As we drive down the plains and it turns into a more swampy area, I see them. Just little dots in the distance at first, but I soon reliase they’re not so little. I have never in my life seen so many elephants at the same time, I don’t even bother trying to count them. I’m in awe. Brian is, as usual, not that easily impressed and mumbles something about the amounts of elephants in the parks back in Zim. I don’t care. We are here now and I’m looking at massive herds of one of the most remarkable – and in fact the biggest – animals on earth.
We had more or less decided not to visit any national parks or do any game drives in eastern Africa, mainly because it’s way more expensive than down in the south. We were too late for the wildebeest migration and we couldn’t afford a hot air balloon ride – which we would have loved to do – and I have been to the Ngorongoro before so we said we will give the NP’s a miss up here and go game viewing more towards the end of the trip. But then we were recommended Amboseli national park, known for all its elephants with Mt Kilimanjaro as a pretty impressive backdrop. As it was on the way down to the border to Tanzania, we decided to go and check it out.
Money is always a big thing when you’re travelling like this, you’ve been working hard to scramble up the budget and don’t want the money to run out before you hit your final destination. We constantly have to think about our expenses. So we were a bit frustrated when it turned out that the prices at Amboseli had gone up just since our guide book was printed a couple of years ago. The entrance fee had gone from 50 USD to 80 and the camping used to be 10 USD and was now 25! Bringing your own car in was cheap, however, so we have to give them that. And sure, getting to see loads of elephants costs money. But the campsite? There was not a single staff there to greet us, no information about anything, just a tiny little shared kitchen and decent toilets that we managed to find after walking around. In total, we paid 210 USD for 24 hours in the park, not including any food. (To be compared with, for example, the Wild card in South Africa, roughly 200 USD for the two of us, that allows us to visit almost all parks and reserves in the country as much as we want for a year!)
Amboseli was nice and small enough for us to drive around there and feel pretty satisfied with a 24 hour stay. Oh well, I don’t think I would ever get satisfied, I would always want to wait for something extraordinary to happen (grazing plains game isn’t that extraordinary when you’ve been watching them graze for hours) or try and get a better photo opportunity of something. But with Brian around, who grew up with these animals in his backyard, I get pulled down back to earth.
We saw a herd of something at a distance and tried to figure out what they were. I said to Brian ”It’s not wildebeest… Not buffaloes… They’ve got too many different colours… ARE THOSE COWS??” Yup. Two big herds of cattle. And at the end, of course, a little boy herding them. So a bit disappointed we concluded that there can’t be any predators in here then, with little boys walking around like that. But a member of staff told us ”Sure, there are lions and cheetah here. Those boys may look like little boys but they are warriors! This big” he measured with his hand by his waist ”but already warriors with spears to kill lions with.”
Of course, the masai. We soon found out that there was several masai villages around the national park and the park isn’t fenced. And we got to meet the masai too, however, not in the way we would have liked. A few guys came up to the car at different times and wanted us to come and visit their village. All of them were either the son of the chief or the chief of his village. There was a wedding today and we must come and watch! We started wondering what was going on when two men from the same village had approached us, and the man who said he was the son of the chief looked the same age as the man who introduced himself as the chief. And when we said we wouldn’t come today but maybe tomorrow there was a wedding tomorrow as well! We just felt so sad – we could have gone there for an hour but with so little time we chose to spend it in the park instead. We could have supported them financially, but what are we supporting, the conservation of their cultural heritage or a tourist attraction? I really wish it would have been possible to visit the masai in a less arranged, more genuine way than this. Then I would have definitely gone to visit their village.
That afternoon we did see lions, but only at a distance. Three females lurking in the grass, watching some gazelles. In the middle of the herd there was a lone wildebeest who wouldn’t take its eyes off the lions. But when nothing happened and we couldn’t see the lions anymore we decided to move on. We thought we would be able to spot them again, they wouldn’t go into the swamp and the other way had only short grass. But they had disappeared in the way only wild animals can.
One of my best moments from the park was when we opened up the roof rack hatch and I climbed up via the center console from inside the car (an invention of ours especially for this purpose). Brian kept driving and I was keeping an eye out for anything interesting. I had the evening breeze in my face and the camera ready in my hand. We stopped and watched some late swimmers, elephants still splashing away in the swamps before returning to their night hideouts and Kilimanjaro was quickly turning purple in the background.
From Kentrout we decided to drive back about 25 km to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Brian’s great uncle Clive went there some years ago to help them with their conservation programs. We thought it could be worth spending another night in the region and do our first game drive. But as we came in and asked around there was nowhere to camp within the reserve, it was very expensive to do a game drive and we wouldn’t have been able to use our own car, so we ended up leaving again. We soon reached Nanyuki where we splurged out at a big supermarket (Steaks! Bacon! Cheese! Dark bread! Rusks! Beer!) and had lunch.
As we reached the equator there was one thing we had to do. The water demonstration. Everyone does it and we felt like such tourists but we just had to do it! A guy called Nick came out and demonstrated to us how the water runs in different directions north and south of the equator – and on the very line the water doesn’t spin at all, it just empties straight out of the funnel. Basic science that someone one day was clever enough to start demonstrating to tourists and make some money from it!
Then we headed off to the next campsite, which also wasn’t too far away and we got there in the late afternoon. This was also just a gamble, having found it on the gps but knowing nothing about it. Mountain Rock Lodge turned out to be a good base for people who want to hike or climb Mt Kenya. We chilled in the afternoon and finished the evening off with a nice dinner, celebrating the lack of mosquitos thanks to the high altitude. The rump steaks on a braai, boiled sweet potatoes with butter, tomatoes, sweet peas and grilled onion. Yum!
The day before we had met Isac, a mountain guide working at the lodge. He has been a guide for 7 years and has lost count on how many times he has gone to Point Lenana, the third highest peak on Mt Kenya and the highest one you can reach by hiking (Nelion and Batian require actual mountain climbing to the top). Isac said we could walk to a view point where you usually have a good view of Mt Kenya and we thought that was better than nothing. Isac came to pick us up at 8 the next morning but we were a bit late – we had been chasing away baboons all morning… A small group of them now and then wander into the campsite searching for a snack – and they found the garbage back I had just put down behind the car, about to go and throw it away. I was just on the other side of the car when one of them quickly snitched it. Then the rest of the troop moved in and advanced bit byt bit until they could get to the campsite’s main garbage bin. We did our best to chase them away but didn’t want to risk getting attacked and bitten – the biggest one would have been my size standing up and they’re quite intimidating! Eventually we could pack up our camp and made sure nothing could get stolen by baboons while we were away. I have a feeling this will not be the last campsite baboon encounter during this trip…
Unfortunately there were massive clouds covering the entire mountain so we never actually got to see more than the base of it, but it was still nice just getting out on a miniature hike after spending so many days in the car. We then continued down to Nairobi and had two options, Jungle Junction in town where we knew most overlanders go, or a campsite out in the suburb of Karen. We ended up going to the latter and were quite happy with our choice since some overlanders do find that one too and it wasn’t as hectic as we heard it is in town. The first evening we met a nice German couple who have been out on the roads for three years! As we came from the north and they came from the south we chatted and exchanged experiences and info the entire evening.
At first we had planned to only spend one night in the city and swiftly move on but our plans soon changed a bit. We found out about some practical things going on back home in Sweden that we had to deal with, doing a bit of work online, and we added one day to the stay. So the next day we went and had lunch with Kajuju, who we met in Sweden a few years ago when she was studying there. She is a pilot and has moved back to Kenya and has also founded an organisation for Women Aviators in Africa – but now she’s busy being a mom to one month old gorgeous boy Hotani.
Planning to leave the next day we now had some big decisions to make. The original plan was to go west to Uganda, on to Rwanda and then to Tanzania. But now we had heard about the latest ebola outbreak in Uganda. The German couple said they had felt a bit weary about it, being there, but they only heard about this new outbreak as they were leaving the country. So they warned us and said we must be careful. Our families also started commenting on this, telling us that the virus can even be airborn and it’s no joke – if you get it you’re quite likely to die. There were also reports on some problems increasing in DR Congo, spilling into Rwanda.
At first we kind of shrugged and thought hey, of course nothing will go wrong. We’ll continue according to plan. But then we started discussing it further. What if… And we have the deadline of wanting to be in Zimbabwe to celebrate Christmas with Brian’s family. One of the main things we wanted to do in Uganda was to go and see the mountain gorillas. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl, being very inspired by Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall and Birute Galdikas and their work for the primates. The German couple said it’s also cheaper during November (350 USD) and the prices will go up again in December (500 USD!). But we wouldn’t just be able to bypass Kampala, where the new ebola outbreak is, and go straight to the national park – we would have to go into Kampala to get the gorilla trekking permits…
So we now had to decide – were we going to risk getting a deadly virus in Uganda and ending up in potentially violent affairs in Rwanda, or were we going to skip these two countries for now? I just didn’t want to let go of my gorilla trekking dream and I said to Brian it was a very difficult decision to make. ”Is it, really?” he said. ”Ebola or Zanzibar?” And there it was, decision made. It was truly a hard one to make but when he put it that way..! No, but it was a tricky one for him as well. I still somewhat doubt we made the right decision. But my gut feeling was telling me we have already been going against recommendations a few times on this trip, crossing the red-zoned Sinai and so on, how many times could we push our luck? So, after days of constant pondering of our options we finally decided it’s time for our first big change of route – we will have to come back and visit Uganda and Rwanda when we get a chance in the future and we would now head south towards Tanzania.
The road between Moyale at the border and just south of Marsabit in northern Kenya is known as the worst road in Africa. It used to be both because of the conditions of the road and the fact that there were road bandits and attacks happening, but thesedays the security is much better and we hadn’t heard about any attacks for a very long time. But we still wanted to do this drive with plenty of time and not risk having to camp wild on the side of the road – there are no places to stay along the way. And we were happy to still have the company of Rick in case something would go wrong.
But as we had entered Kenya we had some errands to run in town – and it turned out Brian and I for some reason couldn’t withdraw any cash with our visa cards at the ATM’s! So we ended up spending some time phoning the bank in Sweden, who said it was probably just the chips that couldn’t be read and that we just try get money over the counter. When that failed we had to rely on Rick for cash – again – so we were quite lucky he was there!! So, a bit delayed we decided to start heading south and it was already lunch time. Starting to drive the main problem with the road was some really big mud puddles and a lot of pot holes and uneven tracks. We estimated we would be averaging at 30 km/hour – meaning the 240 km to Marsabit would take 8 hours… We would only get there after dark. But we didn’t have much choice but to push on, now that we had started.
The first few hours were okay, just slow – and Brian was quite enjoying the driving! But then we passed the town of Turbi (the only town along this entire stretch) and after that it was Kenyan desert – dry plains with lots of rocks. Soon it also turned out that the Chinese have decided to come in and rebuild the road. So we drove at least half of the way on a diversion road, which was probably even worse than the original! All the big trucks working on the road are using it and the corrugation was horrible. The cruiser started making all sorts of worrying noises and rattles and Rick had to stop not once, but twice, because the chassi of his motorbike broke into two pieces from all the vibrations. The bushes that Brian had changed in Addis wore out one after the other. Towards the afternoon we lost sight of Rick who couldn’t wait up since it’s even worse for him to drive in the dark and because we had to make several stops checking the bushes.
By the time the sun started setting I started feeling a bit uneasy. We didn’t have that much longer to go, but it just felt like it was taking forever. At a very slow speed you start feeling like an easy target and I couldn’t help but wondering who might be waiting around the next bend. Being really tired after a long day of shaking, vibrating and bouncing probably made me a bit paranoid. Eventually Brian had to pull over and completely disconnect the shocks. They had now not just worn down yet another set of bushes but pulled through the mounts! This made the ride smoother, but we were bouncing like a boat on waves with every bump and gaining speed we would also gain momentum. It was tricky driving but the only way to do it. So we crept along at a fairly low speed the last kilometers and finally we reached a police check point just outside of Marsabit. The young police man seemed a little surprised to see us out at night but was very nice and let us through without a hassle and after that I could finally relax. And shortly we reached town and Rick must have heard us coming because he was standing outside the first hotel at the outskirts of town, waving at us. He quickly introduced our accommodation for the night and we just smiled at it all, sooo relieved to finally have the worst road in Africa behind us.
So it was the Ababuro Guesthouse that I mentioned earlier that we came to that evening in Marsabit and it was such a quirky, cool place. Rick said it looked like something from From Dusk Til Dawn. (Will try post some pictures later.) The staff was super friendly, the rooms were funny but fine – hot water showers! – and the food was good.
So the following day Kenneth, one of the staff, took Brian and Rick to the town’s mechanic to get the motorbike and the cruiser back into shape. I stayed back writing, as you know, and when they came back in the early afternoon some new plans had been made. Due to the heavy rains in the morning Rick was going to put his motorbike on the back of a pick up truck heading south and Brian had decided we might as well pack up and tug along, since the road conditions might be really bad and it would be good to travel in convoy. So we hurriedly ate lunch and packed up our stuff. Coming into town we found that the roads weren’t so bad, they had already dried up pretty well, so we decided to just drive ourselves. Brian and I still couldn’t withdraw cash for some mysterious reason and called the bank a second time. They promised to send us new cards if we had a somewhat permanent address to give them in case the problem wasn’t solved – but we were once again lucky to have Rick and be able to borrow some cash until the next bigger town, where we were going to try our cards again or simply stay there until we could make a plan for cash.
And so, we had another 30 km of bad road left – and it was horribly bad still but nothing we couldn’t handle – before it was over. And by the time we reached tarmac it was probably the best road in Africa! Recently built, wide with proper shoulders on each side, clearly painted lines – and no traffic! What a dream! We drove down to Isiolo where we made a stop and decided to split up after weeks travelling together, since Rick had a tighter deadline. Brian and I managed to withdraw cash (phew!!) and then we had lunch at a pretty typical African restaurant. ”No, we don’t have that. No, don’t have that. That we don’t have yet. Maybe in 45 minutes or so. That? No we don’t have that either.” There’s no point in claiming that it says on the menu that they have it! In this case it was so bad that we just laughed eventually and ordered nyama choma, roasted meat (usually goat) and some samosas (the nice meat filled kind, not the enormous once full of lentils that we had in Ethiopia). We said our goodbyes and left Isiolo.
Brian and I continued down to Timau, not too far south, close to Mt Kenya, and reached our campsite early for once. Brian had found a campsite on the gps and wanted to do some more work on the car before it got dark. It was really nice arriving in the early afternoon and setting up camp instead of pitching up at sunset or even after dark, which had become a bad habit of ours lately. And what a place! Kentrout, as it was called, turned out to be this sleepy little old farm where you literally camp in a garden – or in little really old cottages with low ceilings and dark wood beams. There were trout ponds, putting fresh fish on the tables of the restaurant, serving both locals and tourists, which was set right by the stream coming down from the mountain in a lush forest.
Being low season, we had the place almost to ourselves, just sharing the lawn with an older German overlander couple. Brian got started working on the car and I wasn’t very useful around there so I just walked around taking photos. I got Brian to take a break and come with me to the forest just outside the farm – there were Colobus monkeys! This was a first for both of us and we really enjoyed it. The group lives in the forest nearby but frequently visits the farm to plunder the potato field. They have been fed with carrots before (their favourite apparently) so they’ve gotten pretty used to people and even came down to take pieces straight out of our hands. The biggest one obviously placed himself close to us, preventing the younger ones from getting any treats. So Brian started throwing carrots into the air, to one sitting just above us. And it turned into this game where the monkey quickly got the idea and managed to catch a few pieces!
The afternoon passed quickly and by 18.00 we were served dinner – a bit pricy, but tasty (yes, I had trout) – and then Brian had to finish the car work in the dark. By that stage it was pretty darn chilly and since there was a bath tub and no shower in the bathroom we decided to have a hot bath! I’ve never had a bath where the water was so murky I couldn’t see the bottom of the bathtub, so I don’t know how clean it made us, but at least we got warm!
For those of you observant enough to know that we are currently in Tanzania and not in Uganda as was our planned route, here’s a short briefing! We were in Nairobi and were discussing when to move on towards Uganda. That’s when we heard about the latest ebola outbreak – apparently air born now – and some problems in DR Congo spilling into Rwanda. We spent days pondering our options and it really wasn’t an easy decision to make but eventually we decided to head down south for Tanzania from Kenya. More on this in a blog post coming soon, written while still in Nairobi.
Okay so I am, at least somewhat, back on track with the photos as well! I can finally edit photos again but I now have loads and loads of photos to go through and edit and post so it will take some time to catch up with that… I squeezed in a few in the recently posted updates from Sudan and Ethiopia so go back and check them out. Then more coming soon, in blog posts and eventually also more photo albums as well. Enjoy!
Leaving Sudan and coming into Ethiopia was our first really easy border crossing. Although quite smooth and easy on the Sudanese side it just took much longer than it should – they guy we were gonna pay the border fees to hadn’t woken up yet… Once he had rubbed his eyes and given us the receipts we needed to have our carnets stamped, we could drive into Ethiopia where immigration and customs were easy procedures. Having a customs official taking some notes and asking a few questions, looking at the chassi number and then saying ”I’d like to see the electronic equipment that you’ve stated. Is it difficult for you to show me? Okay, you don’t have to, you can go” was quite a breeze compared to the Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian inspections!
We came into Ethiopia with mixed feelings. We were all excited to be moving on, coming into a new country, but we had heard a lot about how the kids throw rocks at you and that Ethiopia can be a bit tough to like. With this in mind we were relieved and happy when all the kids in every village we passed through were waving frantically, smiling at us. This wasn’t so bad at all! Our hands soon started cramping from all the waving. We felt like celebrities. As soon as a kid had spotted us they started calling out ”You! You! You!” with a loud shrieking and soon had all the other kids joining in to get our attention. This started getting to us, this constant yelling as soon as we passed. And then the rocks started flying through the air and the begging started. As soon as we did look at the screaming kids they would go from waving at us to gesticulating that they wanted something to eat or a gift. This just made me so sad. Because it wasn’t just a kid here and there. It was every kid. It was the way they have learnt to behave when they see a big 4×4 car with white people drive through their village. I don’t know why this is, if all the aid organisation and NGO workers throw lollipops around them when they travel through the country but it was pretty clear the kids knew that a big car means a chance of gifts. The guide book even mentioned this problem with a short paragraph, advising tourists from giving anything to the kids, whether it be money, food or empty water bottles. Normally I find it extremely hard to refrain from giving something to a beggar, especially a child. But here it was different. It was systemized, it was a product of years of aid, it was everyone whether they seemingly had needed aid or not. Sure, this can be debated. Maybe there is no harm in giving children some sweets or a pen when you pass through their home town. But if all of us do it? What does it teach these kids? What does it tell them about white people, about themselves, about the world? I felt that what we were experiencing along the roads of northern Ethiopia was a pretty clear example that humanitarian aid is obviously neccessary when there is a great need, but that a constant giving isn’t only good.
We moved on but realised we wouldn’t make it to our planned first stop but had to look for another campsite along the way. Studying the area around northern Lake Tana we found Tim and Kim’s village, another place known to overlanders, and decided to go there. It was already late afternoon and we wanted to get there before dark. But Rob’s Harley was struggling with the gravel road with lots of corrugation and bumps. At one stage we had to stop on the side of the dirt road for him to do some maintenance. Within a minute, the four people on the road had turned into about 50, most of them kids. Where they all came from we had no idea, there was only a few houses nearby. Most of them flocked curiously around Rob and his bike and the guys helping him, some of them came to check out the cruiser where I was sitting. A bunch of kids were standing outside my window, climbing up on the rock sliders, banging on the door and the window, shouting for my attention. Another group was climbing up on the driver’s side where the window was down. I quickly removed anything that would have been easy to grab and did my best to try and keep them off the car without being too harsh on them, but it soon became too overwhelming having all of them shouting and begging around me so I stepped out, locked the car up and went over to the guys and the bikes.
We could soon move on and by now it started getting dark. The gravel road leading to Tim and Kim’s was absolutely horrible. Full of pot holes and rocks that made it a challenge even for the cruiser, not to mention for Rob’s Harley. When we were finally almost there he fell and needed help getting his bike back up. That’s when he realised the people standing around his bike watching him doing maintenance on it had stolen not only the set of screw drivers he had been using but some stuff out of his zipped up side pouches as well. We were all really sad and angry to hear this, but there was nothing we could do about it then. We were surprised and offended by it and reminded that we need to keep a close eye on our belongings.
After a long, hard day on the road with a very frustrating end to it, we finally arrived at Tim and Kim’s, where the nice Dutch couple Tim and Kim greeted us and made us feel welcome. We had local beer and homemade curry and a few good laughs over the day’s events (it started off with Rob hitting a donkey in the morning!) and soon felt much better. Plus, there were six adorable puppies. Who can be angry with puppies around!
Tim and Kim’s village may be a bit rough to get to, but definitely worth it when you do. We enjoyed camping there and it would have been nice getting to spend more time – it’s a perfect place to just relax – but we wanted to push on towards Addis.
The next stop was in Bahir dar – this time our convoy decreasing even further as Rob and Rob decided to head north into the Simien mountains. So now it was just Brian and me and Rich on his motorbike heading south. In Bahir dar we camped in the backyard of Ghion hotel, a lush rainforest like garden with rooms to rent. Ironically, with Ethiopia seemingly having something against us I also seemed to have something against Ethiopia as my body went into an allergic reaction and there was no telling what the reason might be. I spent a few days with a horrible rash over most of my body, from a sleepless night to not being able to stay awake during the days in the car when on antihistamin medication, and it wasn’t fun.
Going to Addis we had a pretty long drive but figured we should make it in one day. Starting off in the morning all was well and having gone halfways we stopped for a snack and were very optimistic about reaching Addis in the early afternoon. But we didn’t know the road was going to get much worse from then on… And the roads in Ethiopia are just the transport stretches they are supposed to be - only problem is they’re not just used by trucks, cars and motorbikes but also by tuk-tuks, people, cows, donkeys, sheep, goats, donkey carts, horses and carriages and dogs. Driving on a country road at about 80-100 km per hour requires the same attention level as on a busy city street pretty much and the truth is you hardly ever average more than 50 km per hour because you constantly have to slow down, overtake something and swerve to avoid hitting a dog or a donkey.
So getting to Addis before dark was soon out of the option and we just pushed on as fast as we dared to get there. Finding Wim’s Holland House wasn’t easy but with some directions from locals we got there and were reunited with Rich, who got there earlier the same day, and Ray and Avril, who were in Addis waiting for their flight back to Australia. Wim was a great guy with lots of years in Ethiopia and there didn’t seem to be a question he couldn’t answer about where to find things in Addis. So the following morning, after Brian changing some bushes on the springs of the cruiser, we walked off to the nearest insurance company and got COMESA, a yellow card.
With those two things out of the way we could now head on but only left Addis early afternoon. We knew there weren’t too many options of accommodation on the way south and we really didn’t want to camp wild since people along the road had been a bit too intrusive whenever we stopped. But we found what seemed to be a hotel with camping possibilites further south and set direction there. Again, because we left Addis a bit late, it got dark before we arrived and finally seeing the place showing up on the gps we turned off the main road onto a gravel road. Having learnt not to expect too much at any time we knew this place could be anything from a proper hotel to… non existent.
But as we turned up at the gate the non English speaking men there did nod when we said the name of the hotel. It was all dark and we couldn’t see any buildings so we had no idea. And then the men started asking a lot of questions and asked Brian to step out of the car while they would call the chairman. We all thought it was a little weird that we couldn’t just go to the reception, wherever it might be, if this was a hotel. It seemed more like some sort of interrogation situation. After some time we were directed to go and see the chairman. We parked in the back of what looked like a privately owned house and down the stairs came this man. Slightly surprised at us turning up at his doorstep in the middle of the evening he asked, with an American accent, how he could help us. The three of us couldn’t help but wonder where we had ended up, why and how – and what was going to happen next. So Brian simply explained that we’re looking for a place to stay and that the gps had directed us there. And with no hesitation the man pointed to his garden and said ”Would it be alright if you camp down there? And come in for a beer later and tell us about what you’re doing!” A bit confused with the situation we asked how much he’d charge to have us camping there but he said no, no charge. So we happily put up camp in the backyard, cooked some noodles for dinner and then went back to the house.
And it turned out that this Ethiopian man, Elias, had lived for over 20 years in the US, working in the hotel business. And we were now on the premises of what used to be a big resort. The owner had died and his family lost the property to the bank. Elias, who had moved back to Ethiopia, heard about this and bought it and is now restoring all of it and it’s going to open in a few months. So we had actually been going to a hotel, not finding one but then finding one in the end after all! Elias and his friend Samy, who used to live in Germany, were great guys and we sat on the porch drinking a couple of beers. It turned out that they had been talking about driving from Ethiopia to South Africa and they were very inspired by us so that was really cool.
After admiring the sunrise over Lake Langano we packed up camp and continued south. It was another long day’s driving and we only reached the border town Moyale just before dark. We quickly looked at the options of accommodation and after turning down a couple of ”hotels” that were a bit too shabby even for us, Rich luckily spotted one that seemed good. I guess you can say they decorated the place with anything that tickled their fancy, from golden lion statues at the gate to a fountain with disco lights. But hey, we had a good dinner with meat served in clay pots being held hot by burning coals underneath. And by sharing a room the three of us, it wasn’t too expensive. Well, hot water could have been included in the price, we all tought, but you can’t get both golden lions and hot water, hey!
After a rooster woke us up just before 07 and Rich had yelled at it through the window for a while, we headed for the border. Everything went alright and we were soon in Kenya, where we were only let in thanks to Rich lending us some cash since we were a bit unorganized in that aspect and couldn’t afford paying for our visas. (We had read that you can’t change your birr at the exit border and have to budget accordingly so as we ran out of cash we didn’t want to withdraw more.)
So, Ethiopia was tough love. We were blown away by the astonishingly beautiful landscape and scenery as we drove through the country, but sadly interacting with locals was never high on our list due to all the begging. As we are swiftly moving on, planning on maybe making it to Zimbabwe for Christmas, Ethiopia ended up being a country we just rushed through. I’m sure, or at least I hope, we would have felt differently about the country if we had given it more time.
From Wadi Halfa we drove in convoy with the Aussie couple Ray and Avril in their Land cruiser and South African Rob-Roy, American Rob and British Rich, all on their motorbikes. (It wasn’t always easy getting the names right hanging out with Ray, Rob, Rob and Rich!) We had already said goodbye to Hannah and Diarmaid (from Scotland and Ireland) who ride their bicycles from London to Cape town and Chris (from the UK) who’s walking from Cairo to Somaliland. They left a day before us and we soon passed them on our way south so we stopped and chatted and gave them some snacks and cold water – feeling pretty lazy in our motor driven vehicles… When you meet someone who does the same trip but adds the enormous physical challenge to it, our trip all of a sudden didn’t seem like that much of a challenge anymore… Quite good to get some perspective on it. It was sad saying goodbye after having spent some time together, not knowing when we will see them again.
So the motorized part of the group headed south, past Dongola where we made a quick stop and bought a juicy water melon, and we camped wild outside Karima that night. There was a historic site we wanted to visit but it turned out to be a scrabble of rocks in the middle of a sandy field – nothing to see really! But we had a good campsite nearby where we cooked pasta, sausages and bolognese for dinner and ate all together and had a good night’s sleep. To our surprise a few men passing by quietly on their donkeys were the only spectators, the group of kids we had just passed in the village never came to the campsite. It was very nice being left alone after weeks of hassling and little privacy in Egypt.
The following day we drove east and had a lunch stop by the Jebel Barkel (Holy Mountain) and its pyramids – I can honestly say I’ve never had a sandwich sitting on a many thousands year old grave before! The pyramids were in pretty good shape and there were no other tourists in sight. We then moved on to Begrawiya, another pyramid site. We got there just before sunset and put up camp nearby to go and see the pyramids in the morning. We had another good camp night with dinner and stories and laughs. In the morning we walked up to the pyramids and had a look at them. They were also in fairly good shape, but some had been restored into what they presumably had looked like originally, which made the historic atmosphere fade a bit. Some of them had some really well preserved carvings and hierglyfs though. Brian stayed back attending to some little problems with the car meanwhile and he also got to use some stuff out of our first aid kit. A man working nearby had cut his hand open and seemed to assume that Brian would have the remedies. So Brian got to act nurse for while, helping his guy wash and tape up his hand.
We moved on and driving through Sudan was pretty much going from one historic site to the next. It was interesting but at the same time a bit frustrating, prices would vary from day to day, it was quite expensive if you wanted to visit several sites and there was hardly any information in English. At the end of the day we stopped at Naqa and Musarawat and I and Ray went in as representatives while Brian, Avril and Rich waited at the gate. By then I think we had covered most of Sudan’s historic sites! I enjoyed the Lion’s temple in Naqa though, with greatly preserved carvings – lots of elephants since there used to be loads of them in the area back in the day!
We drove the rest of the way to Khartoum where we managed to find the Blue Nile Sailing Club. It is another one of those places where a lot of overlanders go, unfortunately this isn’t one we would recommend though. But not that many options of camping in Khartoum! After a few days in the desert we were looking forward to what the city had to offer and had heard about a Steer’s restaurant (a South African grilled food chain) so we all crammed into a minibus and were driven in the crazy Khartoum traffic all the way there, just to find it wasn’t entirely what we had fantasized about. The next day Brian and I went to the Ethiopian embassy to apply for visas since you can’t get them at the border and that took most of the day. That evening the group went to a shopping mall. It was a weird feeling coming from weeks in the rural areas and the desert and then finding yourself in this super lit up, super clean shopping mall with escalators… The mall had four floors but only about five shops, two cafés and a food court on the top floor, so it’s clearly growing slowly into what it’s meant to be.
The next day we left Khartoum, this time Brian and I and the bikers only since Ray and Avril had left earlier. We did another long day of driving and camped wild near Doka, about an hour from the border. Despite the ground being covered by camel dung and the evening bringing thousands of annoying insects, we had another nice evening. It was really nice being able to camp wild so many nights in Sudan.
Driving in Sudan was pretty good, especially now that the northern stretch from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum – called the Nile route – has been tarred. It clearly would have taken weeks instead of days going on the old gravel road, which we saw on the side. The landscape was mainly desert plains but going green and lush close to the Nile. As we came towards the eastern part of the country the landscape all of a sudden changed. Now there were fields and trees and lots more cattle and donkeys roaming around. I even spotted a baobab tree, reminding us we were leaving the desert behind us.