Scorched, arid, barren, there aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to describe the Nubian desert. It’s very hot, very hot, and there aren’t many trees to hide under. If there is a tree, it’s usually already occupied by a camel. This never ending sand surface has two arteries, one of tarmac and one of water. The new road is unbelievably straight, like a motorway through Mars, every time you come over a crest it starts all over again, more sand and rocks. And then suddenly a corridor of vegetation: the Nile. The Mighty Nile really is mighty, unperturbed by the searing heat around, it supports the only human life visible. There you meet the real wonder of the Sudan: the Sudanese! These people are about as welcoming as their environment is hostile, always inviting you for tea and grinning their huge smiles as their white robes and ‘shesh’ blow in the wind.
We’d heard many a horror story about the Sudanese bureaucracy and the infamous week long ferry down Lake Nasser. Luckily we had two very eccentric but efficient fixers to guide us through the new border posts, as the new road to Abu Simbel seems to confuse most people, especially the border officials. I must have spelt out my name and passport number at least 20 times to very curious customs officers wondering where this white man was going in his white car. Who knows what happens to those tiny pieces of paper… Three hours of taking off Egyptian number plates and shaking lots of hands, then you’re waved through to no man’s land where an over-excited Mazar jumps around like the overgrown child that he is, welcoming you to Sudan. Here, more stickers and happy stamping before heading off into the wilderness.
“Are you married?”
“No, just friends…”
“Ah, so can I marry her?”
“Ah, you try before you buy then?”
Readily armed with your 52 official documents in case of police check-points, head off into the desert. Once you’re out of sight of civilisation, turn off the road and hide behind the nearest hill. There, unpack your camp chairs and enjoy your gin-free G&T– alcohol is strongly prohibited here – and watch the sun set. Now cook some dinner, set up your tent on the roof and lie flat on your back to look at the stars. Optional: count shooting stars instead of sheep to go to sleep. Now you know what isolation and silence really is.
Totally unspoiled, there isn’t much else but to enjoy the road and the view in the Sudan, however I will be sad to leave this place. The Meroe pyramids – reputed oldest in the world – suddenly rise from the dunes and you know this is where it all started.
Although we haven’t visited their projects yet, please remember that we are doing this drive in support of two charities: Tusk and Corner of Hope. Any donations are hugely appreciated.
From Khartoum, over and out.
And so at 5.30am we dutifully began eating our cinnamon breadsticks with creamed feta as our hosts grinned at us waiting for our response. Put on the goat pastrami they gesture next… YUM, that I can tell you, is JUST what I felt like after 1 hour of sleep.
What was going on?! WELL. Having picked up the car at 4pm on Saturday we quickly realised something was very wrong. Thankfully we happened to be in the mechanic district of Alexandria. It only took us 5 minutes to find someone to help us, he became my new best friend. Mohammed. Mohammed the Mechanic. This is where our 12 hour game of charades began.
Mulungu clearly had had an accident between getting off the ship and being delivered to Fathy the Fixer’s office. What actually happened we won’t know, and probably don’t really want to either! However what we saw was this; the wheel was pushed 30cm out of alignment, there was a totally bent and squashed brand new shock absorber, a bent wheel rim and a broken tyre wall.
We were told Land Rovers are like a mechano set, you can just take it apart and put it back together. Well this is exactly what Mohammed and his team did over the next 7 hours. They welded, replaced and put back together the bits, under the watchful eyes of helpful neighbours. Whilst I kept a watchful eye on the Land Rover, Tristan went on a wild goose chase with another Mohammed to find a replacement tyre (difficult as ours are huge!) and get the rim sorted. When he returned 2 hours later everything was sorted. All for the HUGE cost of 80 Pounds. Although we initially felt a little nervous, many people throughout the night assured us Mohamed was the best man for the job. How lucky we were to find ourselves in his hands! With our car fixed we just needed a bed to get some sleep before driving on to Cairo.
Mohammed insisted that we must stay with him. This all seemed like a great idea until the moment when we were sitting, still playing small talk charades as no one speaks English, at 4.30am. Did you know people in Egypt don’t sleep? Like ever. Tristan stopped being polite at the moment we were invited to go to the beach in the dark, at 4.35am, with the whole family, to buy an ice cream. Queue lots of sleep motions. Eventually we were allowed to sleep for an hour, this we did on the children’s bed with everyone practically staring at us. We drifted in and out of sleep between the call to prayer and the strong smell of Mohammed smoking something that was definitely not a cigarette… They woke us at 5.30 and then promptly decided it was time to eat. We managed a few mouthfuls and said our thank yous and goodbyes. It was time to go before the traffic got too busy.
3 hours to Cairo, through the desert. After taking the ring road the wrong way (have a look on the GAPTRAC, which is now working), we arrived at Heliopolis War Cemetry where my Great Grandfather is buried. What a beautiful, beautiful place. A manicured spot in what felt like a very stressful city. Run by the most lovely men, it is kept in pristine condition, a place we would all love to be buried! Excitingly we were invited in to go to the loo, have some cold water and stand in the air conditioning, which having not slept, washed or eaten and driven through 3 hours of dust in 40 degrees was exciting! It’s the little things that count. Having grabbed an extra 20 minutes sleep under the trees and then cooked some pasta quickly on the street (yep on the street, it’s amazing what you will do when you are starving) we were ready to drive again.
We got lost, we went round and round, up and down, coming to the decision that Cairo is not easy to drive around. Finally getting on the right road we began the longest drive in the history of ever. 18 hours to Beni Suef. Those last few hours of driving in the dark consist of lots of horn hooting, light flashing, trucks on the wrong side of the road, vehicles with no lights, pot holes and speed bumps. Having arrived, we slept for 5 hours in a dirty truckers’ hotel…. delightful. Up at 6 we began to drive to Aswan, we were told would take 12 hours. The first police check point we came to at 8am, we were stopped and given an escort. We didn’t know why, so we just bumbled on with sirens blaring in front of us. At the next check point the same thing happened, we were stopped, asked where we were going and following the gestures we realised they wanted us to go in convoy behind a 6 gun wielding, police pick-up truck. Well that was the first 2 of a following 16 escorts over 12 hours.
We went through towns, and like when Moses parted the Red Sea, the police parted the crowds. Unlucky for you if you got in the way, lots of Arabic shouting would come your way, much to our embarrassment. Tristan charged through one city feeling like he was in a car chase, being shouted at because they said he was too slow. Next we screamed our way through another town following a group of boys setting off fireworks on top of their moving tuk-tuk. Other towns we would pass old men on donkeys arms and legs flapping rushing off somewhere important.
Apart from the check points, we were not allowed to stop. So we ate what we had in the car – 6 bananas, 2 packets of Egyptian Oreo’s, originally named Borrio’s, and a packet of Percy Pigs and tried not to need the loo. I did work out that they thought it was quite a privilege for me to go to the loo in their check points so luckily there was plenty of those of which I took advantage!
We drove further and further down the impressive Nile, boggled by its size, and how quickly it turned from lush, date laden palm trees to arid, harsh, high sided valleys. It is incredibly over populated in the north, slowly becoming less so as you get further south, there isn’t less rubbish though. The banks of the river are literally like a rubbish tip and the smell of burning is horrendous. The sun began to set and it was clear that we were definitely not going to take 12 hours to get to Aswan with all the stopping at check points we were doing.
By the time it got dark they got fed up of coming with us instead they held us a little longer at each check point. Amazingly not once were we asked for a bribe of any kind, just lots of hand shaking and smiling instead! Having now arrived we have asked opinions on why the police journeyed with us, and the answer seems to be that since the Revolution they are wary of foreigners travelling on some roads on their own. Who knows?!
In the last 48 hours we have had 6 hours sleep, driven 36 hours, 1 meal, 16 escorts, 45 check points, 24 litres of water and this, we are hoping is Purgatory before we head on into Sudanese Heaven.
Touch base next in Khartoum.
They say the English invented bureaucracy, and Egyptians perfected it. Luckily, the latter are also extremely helpful, as the meander of government buildings and bureaus, translators and happy stampings are as complex as their ancient hieroglyphics… Thank Allah for fixers who literally hold your hand through the whole process, as us mere Westerners would never be able to climb that pyramid alone…
‘What’s South of the border of Egypt?’ The first of many great Emma quotes.
Alexandria is a very impressive concrete jungle if I have ever seen one. Standing on the water front, the whole bay seems to be held back by tower blocks. No one hassles you, or the few chancers who do at least take ‘no thank you’ for an answer. Taxi drivers try and get dollars out of you rather than Egyptian pounds, and will have no remorse about charging five times the price. Thus you know that you know nothing.
Few beggars and bikes, many cars and needles in gutters. Few tourists, cheap and delicious street food, generous smiles but no haggling prices, Egyptians are a proud nation. Our fixer Fathy studied political science before being conscripted to the special forces for three years. His analysis of Syria is a bloody stalemate fed by Russia and Libyans are simply dismissed as warring tribes; he says there will never be more than relatively non-violent uprisings in Egypt as most people would rather go about their every day lives than pick up arms.
We have four days to decipher this city, before learning how to drive by ear as Egyptians use their horns to greet each other, courteously let you cross the road or angrily try and move a donkey off the road. Four days before going down the Nile to Aswan, where a very enthusiastic overlanding community seems to think the road into the Sudan is now open, we may be among the first few to ever drive into the Sudan instead of taking the infamous ferry down Lake Nasser!
From the Bibliotheca Alexandrina
So we are still in France, until Saturday. This is the culmination of many frustrations largely to do with a VERY challenging shipping agent called SeaKargo. Note to any future crazy Africa Drivers, DO NOT use them! The car was driven down to Southampton for the second time on bank holiday Monday (another not so great idea), thankfully with 2 wonderfully distracting co-pilots I hardly even noticed it took 13 hours…
Tuesday involved waiting and ringing (in the wrong ship agents office) and waiting and ringing (in a coffee shop) for 3 hours until finally I was given the all clear to bring it down to the docks. Here I bumbled into wonderful Grimaldi Shipping agency who surprisedly told me the ship I was putting the car on to didn’t in fact, exist. GREAT. Not sure which planet SeaKargo come from but most of the information they gave to us turned out to be not quite true. So the lovely ladies at Grimaldi pulled a few stings and rushed me onto the already full ship that night.
I gave a hurried goodbye to my trusty car and waved it off! PHHHEEWWWWW, what a relief. The previous weeks have been filled with multiple trips back to the garage to change the last few things that weren’t quite right such as a faulty leaking fuel tank, broken fuel gage (this caused a large excitement of empty fuel-ness when it says it’s got lots of fuel-ness…), heated conversations of ‘can we make this ferry’, ‘no we can not’ sort of thing!
So it’s off, we will meet it on Sunday morning with open arms and begin our trip… I think that we may move from a challenging situation in the UK to an even more challenging one in Egypt, we can but dream though that it will be straight out of customs and we will be off… I’ll let you know how that dream pans out.
Speak in Egypt
p.s. Thank you Alice and Liv for being my co-pilots and Aunt Jens for driving me backwards and forwards as my support car!
So our trip is now fully funded and ready and raring to go! This is largely thanks to a few very special people and companies who have agreed to sponsor us. This means we really can go and see all the exciting projects you are donating money to and bring you photos and stories from the places themselves. We would like to introduce you to these companies individually in case you don’t know about them and because we really are so happy they are working with us to help raise awareness for Tusk and Corner of Hope!
To begin the first of the introductions meet…. The Ultimate Travel Company!
The Ultimate Travel Company are ‘tailor-made tour operators’ with a team of 40 travel specialists. They are able to bring together your ideas and give you exactly the trip you had dreamed of, be it an adventure, relaxing, exploration, family or intellectual ‘holiday’. I hope you have already heard of them, (I am pretty sure most of you will have considering they won The Times ‘Best Luxury Holiday Tour Operator 2013’) if you have not however, now is the time to go and look at their beautiful website and browse through all the options. Sadly I think our little trip, planned by us and not them, is definitely not the luxury they would have provided … next time!! They are one to share with all your friends and family who may need some advice on where to go next and what to do when they are there!
Even better is that they are a thoughtful travel company. This means that they feel it is important to give money back to the local communities they travel through. Education, health care and conservation projects have all had input from them in many continents around the world! So what more could you want!?
Have a look at their website:
So where does that leave us now??
(this means we need you to all donate…)
Africa wakes up early. The sun is fast climbing above the Great Rift Valley, the sounds of the African night have been chased away by the Drongo loudly announcing the new day. Our DYI rooftop tent has proved to be a sturdy piece of engineering and the view gives a whole new dimension to breakfast in bed.
Words will never give fair credit to the beauty of the high plateaus of Kenya. We pack up the car a little sad to have to move on, but we have an appointment that afternoon. Kukuyu and his brother attended Alan Savory Institute courses and have decided to come back to their home village and start their own project. Their local Nguni cattle have taken extremely well to the managed grazing they put in place and Kukuyu shows us the plans for their next step. A community funded and run rhino conservancy.
Hope never dies in Africa, and the continent’s dynamism gives Emma and I plenty to discuss around the campfire in the evening. The Drongo has gone to bed, and the bush soundtrack is on full volume. Our dream trip is living up to expectations.
I wake up at home however, and Africa is still far away. There are still some final preparations before we go, but having finished with my degree and completed my internship, Africa is getting closer and closer everyday…
To help us with the more immediate and heavily felt cost of a Carnet de Passage en Douane for Mulungu, we have decided to ask for the crowd’s support… Our Indiegogo campaign will help us directly with the costs of this adventure, in order to raise awareness on work of Tusk and Corner of Hope, so please share it to the world!
This happened to be the perfect excuse to finally get round to making a video to share our trip more easily!
Thank you so much to UBITRAC for the amazing mobile tracker device they have provided us for you lovely lot to be able to follow our day to day progress as we drive firstly from Scotland to Dorset, and then from Cairo to Cape Town!
With just an app on our phone and phone signal, we can upload photos and videos for you to see exactly where they were taken! Follow the link below and sign up to see our live progress as we leave Scotland for the South to ship Mulungu to Egypt!
And Here are some of the photos taken this week as we finally completed the final preparations for the big adventure!
This week has presented me with many problems. What to write for you lovely lot being high up there on the list. So as a change, you have got a bit of a brain empty of a post, here it is.
I wrote my first attempt on Monday, listing a complicated pile of problems. I then didn’t post it and by Wednesday the problems had resolved themselves. It has been a bit of a momentous week, so far. Let me explain a little more.
I came back to the UK with a bit of an issue. The law was changed 3 days before I left South Africa, stating that any person who leaves the country with a non-valid visa was not allowed back in for 1 or 5 years depending on the amount of days ‘over-stayed’. I had ‘over-stayed’ my welcome by 56 days which grants you a whopping 5 years in exile. This was luckily not my fault; I had applied for my visa extension which was not returned due to a back log of applications during election time. This whole shebang meant that I had to speed on down to the embassy in London, TWICE. Having appealed I sat nervously twiddling my thumbs, with the result arriving this week.
“Dear Sir (interesting…) The request for the waiving of your undesirable status has been considered and was successful.
THANK GOD. I can finish the drive in the right place and not have to wave goodbye at the border in Zimbabwe.
On other notes … the Land Rover is about to return from visiting Alan (the mechanic) who has spent many expensive hours making it look beautiful, on the inside. Hopefully it will now have lights, a fuel tank that doesn’t leak and new brakes. Trying to look like I know what I’m talking about in specialist garage is a little challenging. I’m sure I give them enough to talk about for a few days after I have left. This time I left them with this little snippet:
‘What’s this?’ – pointing at 4 very shiny silver disc shaped things under the car
‘What do they do?’
‘Make you stop….’ – oh yes of course why didn’t I think of that, which caused much giggling from the mechanics…
I have also read a lot of other blogs in a bid to find out about visas; this gives you a mixture of feelings. Wow this is exciting, look at all the incredible things they are doing. Oh dear, this could be hard. Why are we doing it in a car, if people are doing it on a bicycle which seems a lot more challenging? We are definitely taking the easy option.
Pick your challenge… I think is what I have decided, and a bicycle is not it for me right now. Instead I’ll take the South African Home Affairs department, endless conversations with potential (they don’t feel it’s so likely) sponsors and ever increasingly worried friends and family. That is enough challenge for right now. Well done to those who do decide that is their challenge, I am massively impressed. Maybe next time…
What is your challenge this summer?