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!! :)
(I’m having some computer issues at the moment. My laptop crashed in Egypt so at the moment I can’t edit and post photos but I’m working on a temporary solution. And as I tried posting a post via Brian’s computer from northern Sudan last week it just wouldn’t work… Doing my best to get back on track with the blogging.)
Finally we have the worst border crossing behind us! Going from Egypt to Sudan, when we had to load the cruiser onto a barge and go on a passenger ferry ourselves, was the one we had been dreading the most. We had heard so many horror stories telling about a burning and sinking barge – or people waiting clueless and powerless in Wadi halfa for weeks before the barge with their vehicle finally turned up. And it turned out to become a bit of a mission to do this also for us…
After realising we had to wait in Aswan and couldn’t travel again until after Eid we did our best to try and reserve tickets so that we would be guaranteed a space as soon as the ferry/barge business was up and running again. We made sure to have most of the paper work done and we thought it would all be pretty smooth. Instead it turned into almost a week of chaos, uncertainty and frustration. We quickly became aware that our attempts of reserving tickets weren’t worth much now and we found ourselves in the back of the line, almost risking not getting a space at all, now that other overlanders had turned up as well. Everyone we were in touch with gave us different information, nobody really seemed to know what was going on and even when we were told something we didn’t know if we could trust it. Eventually we had managed to get a space on the barge (which you have to arrange before being granted tickets on the passenger ferry) but then we were almost black mailed by a fixer for not hiring him. He threatened to make sure we wouldn’t get to keep our space on the barge. This was not a fun situation at all. It all felt more and more like it was all about money and the lack of power of our own situation made us both angry and stressed. We had now gone together with a group of other overlanders with cars and motorbikes and our vehicles – and the rest of our trips with them – were at stake here. Would they get to Wadi halfa safely or would something go wrong along the way? The loading of our vehicles were delayed day after day as the workers who were supposed to load the rest of the cargo onto the barge never showed. It got to Thursday, the day that the passenger ferry was meant to leave, and we still didn’t know how we were going to get our cars across the lake. For a short while it seemed we were going to load onto another barge that was full of lentils and not really meant for vehicles at all, but with only a few hours left until departure of the ferry we finally got to load onto the regular barge. The situation was exactly the way I had pictured it; having to drive the cruiser on a wobbly ramp with loads of men standing around waving their arms and shouting instructions in Arabic. I was very happy Brian was behind the steering wheel!
We had packed some clothes, some valuables and water enough for about 20 hours onboard the ferry and an unknown amount of days waiting in Wadi halfa. We grabbed that stuff, left everything else in the car, locked it up and boarded the ferry. As we left the harbour just after sunset the barge with the cars and the motorbikes was still moored and we pushed away all thoughts on the fact that we didn’t actually know when – or even if – we would see them again.
By now we were all quite stressed by the situation in general and I asked myself several times if we weren’t just overreacting. Wasn’t this what we should expect on a trip like this? Weren’t we prepared for corruption, language barriers and unorganised businesses? We sure were, but this was still way worse than what we expected. If people were lying to us day after day, if it was misunderstanding after misunderstanding or if they for cultural reasons were just telling us what they thought we wanted to hear – whether it was true or not – we don’t know. But we did learn that a promise didn’t mean anything, all directions could change at any time and we’re all just pawns in a game.
- This was no doubt the worst border crossing we’ve been through, said the Australian couple Ray and Avril who are out travelling with their Landcruiser for two years and have already visited 33 countries.
The truth is that we all left Egypt just wanting to get away from there as soon as possible. It did surprise us in a positive way several times but it just became too much to handle in the end. Initially we were going to do something while waiting for the ferry, going back to Luxor or taking a drive down to Abu Simbel, but we simply didn’t have the energy to do it. Wherever we went we got hassled instantly and constantly. Everyone wants to sell you something, everyone wants you to go with their fellukah or horse and carriage. Nobody does anything for you without asking for baksheesh, or actually demanding baksheesh. The constant hassling in combination with the heat made every little activity a big project and we realised that the best thing was to just stay in one place, draw as little attention as possible to ourselves and just relax.
In Wadi halfa the work continued to try and get updates on the barge’s progress that we could actually trust. We spent the days in this little dusty port town walking around before and after the hottest hours of the day, varying falafel and fool with some grilled chicken and Nile perch, playing pool on a pool table with speed humps and a couple of tuktuk-rides. Wadi halfa used to be this blooming town with green fields and a corniche by the Nile. But when the dam in Aswan rose in the 1960’s the entire town was flooded. Most of the people were placed elsewhere but some of them stayed and rebuilt the town, this time at a safer distance to the river but seemingly lacking all ambition to recreate what the town once was, as if the town spirits was washed away together with the buildings 50 years ago.
On Monday we finally got the phone call we had been waiting for. The barge was on its way into the harbour! We quickly called a couple of a tuktuks over and rushed down to the port and sighed with relief as we saw our cars onboard the barge. The offloading went pretty quickly and smoothly, although with some high pulse since there obviously was no ramp and we had to use whatever we could find. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to document any of it. Getting through customs and finalizing the paper work only took an hour and a bit (we now knew it’s often worth hiring a fixer!). After that a bunch of adrenaline pumped euforic drivers and bikers headed out the port gates and into town, hooting and whistling, spinning in the sand like cows just being let out after a long winter in the barn.
If you are planning an overland trip including the Egypt-Sudan crossing before the roads open we will be happy to share our experiences with you. We can tell you how we did it, what happened and who we feel you should and shouldn’t contact. Just get in touch!
It’s Tuesday morning and the traffic is moving as usual around the Tahrir square. It’s almost hard to grasp that this is where it all started, what people here simply call The Revolution. A building that has been burnt is one of very few traces of what has taken place here. It’s a powerful feeling to look out over the square, which is actually more of a roundabout, where the the revolution began.
But business as usual around Tahrir square and the pleasant atmosphere in Cairo isn’t quite what we expected to find in Egypt. Our image of Egypt, I must admit, was not very positive. Other travelers had told us about the persistent and sometimes even aggressive salespeople who gather around tourists like flies, friends had told us about food poisoning, protests and violence earlier this fall led us to wondering whether we would be able to travel through the country at all. So we now came into Egypt with very low expectations, without any plans of spending much time here. Turns out we were in for something else!
On the Sinai Peninsula we stay along the east coast, which is considered reasonably safe according to the travel recommendations. In Nuweiba we relax for a few days among Russian all-inclusive tourists before we make an overnight stop about an hour south in Dahab, a very nice little town with focus on diving and snorkeling. Another hour south we stop in Sharm el Sheik. Finding cheap accommodation amongst luxury hotels and casinos is hard enough, finding somewhere to camp in the car seems out of the question. But the second night we find our way to Ras Mohamed National Park just outside Sharm el Sheik and it will turn out to be the best accommodation we’ve had so far. After a bit of snorkelling at sunset, we say goodbye to the few tourists who come to swim for the day, and then have the entire park to ourselves. It is us, the Landcruiser, some scared crabs on the beach and a bunch of half-wild dogs curiously looking at us in the dark from the top of a sand dune. We eat an evening snack on the roof and watch the stars and the airplanes on their way to land a bit further east. The sun wakes us up early. After breakfast, we take out fins and snorkels again. You just have to walk out into the water and as soon as it gets deep enough to swim you can start looking for fish. Further out, pieces of the reef shoot up like small mountains from the bottom, seemingly gray and dreary from a distance but full of colorful coral and fish when we swim close enough to get the sunlight to help us see it. We rinse off the salt water, pack up camp and leave the park just like the day’s tour buses and boats with tourists start arriving.
We are now going to drive to Cairo and this is a stretch that we’ve been a little nervous about after hearing about road pirates and assault. After talking to several people living in Egypt we decide to follow the advice to drive along the entire Sinai peninsula coast instead of the alternative of going diagonally across. At a checkpoint a little bit north, we’re stopped and have to wait for quite a while before a man starts waving at a bunch of trucks and another car also waiting on the side of the road.
- Follow that car! he says, waving.
In poor English we are informed that after 100 km we will get our Egyptian registration back, the document we show at all checkpoints – we just need to follow the other cars. We do as we’re told and soon realize this is one of the armed escorts that we have heard occur along the coast. We drive in convoy with a bunch of cops in a blue pickup truck right behind us. If it feels more secure we can not say – we haven’t received any information about what to do if a hazardous situation would actually occur! We don’t see anybody along the way, it’s good visibility in every direction and everything seems very calm, but we conclude that it is probably not the time to ask for a pee break.
Tourism has been affected severely by the revolution and the security measures of having the armed escorts gives us an even stronger feeling of actually having quite a value as a tourist. In Cairo, however, it just gets too much. The busloads of tourists who usually gather around the pyramids of Giza are nowhere to be seen and sellers of souvenirs and camel rides are far too many in relation to the number of tourists. We can only take a few steps at a time before we get hassled by a new pushy salesman and sadly they somewhat ruin the experience of seeing one of the world’s most famous historical sites.
We have already spent more time in Egypt than we had planned and it is time to head south to catch the ferry across Lake Nasser to Sudan before our visas expire. Putting the car on a barge and go with a passenger ferry from Aswan in Egypt to Wadi Halfa in Sudan is the only way to cross the border for us overlanders. There are roads in the desert, but they are not open to foreigners. There are a lot of rumors that the roads will open and that it may be possible to fix a permission to drive with a military escort, but after driving around the Sinai peninsula with a slight tummy ache we want to take the safe option and stick to known routes.
We leave Cairo in time to catch a ferry before our visas expire. But what we haven’t calculated on is that it is soon the Islamic holiday of Eid and hundreds of Sudanese people want tickets to go back home to their families before the holiday. There is no place either for us or the handful of other overlanders in the same situation.
- You can come back after Eid, says mr Salah with great authority.
He is the man everyone wants to talk to, the man who has all power over the ticket office. Nobody travels to Sudan without first seeing mr Salah. We are begging, asking again and again to avoid any misunderstandings, maybe there is a little chance? Mr Salah just shakes his head.
Two weeks in Aswan, a city we had not even heard of before we started planning this trip. This is the frustration with this type of trip, to suddenly get stuck in one place without the freedom to being able to move on, stressed about the days passing by, but it’s also the charm of it all. Once we have accepted the fact that we’re not going anywhere we take it easy. After spending a few days finalizing all documents and reserving tickets for the boat trip to Sudan the following week we enjoy a few relaxed days accompanied by the Nubians and some other travelers.
Aswan is located east of the Nile, but on the west bank we live just outside the Nubian village with houses traditionally built with mud and painted in blue or yellow. We take the ferry across the Nile to the city if necessary for one pound, but mostly we just hang around the west bank, going fishing in the river, climbing sand dunes and cooking over an open fire down by the river.
Nubians are known for their hospitality and we can only agree. The atmosphere in the village is friendly. The women stay in the background, almost all of them covered in more or less full veils. One exception is Moshira who lives with her mother and three sisters in the village – when she’s not working as a tourist guide in Aswan, Luxor and Hurghada.
- I am the only female tourist guide here and we are not many women who can speak English. I can actually drive a car too, she says with laughing.
Time after time, Egypt has surprised us and even though we many descriptions have fitted, we are very pleased to also be able to experience a different Egypt.
Our little trip to Jordan is extended day by day as we really like being there. We end up spending a week in this timeless, rainless, treeless land. It feels like we are on the moon. I had no idea that there were so many different types of sand!
The first day we mainly drive in the mountains, more or less involuntarily, since it seems that everywhere we want to go is situated on a mountain top. Maybe we should have known when the first campsite was called Mountain Breeze, though… But we didn’t have that many options as we entered the country at 9pm and didn’t want to drive too far in the dark. Had we known we had to conquer an entire mountain, we probably would have tried to find a campsite in the valley though – we arrived there around midnight..! Luckily, after explaining our situation and looking like very lost tourists, we are let in although they had planned to close up, preparing for a big group the following day. We were so relieved and happily slept in one of their tents (in Jordan you don’t put up your own tent at a campsite, you rent one of the tents there). The following morning we have breakfast with a spectacular view and have already fallen in love with the country. For breakfast entertainment we have about 50 Jordanian teenagers playing paintball just below the campsite restaurant!
We continue up one mountain side and down another, the Landcruiser chugging along, weighing in at about four tons, at about 5 km/h in 20 degree inclination. On the way down the brakes get pretty hot. I’m not amused, but as long as Brian is calm I am.
Jordan truly has both both highs and lows, both expensive and cheap. One day we are on a mountain and see nothing but tops and valleys, the next we are floating around in the Dead Sea, about 300 meters below sea level. One day, we pay plenty of dinars for generally inexpensive services, the next day I ask for four tomatoes from a vendor on the street – I get 10 tomatoes and four apples and aren’t allowed to pay anything for them. The man says something in Arabic which I guess means he’s glad we’re there. Many have pointed out that tourism has died due to the Arab Spring and the situation in Syria.
- Shokran, I say.
Petra doesnt’t seem to lack tourists though. We warm up with a walk through Little Petra (a miniature version of Petra a few kilometers away), guided by 19-year-old bedouin Aywan. He has a well-rehearsed vocabulary about everything that has to do with Little Petra, but when we ask about something else, he looks a little lost. He has learned English by talking to tourists. It gets right most of the time but we can’t help but smile when he says “Sometimes, I like to catch tourists and take them to my cave”. He lives with his family in a tent nearby but also has his own cave. Nowadays, most bedouins are offered houses in the village, but his family declined. They prefer to live where their ancestors have always lived.
Both small and big Petra make a real impression on us. The area is much larger than we thought. It would take several days to see all of it.
- We can not even see all of the city today, much is still hidden by sand storms and earthquakes in earlier days, says Atif, who runs the bedouin camp where we spend the night.
We are lying in our sleeping bags around the campfire trying to sleep after too many glasses of hot, super sweet bedouin tea. The sky is clear and packed with stars, accompanied by small lamps on the tall rocks behind the camp. Every now and then we see a shooting star, but this does not mean that one should wish for something. Here, a shooting star means that angels have caught and killed a demon that has ventured out into the heavens.
The next day we decide to take the so called back way into into Petra to explore the parts we didn’t see the first day. The back way turns out to mean over an hour of hiking along steep mountain slopes in an area where we would have gotten lost in 15 minutes without a guide. The view is breathtaking and our whistling echoes through the valley. It feels a little naughty to climb into to the country’s most famous historic site, although we are far from the first ones to do so.
Tired from the mountain hiking and the heat, we are now only facing walking back all the way through Petra, including the 800 or so steps down from the Monastery.
- Taxi? a boy says. Ferrari, Mercedes, I have everything.
He points enthusiastically to the two donkeys and camels behind him. We smile at the sales pitch, but decline since those poor animals work far too hard already and are treated in a horrendous way, and walk all the way back to Wadi Musa, the town that grew up around Petra.
In southern Jordan there is the protected desert area of Wadi Rum. To our delight, we are allowed to drive in on our own in our own car, and say no thanks to having a guide with us. We don’t have space for another person in the car and we want to discover the desert on our own. When we a few hours later have failed bot to find our camp and the natural rock bridge nearby – and miss the sunset – we realize that it may have been a good idea with a guide after all.
That night we sleep in the car in a ravine next to a bedouin camp, after eating a traditional bedouin dinner; chicken that has been cooked slowly in a sand pit. The next morning we decide to try and follow one of the few other cars we see drive around in the desert. We walk up to one guide and he says “Where you want to go? Saudi Arabia is only 30 kms from here!” Uhm, no thanks, I think we’ll stay in Wadi Rum… With their help, we manage to find several of the desert’s unmarked sights, from sand dunes to jump in to Nabatheans petroglyphs.
After several days surrounded by sand, we long for water. It’s also about time we start moving south. We drive to Aqaba where we are reunited with the awesome Scottish couple that we spent some time with in Petra and we join them at the dive center they’re staying at. With no time for diving we just jump in the ice cold swimming pool at dusk but it’s still fantastic after so many days in the desert. We buy tickets to the ferry and watch a big group of dolphins guide us over the Gulf of Aqaba in the sunset before we arrive in Egypt. We are in Africa, finally.
The following was written on September 20th but I never got the chance to finalize it and post it.
In a couple of hours we will find out whether we get to board the ship today or have to wait until tomorrow. We’re now driving back to Monfalcone to be on standby after having spent two nights on a campsite on the island of Grado, since we couldn’t find anything closer to Monfalcone that hadn’t closed for the season. This campsite was enormous, with an aqua park with a massive slide and everything, lots of things for kids – and right by the beach, except nobody goes swimming because the water is so dirty. And the whole place was pretty much deserted, it was just us and a few families spread out on this huge campsite, which gave it a bit of an eerie feeling.
The campsite in Croatia before that was much nicer. As you can see in the photos we got a spot pretty much right by the water. The beach wasn’t the best since it was all rocks and in some areas concrete, but the water was clear and cool. We did some work on the car and the computer but one day we said okay, now we get to just chill on the beach for the rest of the day! And so we did and it was sooo nice. Not having had a single day off during the summer back home, we really felt we deserved some beach chilling. (Not that the summer in Sweden this year was very nice and sunny though…) We had a nice little picnic (on the concrete!) and soaked up sunlight (on the concrete!) for a long time before eventually making it into the water. Brian thought he was going to die. The poor thing, being used to the insanely warm Indian ocean outside Vilanculos, got in and just stood there, with water up to his chest, and shivered. I was swimming around, loving it. To me it was the temperatures of a nice summer day in Sweden except clear salty water. But no, Brian wasn’t too impressed at all. He said he felt sorry for all these Europeans, not knowing what they’re missing when they’re not going swimming in Africa instead.
Since then, we’ve been on the ship and made it across the Mediterranean. We’re keeping a low profile about where we are at the moment since it can affect our entrance in the next few countries, but I will get back with a more thorough report later on once we’ve made it through the region.
Being on board the ship Fides was a truly interesting experience that we don’t regret. It was a 170 m long ship, at the moment a car carrier with about 3000 cars destined for different ports. It had a 25 man crew, only Italians and Filipinos. And us seven passengers. A New Zealand couple in their 70’s, a German man in his 60’s and two French men who I believe were also in their 60’s. And me and Brian. A very nice group all together. Sure, we once again lowered the average age, but not necessarily the action factor. Terry and Jillian, the New Zealanders, have travelled to more than 100 countries and it wasn’t their first time on a cargo ship. They don’t just do it for transport, like we did, they actually travel with the ship along its entire route and get on and off in the same port! They had loads of interesting stories and memories to tell from all their journeys that Brian and I really enjoyed listening to, and we told them a lot about our trip.
It was a bit nerve wrecking being apart from the cruiser in the beginning. But we had no choice but to hand over the keys. We had packed what we needed for the week on board and Brian drove it on board. After a couple of days we asked if we could go down and check on it and it was no problem. We went down to deck 3 and it was such a relief seeing the cruiser standing there, like a big dirty loner next to the hundreds of shining new cars. And they had even locked it up for us, so we really appreciated that. We couldn’t plug it into power and had left some food in the fridge so we had no idea how well that would last. A couple of days later we checked on it again and the batteries levels were still perfectly fine! As it was time to leave the ship the levels were really low, but everything was still running. The fridge had been on for a week and it was still running!
It was just so different being on board and it took us a few days to get used to it. Once we had left Italy we only saw ocean for a couple of days. Lots of other ship through this busy area. Luckily the weather was great and the ship sailed steadily and I didn’t have to worry about sea sickness at all.
We got settled in our little cabin, a bunk bed, a sofa with table and chairs and a bathroom with shower. We were informed by Fritz, the Filipino steward, that meals would be served in the mess on set times everyday.
So we soon got into the rhythm of life on board. We’d have breakfast, lunch and dinner together with the other passengers and the officers in the mess (the rest of the staff had their own mess). No internet, no news, only Italian talk shows with bad signal on the tv. In between meals we would hang out on outer deck, looking out over the water, watching other ships go by and look for dolphins. We would lay jigsaw puzzles with Terry and Jillian, read a book, have a nap. Go back out, look for dolphins again, scout for land, look for anything.
Once we eventually made it to our first stop in Turkey we were so excited. Something was happening!! We weren’t able to go ashore (well, Brian and I got our shore passes and took a five minute stroll along side the ship just to do something!). All we could do was stand on outer deck and watch the cars being off loaded and news cars being driven onto the ship, but it was so exciting. Something was happening!!
We then went off to Piraeus outside of Athens in Greece. On our way there the others spotted Acropolis from a far so we watched it in our binoculars and started discussing going there if we would be allowed ashore. (All those things depended on when we’d reach a port, how long it would take before we were allowed to moor in harbour, how long the ship was going to stay there and so on.) It turned out we’d have two hours in Athens and Brian and I decided to go with the Christian and Hervé, the French men and the Roland, the German. We got into two taxis and headed for Acropolis. We made it up on the mountain and had only about 30 minutes on site. But it was so worth it. We bought the tickets and climbed up the last stretch and there it was. Parthenon in the soft evening light, looking out over Athens. Absolutely remarkable.
So then we got back on the ship and the next morning we left Greece, and Europe, behind us.
Okay so I know I said the other day that on those days that we can’t be online, you still know everything is fine as long as the car moves in the right direction. Then it hit me. I said to Brian ”I don’t think it says on the website that we were going to Czech Republic. Or Croatia.” Oops. Sorry. Everything is fine, okay?!
But going online has proven to be way more difficult than I thought and I’ve been stressing about it quite a lot. I guess I thought Europe would be covered. But this isn’t like travelling to the big cities of Europe and stay at fancy hotels where you most definitely have internet access 24/7. We drive all day, always get to the campsites a little later than we had hoped for and the last thing we feel like is trying to find another one at night because the one we arrived at doesn’t have wifi. And since we’ve had other things to do I haven’t had much time to hang around internet cafés all day either. So bear with me friends, I’m updating as often as I can!
Leaving Berlin the gps – which by now obviously is considered a person and can be both praised and yelled at – decided to play us a prank. As we started heading more and more south west instead of south east towards Prague we started questioning the chosen route but it was too late. We now had to climb every little hill of southern Germany to get back to where we were supposed to be. Brian looked more and more worried about the cruiser’s gearbox as it moaned its way up what felt like the 420th hill.
This meant we were getting a bit late and would only reach Prague after it got dark. But that meant getting a marvellous view of Prague, all lights in black surroundings spread out in front of us as we got closer – and a fun surprise. We had picked a campsite close to the river Vlata (?) that runs through the city. When we woke up in the morning we realised we were on an island in the river! We had not even noticed we drove over a small bridge as we were trying to find our way to the campsite in the dark.
The following day we did some much needed “household work” – airing out all sheets, duvets, pillows and mattresses after days of damp and cold weather. It was so nice finally getting some sun and heat. We then headed into Prague to explore the city. And what a city! I fell in love straight away, such gorgeous old buildings and historical atmosphere to it. We walked around being proper tourists, eating pizza, drinking beer, walking over the Charles bridge hand in hand. As it got dark we sat down for another beer with a view over the bridge and all of a sudden we got this spectacular lightning bolt show. Since I didn’t have my tripod it was tricky keeping the camera still long enough to get a sharp photo and hard to predict the next bolt of lightning so I gave up after about 10 shots. Brian instead took on the challenge and grabbed my camera. And he got a shot with a lightning bolt in it! Sharp and all. Crap. I’m really not a competitive person but that really triggered me. So now I can’t wait for the next thunder storm. I’m gonna be out there, tripod and all, to get a better photo.
The evening went on and just as we started looking at the watch wondering if anything else exciting would happen that evening, two guys walked into the bar and joined the table where we were sitting – one South African and one Finnish! They were really nice and we all had a good chat.
Having had hardly any time to do research on Czech Republic – or any of the other European countries for that matter – we had only planned to see Prague and then continue south. But a friend of ours, Lasse, advised us to go past a place called Kutna Hora east of Prague before leaving the country. There was apparently this chapel where the interior was human bones! We just had to see that. However, we packed up a little slow and just as we were heading for the gate we started talking to this Australian couple at the campsite. It turned out they were super nice and really interested in the cruiser so we ended up chatting for quite a while as well.
We made it to this little chapel in Kutna Hora a few minutes before their closing time and with a quick sneak peak we decided we had to stay overnight in the area and give it another chance in the morning. We stayed at a campsite on the other side of town and returned to the chapel. Coming in our jaws dropped and we just walked around there looking at all these skulls and bones. I didn’t know what to think of it. Was it repulsive or fascinating? Being quite interested both in anatomy and history I have to say it was the last for me. Lasse said it was a bizarre experience but worth seeing, and that’s a good way to sum it up. You can read more about the chapel here.
After the visit to Kutna Hora we headed south into Austria but were greeted by dark skies and heavy, heavy rains. We desperately looked for a campsite in the Graz area which was as far as we had the energy to drive that day. We must have looked pretty tired when we arrived because the camp managers, Jurgen and Karin, straight away offered us a little cabin for a few euros more instead of our tent. Thinking about spending another cold night in the tent now that it was raining as well we didn’t hesitate for long. It was late season and we were pretty much the only guests at this little countryside campsite and we ended up sitting talking to Jurgen and Karin for the rest of the evening. It turned out Jurgen was a former player for the Austrian rugby team so it didn’t take long before Brian and him talked sports, but there was also plenty to tell about our trip, as one local drink after the other came on the table. We were for example introduced to Uhudler, a drink best described as an Austrian version of moonshine (except it’s wine) which was banned from selling up until about 10 years ago.
Having told them about the big project ahead of us they said “Well, it will continue raining tomorrow so maybe you can take a day’s break. We were gonna take a day off and go to a local spa – you can come with if you want.” Having just spent our first 10 days on the road and just gotten used to 3 minute showers with expensive tokens and cold nights in the tent a spa sounded fabulous. So we headed off with Jurgen and Karin the next day and spent the day in saunas and a hot pool for so long that we almost started dissolving. It was a huge spa facility with naturally heated thermal pools. When they then said we didn’t have to pay anything for it, that this was their way of supporting our trip, we thought we were in heaven.
Feeling cleaner than ever we stopped at a local “farm shop” on our way home. These places work as the local pub and restaurant but they farm their own livestock and produce everything on site – anything from smoked ham to salami to bread. We sat down and out came this tray full of different delicacies from the farm’s production. And the evening continued with trying out all the Austrian specials that Jurgen and Karin thought we must try. Apart from all the delicious smoked hams and salamis on homemade bread, we tried sturm, “young wine”, the first wine that hasn’t been filtered or processed yet, a lemonade of a local fruit that had a similar flavour to litchi fruit, a schnapps made out of pine tree cones, black berry schnapps and of course the local beer Puntigamer.
Yesterday we packed up and said cheers to Jurgen and Karin, exchanging some Uhudler and pumpkin seed oil for some Mocambican rum. On the way through Austria we called the port agent for Grimaldi to find out when our ship departs from Italy next week. It is still scheduled for the 20th which gave us a few days extra. So instead of stopping in Italy we continued south and drove through four countries in one day. Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. We wanted to return to Croatia, where we bought the cruiser last year, to see a bit more of it and decided it would be a good basecamp these last few days before the boat ride across the Mediterranean.
So now we’re here, at this beautiful campsite parked a few metres away from the sea. The weather is much better again, just a little windy. Today we’ve done some more laundry and while I was sitting editing photos, Brian did some car work. We’re going to use these days now to get ready for the ship, have everything in order in the car for the Israeli security checks, all our international documents in order and what not. We were just informed yesterday that we will have no access to the car once it’s parked on board the ship. And we won’t be allowed to leave the ship during its stops along the way. And there probably won’t be any internet access on board. Sounds like a fun week! But we’ll keep you posted on what happens up until then.
It may seem a bit far to drive all the way to Berlin to visit the Jordanian embassy, but when that happened to be based in Berlin and we didn’t have time to apply for visas by mail before we left Sweden and we were anyway going through Berlin, that’s what we did. We came flying in out of breath the same afternoon that we reached Berlin just before the embassy’s closing time after having parked the Landcruiser in the only little gap we found. With a lot of other things on our mind the last few days, we realized that we would not seem very well prepared just rushing into the embassy. The consul’s secretary sighed with a laugh over our thousand questions before she sent us out on the town again. No visas until we had transferred money to the embassy’s bank account. The next day we were able to come back and pick up our visas, so fresh that we weren’t allowed to close the passports because the ink was still drying. We can go to Jordan, woohoo!
Jordan was among the countries in our original route, when the idea was to drive all the way to Africa. But when the situation in Syria deteriorated while we were preparing for the trip, we had to look for alternatives. Now the plan is a weeklong boat trip on a cargo ship between Italy and Israel – but we added Jordan to the route again. There’s too much to see and do there for us to leave it out, both untamed deserts and historic sites. While we’re anyway out driving, you know.
We stopped in Berlin for just over three days, partly to keep up with some practical things like visas and other things and also to get to see a bit of the city. Brian had never been there before, I had been there when I was 9 years old. Despite pretty lousy weather and a lack of internet access, we enjoyed the city a lot. It turned out to be a music festival in town and the campsite that we had planned to stay at was full. We ended up instead on what could be called a backyard in central Berlin, full of campers and caravans. We lowered the average age and raised the action level considerably when the Landcruiser joined the motorhomes and we got many nice comments, compliments and curious looks.
The day before yesterday we went out to the north of the city for a visit to what remains of the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. The night before we had been talking about the country’s history and were reminded of our different backgrounds. While I have spent hundreds of hours in school reading about the World War II and the Holocaust Brian knows just the basics. He would, however, be able to tell you everything there is to know about the Boer war with the Chaka Zulu – something that was hardly even mentioned when I went to school.
I visited Sachsenhausen as a 9 year old and it made a very strong impression on me. Back in school, it was Show And Tell on a Friday afternoon and I got to talk about what I had seen. I don’t know if it was because it was interesting, or if I simply had so much to say, but there wasn’t enough time and I got to continue talking the following Monday morning. Now, with 20 years more of life experience, knowledge and insight into what really happened the experience was, if possible, even more horrific. For Brian, who had not already read all the facts books, seen all school documentaries and heard survivors talk about their experiences, it was also a very strong experience. To him, most of it was news. He was really stunned by it all. It was hard to stop thinking about how many people suffered, hungered and died in this place – just where we were standing. A single thought kept running through my head, I think it is a title of a book about the Holocaust; May we never forget. Yet it has happened again, and again. You just can not understand.
This was the first blog post that I simply translated from a Swedish original version meant for my blog at dn.se – we’ll see how it works, or if I will have to write two separate blog posts in the future. There are lots more photos to see! Go to Photos up in the main menu and you’ll find a category called Germany and under that one called Sachsenhausen. I will try post a bunch of photos from each country that we pass through. Enjoy!
Okay so we’re slowly getting into things… Leaving Sweden was a rude awakening for me, all of a sudden no signal. I then really kind of realized we were now on the road, moving away. Cool feeling but it meant no blog posts, no tweets, no nothing! I was sitting in the car trying to telepathically tell all of you “Look at the map! Look at the map!” to let you know we were well and moving. (Us moving on the map is a good sign, unless the car is moving in the completely wrong direction!) But as we say in my family: No news are good news.
So now we’re at a campsite in Schwerin, northern Germany. We wanted to get all the way to Berlin today but knew it was a bit optimistic, especially since we wanted to set up camp in daylight. So we’ll be heading for Berlin in the morning instead, should be about 200 km away.
Brian just had a look at the map. “1 289 km. Just another 24 000 to go!” Strangely not scaring us off, rather encouraging us on.
Germany is a bit chilly and windy, maybe because we are about 25 metres from the shore of a big lake. On the way from the campsite where the cruiser is parked to the campsite facilities Brian all of a sudden stopped. “Those guys are catching some fish out there.” He had spotted a bunch of little boats and loads and loads of hungry seagulls above the water at the far side of the lake, something I had not even noticed. He has his fishing rods packed and I know he can’t wait to bring them out and start using them.
So yeah, we’re just slowly getting into things. Getting our heads around the fact that we’re moving, that we’re doing the trip now. That we’re already in the second or third country (depending on if you count Sweden!). We’re getting faster and faster at setting up camp. It gets easier and easier to find what you need in the car, although it’s still a huge mess and we have to try organize it better. I just said to Brian this morning that I was looking forward to camping wild, whenever the chance comes up. That will be more like what I’m used to, heading out into the mountains or woods and just put up your tent. This thing with campsites where you have people right next to you, toilets and showers, restaurants and tv-rooms… Not really camping to us. It’s great being able to do it and we have showers when given the chance since you don’t know when you’ll get to have a proper one next time, but we’re both looking forward to having the freedom of just parking, setting up camp and being far from everything else.
I’m just working on digesting all the impressions and emotions over the past few days. The heartbreaking goodbye’s to friends and family as well as the excitement of heading out on the trip. All the people that came to see us, to say goodbye and wave us off and wish us luck. All of you leaving comments and greetings on the web. Brian’s family, nervously following us and eagerly waiting for us to get there. You’re all with us in heart and mind along the way and it’s so great that you’re all joining us in fulfilling this dream.
A bunch of geese just flew over the now dark lake and forests here, giving their characteristic calls. We’re following them, heading south for the winter.