Saturday 27 December 2008

27th December 08

Date: 27th December 08
Location: Tunis, Tunisia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, cold. 18°c
Status: Ready for home….

After the rude awakening by the security guard I packed away a cold, wet tent and we drove into the city to find the offices of the ferry company to book our ride back to Europe. It wasn’t open so we caught up on an hour’s sleep and waited…

Eventually the manager turned up and I went inside and sorted out the particulars we’d need to get us all back to Europe. It actually worked out cheaper to book here than over the phone or on the internet so a success already.

Once we’d done I noticed I had a flat tyre so after Kees little flat yesterday I had one as a sympathy puncture 12 hrs later. We are the most efficient team now and had it changed and repaired within the hour!!

Went into the centre to the medina to find some last minute gifts for people and to eat some lunch. Then back to the ferry port to wait where we’d spend the night before boarding at 9am tomorrow for a 2pm departure.

Watched our last African sunset at around 5pm as it fell into the outline of the city, a very poignant moment…..back to Blighty Colonel, your African adventure is over, for now…

End of day location: Tunis, Tunisia
Distance covered: 20kms

26th December 08

Date: 26th December 08
Location: Iles de Jerbra, Tunisia
Weather: Scattered cloud and sunshine, cold though! 20°c
Status: Nearly out of Africa, good or bad?

Up early and finished a few updates to the website before we headed to the south west side of the island to take the ferry across to the mainland…this as supposed to save time as it cut off 120kms but the queue for the boat was huge and we sat for an hour waiting so gained nothing!

Eventually cleared the crossing a got onto the road through some overly Tunisian countryside which wound through the coastal towns and was painfully slow due to all the trucks.

We drove all day and as the sun went down had around 150kms to go so stopped and bought a kilo of lamb from a roadside bbq for nibbles…very amusing in a sick way as the skins of the sheep hang next to the fire which is cooking the mutton along with a group of live sheep watching all of the proceedings. I wonder what they must be thinking….

Arrived at the peage road, the first since France, which gave us an amazing newly tarmaced motorway which reminded me of Europe and how easy everything and simple it all is. I miss Africa already. We stopped at a Shell service station for a drink and Kees and I just stood there staring….stocked shelves, massive choices and whatever we wanted to eat or drink, and in so many flavours!! Together with that though came the feeling of no individuality, being a clone, part of a horribly globalised system; something which Africa is a million miles from and so beautiful for.

We pulled into the outskirts of Tunis and found another modern, clean and organised African city reminiscent of some French Mediterranean coastal resorts. Our destination for the night was the Almicar Hotel as they allowed camping in the car park, when we eventually found it the place was closed but the slightly drunk security guard allowed us to stay there anyway….well until 6.30am when he woke us and told us we had to be out by 7am!

It felt awful to cover those last few km’s on African soil after nearly 60,000 in the past year and I miss the experience already, Bre and I chatted about the good times, the bad times and the rest and are convinced we’ll be back here sometime soon. For now Africa is finished with us and we are with it….

End of day location: Tunis
Distance covered: 530kms

Friday 26 December 2008

25th December 08

Date: 25th December 08
Location: Iles de Jerbera, Tunisia
Weather: Blue skies with a few clouds, 20°c
Status: Happy Christmas to all….

Up after the first real nights sleep in about 4 days with bleary eyes and reluctantly got out of bed….damn too late anyway as we’d missed breakfast!

Met Kees and tried to sort out Bre’s hair ready for the UK but had no luck trying to find someone who could actually do African style braids so instead booked a quad bike ride for all of us which was to leave at 2pm.

Pottered around and soaked up the lack of English Christmas, all the time thinking of my family back home enjoying theirs! Met the guide for the quad ride and we all made our way to the departure point about 200m walk away.

Helmets on with Bre smiling all the way and there they were out rides for the next hour and a half. We drove through the small villages and onto some crappy dunes along a beach and then back. Wish we’d done it in the desert to be honest as wadi bashing would have been awesome.

Back to the hotel for lunch and then used the net for a while before we had dinner and all three of us with Santa hats on went our to the bowling alley for a few games and then headed back to the hotel for an early night. Another good drive to the capital tomorrow….

End of day location: Iles de Jerbera, Tunisia
Distance covered: 0kms

24th December 08

Date: 21st December 08
Location: Soloum, Egypt
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 28°c
Status: About to undertake a monster drive…..

The past day has been spent feeling hugely frustrated and having to deal with the reality that there’s no way I’ll be able to make it home now in time to run the final marathon on Xmas Eve or to be with my friends and family over the Xmas period, Balls.

But the next challenges have to be realised and an attempt made to get the correct stamps in our relevant passports which will carry us through the next stage of the trip and Libya. Our destination for the day was to be Alexandria, the home of all three consulates for the relevant countries or so we thought. Mum and Dad had managed to find the addresses of each of them using the power of the internet and we finally set off at just after midnight on the 1000kms round trip to the east and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

I drove for five hours and finally the sun started to show its face over the horizon as we were entering the city limits and we made our way to the seafront as there were a few hours to spare until the first of the embassies opened at 8am. The Mecca Hotel had a particularly helpful receptionist who said that instead of hiring a taxi for the day we could use him at no charge, so he was employed. His shift finished at 8m and we all made our way in the Colonel to the British Consul and I went to present my passport to them.

After only 10 minutes I was back out on the street complete with fully translated stamp just as the Libyan’s had asked for so the mission continued with all of us wishing that the rest of the day would go just as well. That thought lasted for just under an hour as we found the addresses for both the Canadian and Dutch consulates but ones which they had moved out of six months prior to our arrival!

The embassies for each have now taken responsibility and are based in Cairo, some 220kms away and the last words we really wanted to hear! We paid off our guide and left the outskirts of the city just after 10am with a new drive and determination to get these damn things finished if it killed us.

Driving straight to the Dutch embassy was the order of the day and Kees rushed out to collect his stamp….except they wouldn’t offer one until 2pm….so to the Canadian one! There story was that they would fill in the English version but not the Arabic one which would need a translator to do it! The short of the story is we managed to get everything we wanted and had all three passports completed just after 4pm, and after taking a massively wrong turning out of the city finally got to the Carrefour supermarket to stock up at 7.30pm

A ‘short’ 750kms drive awaited me after the 10hrs already completed and surprisingly it went very quickly, that was untli the final 100kms which dragged on and as I nodded like a tired dog but managed with the help of cold air and loud music to keep myself awake. Not recommended in the Highway Code I know but essential to keep us moving as intended. A total of 1468ks covered in a little over 28 hours.....the equvilant of Portsmouth to Dundee and back!!

End of day location: Soloum, Egypt
Distance covered: 1468kms

21st December 08

Date: 21st December 08
Location: Soloum, Egypt
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 28°c
Status: About to undertake a monster drive…..

The past day has been spent feeling hugely frustrated and having to deal with the reality that there’s no way I’ll be able to make it home now in time to run the final marathon on Xmas Eve or to be with my friends and family over the Xmas period, Balls.

But the next challenges have to be realised and an attempt made to get the correct stamps in our relevant passports which will carry us through the next stage of the trip and Libya. Our destination for the day was to be Alexandria, the home of all three consulates for the relevant countries or so we thought. Mum and Dad had managed to find the addresses of each of them using the power of the internet and we finally set off at just after midnight on the 1000kms round trip to the east and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

I drove for five hours and finally the sun started to show its face over the horizon as we were entering the city limits and we made our way to the seafront as there were a few hours to spare until the first of the embassies opened at 8am. The Mecca Hotel had a particularly helpful receptionist who said that instead of hiring a taxi for the day we could use him at no charge, so he was employed. His shift finished at 8m and we all made our way in the Colonel to the British Consul and I went to present my passport to them.

After only 10 minutes I was back out on the street complete with fully translated stamp just as the Libyan’s had asked for so the mission continued with all of us wishing that the rest of the day would go just as well. That thought lasted for just under an hour as we found the addresses for both the Canadian and Dutch consulates but ones which they had moved out of six months prior to our arrival!

The embassies for each have now taken responsibility and are based in Cairo, some 220kms away and the last words we really wanted to hear! We paid off our guide and left the outskirts of the city just after 10am with a new drive and determination to get these damn things finished if it killed us.

Driving straight to the Dutch embassy was the order of the day and Kees rushed out to collect his stamp….except they wouldn’t offer one until 2pm….so to the Canadian one! There story was that they would fill in the English version but not the Arabic one which would need a translator to do it! The short of the story is we managed to get everything we wanted and had all three passports completed just after 4pm, and after taking a massively wrong turning out of the city finally got to the Carrefour supermarket to stock up at 7.30pm

A ‘short’ 750kms drive awaited me after the 10hrs already completed and surprisingly it went very quickly, that was untli the final 100kms which dragged on and as I nodded like a tired dog but managed with the help of cold air and loud music to keep myself awake. Not recommended in the Highway Code I know but essential to keep us moving as intended.

End of day location: Soloum, Egypt
Distance covered: 1468kms

18th December 08

Date: 18th December 08
Location: Soloum, Egypt
Weather: High clouds and warm sunshine, 27°c
Status: I think we’re off, but don’t say it too loud just in case…

For the last two days we have been at the mercy of our tour agent in Libya who is trying to organise our Libyan visas as quickly as he can….or so he says! In one phone call he tells us it will be ready on the 18th and in the next its back to the 20th, all of this is extremely frustrating and gives me very little confidence that Bre and I will be able to make it back to the UK to run the final marathon as planned on Christmas Eve.

In that time we’ve cleaned the trucks, again, painted the flags of all the countries we travelled through on them, cooked up some of the last dry supplies we have into really good meals and restocked with consumables for the long road trip west….whenever that happens!

And then all of sudden Sami called again “I have the visas in my hand here in Tripoli!!” – “What?!” I replied…..”Yes I’m sending a driver to the border now to meet you, he’ll be there in seven hours”

Action stations all of a sudden, photocopies of the Arabic page of our passport for the predictable police stops we needed, I had to confirm the boat date and time from Tunis – and it was still December 21st at 14:00hrs.

So a quick bit of mental arithmetic concludes that we have 2200kms to go between here and the boat in 65 hours time. Add in stops, food and a 2 hour buffer for the check in and we have 55 hours to make it at an average speed of 40kmh!!! Surely that should be possible? Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and see hey.

Well I’m back and since writing the first part of this journal entry every thing has gone tits up, and I mean properly destroyed. Our chances of ever getting to the boat on the 21st now lie in tatters as we have been refused our entry into Libya based on the lack of interpretation by the asshole on the gate.

So there we were driving to our penultimate African border with expectant hopes in our hearts that we’d make it through without any problems and as I type this be driving west as fast as we could towards Tunisia….and then the Libyan authorities dropped the bombshell – we didn’t have the official certification stamp from our own embassies we required next to the Arabic translations in our passports and would not be granted entry to the country even though Tripoli had issued us our visas based on having seen scans of them only 72hrs earlier!!

We were stuck fast in the middle of no-mans-land officially stamped out of Egypt having handed in our number plates, driving licence and having happily accepted our exit stamps in both our passports and carnets and were now unable to enter our next country due to a technicality and now faced the daunting prospect of attempting to re-enter Egypt with no visa and no money to pay the huge import costs required for each vehicle.

Enter our helper Mr Ahmed who had been sent to meet us at the border with the paperwork we thought we’d need to enter. He comes from Libya, speaks very little English but is overpoweringly helpful and wears a happy face; particularly useful when dealing with the horrible officials and policemen who Egypt seem to employ at all points of contact with foreigners!

At 11pm we’d decided to give up the Libyan attempt and tried instead to go back in to Egypt to somehow get the correct stamp. We walked, talked and went in and out of maybe 20 different offices, walked to the gate and back numerous times with Ahmed leading us on a seemingly impossible task of having our exit stamps reversed and our number plates re-issued and finally at 4.30am decided to call it quits for the night. But oh no the Egyptian police had other ideas “you can’t sleep here, you need to go back to the border town 16kms away to the hotel and come back in the morning” – yeah and how are we supposed to do that with no passports…and there’s no way we were going to leave our vehicles in their compound anyway!

So we all got into Kees’s truck, closed the door, drew the curtains and went to sleep oblivious to their knocking at various times during the night! When first light appeared we were back on the hunt and with more top officials around we seemed to slowly get further into their antiquated system…have they ever even heard of a telephone before!?!

We left the comforts (?) of their yard just after midday with our plates back on, our passports and carnet stamps removed with the aid of their latest technology, tippex! Back to the hotel were we have waited for the last few days and into deep discussion - just how are we going to leave this hole!

As it stands at 5pm on Friday we’re off to our relevant consuls in Alexandria on Sunday to have the passports stamped, again, and will attempt another break through the border and the formalities associated with it.

End of day location: Back in Soloum, Egypt
Distance covered: 25kms, 12 in the wrong direction!

Thursday 25 December 2008

15th December 08

Date: 15th December 08
Location: Sidi Barrani, Egypt
Weather: Blue skies and sunshine, hazy p.m., 25°c
Status: Still unsure about the next few days and VERY FRUSTRATED……

Up as the first truck of the morning started it loud, clanging diesel engine next to the tent meaning further rest was impossible leaving getting up as the only option. Still only 80kms to go until we reach the border town of Soloum so no point staying in bed!

Kees had a few problems getting his truck up to full speed for the first part of the journey today making us think that he has something wrong with his fuel or air supply to the engine, further investigation to follow…

Breezed through the 80kms and arrived at the police checkpoint outside of the border town so the usual interrogation and paper checking that accompanies the edge of a country, “How many days are you staying for? Where are you staying? Where are you from? etc.

We had no idea where they’d actually allow us to camp up and so asked the friendly police their advice, the Sita Hotel as it’s the only one in town came the reply ao off we went to find it. in fact it was well signed, they stood out being the only ones in English through the entire main street and we pulled into the car park to enquire as to where we could park. The young manager showed us to the rear car park which was perfect as it was hidden from the road and bar the tight squeeze for Kees’s truck gave us a great area to stretch, empty and service the trucks in.

Whilst relaxing in the sun reading a book my phone rang and it was Sami our Libya visa helper, he told us the visas would be ready on the 20th at 14:00hrs…..WHAT I SAID, BUT YOU SAID THE 17TH at the latest….I was furious and after some discussion he said he’d speak to immigration again to try and get it brought forward…it would mean ther’d be no chance of making the boat on the 21st and being home for Christmas Eve for the marathon, Balls.

We walked into the town found an ATM, internet café and bought some snacks all the time welcomed to the town by the locals who’d ask where we were from etc. I wasn’t in the mood and should have been more forthcoming but the timing wasn’t perfect to hold a conversation that’s all!

Back to the camp and had some dinner before going to bed to watch a movie. I spoke to Sami briefly who again said he’d do his best to try for the earlier date and I left it at that…nothing more I can do! If we don’t get it until later then I won’t make Xmas Eve and will feel as if this part of the expedition has been a failure as any other date will really loose the significance and attention that a final marathon would deserve.

To say I’m going to bed tonight a little annoyed and disappointed would be true….night.

End of day location: Soloum, Egypt
Distance covered: 83ks

Monday 15 December 2008

14th December 08

Date: 14th December 08
Location: El Alamein, Egypt
Weather: Warm day, cold night. 25°c
Status: Heading to the border, slowly, slowly….

Up early as the garage forecourt we’d stayed I sprang to life, had a bite of breakfast and filled the water and fuel tanks of the trucks before hitting the rod west….got a km down the road then turned off!

Entered the town of El Alamein and due to the excellent signage for once found the cemetery no problem. It’s a very typical commonwealth war memorial with row upon row of light beige headstones all bearing the identity of one unfortunate person who fell in the name of their country many years ago.

There are 13,000 people buried or cremated here and the atmosphere as I walked around the site by myself was quite numbing and moving. Two things grabbed me, the number of unidentified graves marked only by the words ‘ Unknown Solider’, and also the number of dates on many which were the same that of 21st October 1942. a very bad day for the Allied Forces.

I identified the graves of the VC recipients who’d fallen here through the cemetery register and took a moment to talk to the gardener, the only of other person there. After a few photos we all left

We drove west for 200kms until we found a road which headed along the coast and some amazing white sand beaches with some of the bluest ocean of the trip, we had not set a destination for the night and decided to drive off the road across the sandstone and pitch a camp for the night.

We walked onto the beach and I had a dip in the Med, surprisingly warm for this time of year, and as we walked up the beach were greeted by four military personnel who’d been watching us from afar! Great, they then told us that due to smugglers along this section of coast it was dangerous and we’d have to move on. Yeah right, typical Egyptian over touristic diplomacy again…..we’ve camped in the Congo, Angola and other exotic locations and they wouldn’t let us camp here….the middle of nowhere!

So we drove on into the sunset and eventually pulled off the road into a service area where the trucks seemed to be stopping and setup camp for the night…again.

Dinner with Kees in the truck, a movie, then bed.

End of day location: 60kms short of the border, Egypt
Distance covered: 345kms

13th December 08

Date: 13th December 08
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Weather: Cold morning, cloudy afternoon, cold night! 26°c
Status: A little concerned but going west in preparation….

Up this morning in the cold with a rumbling belly, damn Egyptian water! We packed up our camp, paid the bills and said our goodbyes to our kind hosts then headed to the pyramids for a look around.

I’ve been to them before and remember it from 20 years ago as a place of massive hassles from touts and a grubby reception area and its good to see that in those 20 years nothing has changed! Yes they’ve got a new ticketing area but there’s litter everywhere, broken wooden platforms leading down to the tomb rooms and still the persistent camel and horse salesmen. You think the government would realise the importance of this, one of the seven wonders of the world, and make the changes need to make it an incredible tourist attraction…there’s enough visitors to pay for it!

We visited the usual areas and had the photos in front of the sphinx etc, bought some tat and wound up the salesmen as much as we could! Then hit the road out of town towards the Mediterranean to complete the second side of the virtual triangle which forms Africa. The road was great tarmac and we arrived at Alexandria’s outskirts just as the sun was setting to the west and thinking we could find a beachside camp we carried on along the coast.

Oh Egypt why do you do it to yourself? Every metre of coastline along the Red Sea and again here along the Mediterranean is either developed or under development by monstrous holiday resorts which ruin the coastline and don’t even allow you a view of the ocean….we had to drive on for another 100kms trying to find anywhere to stop but after a couple of hours were totally defeated and pulled into a petrol station by El Alamein and pitched the tent for the night!

A useful stopping ground however as the military cemetery is only a km away from here which I’ll visit in the morning. I’m now sitting in the truck awaiting a phone call from Sami to confirm the next steps for our Libya visa and am slightly worried. Oh please can this part go according to plan I really want to get back for Christmas now and to be able to take Bre around showing her off to my friends and visiting some exciting places with her….thank you whoever’s listening.

End of day location: El Alamein, Egypt
Distance covered: 300kms

11th December 08

Date: 11th December 08
Location: Cairo, Egpyt
Weather: Clear blue skies, warm day, chilly night. 26°c
Status: Prepared for a little wait now…

Up at first light and had a good breakfast before I started to do a few jobs which were overdue on the Colonel. One of the rear hub gaskets seals has started to leak so I replaced the gasket, checked the axles oil level and replaced the bolts hopefully leaving everything properly sealed.

I decided to grease the propshafts as they haven’t been done for a while and whist tinkering noticed that one of my front shock absorbers has blown leaving lovely oil all over the axle! Struggled to get the nut undone so decided that with only tarmac to go and no noticeable difference in the handling, I’d replace it when I get back to the UK, lazy I know. Polished Bacchus so he looked all smart and new.

Bre, Kees and I then drove into the centre of Cairo through the hectic, unorganised, chaotic traffic…truly some of the worst so far in Africa. It is one of the overriding things I remember from my trip to the city some 20 years ago! Found the Sultan Hotel where the remainder of the Watkins are staying and even managed to find a parking space outside, paid the card system for the day and went inside.

Bre was trying to find new hair to sort out her braids in time for the trip to the UK but here in Arabic Africa there are no back hairdos which use the same material so a fruitless process which took most of the day, we try again in Alexandria.

Kees and I went out to the market and bought a new set of horns each to compete with the mad traffic and horn-madness which Cairo is. His being the craziest of the two with 6 sound adjustable police sirens! Will fit tomorrow.

After a kofta dinner we went back to the hotel and I had a call from Sami, our Libyan fixer, to say that unfortunately the visas won’t be ready until the 17th so we’ll miss the first of the boats across the Med and will now have to wait until the 21st leaving only a day and a half to drive all the way back to the UK from Italy…..and then run a marathon! Yikes.

Drove back the 22kms to the camp and went to bed.

End of day location: Giza, Cairo, Egypt
Distance covered: 45kms

9th December 08

Date: 9th December 08
Location: Sharm El Naqa, Egypt
Weather: Blue skies to tart, as we went north the clouds appeared and it got cold! 28°c
Status: Decision made….

Still nothing on either the email or by phone from Sami my contact with Ocean Tours who is ‘trying’ to organise the Libyan visa, it has been 6 days now without contact and I feel like the trail has gone cold almost making my mind up for me on the route home.

We got up bright and early and prepared to leave the excellent dive resort but realised there was no-one in reception until 8.30am and so had to wait around to collect our passports, make the payment and have our dive logs stamped.

Kees and the others headed off whilst Bre and I stayed behind, the Colonel being so much faster giving them a head start to sort out flights for Savannah and to get info on the Syrian visa situation. Eventually Mohammed arrived on site and we paid and said our goodbyes promising to return one day…

We arrived in Hurghada and met the others in the car park of the hotel we’d stayed in as we could get free wireless from there! Still nothing from Sami unsurprisingly. We did however get some good info re: they do grant visas at the border so we can just drive straight there and not have to stop at their embassy along the way wasting more time.

Our little convoy left the terrible town behind and after 314kms we stopped off at the Sahara Inn and Motel where we decided to stay the night. Savannah is likely to fly back to Canada tomorrow from Cairo and I have a feeling I am the chauffeur!

End of day location: Zafarana, Egypt
Distance covered: 314kms

8th December 08

Date: 8th December 08
Location: Sharm El Naqa, Egypt
Weather: Windy and high clouds making it feel chilly but warm later. 28°c
Status: Changing plans and excited about it!

Up early as the wind was howling through the tent making it chilly, a quick bite of breakfast and then spent a while thinking through new options for the final three weeks of the trip….the Libyan visa application is taking far too long meaning that I probably won’t make it home in time for Xmas at this rate, something which would ruin the entire professional approach of Afritrex.

The second option which I have come up with is to drive the remaining 5000kms home but instead of going west through Libya, go east through Jordan, Syria and up into Turkey and mainland Europe. It would probably be the only way I’ll be able to make my Xmas Eve return date. The only sticking points may be the visa for Syria and the conditions of the roads through Turkey during these winter months.

Kees and I decided to head to the dive shop to check out the prices of the various options for exploring the underwater section of this amazing stretch of coastline and eventually decided a single beach dive would be the best option. The snorkelling here is the most incredible I’ve ever seen and only 10m from the waters edge there’s a huge amount to see as the ocean floor drops away from the coral edge. At the last minute Bre decide to come too and we all paid up and went for an exploratory snorkel just to whet the appetite!

After a light lunch we returned to the school to kit up and the procedures of my Open Water certification in Malawi came flooding back, Dusty who trained me back there was very safety conscious and in comparison this resort was ok but not quite as full on as her…it was a great place to learn.

We entered the water and ran through a few safety procedures, Bre taking lot of notice as she hadn’t dived for a year and wanted a good refresher session. As we dropped off the precipice the coral was fantastic and all around a multitude of fish species of all shapes, colours and sizes including moray eels, eagle rays, giant clams and almost everything else…apart from the elusive sharks damn it!

We descended to nearly 25m according to the dive instructors watch, we didn’t get issued with our own gauges which was odd, and that’s the deepest I’ve ever been to and the only slight problem I had was equalising my left ear which has always given me problems since I was kicked in it!

After 45 minutes our air levels were getting towards the red so we heading back to the shore and had a safety stop at 3m for 2 minutes and then left the ocean after a superb experience. We washed and packed the equipment away and warmed up in the showers.

Had a good dinner again and discussed the next few days with everyone, I would like to avoid Cairo and get moving as quickly as possible now in order to get home, along with Kees but the Watkins seem intent on trying to return there as they stayed there for a while. Whatever happens we’re going as quickly as possible home now!

End of day location: Sharm El Naqa, Egypt
Distance covered: 1km underwater

6th December 08

Date: 6th and 7th December 08
Location: Marsa Alam, Egypt
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 32°c
Status: Disgusted by Hurghada!

Left the relative comfort of the café’s garden and hit the road north passing more and more resort style hotels in various states of being finished, their frequency increasing the further north we went towards Hurgahda.

Getting to the internet was the most important job to ensure that the visa applications had gone in to Sami as the email I had sent bounced back worryingly. We drove the relatively easy 250kms along boring straight tarmac and arrived just after lunch in what I can only describe as my idea of hell!!

Wall to wall hotels, souvenir shops and pushy salespeople wherever you went, and the town was full of foreign mainly European or Russian tourists all horribly taken in by the place. There is not an inch of beach front left for the public, purely reclaimed land for the next ghastly development!

Add to that the fact that the tourist police here won’t allow you to camp and I had an instant dislike for all around me! The only option was to check into a hotel for the night and head out as quickly as we could the next day, enter Hotel Zahabiha….

I won’t be staying here or anywhere like this ever again…now I can appreciate the value of the package holiday for some people but it has never, and will never, appeal to me! The room was good enough, the food was acceptable but the class of people here was, shall I say, slightly lower than normal! Enough said….

We got up early and Bre and I left the others in the town to go back down south towards Sharm el Naga, around 50kms away as is it indicated on the map there’s the chance of camping and as we could be waiting a few days for the visas to be issued I want to stay somewhere I can save money and enjoy too.

Arrived at the dive shop and the place had a good feel from the start, only around 20 guests on the beach, a friendly welcoming reception and crystal clear warm waters teeming with life…possibly the last of the trip!

We set up camp and told the others of our good fortune so they decided they’d join us in time for sunset, Ammon had other ideas and wanted to save more money by staying in Cairo in some hostel so left on an afternoon bus.

Bre and I went to the beach and snorkelled around loving the huge array of life everywhere, the fish come right up to you and even have a nibble of you let them…we’ll dive here tomorrow for sure!

Paradise has been found again after yesterday’s hell, thank god!

End of day location: Sharm el Naqa, Egypt
Distance covered: 50kms

5th December 08

Date: 5th December 08
Location: Aswan, Egypt
Weather: Sorry but clear blue skies and sunshine again, 32°c
Status: After waiting all morning we’re moving again….

Got up bright and early for breakfast to enable us to get away as quickly as we could to try and get all the way up to Hurghada on the Red Sea coast…but for some reason noone else was; we were still waiting, annoyingly enough, for people to arrive at 11am…..ARGHHHH WHY DO I BOTHER SOMETIMES!!

We started the drive out of town and headed north along the banks of the Nile being stopped at every town by police checks, this is the first week following the stopping of the age-old convoy system which has operated here in Egypt for all tourist cars and buses and it appears they are still very much set in their old ways still!

We drove north to the town of Idfu and then as the sunlight-driving-hours-only curfew would be taking effect before we hit our intended destination for the night I decided to reroute us east towards the coast as it’d be easier to find a place to camp for the night away from the tourist trail.

We drove for three hours until we hit the Red Sea coastline and after another longer police stop entered Marsa Alam, a small town centred around diving on the magnificent reefs here.

We pulled up at a little restaurant and arranged with the owner to stay the night in hs grounds providing we ate there…usual story! Had a great meal of chicken and pizza and went to bed.

End of day location: Marsa Alam, Egypt
Distance covered: 375ks

Thursday 4 December 2008

4th December 08

Date: 4th December 08
Location: Aswan, Egypt
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 35°c
Status: Almost able to move again….

Up early again and down for the free breakfast of boiled egg, bread and jam, yoghurt and coffee and then on the mission of continuing the quest for the Libya visa!

Went to the only free wireless internet location in the city…..ARGHHHHHHHHH ITS MCDONALDS!!!! I despise the place and everything it stands for but the temptation of a chargeless internet for the three hours I need there is too much to refuse…time to use them.

Updated all of the website and replied to emails before Kees and Savannah arrived on site to drag me away for some lunch in another location thankfully. Went back to the hotel to get Jose our Spanish friend and headed out of town towards the port to collect the rest of the Motley Cru!

Arrived there before the boat arrived so Jose could organise taking things from his vehicle before customs closed for the day and waited….

Finally the passengers from the boat started to disembark and the familiar faces of the Watkins family arrived through passport control. We loaded them up and headed back to the city and the hotel.

I disappeared with Kees and the three passports of myself, him and Bre to the translation agency to have the Arabic copy entered, a requirement for the next leg of the journey, they’d be ready at midnight after a good meal.

We all went out, minus Brandon, to Aswan Moon for some dinner which was great and then just before midnight headed back to collect the completed passports now with the translation.

End of day location: Aswan, Egypt
Distance covered: 25kms

2nd December 08

Date: 2nd December 08
Location: Aswan, Egypt
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 33°c
Status: Awaiting the arrival of the rest of the group

Up early and took advantage of the free breakfast before the trail for the day started all over again, this time trying to get Kee’s leaf springs fixed which he snapped on the road out of Sudan.

Found a friendly taxi driver who knew the right sort of direction to be heading in and we all drove out of town in convoy to the industrial area where we found our goal. A tiny little garage that dealt solely in leaf springs, perfect!

They fabricated some new ones then as they were fitting them the other side decided to snap so it was back to the workshop to make some more these having been weakened by the harsh roads to.

We returned to the hotel late in the afternoon then I ran Jose down to the port to collect some of his things from his impounded VW van which has to stay there until he renews his carnet. Customs wouldn’t allow him to remove anything from it until the offices opened again in the morning so a wasted trip all round.

Went up to the Panorama Tower Bar at the Movenpick Hotel for a drink and then bed as early start in the morning for the trip to Abu Simbel.

End of day location: Aswan, Egypt
Distance covered: 24kms

1st December 08

Date: 1st December 08
Location: Aswan, Egypt
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 30°c
Status: Bloomin marvellous actually!

Egyptian paperwork and bureaucracy all day long!!

Up early and had breakfast before Jose, Kees and I jumped into a taxi and headed back to the port; the scene of the unsuccessful exit the night previous! After nearly tow hours in customs dealing with a chain smoking semi-decent guy with an untrained secretary we left and headed for the traffic department.

Jumped the queue courtesy of our expert taxi driver and left with our next piece of Arabic paperwork which made no sense to us then straight to the insurance company to pay a ridiculous price for a service we paid for back in Tanzania…but the Egyptian’s fail to recognise for some reason, money no doubt!

By this time it was well past lunch and we returned to the traffic police who surprisingly promptly issued us with our number plates, Kees a 28 and me 23…in Arabic of course!

Back to the port to affix them to the vehicles and then we drove into town proudly displaying them for all to see!

End of day location: Aswan, Egypt
Distance covered: 30kms

30th November 08

Date: 30th November 08
Location: Lake Nasser, Egypt
Weather: Totally stunning blue skies and sunshine, 34°c
Status: We are sailing, we are sailing…

The sound of the engines droning in the distance was enough to put me to sleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and it felt like only an instant later that the alarm clock on my phone went off to awake me from my heavy slumber…but I’m glad it did as the most beautiful sunrise erupted from behind the distant rocky shoreline. A warm yellow glow became a vivid orange before transforming into the red start of another day with us making great progress north at 14kph!

I spent the morning clearing the last of the dust from the Colonel as I tried to remove all trace of the difficult day spent racing towards Wadi Halfa, cleaned and repaired the little jobs that I’d been meaning to do for the last few weeks and even had time to catch up on the website and journal.

As lunchtime came and went we closed in on our destination Aswan and finally the port came into view around 4pm, it took half an our to dock and then all of a sudden the crew disappeared and we were left with our trucks stuck on the barge!

We finally found the fixer Mahmood who starting working his magic and within the hour we had somehow moved the barge onto the slipway and unload out precious cargo. We discussed with customs the idea of staying in our vehicles overnight and they were initially very receptive but once the boss had been asked the mood changed and we became a ‘security risk’ and with it all chances evaporated.

The four of us had to take a taxi into town to a hotel where we stayed the night much to our disgust!

End of day location: Aswan, Egypt
Distance covered: 347kms

Monday 1 December 2008

29th November 08

Date: 29th November 08
Location: Wadi Halfa, Sudan
Weather: As it has been for the last two weeks, hot and sunny, 37°c
Status: Moving but not driving….on the barge at last!

Up at first light and packed away after a light breakfast…today is the day when we separate for a few days and take different methods of shipping in order to arrive in Aswan.

We drove the trucks to Magdy’s office and went through the final paperwork in order to get our clearance for the shipping company. The Watkins, minus Savannah as somehow she managed to get herself on the barge too with an oscar-winning emotional drama queen performance, organised where they’d be staying for the next few nights as they await the passenger ferry.

A couple of hours later all was completed and Kees and I drove into the customs area of the port and finally onto our barge. Unpowered and chained to the side of two other barges, our floating home for the next two days was manoeuvred into position alongside the powered version complete with radar and wheelhouse and after a few minutes of work by the crew we were in position for the journey ahead.

It forms an exciting part of the trip and one which I’ve read about extensively on the web and through contact with other overlanders, this is the last part of the journey from Cairo down to Cape Town which cannot be driven due to military reasons…at least for the next year as there is a new road being built which will render this part of the trip redundant, a real shame as its really quite romantic…just wish Bre was here to share it with!

After we’d cruised at 13.5km/h for just over an hour we arrived at the border, well a group of huts and a camel on the west of the lake, and the barge was driven right up to the beach until it could go no further. The officials from Egypt came on board confirmed the passports and vehicles were in order and promptly left again, we continued on our way.

The sunset was spectacular to the rear of the vessel but half an hour too early as we arrived at the banks of the Abu Simbel temple just after it had dipped below the horizon….to dark for photos, but then all of a sudden the tourist light show started and we were treated to an awesome sight as we slowly cruised past, the temple illuminated in all of its brilliance, and for free!

Its great to be moving towards the next country and the downtime gives me a chance to clean and repair the truck after the last few rushed days of dusty bumpy travel.

End of day location: Lake Nasser, Egypt
Distance covered: 95kms at bedtime

28th November 08

Date: 28th November 08
Location: Abri, Sudan
Weather: Another stinking hot one for us, 38°c
Status: Ready for the day ahead and the ferry….

Up at 6.30am after only four hours sleep and bleary eyed we got the trucks warmed up again. It barely seemed the engines had cooled down before we were calling on our steeds to once again carry us through the worst of the roads that this part of Africa has to offer! How they continue to run day after day I’m unsure, but this really could be the final day of off road driving that the expedition has to offer…from here to home its tarmac all the way!

Once the diesel had been filled up it was the usual process of me leading trying to pick the best track through the dust and roadworks with Kees following a fair distance behind to avoid the worst of the dust I was throwing up at him. We continued for a couple of hours with the scenery changing from level sand desert to more rocky and mountainous with the new road cutting its way through the stark landscape.

We had to stop and wait for Kees a couple of times as the tortoise developed more problems with a sticking clutch pedal and then more leaf springs breaking under the strain of still carrying too much weight.

After three hours the dust finally ended and we were graced with 50kms of new tarmac leading into the port town of Wadi Halfa on Lake Nasser, the last road section we’d be using in Sudan. We drove straight to Madgy’s office, a contact who’s well known amongst overlanders as he sorts all of the paperwork for you when you arrive.

It felt a bit of a copout really as everything he did we have done ourselves for the past 11 months….carnet, passport etc but his efficiency and knowledge of the system is second to none and allowed us to sit and watch for once. I felt a bit like Ewan McGregor and hated it…..being pampered in such a way!

Once we’d sorted everything and arranged a departure time of 7.30am we headed back to Magdy’s place for a well earned shower and drove out of town back into the desert to find a camping spot.

Cooked spaghetti Bolognese and went to bed. Big day tomorrow as Kees and I leave the group for a few days as only the drivers of the vehicles can travel with them, the Watkins will join us at a later date in 5 days time when the passenger ferry docks in Aswan.

End of day location: Wadi Halfa
Distance covered: 198kms

27th November 08

Date: 27th November 08
Location: Meroe, Sudan
Weather: Blue, blue skies, one of the hottest parts of the trip….40°c
Status: Making great progress towards the next border….

We awoke at first light with the most incredible view around us of the famous pyramids at the old Royal City at Meroe and before the office opened and the touts arrived all went for a walk around the World Heritage Site, a little naughty I know to avoid paying the entrance fee but you have to appreciate quite how incredible this place is without the hassles!

As there was such along way to cover on the roads we decided it’d be a day of continual progress with our final destination being the end of the tarmac just north of Dongola….before another “Road of Hell!”

Progress went well, sudan has got some of the best asphalt roads in Africa and we arrived at Atbara by mid morning and then proceeded to sit at the ferry point to wait for the next available ride across the Nile. Three boats came and three boats went each time the damn thing pulled into one of the other waiting areas beside us…but never our one even though we’d been advised which one to wait at. Frustration grew and eventually we commandeered our floating barge to take us across…and then we were on the road again.

The sun dropped low in the sky and eventually disappeared behind the horizon but still we pressed on, it seemed at times we were the only vehicles on the road which absolutely nothing in the way of traffic passing us for almost two hours. We turned north at Dongola and followed the new tarmac until 20kms from the town it ran out…abruptly and became the suspected roadwork infected stretch we’d all been dreading.

Rocks, sand and deep sections of pure mud dust became our hell for the next few hours as we struggled to see the correct route through the darkness and battled with the clouds of dust which surrounded the vehicles as soon as we slowed. We’d fuelled up a good 400kms beforehand and were growing anxious our tans would soon be empty and summoned the powers of the gps to find our next stop off….some 180kms north, at the speed we were travelling at it’d be another 3hrs before we’d arrive there….after 2am!

The constant attention and strain on both drivers and vehicles finally came to and end at just before 3am when we pulled into the silent town of Abri, found the diesel pumps and parked 100m away on the bank of the Nile ready for an early off in the morning. A very tiring but successful day.

End of day location: Abri, Sudan
Distance covered: 800kms

26th November 08

Date: 26th November 08
Location: Khartoum, Sudan
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine….flippin hot! 40°c
Status: Hopeful and happy with the arrangements…

Up early in the morning to start the day off well with a quick phone call to Midhat to see what the update was o the situation with the ferry….he still hadn’t called them so we pottered around for the morning awaiting his call back, which never came!

Kees, Savannah, Bre and I headed out for some breakfast and could only find a take away open so had to settle for chicken schwarma at 10am washed down by another excellent juice. That’s one good thing about a country with no alcohol allowed, they do make more of an effort with their non-alcoholic juices and smoothies!

Called the second of the contacts I had the details for, a guy called Magdy who is based in Wadi Halfa and is also a good source on information for ferry information….Midhat was proving to be unreliable so I had to go elsewhere, simple!

This proved much more fruitful as he told us there was the large barge which we would need in order to get Kee’s truck on board, actually sitting at the dock in Wadi Halfa but would be leaving tomorrow which wouldn’t leave us enough time to cover the 1000kms between us and it before it departed.

Enter Ben and some diplomacy…..”if the barge waits around for us then surely the truck that is on it will benefit financially once we arrive by splitting the cost between us all?”. Magdy disappeared and called back 10 minutes later to say they wait for us but we would have to pay the daily mooring rate of $175 for every day it was delayed….no problem, we’d just halved the cost of the barge and were sure we could make it in 3 days anyway.

We left the Blue Nile Sailing club, went to the supermarket to stock up on food and supplies (on the way Kees had to pay S£100 to a guy he ran across the front of with his truck…ooops) and filled up on the lovely cheap fuel at 30p per litre.

Took the road out of the capital and drove out of the city passing the numerous police road blocks and out into the surrounding desert again….long tarmac stretches with infinite horizons off into the distance and nothing more.

Drove until an hour after sundown to the ancient site of the pyramids at Meroe, had a quick walk around them in the dark and went to bed.

A long hot days drive tomorrow me thinks…..

End of day location: Meroe, Sudan
Distance covered: 238kms

25th November 08

Date: 25th November 08
Location: Khartoum, Ethiopia
Weather: Very, very hot and sunny. 40°c
Status: Baking in the daytime…..

Up at first light which is the only time of day during which you can acheve anything as the temperature is so much lower! Packed away the tent quickly and updated some more of the website then Bre, Ammon and I drove out to the ony bank in town which supposedly would allow you to use a visa card to withdraw local currency.

Found the brnch no problem and after a quck chat with the manager established that this ervice had been available up until a week ago but since a US businessman used it and the American government found out this loophole in the countries sanctions against Sudan, it has been closed, damn them!

Instead swapped some dollars at the Forex and then got all the photocopies we’d need in order to gain our registration with the government here, a clever money making initiative which means all aliens must register within three days of arriving in the country at a cost of $40. Once they’d all been completed we handed them in together with the relevant form and photo and waited.

During this time we drove off to find a Land Rover parts place which by chance had removed a rear shock absorber mount from an old vehicle the day before and let me have it at a knock-down price. I’ll keep it should the other one fail.

Stopped at the office of one of the travel agents who helps organise the barge across Lake Nasser for information and it turns out that we’ve just missed one of them by a day and the next scheduled one leaves on December 10th ….too late for us. The charge to charter one independently of other people is $3500!!!! He will find out if there are any others booked we could get on with. I really do hope there is….

Returned to collect the completed passports and then back to the camp for an afternoon siesta in the sweltering heat of mid-afternoon…how they cope when the mercury hits 50°c in the summer I don’t know!

Filled the truck with water and supplies before getting heading out for dinner with Bre and then going to bed.

End of day location: Khartoum, Sudan
Distance covered: 10kms

24th November 08

Date: 24th November 08
Location: Gederef, Sudan
Weather: Totally hot, sunny and too hot! 39°c
Status: Into another capital city today….

Up at just before sunrise to witness the massive fiery ball breaking the horizon with Kees. His fanbelt gave up the ghost yesterday and needed replacing so we sert about it before the others appearedand half an hour later we were done.

No Kees occasionally likes to do things which are out of the ordinary and this was to be one of those mornings! “Ben I’ve always wanted to roll a huge boulder off the top of a hill and film it….are you up for it?” Of course I was!!

So we loaded a couple of bottle jacks into the backpack and he, Savannah and I set of up the large hill behind the trucks with the intention of causing a rather unnatural landslide…not recommended I know but very amusing potentially! We made it to the top in just over half an hour and positioned ourselves on the side facing the others below and after choosing a suitable boulder Kees placed the jack under the edge ready for the off. Brandon was filming from below and at the countdown the jack was pumped until the massive rock tilted enough to drop off the side of the hill and smash heavily down the slope until coming to rest at the bottom in a cloud of dust and crashing noises!

A very amusing episode and safe as there was no one else for miles around. Mum I know you wouldn’t approve!

We hit the road and made good distance along the long, featureless road with just the usual racing buses making up the other vehicles on the journey. The outskirts of Khartoum came into sight around three hours later and what a surprise it was!

Its probably the mot westernised North African city I’ve been to with great roads, signs and markings, loads of new looking businesses and vehicles of mainly less than ten years old! Our destination was the Alien registration office in the centre of the town and the traffic was pretty heavy so slow progress meant we didn’t get there in time before it closed….damn it again!

So back tomorrow for the paperwork which means we can be in the country legally at last! We headed to the Blue Nile Sailing club, a well known overlander hang out and found another Landie from Germany there. We had a good chat and enjoyed the view from the banks of the Nile before all heading out to dinner with a couple of guys called Roland and Ras, nutters and great fun as they took us all in the open back of their 1980’s Land Rover 90!

Came back and poached free internet from the wireless of the sailing club before heading to bed.

End of day location: Khartoum, Sudan
Distance covered: 308kms

23rd November 08

Date: 23rd November 08
Location: Just short of the Ethiopia/Sudan border
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, great for driving
Status: Moving on quicker than expected….

The perfect choice of location for the camp last night ensured an early rise with the sun blasting through the tents door, so after a quick bite of breakfast we hit the road again….or the road hit us again with more uncomfortable stony track after we’d cleared the initial 20kms of tarmac.

The route to the border passed through small villages and dusty tracks until we finally arrived at the border with Sudan. A hustling, bustling border post with the usual hassle of money changers on the Ethiopian side but once we’d got through no-mans-land the situation changed into a more orderly and logical Sudanese side.

We entered the immigration area and checked ourselves into the police station where we filled in the usual forms but they wouldn’t allow us to register there, instead we would have to head to Gederaf around 150kms into the country, no matter as we had three days to do it.

Kees and I sat in the customs hall waiting for the officials to stamp our carnets and after the obligatory coffee and tea session with them, had our documents returned all in order. We were happy to get on the move again and this time the tarmac lasted for the entire distance to the town of Gederaf!

We followed the gps through the streets to the police station, went in to see the female police chief and were told that the office was now closed as it was a Sunday and that we could either come back tomorrow or complete the registration in Khartoum at a reduced rate….we didn’t need to be told twice!

Another 75kms down the flat, featureless road we spotted a group of low lying hills off to the side of the road and pulled off the highway to make camp for the night.

End of day location: Past Gederaf, Sudan
Distance covered: 308kms

22nd November 08

Date: 22nd November 08
Location: Gonder, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 32°c
Status: Amazed that we’re on the move finally!

Got up at first light and packed everything away after a quick bit of breakfast, and then found we were blocked in by no less than three other cars…had to wait for 45 minutes before they shifted their asses and we could leave the decrepit old hotel grounds.

Took the road out of town towards Gorgora to go and find the Dutch place….thats all the information they gave us, the Dutch Place!!! The stony road to the lake took just over and hour and surprise surprise we had another puncture as expected around the valve of the tyre which hadn’t had the plastic collar put onto to it in the first place!! So for the seventh time on two days I changed the wheel 

Arrived in Gorgora and had no idea where to head to but the helpful locals all said “Tim’s place” questioningly. They pointed us in the right direction and we followed a track through the shacks until we spotted Kee’s truck in the distance. Ammon was up and about and we all decided that today would be the day we’d try and get moving towards the next of the countries, Sudan.

Bre and I left in the Colonel to get to Gonder first in order to sort out a few replacement inner tubes in case we needed replacements with our current run of luck, to have a final juice at the Sofa Juice bar and to do some last minute shopping. By 2pm all of the jobs had been finished and we made our way meet Kees who was waiting for us.

We departed from Gonder and instantly lost the good tarmac and as expected hit the painfully rough and rocky unmade road towards the border…and then all of a sudden we had perfect tarmac….and then all of sudden it was gone again! Gotta love these African road finishing schemes!

We drove on until the sun as just dropping out of the sky and found a bush camp at the edge of the road which was out of view, flat and ready for out weary heads.

End of day location: Bush camp, 75kms short of Sudan border
Distance covered: 275kms

Monday 24 November 2008

21st November 08

Date: 21st November 08
Location: Chenek Camp, Simien National Park, Ethiopia
Weather: Cold to start then the sun came out and hot again, 28°c
Status: Relaxed finally after the worst day of the trip so far….

It all started off ok, I woke up after the epic effort that put I yesterday in order to complete the ninth of the Afritrex challenges feeling very happy, not sore at all and desperate to get back to Gonder in time to meet Kees and the rest of the Watkins who’d hopefully be there so we can start the rush across Sudan.

Lowered myself down the ladder with no ills effects being felt, grabbed my washbag and trotted across the campsite to the gurgling mountain stream which was at the far side….frost and ice were all along the banks so I woke myself up with a good old fashioned ice-cream-headache dunking of the head and shave…brrr!

Cooked up a storm of an English breakfast which I’d pictured in my head whilst ascending the last part of the climb…the full works, eggs, toast, beans and bacon talk about needed after everything Ras Dashen had taken.

The Colonel developed a leaking shock absorber on the drive up here so finally I had a chance to sort out replacing it with the spare I was carrying…all went well and within an hour we were all packed up and on the road. We gave Nana, my scout from the past few days, a lift back to Debark 56kms down the stony, broken but totally stunning track passing shepherd boys who gracefully waved, then threw stones. Vast mountain ranges and drops and more Gelada Baboons at the edge of the road with their wavy long blond hair…..quite like me Bre told me!

We dropped off Nana and collected my certificate of completion and started on the even worse rocky, stony, dangerous road of 120kms to Gonder…all was going well for the first 60kms then the Colonel started to swerve from left to right. Was it my suspension repair that had gone wrong? No instead the first puncture since having the new tyres fitted in South Africa (I do think I’m due one when you look at the state of the tyres after the last few thousand kms!). I stopped and started to change it and within 5 minutes had a crowd of 15 women and children all around looking and laughing amongst themselves! A old man joined us an tried to help but was pretty useless and within 15 minutes after a round of handshakes and photos we were on our way again…with me very unhappy at the failure of the tyre!

So we potter along and 10kms later a loud bang and hiss…..yep another tyre has blown, balls what a shocking road it was proving to be! We stop again and again a crowd forms this time a young lad whose good at gymnastics and stretching decides to have a stretch-off with Bre and the two of them go through more and more intricate twists, cartwheels and turns all to the amusement of those gathered. In the meantime I change the second tyre of the day and my frustration growing immensely. We receive a text message from the Watkins that they haven’t made it to Gonder as planned instead to Gorgora on Lake Tana some 60kms away down an equally as bad dirt road….why couldn’t they just keep to the plan and meet at Gonder…..ARGHHHHHHHHHHH!! Sometime I think I shouldn’t wait for Kees as it may well hinder my challenge to get home for Xmas Eve…..

We finally arrive on Gonder as the sun is setting and drive straight to the nearest tyre depot where the run down little place and its two guys set about trying to fix the problem. Instead of simply inserting rubber plugs as they would in most of Africa they instead take the entire tyre off and affix a patch to the inside of the tyre…yeah great one guys as your compressor has absolutely no power and can’t get the tyre back on the rim…muppets. I try a few tricks I’ve learnt but nothing works so I have two tyres sitting there and no air in them.

I hate using inner tubes if not necessary but the situation calls for it and I dig two out of the truck and they proceed to stick them in….now I should have watched them as they failed to put the essential plastic collars around the valves to prevent chaffing, but I didn’t and they didn’t!

So I drive off thanking them, get to the run down old Fawlty Towers style hotel, stuff a crap dinner down watched in the room and pestered continually by the four cast there, and return to the truck to hear a hissing noise from the front tyre! ARGHHHHHHHH AGAIN!!!

Bre heads off to bed and I decide I can do this better myself so dig out all the tyre changing kit, proceed to fit new inner tubes (the last I have) and an hour later have the tyres back on and ready to go.

A day of frustration, I changed 6 tyres in all and now feel more knackered than yesterday….no one said this was going to be easy. I sincerely hope that tomorrow when we arrive at Gorgora to meet Kees, he and the family are ready to drive to the border or I feel I will have to leave them in order to make the boat across from Wadi Halfa which leaves on the 1st….it really is all about this boat now.

Fingers crossed for better things tomorrow….

End of day location: Gonder, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 168kms

Ras Dashen ascent

Ras Dashen ascent

Let me give you a quick background to the reasons behind my particularly tough and exhausting last few days which saw me complete the ninth and last of the ten challenges on African soil.

In order to complete the Afritrex expedition as I planned it and arrive back in the UK to complete the tenth and final challenge of the final marathon back into my home town of Petersfield, I have to be at Lake Nasser on December 1st to catch the boat across from Sudan into Egypt. This will give me ‘just’ enough time to make it across the remaining countries and back to England. If I fail to get to that boat I would have to wait another week and my dream would be extinguished…..

To climb Ras Dashen takes a minimum of three days but I don’t have that long as every day is essential in order to reach my goal so I have to make time somehow and the simplest of ways is to cut down the ascent time by a day and try to do the entire climb in two.

So that’s exactly what I tried to do! I left Bre looking after the Colonel at the Chenneck base camp at 3600m above sea level on a cold a frosty morning with the sun just warming the cold rocky ground, I’d decided that I’d really put myself through it by carrying all of my own it including tent, backpack and water for the three days which gave me a combined weight of nearly 18kgs…it all felt god for the first hour!

My scout for the trip was called Nana and spoke two words of English, “good” and “ok”….as with many Africans these are standard answers to everything and have no bearing on what the question is! He came equipped with a funny furry hat and open toed sandals, not the most practical clothing to take on such a challenge but he set the pace anyway as we started up the steep slope to the first pass we’d have to cross.

I hadn’t really grasped quite how taxing this climb would be and based it on the fact that all of the others had been straight up and down climbs which involved the first few days ascending and a final hard push to summit and get back to the base camp by simply dropping down in altitude to the exit.

Ras Dashen involves three separate ascents the first of which takes you over the second highest mountain in Ethiopia at 4200m asl, it’s a hard trek as the air is thin and the backpack is full at this stage and as you break the summit you then drop down sharply in altitude over rocks and down dusty mule tracks until you reach the valley floor at 2800m, having lost 1400m in altitude but the day isn’t finished there as the camp for the night is another 500m up in a small village. By the time I got here is was shattered, the days exertions had taken their toll and my thighs were starting to cramp up, something I’ve never had before! Eek not good for the next day.

I set up camp in the afternoon sun and fell asleep in the warmth of my tent before waking an hour later and scoffing down three of the army ration packs I’ve carried all the way around Africa just for this moment! And delightful they were too…not! Lamb hot pot, chicken and herb dumplings and fruit dumplings with custard!

In the late afternoon I’d conceded to myself that in order to make it back to the starting camp by the end of the next day I would have to employ some local help or I’d never make it and organised a mule and boy to carry my backpack up the last of the slopes and through the pass.

Nana and I arranged to wake at 3am and to leave just after in able to make the challenge in one day. When the alarm went off the next morning Nana was nowhere to be seen and after a search of the living quarters where the scouts stayed failed to come up with anything and had no option but to head back to bed….damn him! I woke again at 4am and tried once more but the idiot was fast asleep still until I spotted him under his shawl and wriggled him with my foot to wake him from his slumber…

We finally left on the dot of 5am, two hours late! Our ascent in the darkness was lit by only my headtorch as Nana had nothing with him, and we wound our way up through the fields and villages which amazingly appear all they way up to 3800m, the very fertile soil and warm daytime temperatures providing good growing conditions. We arrived at the rocky slope leading up to the peak with the sun just breaking to horizon after a three hour ascent and made our way to the final hand-over-hand climb of the wall to the summit.

I took Nana’s rifle from him as he scrambled up and he took my trekking pole in return, then we were there at 4543m asl and at the top of the final one of Afritrex’s five summits which the expedition consisted of! Success indeed and after taking the obligatory photos of our achievement we gathered our things and started the descent passing others on the way.

We arrived back in camp at 11am, I found my boy and mule and tried to confirm that we’d be off in a few minutes time once I’d collapsed the tent, however there was no mule! Arse, all that planning the day before and it had fallen apart!

Instead a local boy offered to carry my bag for me, I packed up tent and bag, loaded my new ‘mule’ with my load and we set off down the slope to the valley floor below. We arrived at the river an hour later and ate the last of my ration packs to give me enough energy to take on the greater of the two climbs for the day, a massive 1400m!

We passed through the village with the local children following me and the guide saying “salaam” and “hello” over and over until I replied, very touching but also very annoying when your knackered!

It took a huge effort to get over that final 200m to the top of the pass for all of us and when we finally broke the summit we all stopped and congratulated each other before heading down the final 800m descent past Gelada Baboons and Mountain Ibix. Bre rushed to greet me and the efforts of the last two days hit home as the legs collapsed and I threw down food and water to replace the lost energy.

This was the hardest of the lot, the effort required was more than the Comrades, or it seemed so at the time, but two days later the legs feel back to normal and I now can’t wait to find an excuse to get to another slope sometime soon!

18th November 08

Date: 18th November 08
Location: Debre Tabor
Weather: Great driving weather with sunshine all the way. 32°c down to 4°c at night
Status: Preparing for the next of the challenges, and the cold!

Up at 5.30am with the sun still hidden behind the horizon so packed the tent away in the dark, had a quick bite of breakfast and hit the road….the unbuilt road again!

A short 75kms drive brought us to the junction with the tarmac again which we were all pleased to see after the last few days driving. This Africa trip has hardened me to the delights of African roads and made me want an appreciate the good smooth black stuff even more than before and the UK’s roads will never give me anything to complain about….EVER AGAIN!

Drove the relatively easy 120kms towards Gonder, stopping briefly on the way to visit the ruins of an castle built in the early 1500’s which took us up an overgrown 4x4 track which added to the air of mystery surrounding the place, however the gang of 20 odd locals who unofficially escorted us around the place took this away straight away! We paid one of them for taking us around, far too little according to him of course…so we turned the Colonel around a left much to his disgust!

Arriving in Gonder we stopped off at a recommendation in the guide for a fruit juice of mango, strawberry, papaya and avocado all served in a single glass but separated from each other…..tasted awesome! Gathered some extra cash for the ascent of Ras Dashen as I’d no idea how much it was likely to cost and took the road north out of the city.

After the pleasure of the tarmac it was back to the painful ungraded rocky road for another 2hr drive to Debark, the base town for the Simien National Park, and this time the road had taken its toll on the Colonel. I noticed under one of the back wheels a pool of oil ad finally after 33,000 miles one of the rear shock absorbers had given up and burst. Not too bad a performance really! A change will be needed as I have a replacement sometime in the next few days but getting to the mountain is the most important thing now.

I arrived at the park office and made the relevant arrangements for the climb, they told me that I’d need to take three days for the ascent but if the guide agreed then we could try and do it in two. I really need to do it in as little time as possible as the days between here and the likely ferry date of December 3rd are too few, so making them up here is essential if I’m to make it back to the UK in time for Xmas as planned!

Bre will be staying with the truck during the climb but the park regulations state that she’ll need an armed scout with her at all times in case of problems in the park, typical but good insurance I suppose. He jumped in the truck with us complete with his trusty antique looking musket, and we drove along an incredible scenic mountain pass for 56kms passing groups of Gelada Baboons, Mountain Ibix and unique birds to this area. The Colonel hadn’t been above 3500m before yesterday and now today he’s quite happily driving along at 3700m, a first for him!

The campsite at Chennak is at 3660m above sea level and has the most spectacular views all around, as the sun set we put the camp together and cooked the most terrible dinner of pancakes and cheese/bacon sauce….everything seemed to go wrong!

Noticed in the evening that some shit had stolen one of my water containers from the roofrack whilst the truck had been parked up, must have been while we slept in the room at Lal Hotel, Lalibela. The idiot forced the retaining bar and broke it but is suppose they must have needed it for something more than I did. Oh well.

Its damn cold now the suns gone down, from 30°c when we arrived down to 0°c now….eek and a harsh reminder of what the UK holds for me when I get back to England!

End of day location: Simien Mountains NP, Ethiopia.
Distance covered: 280kms

16th November 08

Date: 16th November 08
Location: Woldia, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine…again! Awesome day for driving. 30°c
Status: Loving being off on our own again….the world is a good place today!

Awoke from a deep sleep in the luxury surrounds of the Lal Hotel, Woldiya’s car park! Was another cold night as we’re at altitude so we packed the tent away quickly, got the engine running and the heaters on to warm our cockpit. As we left the fuel station in the town we were stopped by a guy selling the local Ethiopian scarves, of which I bought two, one for me and one for a friend who’ll really appreciate it when I get home!

The road ahead for the day I knew to be a testing one, called the China Road as it was originally built by them in the 70’s and its condition ranges from decent graded gravel to messy muddy surface in the rainy season so we were unsure how we’d find it!

This was one of the best and most scenic drives of the entire trip, similar in the quality of scenery that we’d seen in Rwanda but the whole scale of things has been racked up ten notches. The farming is more colourful, the altitude makes the air clearer, the drops from the side of the road are more frightening and the enormity of the mountain ranges are difficult to take in…not for the first time we have overused the word ‘wow’ all day long.

We stopped for breakfast half way up one of the passes, probably one of the only places we’d be able to get half an hour free of people as this is such a populated country and time by yourself is literally unheard of! Once we’d had the usual I tried to start the Colonel and nothing….no starter motor at all, it had happened once before in Malawi and that time we’d luckily been facing downhill, this time we were facing up a mountain pass with a 300m drop behind us!

Bre and I tried to push the Colonel up the hill and got a few metres before the gradient hit us, we jammed a rock under the wheel and waited for the next vehicle to pass, five minutes later it arrived and three guys jumped out to help us. We all pushed and I bump started it and we were on our way again. Fingers crossed it was another rare occurrence…..

We continued to climb up in altitude until we were at the highest point the Colonel has ever been to a chilly 3547m, he puffed a little more than usual but made it along the freshly graded road surface with no problems, we even had a few stretches of fresh tarmac to up the average speed. We eventually hit the village of Dilba and turned right down a bumpy track, after 10 mins we decided we taken the wrong turn and headed back to the junction to take the longer but correct road to the town of Lalibela.

We dropped off the high escarpment and down into the valley below passing groups of children and the occasional farmer tending his fields, an hour later we’d arrived at the tarmac road which led into the town of Lalibela, famous for its rock-hewn churches built in the 12th century.

We made our way through the narrow streets to the Lal Hotel…again, this time a collection of local style tafel double storey roundhouses rather than a standard hotel. Camping was damn expensive so it worked out cheaper to take a room which was different!

Our priority was to have a tour of the churches as soon as possible and spoke to the reception who organised a guide to come an hour later to meet us. There are 11 churches in total and the tour is usually split over 2 four hour tours of each location, but in traditional Afritrex style efficientness we managed to cramp it all into one afternoon!

A short taxi ride took us to the first and largest of the churches which was an amazing sight. Originally built by King Lalibela in response to divine intervention when he saw a shining light in the sky when staying there in the 1100’s…apparently it was Haley’s Comet. It is then believed that all of the 11 churches were excavated from the surrounding hillside in 25 years by one of two ways (1) with the assistance of angels or by (2) a team of some 40,000 people. Being a sceptic I believe the second!

There are two collections of churches all of which are all linked to each other by a series of underground channels and tunnels and are truly incredible works of architectural magnificence. The largest of the churches is 37m x 50m long and contains 12 rooms, they al have intricate carvings on the walls and ceilings and have now been protected from the elements with a permanent modern looking roof to divert the rains and damaging sunlight.

We visited all of them taking loads of photos as we went and then as the afternoon drew to a close walked back down the hill with our guide through the streets of the town passing villagers and the locals who were as interested in us as we were in them!

Dinner at the hotel then bed.

End of day location: Lalibela, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 180kms

15th November 08

Date: 15th November 08
Location: Debre Birhan, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and cold overnight, scattered clouds in the day. 32°c
Status: Happy Ethiopia has come up with the goods and is awesome….

Up at first light to get a full days drive in, yesterday was a pretty hard short drive on roads which I didn’t enjoy! We packed up the tent and said goodbye to Johann the biker from South Africa and turned north out of the village passing the early morning traffic of horse drawn carts and donkeys.

The road was the same as yesterday for the first 50kms and rose in altitude again until we were sitting right up in the clouds at 3100m, the Colonel not particularly liking the thin air which has exacerbated his wheezy chest and resulted in more unsightly smoke being produced….a bit of a worry as we have now left the relatively mechanic-safe environment of Addis and entered the much more rural countryside.

As we entered a tunnel which had ben drilled through the mountain range the road suddenly improved and the smooth tarmac of the south was back with us, much better for the average speed as we’d only been running at just over 40kph for the last hour.

At the side of the road we spotted a group of Gelada Baboons picking away at the mountain grasses, they’re pretty rare and the subject of a few nature documentaries I’ve seen so we were really chuffed to have seen them and been able to photograph them from the comfort of the Colonel. They have a strange red/pink marking on their chests which looks like a conventional baboon’s ass!

The scenery was incredible and the wow factor is back in the truck as Bre and I struggle to photograph all of the amazing sights were experiencing. The green, fertile, mountainous terrain is punctuated by vast flood plains with rocky, dry river beds which in the rains you could imagine look like aqua battlefields not the serene grazing lands we’ve driven through today.

As the road stayed the good tarmac we’ve come to love we managed to cover a good few kms in the latter part of the day and managed to get all of the way through to Weliyda around 380kms from our starting point. It’s a pretty non descript sort of town but gives us the ideal stepping stone to get into Lalibela early tomorrow to visit the famous rock-hewn churches which make up one of the official eight wonders of the world.

We’re staying in the car park of the Lal Hotel in the town, it was our first choice but was then also recommended to us by a little Italian overlanding lady we met on the drive here today. I thought I was doing something pretty extreme with this travelling thing but she’s doing Rome to Cape Town all by herself in a Toyota Land cruiser….mad.

End of day location: Wolida, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 380kms

14th November 08

Date: 14th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: A few clouds today but the sun was still out and shining, 32°c
Status: Wahoo, we’re moving again!!

Up good and early to get the list of jobs done before leaving the capital for the last time, the visas are in the bag, the truck is prepared and we now need to haul ass to get home in time for Christmas!

Bre and I have decided to leave the others again for a few days, they wanted to stay in the capital for a few days longer and we need to get ahead in order to climb Ras Dashen and be back in Gonder by the time they arrive in around a weeks time.

It felt great to be off on our again, the road our destiny and the spirit of adventure truly coursing through our veins once more. Lets see if the people of the north are as friendly as those in the south….

We stocked up on supplies in the supermarket, filled with fuel and took the road out of the city, it wound up the hillside through small towns with the usual cattle and donkey slowing our progress occasionally. The landscape becoming more farmed and arable based as we went which gave us amazing views into the distance forming patchwork on the hills around.

Another road under repair though I’m afraid with long sections of rocky diversions, dusty times following construction trucks and worryingly the occasional puff of white smoke from the Colonel, hopefully a sign of the terrible quality Ethiopian fuel rather than the Colonel developing lung problems this late in the expedition!

We drove for a few hours until we reached the town of Debre Birhan and made our way to the Adaklu Hotel in the centre of town as it offered a secure courtyard for the night. We haggled over the cost for a while then made the tent and enjoyed some dinner with some overlanders on their motorbikes who had left Europe a couple of months ago and were heading to South Africa. The usual exchanging of route info, latest maps and stories until I decided it was time for a movie and bed.

A cold one though as we’re up to 3000m above sea level so a good chance of frost in the morning, yuk.

End of day location: Debre Birhan, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 130kms

12th November 08

Date: 12th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine…this is the rainy season in africa, what’s happening! 33°c
Status: Still on the visa mission….

Up early again, packed away the tent and cooked Bre and I a full English breakfast, yum indeed.

Hit the roads of the capital to the Sudanese embassy to hand in the forms required to start our applications. The same unfriendly guy met us at the gate; I’d make it my job today to get him to smile whatever happened!

We queued to hand in the forms and have them checked, were then told to wait for our turn to be called back to the window, this took half an hour until we got them back with a load of red scribble on them to say they’d been accepted, first job done. Mr Oh-So-Unfriendly then ushered us around to the accounts window where we’d have to pay the admin fee of $61 each except the US visa which is $150! This completed the next stage was to return to the first window to hand them back in where we were told to come back tomorrow at 3pm to collect them!! What a palaver!

So ack to the camp again to start the next line of enquiry which will enable me to get home as planned…the ferry across the Aswan from Wadi Halfa. There are many different stories on quite how difficult it is to book a place for the vehicles here and with Kees’s huge truck in tow its essential that we get the particulars right early on. I take a few numbers in Egypt and Sudan, try to call them and get nowhere….typical Africa again. Will try tomorrow.

Kees, Savannah, Bre and I headed off to the pool to cool down and use the internet, there’s only one place to go in the city and that’s the opulent luxury of the Sheraton Hotel again, full of businessmen and official looking people we traipse in straight off the street with our towels under our arms in shorts…the reaction of the doorman wa brilliant, and I think he actually had a great time joking with us as we out our towels and laptops through the security scanner!

Had a bite to eat in the town and went to bed.

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 10kms

11th November 08

Date: 11th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine. 32°c
Status: Awaiting the visa process again…

Up early, a bite of breakfast then headed out with Amo and Bre to get to the Egyptian embassy to drop off the receipts which they require as proof of where we’d acquired our Ethiopian currency from, they accepted them and told us to return at 4pm to collect our passports.

We all went along to the Sudanese embassy next to start the line of enquiry as to what we’d need for this visa, its renowned as being a really tough one to get with the grumpiest staff in their embassies, a fact which I can pay testament to after our experience with the unfriendly lady in Nairobi!

We queued outside for a few minutes with some other people until the door was swiftly pulled backwards and the grim faced smoking man allowed us to enter, we joined the next queue and after 10 minutes got to the front to be greeted by a smiling decent gentleman who issued us with the forms, told us what we’d need and happily said goodbye….quite a turn up!

Back at the camp Kees’s truck was now fixed and we spent the afternoon making an awesome lunch, catching up on emails etc and when it was time to leave did so with the Egyptian embassy being our destination.

Collected our visas and photocopied the relevant pages for the Sudanese application tomorrow and decided to head up into the hills to find the Washa Mikael rock church which overlooks the city. We pulled into the car park of the church which signalled the starting point of the drive and found a guide who would take us through the narrow villages to our goal, he sat on the bonnet and we drove for half an hour up a steep rocky road before grassy area we arrived at signalled our destination had been reached.

The church itself was bombed by Italian extremists a number of years ago which collapsed the roof and since then the church is only used twice a year which means it’s a little run down and overgrown but still leaves you amazed at how the excavation was done. The church has around 12 rooms and some amazing arches all of which have been hewn out of the bedrock. The entrance to the church is the most impressive of all with a 10 metre long tunnel leading to it.

We walked from here to the hill which looks over the city and the views were stupendous, the sprawling mass of Addis captured by the mountains around with patchworks of green and brown fields surrounding the obvious civilisation within.

The sun was setting so we made our way to the truck and started the descent back down the hill and through the evening chaos of the village streets, donkeys pulling their loads, the local running club meeting up and the hustle and bustle which makes Africa so amazing to me.

We had dinner and went to bed.

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 20kms

10th November 08

Date: 10th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 32°c
Status: Awaiting our visas for the next few countries……

We awoke this morning feeling cold, really cold. The city is the third highest capital city in the world at 2400m above sea level and boy did it feel I this morning, it’s the coldest we’ve been since winter in Namibia!

Had a shower to warm up and packed the tent away then headed to the bar for a scrambled egg breakfast and strong Ethiopian coffee…its mad stuff and looks like thick liquid liquorice when its poured, it also leaves a sludge in the bottom of the cup when your done!

Headed out to the Egyptian embassy in convoy to apply for the next-but-one visa we’ll need in order to apply for our Sudanese visa in a few days time. The Sudanese insist that to grant a transit visa they need to see evidence that we actually intend to leave their country. The unusually stern doorman allowed us entry and we filled in the usual forms, the British are charged more than usual here for some reason and I out of
the group have to pay the most!

Next problem is they won’t allow us to pay for the visa with dollars instead we need local currency…of which the family don’t have enough, so the mad chase around the city starts in order to be back in time for the closing of the application office at midday. We try to get to the centre as we know there’s an ATM at the Sheraton Hotel but Kees is stopped in his tracks by the police as they have a restriction on all vehicles over four tonnes in the centre to reduce the likelihood of terrorist activity around the main important buildings of the city. This of course however doesn’t really help us!

Kees instead heads off back to the Belair Hotel and Ammo, Bre and I start the mad trek around the city to collect money and return to the embassy in time to pay for the visas… usual I am the high-speed truck which has to do all of the work, can you believe it a Land Rover being the quickest vehicle!

We get to the Sheraton, grab the money and return to the embassy with half an hour to spare but the lady there throws another spanner in the works….we will all need evidence of our money changing transaction in the form of a photocopy of the card used and the receipt….great, none of us have it! We’re told that if we have it back to her by first thing in the morning then it shouldn’t be a problem, at least that gives us some leeway.

As we leave the embassy another overlander in his Toyota pulls up, I start chatting to him, an American called Eric whose basically travelled the same route we have for the past few months…we’ve just never met him! he’s been staying at a place in the city called Wim’s Holland House, setup by a Dutch guy called Wim funnily enough!

We follow him to the little oasis in the city centre and find a great place where we can stay for the next few days for free with a bar, restaurant and secure parking right in the centre. Superb! We return to Kees and the others and drive down to let them see the awesome place we’ve discovered. Perfect.
Spent the afternoon setting up camp and relaxing in our new found base then went for a drive around town to see some of the sights.

Had a meal with the family in the bar and then watched a couple of movies before heading to bed early.

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Distance covered: 20kms

9th November 08

Date: 9th November 08
Location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Weather: Lots of sunshine and the odd cloud, 30°c
Status: Hating the delays more than ever….

Bre and I were the first one’s up again…I think actually she got up first of all as she’s so intent on bringing the photo album up to date she couldn’t even sleep last night, its not so much as an obsession, more a job!

Spoke to Dad and my sister, Becky on the sat phone briefly to wish them both happy birthdays. I couldn’t get to a phone on time so had to resort to using the on board technology to wish them well.

After breakfast the local engineers arrived on time to finish off the work on Kee’s truck and I sat down and read a book, had breakfast, watched a movie…in fact loads of things before we had the message that everything was finished and we’d be on the road soon, finally.

We had the warning call that we’d be leaving by 1pm from Kees and that he just had to wash the truck and we’d be on the road…then eventually at 2.30pm he rolled up leaving us all fuming that again we’d be driving in the dark and I’d be navigating another new African city with the tortoise in tow. Hmmmmm

The road to the capital was particularly empty as it was a Sunday, we stopped on the side of the road to buy some strawberries and as the sun went down we still had a good few km’s to go. We made our way to the Baro Hotel but had problems getting Kee’s truck under the electricity wires so had to move onto our second choice. Can you see a theme running through the last few days yet!!?

Made our way to the Belair Hotel and made our camp in the car park, a light bite of dinner then bed. Up early tomorrow for the next visas…

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 270kms

7th November 08

Date: 7th November 08
Location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Weather: Patchy blue skies and clouds, rain on the drive. 24°c
Status: Off on a mission….and running over someone too!

The job for the day….to get the replacement parts we need to get Kees’s truck on the move again! We woke up as the sun came up and the rain was chucking down outside, it appeared that the storm which was flashing away in the distance overnight had deposited most of its contents on out campsite as the place was awash with the wet stuff.

Still packed up and had a quick bowl of cereal waiting around for Abiy, our new found English-speaking friend who Kees had befriended the evening previous, to arrive. The three of us got in the car and turned out of the campsite towards the capital 250kms away. The road was excellent, in fact one of the best in east Africa, and smooth tarmac took was through the lake filled lands of southern Ethiopia and towards the city.

We arrived at the outskirts and with Abiy’s help headed into the centre navigating our way towards his brother who was already searching out the required part for us on his day off!

We hit a section of new unsurfaced road and were crawling along in the traffic when all of a sudden the totally unavoidable happened. Now let me explain first, Ethiopia is THE country I have feared the most in terms of problems on the roads. Kids throw stones at you, adults play the shadow-chasing game and try to get out of the way the last minute, smiling at you once they’ve done it….and a Canadian couple we met a few years ago – Tom & Janet actually hit and killed a young boy here with horrible consequences and a long time trying to calm the baying mob!

I was in first gear following a minibus when a young lady stepped out in front of the Colonel looking totally the other way only a metre in front of the truck….I had nowhere to go at all, the wheels skidded for the two metres it took to bring the truck to a halt, the bull bar hit the lady and with her shopping in both hands she fell to the ground. I was totally shocked and in no way guilty but jumped out of the car to see she was ok. This all happened in near stand still traffic in the middle of a market area so instantly it was spotted and people came running, now I mean lots of people. Within seconds we had a group of maybe 40 individuals all shouting, gesturing and pushing us with no understanding of the language all we could think of was to get out of there as soon as possible and both Kees and I grabbed Abiy and got him into the car….we wanted to drive to the nearest police station as quickly as we could.

As we desperately tried to get away and drive through the traffic, which was impossible, all I could see were maybe 20 people chasing us down the street….there was whistling, the front runners easily caught the Colonel and were banging on the sides and we couldn’t get away, and then all of a sudden it was there, the Saris Police Station. We screeched to a halt, locked the doors and ran inside explaining the situation to the women police officer who was the first to greet us.

She tried to calm us down, sat me in her office and explained that we were safe with her and the Colonel was now being looked after by her truncheon and rifle holding colleagues!

Wow how it all exploded in such a short time!! After 10 minutes the I-didn’t-look-before-i-crossed-the-road lady arrived looking shocked herself. The last time I’d seen her she was being man-handled by the massed gang and didn’t show any signs of pain or problems, but now suddenly she started crying and clutched her arm….the white man has money, if I fake this I can get some of it!

Procedure here is to get the injured to the nearest doctor to see what the problem is and then deal with the financial side of things accordingly. So off Aviy and her trotted across the road to the hospital – sometimes there is one when you need one! I sat with the very kind police lady and we set about improving our language skills and understanding of each others countries, families, cultures, calendars, time system, working hours, etc etc! all very pleasant in the situation.

An hour an a half later Aviy, the lady and now her immediate family of 7 people returned to the station clutching an x-ray, prescription and the answer I was looking for….nothing was broken of even bruised! The doctor has said she had no problems and gave her a paracetamol for her headache, this meant I was in the clear both for the situation and for her medical bills. I offered to cover the cost of the x-ray and gave her a little sum of money for her clothes to be cleaned and for the shopping she’d lost…we all signed a very unofficial back of an envelope and went our own way. It was an awful mess to start off with but ended very amicably and thankfully peacefully and we were all in one piece!

With the little episode behind us and half the day gone we drove off to meet Aviy’s brother who’d managed to locate a replacement clutch for us….well the outside was ok but the centre was totally wrong with 4 teeth not 28, no matter at all. In Europe they have to order another complete unit and you’d have to come back a week later to collect it….not in africa, they took it to the local engineering shop, removed the heavy duty rivets and centre and replaced it with the one from the original…simple then!

While we were waiting Aviy took us on a tour of the capital, a very clean, well laid out place it is too. We stopped off at his recommendation for a coffee and bite of lunch….the Sheraton no less!! An immensely opulent English-style hotel with full bomb squad vehicle search, red BT phone boxes and security guards wearing London bobby style helmets, amazing!

We had a bite to eat, sampled the local coffee and headed back out to take to on the rush hour traffic and find our way home. Once we had got to the right exit on the ring road the darkness was total making driving interesting as we tried to make our way past the convoys of trucks all making the long 3 day haul to Djibouti and the port there, Ethiopia’s life line.

The road back was pretty uneventful until suddenly I spotted a pair of eyes on the side of the road…it was a full grown hyena, then there was another and this was only 5kms out of the city outskirts. They scavenge here and Aviy said they commonly are seen in town too, totally amazing.
Our road south took us through several large towns and by each one we spotted more of them until we hit Shashemene, 40kms from Awassa where we were aiming for and right in the centre of the nearly deserted town there was another down a side street.

This was enough to get our hearts racing so we took off after it keeping it in our lights only a few metres in front of the truck and followed it right up to a garden fence where it disappeared off into the darkness! What a superb end to the otherwise hectic day!

We arrived back at the camp around 11.30pm and set up camp finally for the night. An eventful but interesting day all the same.

End of day location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 570kms