16th of November, Marsabit, Kenya
I don’t know why I didn’t do this from the beginning, taking notes for the blog regularly, little by little, and post online whenever possible – but I do know that it was stupid not doing so because with so many things happening everyday during a trip like this you quickly get overwhelmed, not knowing where to start when you’re going to tell people about it! I think the first few weeks through Europe were simply too uneventful for me to find it neccessary to take notes on the daily events. Leaving Europe things quickly got more hectic and not having the habit of writing things down, I soon found it too big of a mission to start summing things up. But from now on I will try and write more or less daily summaries and publish them whenever I get the chance to go online. I had so many thoughts on what I wanted this blog to be like and for some reason I didn’t want it to be ”like everyone else’s” with loads of practical details of the journey, but rather with more reflections and unexpected stories. Coming this far, I’ve realised it is pretty good to keep track of the trip details for other overlanders, and that sharing thoughts and other stuff can fit in there too. So that is what I am going to attempt from now on. This is now an overlander’s diary and I will do my best to let you guys in on the ride!
But since I haven’t been blogging regularly up until now I already feel like I have too many things to tell you and don’t know where to begin… But today I should have some time to write so I will try and go back in time a bit and catch up. I’m sitting in my room at a guesthouse in Marsabit in northern Kenya. This place is super quirky and I love it. The staff is really sweet and the food is good. Brian just took off with the cruiser to the local mechanic to have some work done on the shocks and springs that have taken a proper beating driving through Ethiopia and Kenya. Getting here yesterday was really tough, knowing the stretch from the Ethiopian border to Marsabit wasn’t called The Worst Road in Africa for nothing we were prepared for it, but it was still very rough. It turned out that the Chinese are rebuilding the original road and we now had to drive on a diversion road which was, we believe, even worse than the original… Anyhow, I was supposed to go back in time, so how we ended up here in Marsabit is another story!
To sum it up, Europe was a breeze. No borders, usually pretty good campsites (however expensive!) and great roads. We drove down the autobahn to Italy where the cargo ship was leaving from. As the ship was delayed with a few days (originally planned to leave on the 16th of September, ended up leaving on the 21st) we also spent three days in Chroatia working on the car and chilling by the beach.
Europe in September was already getting a bit chilly and we had to wear wind jackets and sleep with both sleepings bags and duvets to keep warm at night so we really couldn’t wait to get down to the warmer countries.
We arrived in Israel and decided to keep a low profile about being there since it could quite possibly create big problems later on during the trip. Especially Sudan has a big problem with Israel. If the Sudanese border police see an Israeli stamp in your passport, or other evidence of you having been there, they won’t let you into the country! We couldn’t risk this since there is no way of bypassing Sudan. That’s why you guys never heard about Israel on the blog back then – but I will tell you all about it now.
We managed to hit Israel during the peak season of religious holidays. Bad timing. We came to the port town of Ashdod on a Friday and were told we wouldn’t get the car out of the harbour’s customs until Sunday. The car was going to be put in a warehouse in the port and we were given about 5 minutes to grab whatever we might need for the weekend before it was locked up. We then had to try find a hotel. Luckily, we met taxi driver Shay, who turned out to be a friendly and helpful guy who helped us in many ways during our stay in Israel. He took us to a Holiday Inn in Ashkelon just south of Ashdod. Asking about the proximity of the Gaza strip, Shay just replied calmly ”Don’t worry, there is nothing going on thesedays. And if there is, the hotel has a bomb shelter!” Not knowing whether we could really feel calmed by that, we spent two nights at the Holiday Inn. The whole situation, not having access to the car, not knowing when we would get to travel again, not having much to do around the hotel and not wanting to spend too much money in this pretty expensive country, we soon started feeling a bit restless and frustrated.
On Sunday we wentback to the harbour together with our fixer Avi Chacho, an old man with very little patience and a very limited English vocabulary, whom we had hired after being told that with his help the inspection would take about two hours instead of five if we were to do it on our own. We went to the warehouse and met with some guys from customs. Chacho did all the talking in Hebrew so we weren’t entirely sure what was going. Suddenly we were asked to start emptying the car. We were a bit confused, was the inspection starting? We obediently started taking out all our belongings, not too happy about having to put them on the dirty warehouse floor. After about 10 minutes we were suddenly told to stop. We were now told that today was a holiday and therefore the customs only work half day and now they were going to go home for the day. So we had no choice but to put everything back into the car, quickly grab some other clean clothes and what we needed for another few days and leave the car in the warehouse again. On Tuesday morning, in a couple of days, the inspection was going to continue.
We had no idea where to go, we didn’t want to return to pricy Holiday Inn and the industrial port town of Ashdod didn’t seem to offer much accommodation. We called up Shay again and he came to pick us up. As he arrived, he said he had been talking to Chacho – who was now using Shay as a translator – and he had bad news for us. Chacho had now been told by the customs guys that we would only get the car out of the harbour the following Tuesday, more than a week later!
My goodness me, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Shay saw our frustration and said he would see what he might be able to do for us. He took us to a guy in town that rented out apartments, thinking that might be cheaper than a hotel, but there was none available for us. So we went to Shay’s brother’s cafe to have a coffee and ponder our options. That’s when mr Yones, an Ethiopian man living in Ashdod, stepped in. He was a friend of Shay’s brother’s and he told us that him and his family were leaving town for a couple of days and we were welcome to stay in his apartment in the meantime, while trying to find somewhere else to go. Slightly surprised we asked what he was expecting in return for this and he said he didn’t want anything in return. Gratefully we said yes to this plan and went back to his place where we met the entire family, packing up to go visit relatives. He had a beautiful family. We were just in awe with how they took us in and treated us like royalties while we were waiting, serving us fruits and telling us where everything was in the apartment, that we must just help ourselves to anything we might need. We could hardly believe we had just met them and they were now going to leave their apartment to us! So they gave us the keys and we said bye to the family and then we spent two days in the apartment, just watching tv, relaxing and cooking chicken schnitzels that we had bought at the supermarket.
We had found out that although it didn’t look that bright, we could go back to the harbour two days later and try to get the procedure started again. We had to leave before the family got back so we locked up and handed the key in at Shay’s brother’s café just a few blocks away. We met with Chacho again and he seemed pretty hopeful it might work. We waited around together with a German man who had also been travelling with the cargo ship from Italy with his car and after an hour and a half we were finally let in the harbour area and get the inspection started.
Chacho all of a sudden said to Brian ”You stay here and wait!” and told me to come with him. We felt about weary about being separated, but soon realised it was because I am the owner of the car and I was now going to follow Chacho to do all the paper work, while Brian wasn’t ”needed” there at the moment. After running around between a few different offices, just listening to Hebrew and waiting, I was then taken to the warehouse and drove the car back to the customs area with Chacho in the passenger seat. We then got started emptying the car. It took us about two hours to empty the whole thing. Poor Brian had to do most of it by himself out in the blasting sun, while I went along with Chacho again, doing more paper work and meeting with the truck driver who was going to drive the cruiser through the x ray machine. The customs staff were young and spoke a bit of English and kept offering us something cold to drink, so that was nice. They went through every item in the car – every item, I’m talking litterally inspecting every box of screws, every pack of macaroni, every bottle of sunscreen – and we have a lot of things in the car… Most of the stuff had to be carried indoors to a room where they x rayed every bag, but some things they said could stay in the car after they had had a look at it. So eventually the truck driver loaded the cruiser onto the back of his truck and took off with it to have it x rayed. Chacho and I went off doing more paperwork and he all of a sudden asks me if we have emptied the car fully. I say yes, thinking that the customs staff had told us it was cleared. But now there was a problem, because we weren’t supposed to leave anything in the car. And Chacho is yelling at me for this! So I got quite angry with him, and told him that we knew that we had to empty the entire the car. But the customs staff had told us it was fine, so what were we supposed to do, going against them and keep taking things out although they had said we were done?! We obviously trusted the customs people knew what they were doing! So the truck driver came back with the cruiser and we emptied everything else that had been left in there. All our belongings were now stacked in a pile outside the customs office and Brian and I were both a bit dehydrated and low on energy from not having anything to eat all day. We just wanted to be with done with it all…
Eventually Chacho said we had to go and look at the cruiser. I went with him and we met with Fanta, the guy in charge of the inspection. He tells me there is a gas bottle in the car so I said “No, there isn’t, we have now emptied everything that can be taken out of the car”. He said “Yes, there is. I see it on my computer.” So I thought hard and realised he must be seeing the air compressor, which is cylinder shaped and bolted into the back of the car. So I opened the car and pointed it out to him and then had to try and explain what it was for. Eventually he said “okay” and I could fiiiinally drive the cruiser back to the customs office. It was now cleared. But, said Chacho, the guy that is supposed to stamp our gatepass to leave the harbour has probably left for the day because it’s so late now. I almost didn’t believe him… But we went to yet another office and I listened to some more Hebrew before this other guy finally said he would make sure we could leave the harbour. On the way back Chacho took the opportunity of black mailing me, demanding more money than we had agreed on. He hreatened to make sure this last guy wouldn’t stamp us out. I was furious with him but couldn’t do anything but play along and accept the way this was all done. I just wanted to get out of Israel there and then!!
To sum it up, entering Israel with a vehicle cost us about 1 000 USD. We don’t recommend it to anyone unless you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the country to make it worth it. And funnily enough, they did such a thorough inspection, but they didn’t ask a single question about our knives, axes and machete, prescription medicines, technology devices or pork in the fridge!!
Finally Brian and I could put everything back into the cruiser, which took us about two hours. We were both exhausted but relieved it was all over and looking forward to leaving the harbour. By the time we exited it was dark and we realised we wouldn’t get anywhere that night so we drove into town. We found a hotel which wasn’t great but not nearly as bad as everyone had said the hotels were in Ashdod. With our new found freedom we felt quite re-energized and enjoyed every minute. We opened the bottle of champagne we had had in the cruiser’s fridge since leaving Sweden, which we just hadn’t gotten around to drinking until then. We drank the champagne on the dark and neglected roof top terrass, counting 49 pigeons sleeping on the building’s wall above us, trying not to step in the bird poo as we walked back in to our room to sleep.
As we had already spent more time in Israel than planned without actually getting anything done, and being pretty frustrated after the insane inspection day, we really just wanted to get out of there. We did want to see Jerusalem so we decided to drive through the city, make a quick stop and then continue to the Jordan border. But first we drove past mr Yones’ apartment and knocked on the door. He was happy to see us since he thought we had had to leave without saying goodbye and we took some photos and tried to express our gratitude towards him and his family. Such goodhearted people! We will never forget that.
As we came to Jerusalem we realised we didn’t have much time so we went straight for the Old town. But after having spent an hour driving around crazily narrow streets with only a paper map to look at (we had no gps maps for Israel) in the heat and everything without finding a single space to park the car, we eventually gave up. Jerusalem simply had to be visited some other time! We just wanted to get to the Jordan border.
We came to the border prepared with the Jordan visas we had gotten in Berlin and all, and on the Israeli side everything went smooth. Us and the cruiser were soon checked out of Israel and we drove to the Jordan side. We found a gate, a small house, a booth with a couple of men who didn’t speak much English and a million flies buzzing around in the evening heat. The men looked at the cruiser and started asking questions about it. We were told we could pass, because we had the visas, but the cruiser couldn’t go through this border. This was a border crossing only for diplomatic vehicles. Brian and I just looked at each other, not knowing what to think. ”You have to go back and go to the next border crossing about an hour north” the men explained. So we stepped into the cruiser and turned around and then it his us. We had exited Israel. We would have to re-enter. We might have to do the inspection all over again. I almost started crying with fatigue and frustration.
We came back to the first checkpoint of the Israeli border and explained what had happened. The young guy there said he recognized us. He looked really sad when he said we would probably have to go through another inspection. I said ”Please, please, please! It took us 8 hours yesterday!” and he promised to call his colleagues at customs and ask. Luckily, this one guy at customs had also spotted the cruiser earlier and we had been chatting with him. He said we must come and see him at the customs office, and maybe we didn’t have to do a full inspection again. We kept our fingers crossed all the way there and sighed loudly with relief when he just asked us a few questions (Did anyone give us anything in Jordan? Uhm no, we weren’t even let into Jordan!!) and then we were escorted through the immigration offices for some quick stamps and then we were on our way again. But by now it was around 7 pm and we still had an hours drive up north! Again, we had to drive in the dark, which we had said we would try and avoid. But there was no way we were staying in Israel another night.
We got to the Jordan border and tried to keep cool when the officials there started inspecting the cruiser thoroughly and asked us to remove all the bags and gear. We were a bit weary about the fact that this might be the first time something would get confiscated. We had agreed on a policy that if a border official at any border would clearly confiscate something without being backed up by law, because he wanted it for himself, we would break it/pour it/destroy it out before handing it to him. One of the officials found our machete and his eyes opened wide. After reassuring him that it was meant for wood cutting and not for killing someone, he said it was okay. And he offered to buy it from us! (Not sure what he was planning to use it for?!) It would have been so easy for him to just confiscate it (and hard for us to break it!) so we really appreciated that. We obviously wanted to keep our machete so we didn’t let him buy it. All the officials were nice to us, also keeping the border open after it’s regular closing time of 9 pm just to get us through.
So, we came into Jordan after dark and just headed for the closest campsite we could find on the gps. And from there on, most of the Jordan experience and the rest of the trip until now is in the previous blog posts! But since I left out most of the details, and Brian still hasn’t come back from the mechanic, I’ll try summarize a bit more of the past.
We took the car ferry from Aqaba, Jordan, to Nuweiba, Egypt. Pricy, but no options really. And we had a good time onboard where we met the Kiwi student Hector Sharp, living in Jerusalem. We spent a few days in Nuweiba catching up with laundry and car work before driving down to Dahab. Then we really wished we had known about Dahab and had gone there directly instead of staying in Nuweiba! Dahab was a great little touristy town with a major focus on diving and snorkelling. And an ice cream café! We went snorkelling in what is called the Blue Hole and it was truly a remarkable experience. Neither of us probably expected the amounts of reef fish that was there, thinking that Mocambique has some pretty awesome diving. But we had to give it to them, the Red sea has a lot to offer as well!
We then went to Sharm el Sheik and managed to find a cheap room with a fan on top of a hill in Shark’s bay rather than the many huge resorts and casinos. Not impressed with Sharm we were planning on leaving early the next day but got delayed and didn’t want to come to Cairo in the dark so we ended up sleeping in the national park Ras Mohammed. You can read more about that in the blog post about Egypt!
In Aswan we stayed at Adam home, a Nubian home which normally hosts fellukah tourists, occassional travellers and local weddings but some years ago also started letting overlanders camp there. Run by Samy and Mohamed, and the entire Adam family working with the farming, it’s a nice and quiet place far from Aswan (but still has some noise from traffic passing by). Samy is a great guy keeping things afloat at the house when he’s not working at the water purification plant. Mohamed is English speaking and a super friendly and helpful guy that will go out of his way to accommodate you with whatever you might need while waiting to travel to Sudan with the ferry. He will proudly show you the Nubian village and its historic sites if you want. I feel a bit bad because after that chaotic time of prepping for the ferry and barge trip, we eventually had to rush off and hardly even got to say goodbye to Samy and Mohamed properly, which wasn’t right after having spent about two weeks with them! They’re great guys who made our prolonged stay in Egypt really good.
Thank you for bearing with me through these first few months – make sure to stay tuned for more regular blogging from now on! A big thank you to all of you sending us greetings and photos and commenting on the blog, really appreciate it!! :)