and at one point Sean decided to stop for some people who were flagging us down, thinking it was a checkpoint.  A guy with a gun tried to climb into the back of the car and Sean had to shove him out.  Poor bloke only wanted a lift.

It’s difficult to describe how different Ethiopia is from Sudan.  The scenery is incredible, green mountains completely covered in small fields.  Even the donkeys are different – smaller and stouter than Sudanese ones. The road is under construction and varies from smooth gravel to huge pits of mud.

Johann’s fuel pump gave up, and we stopped to keep him company while he fixed it, and people appeared from nowhere to talk to us.  One very forthright young lady demanded that we make conversation, and a couple of little kids found us hysterically funny. 

What is so funny about me?

What is so funny about me?

Ethiopians have the road sense of Pheasants, and the kids have even less, so driving through villages is like taking part in a video game of dodge the child/donkey/goat and occasional, seemingly deaf adult. 

We climbed up to about 7300 feet, and then dropped down into Gonder, the view from the road was endless, fantastic and enormous.  Last night we stayed in a hotel and made the most of their hot water.  It was cold outside last night, fleece weather, for the first time since Europe.

 7th November – 13th November

Forget everything you think you know about Ethiopia.  It is high, cold and very, very green. 

From Gonder we travelled into the Simien Mountains, famous for their huge troops of Gelada Baboons, which aren’t actually a baboon, and have hair like Tina Turner.  We stopped in Debark (worse than Debite – sorry!) to pick up our obligatory armed Scout, and we treated ourselves to a Guide as well.   He was called Doud, and he studied Tourism for a year in Chichester. 

The road into the mountains climbed up to 11000 feet, and was no more than a very steep rocky slope at times, which was great fun to drive.  The mountains were formed by an awful lot of volcanic activity, and are still very dramatic. There are huge cliffs with views over smaller hills which go on for miles and miles.  Forget the grand canyon, this is better. 

Big pointy and green

Big pointy and green

We reached the first campside in the early afternoon, at which point it started to rain, and it continued to do so until after dark.  We took shelter around a campfire under cover and shivered our way through till bedtime.

The next day we set off further up the mountains to about 13000 feet, in search of the endemic Walia Ibex, and of course, Gelada Baboons.  Once again we were confounded by the weather as the clouds dropped down over our heads & visibility was reduced to London fog levels.  On our way back down we spied some Ibex through the murk and managed to photograph this big guy:

Check out his big horns!

Check out his big horns!

After that it started to rain again with occasional hail for a bit of variety, and we were reduced to huddling in the car clutching mugs of tea for warmth. 

Eee, could be in Bognor

Eee, could be in Bognor

This time there was no campfire to warm us up, and we ended the evening playing Scrabble in the car.  Honestly, the number of times on this trip I have been reduced to acting like a pensioner on a day out at the English seaside!

We went to bed wearing nearly all our clothes and the next day awoke to find that the rain had frozen on the flysheet; there were chunks of ice on our tent! 

That white stuff is ice

That white stuff is ice

We were rewarded though when we got up and trudged over to a sunny patch to warm ourselves up and found ourselves surrounded by Gelada baboons and Ibex:

Of course I look cross, it was very early and very cold

Of course I look cross, it was very early and very cold

They're quick when riled

They are speedy when riled

In spite of their big teeth and ferocious demeanour, they are all mouth and no trousers, strictly vegetarian.  They have the most evolved non vocal communication of all primates, and actually sound quite cute.

See what I mean about the hair?

See what I mean about the hair?

and the teeth?

and the teeth?

And finally, for those of you who were certain that to venture into the Dark Continent we would need a gun, here is proof that it was, and still is, a very bad idea.

Do you really think that arming this man is sensible??
Do you really think that arming this man is sensible??

Leaving the Simiens behind, we took a couple of days to thaw out at Bahir Dar, on Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile.  Bahir Dar is Ethiopia’s second city, and as such has a really good feel about it, there are few tourists and the town is more focussed on it’s own business, rather than ours.  We really enjoyed relaxing here, and caught up with domestic chores.  Sean stayed up one night and found a bar to sample Tej, the local hooch.  It’s meant to be made from honey, so why he smelled like he’d been drinking drain cleaner, I’ll never know.

So far, I like Ethiopia much more than I thought I would. I’d let other peoples’ experience influence my thinking and was quiet apprehensive about coming here.  I was expecting stone throwing kids, and to be continually surrounded by people.  The reality has been completely different.  The kids do shout ‘you you you!’ whenever you drive past, but they usually just want to wave at us, and we have not yet experienced stone throwing.  I have however, seen kids throwing stones at everything, livestock and each other, so I’ll try not to take it too personally if it does happen.

We’re now in Addis Ababa, accessing the internet at useable speed for the first time since Khartoum.  And we’re doing it at the Sheraton!  Cripes it’s lovely in here, what possessed me to give up 5 star holidays for this crazy trip? 😉

More cheerful news, I have found a drinkable Ethiopian red wine!!  It’s called Gouder, and it has a crown cap like a beer bottle, but it tastes OK.  Or am I just getting desperate??

From here we’re going South to the Bale mountains, in search of the world’s rarest canid, the Ethiopian Wolf.  If it’s anything like as cold as the Simiens, if we do find a wolf I’ll gladly kill it and use it’s skin for warmth.  Kidding!!