You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2010.

We stayed at the Terara hotel for the first two nights in Gonder. According to our guide book ,  it was one of the ‘finest hotels in Gonder in the imperial era’ . It is now in need of a lick of paint. It still has some charm and we camped in the pretty gardens.

In need of a room yesterday, we booked in at the state run Goha hotel. A really nice government run hotel, perched high above the town, it is a really good spot to get a view of the surrounding mountains and the large eagles circling above. Wow, a bath and a TV. Pure luxury since all our adventures in Sudan and our first proper hotel since Christmas.

The state run Ethionet is the slowest of the trip so far, and has improved very little from when I was here in 2004. No sign of wi-fi here,

I got the phone sim card sorted. Like the internet, mobile phone use is restricted to one company and has to applied for at the Post Office. A few passport photos and some form filling and I was up and running.

One of the ‘must sees’ in Gonder is Debre Birhan Selassie church on the outskirts of town. The ceiling is decorated with 80 cherub faces, all dating from the 18th century.

Were heading to Gogora for the weekend. 60 km south of Gonder. It is a little visited town beside Lake Tana.

Bun got to sample some Ethiopian food for the first time. We went to Habesha Kitfo restaurant for lunch. The shiro tegabano ( Sounds Japanese to me, but is a thick paste made from beans that is served with injera. It’s unlike anything we’ve had on the trip so far).

A general round-up of Ethiopian national food: Injera (staple source of carbohydrates. A large pancake-shaped bread made from tef, a nutty grain that is unique to Ethiopia (it becomes the plate for all other food to be served on). Wat (a red sauce that is very hot, made from peppers (beriberi). Most wat is made from meat in the highlands. The national dish is called Doro wat, made from chicken. Otherwise it is either lamb (bege)goat (figel), or beef (bure). In towns near lakes it comes as fish (asa).

vegetarian wats are mainly served on Wednesday’s and Friday’s, the Orthodox fasting days. They come as pureed beans (shiro wat), halved beans (kik wat) and lentils (misr wat). Atkilt bayinetu consists of dollops of various vegetarian wats as well as with spinach (gomon), beetroot (kai iser) and vegetable stew (atkilt alicha).

It’s good to be back in Ethiopia, having visited the country in 2004. We entered Ethiopia at the Gallabat crossing, nothing more than a mud hut where got our passports stamped. We had to disturb the customs officials to get our carnet stamped whilst they were having their lunch so we could crack on to Gondar.

We took the newly built road to Gondar. After an amazingly beautiful drive we arrived in Gondar and the first thing we did was to enjoy a well deserved Dashen beer which is brewed in the town. I think it was one of the best beers we have had in our lives!! As alcohol is illegal in Sudan we had quite a fill on a couple of days.

A big change from Sudan, life is much closer to the road here. You drive around a corner to enter a village and everyone is out in the road with their animals. Maybe because it’s a new road people seem to gravitate to it, like it’s something they’ve never seen before.

We were warned about kids throwing stones at vehicles in Ethiopia. We had been told to slow down and wave to avoid a window getting smashed. We noticed a few kids picking up stones so we waved like mad to avoid it!

Other hazards are cows, huge ones, randomly crossing the road without a care in the world. Huge herds of them sometimes and we have to come to a halt to let them pass. The road was better than we expected with only small patches to cover off-road.

We knew it was a risk. It is a three day wait in Khartoum for a permit to visit Kassala, so we headed out of Khartoum without one after hearing different stories about whether we needed one or not. We had met Ally in Khartoum, a British guy who was heading our way, so we offered him a lift and he came with us to Kassala.

We tried to enter late after a long drive from Khartoum. There are many police checkpoints along the road where we stop and chat  for a few minutes before we get going again. Having got that far, the last checkpoint into Kassala was the hardest and they refused to let us into town. It was a young kid on the gate and we knew he was just playing really hard to get. We made a call to our friends in Khartoum who have connections with the government.

After the phone call, the best they could do for us was to advise us to stay 30 miles back on the road toward Khartoum and spend the night camping in the desert. The only issue was that the paperwork ( there is endless paperwork to carry in Sudan, all of which means nothing!) we had received when we arrived in Sudan didn’t include Kassala as a possible place of visit. We could have written the name on the paper five minutes before we stopped at the checkpoint.

The next morning we tried again and entered the town, off-road, through a little village. We had a great day looking round the souk (market). We had little hassle in town and were greeted by many people in the souk. Nobody asked to see any paperwork whilst we were there. On the way out of town we  looked at the mountains which the town is famous for and drove round some of the flood plain farmland which was amazing.

We decided to avoid the checkpoint again and to drive out of town through another village. We had nearly reached the tarmac road, when we spotted a man racing towards us on a little motorbike, in what can only be described as army style pyjamas. He stopped us and started shouting at us. He then told us to go in a certain direction. I sped off causing plumes of dust to rise up into his face. If I started to go in the wrong direction he would start whistling and shouting madly at us, so I decided to slow down to let him pass.

As he whizzed by we all decided to drive in the opposite direction as him, and go to the check point. So I slowed down more and more and just as he stopped turning his head round to see if we were following I turned the car around and shot off in the other direction. We were making a great escape until we got stuck behind a local who was going very slowly and we could not pass him. Ally looked behind and he could see the man on the motorbike coming round the corner. Just as we got our chance to pass the local the motorbike he caught us up and he sped in front of the car. We then had to wait for some other men to arrive. When they arrived it started to get very heated. One of them took our passports and told Ally, who was attempting to reason with him with the little arabic he knows, to “Shut Your Mouth”. Meanwhile the other one was attempting to get in the car and in the end Ally had to sit on his knee.

We went with them and on the way we met a man who spoke english who said everything was OK and that we were safe, which was a relief. We continued our way to a hut on the outskirts of the village where we sat down. They faffed about trying to decipher our passports and write the information down on a fag packet. Eventually they asked Ally to write it down for them.

After that we went back into Kassala to the police barracks and wait before they finally let us go. We sat there watching BBC World , whilst they gave us tea and mosquito repellant! Eventually we got to speak to the captain who had called in a member of the tourist board. For some reason they refused to let us leave town that night and said we must pay $100 dollars for a hotel. More negotiating and we refused to follow this option by saying we were intending to head to Ethiopia with the intention of crossing the border the next day. After a while they seemed to give in and said we were free to go.

We got out of town and drove the 110 miles back to Gedaref. We broke our golden rule by driving at night. The day ended with us drinking fresh hot milk and a cake outside one of the tea stalls. It tasted amazing with a heapfull of sugar!

Were findIng it hard to leave Khartoum having been completly surprised by the city and what we’ve seen here. A diverse city that remains very safe and friendly. Unlike Egypt, people don’t rip you off for anything you buy. It seems to have everything. Good resturants, supermarkets, green spaces. There seems to be a lot of potential here. The American trade embargo doesn’t help further business potential here.

It is impossble to get money out here. No ATM’s accept visa cards so we’ve had to rely on our American dollars to get exchange. Highlights included seeing the Nuba wrestling and seeing where the White and Blue Nile converge to join the Nile.

Downtown has a colonial feel to it. Landcruisers belonging to Aid agencies drive around downtown going about their business. Tea ladies in colourfully dress find their space on the pavements serving tea from giant teapots. The main traffic intersection in downtown replicates the stripes on the Union jack. We were told that the Landrover defender was made for conditions in Sudan.

The hassle of paperwork to sort out permits has restricted us seeing more fo the country than we would have liked. Our base at the Blue Nile Sailing club was a very good insight to life in Khartoum. We had a entertaining stay here and one day during our stay the miltary did a exercise for the Sea Scouts who have their base next to the Sailing club. We were tasking it easy on a boat on the Nile and the next minute there was a helicopter above the river with people jumping out of it!

We took it easy there in the afternoons when it got too hot. Two young men who waterski here invited us back to their house for food on the second night. They were very good at explaining Khartoum and Sudan. We contiued seeing them whilst we were here.

The Landcruiser has had first service. We found the main Toyota garage here so we went in search of it. We had the engine oil and all the filters replaced. We were going to leave it till Addis Abeba, but we plan to head north after we cross the border to see the Simien Mountains and the  Danakil Depression before heading to the capital.

19/01/2010 – I have lost count of the number of days without a shower now! One last stop before Khartoum. We wanted to see Naqa, one of the best Kushitic sites in Sudan. Another reason for the visit is that it takes 40 minutes off-road to get to it from the main Khartoum road. Flat corrugated sections meant we could put our foot down, only to slow when we hit quite deep and narrow sandy sections that seemed to twist and turn a lot. Lots of fun driving to Naqa.

We arrived and parked under a tree near one tour group from the Italian Tourist Co. After they left, we were left alone at the site, the only other people there were villagers who were gathering water from the 75ft deep well. They get the water from the well by attaching a rope around a donkey and then a couple of kids walk with the donkey to bring the water to the surface.

We got back onto the Khartoum road just before a police checkpoint. The usual questions and we were on our way again. The road should have been better, The heat of the summer had warped the road and made it uneven. Bun’s book mentions that the road was funded by Osama bin Laden when he lived in Sudan. It was a slightly nervous journey for an hour, overtaking extremely slow trucks that were doubled-up before then trying to get back into lane before the car coming towards us got close enough.

We are staying at the Blue Nile Sailing Club in Khartoum. Home to Lord Kitchener’s gunboat that is in dry-dock right in the middle of the club and is now used an office and a place for hanging up wetsuits. There is talk of restoring it and moving it to the Thames. This place has been the only option for overland vehicles in Khartoum for years so we headed straight there. It also serves as a members club. Men and women come here after work to water-ski and sail. We joined two other motorbikers from France and Germany.

We listened to: 2010 from Warp records. Corker! –

18/01/2010 – Heavy winds in the night and we woke to a sandstorm. It got worse on the road later on. After we woke up, we got a glimpse of some goats through the window of the tent. This is nearly always a sign that there will be a someone nearby. You may feel like you are the middle of nowhere in Africa, but you can always expect someone to turn up. We continued to look and found a man with his two children coming towards us. We lay in the tent watching their path through the bush. When they were close I got up and greeted them whilst Bun hid in the tent for a while. They were clothed in rags and they hung around for a while squatting on the ground. The man asked for any clothes we had. We could only give them some bananas, biscuits and bread.

We were in a sandstorm all the way to Atbara. We came across patches where it was hard to see more than 10 metres. We got out of the car in Atbara for lunch, covering our eyes and slamming the doors shut to avoid the dust. Sudan is incredibly dusty. We left Atbara and moved onto the old Kushitic capital of Meroe. Two men on camels directed us to a place out of the wind where we could camp for the night.

17/01/2010 – Karima to Atbara. A lovely smooth new road which had very few vehicles passing. The odd section where we had to go off-road created massive dust clouds, which must have annoyed everyone working on the road. The scenery was fantastic and resembled the savannah we would be seeing in Kenya and beyond.

We met a Polish man cycling from Cairo to Khartoum along this road. We stopped for a long chat and sweet tea on the roadside. His map said we were crossing a national park but we had no mention of that in our guidebook. It felt good being in this area so we decided to camp here. We were 140 km from Atbara.

The Polish man continued cycling when it cooled down. Before he left he mentioned a Polish man called Kazimierz Nowak who, between 1931 -1936, travelled 40,000 km across Africa alone, on foot and bicycle .,32.696721&z=12&t=h&hl=en

16/01/2010 – We crossed back over the bridge into Dongola for breakfast. We sampled zalabia, a deep fried treat that’s similar to a doughnut. It’s served here with milky tea flavoured with nutmeg. We bumped into some of the people who had stayed at the same hotel in Wadi Halfa.

We headed south-east towards Merowe. The Chinese have been hard at it building news roads in northern Sudan. We did the journey in over two hours. The landscape wasn’t great; very flat and barren and pretty much nothing for over two hours. We wild camped off the road again.

15/01/2010 – We picked up a policeman and an old man on the road. We insisted that we were not going as far as Dongola today but they got in anyway. We stopped for lunch shortly after picking them up and they waited for us to eat before we carried on. Like in Egypt, they wouldn’t accept our food when we offered it.

We continued and after a while the policeman got out and we continued with the old man. When we arrived in Dongola he tried to get us carry on to Khartoum but we were not having any of it so we let him out near the bus station in Dongola and said goodbye.

Dongola’s vivid colours hit us after the long desert road from Wadi Halfa. Very few camping options so we trusted our GPS unit which showed an option for camping in the desert on the other side of the river from the town.,30.501333&z=16&t=h&hl=en

We listened to: Dam-Funk/Toeachizown.

Not sure what the old man thought of it!

Finally away from Wadi Halfa. After getting through customs late we decided to avoid another night in our hotel and set off to Dongola.

We camped off the road here..,31.2122&z=16&t=h&hl=en

5 minutes to load a web page here. Not to mention the power cut earlier!

We have arrived in Sudan! It’s a waiting game here as, after two days, we are still waiting for our vehicle to arrive on the barge from Aswan. It’s our first ‘out of our hands’ situation with the vehicle. It’s getting more frustrating but I should go local and just roll with it!

Latest news – we have handed over our carnet for the vehicle, so the customs process is in action.

We know it has entered Sundanese waters as there has been communication with the captain. He had a word with me before we left and he will be waiting for his tip on arrival. I’m sure I have some small change somewhere!

Wadi Halfa can just about be called a town. With very little to see so we seat ourselves outside the restaurant here, eating fried fish and milky tea as we wait. There are six other cars and two motorbikes on the barge, so we are all guessing when it will arrive. We can’t take another night in our room. Images to come when we get moving again.

The ferry over was unique experience. The frist class cabin was very basic. Bun thought she heard a rat in the air conditioning unit and the 1st café area had more cockroaches than customers. The food on board was better than expected.

The 2nd class section was an area at the back of the ship and the entire deck area on top was for the rest of the passengers who had to find whatever space they could for themselves and their boxes of electrical goods that included blenders and juicers. No matter what size your cargo was, it had to get on board through the one entrance. There was no order to anything and chaos reigned.

Men prayed on deck where they could find space. Those unlucky enough had to try to sleep at the back of the ship where the engine are housed.

Luckily we had decided on 1st class. The time it took to load the vehicle on the barge and deal with customs, we would never had found a place on top.

With formalities out of the way we set sail at 5pm. We waited till 6pm before going to see Sudanese immigration. They checked our visas and took our temperature. We were told after arrival that two people had been quarantined because of high temperatures.

Alongside the other overlanders on the ship, there were others backpacking. One man from Liverpool had taken, whilst on his travels, the world record for visiting the most countries in one trip. He was working for Lonely Planet and he would randomly pull out his video camera and turn it on himself and start talking to the camera. He got very animated when we got off the boat and he saw the train Michael Palin had taken from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum in ‘Pole to Pole’. This was as far into Sudan that he was going. He had got his stamp in his passport and was heading back to Egypt the next day on the same ferry.

On arrival in Sudan, you are required to register with the government if you intend to stay longer than three days. It is a taster for Sudanese beaurocracy, known to be one of the worst in Africa. I’ll give it time, but initial dealings with it were not good. The fee goes up and down depending on where you have it down. We had time so we completed the formalities the next day in Wadi Halfa. It was a guessing game which office to go to next as we had to have papers signed and re-signed before handing over 100 sdg ( $40 ).

Currency is sorted and have changed all the Egyptian pounds I had left over. I managed to find a couple from Liechtenstein who are heading north back to Europe so I swapped over my Egypt sim card for their Sudan sim card.

A funny story from the ferry. I can only assume Apple had been to Africa just to get the right dimensions to avoid disaster for my iPhone. Those familiar with the elephant head toilet can picture it now. I had gone to the toilet for my daily ablution with the iPhone in my pocket. As I pulled my trousers down I noticed the phone heading to the hole in the elephant head. Before I knew it, the phone had got trapped perfectly upright in the hole and avoided getting lost forever. Some rubbing with the antibacterial gel and the phone was ready to go again!

One of the delights of travelling in Africa. We are looking forward to seeing and meeting as many of the distinctive groups found in Sudan over the next two / three weeks. Some of the many ethnic groups include: Beja ( famed warriors, who herd camel and sheep near the Red Sea). Nubians, as found in Aswan in Egypt. Dinka ( largest non-Arab group in Sudan who live either side of the White Nile. Cattle is key to Dinka culture. Nuer ( Like Dinka, cattle is highly prized. They share a creation myth with the Dinka’s and is the reason for their old enmity. Shilluk ( primarily farmers and fishermen. They live on the western bank of the White Nile. Equatorians (An agricultural hierarchical society. Ruled by a king). Nuba ( Best known for their love of wrestling and beer! They have muslim and non-muslim identities and occupy farming land near the Nuba mountains.

Hallelujah – I have finished the book ‘Blood River’. I’m deciding what to read next. Bun is reading Dark Star Safari – from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux.

Album of last week – Hypnotic Brass Ensemble:Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

We are watching – Tyson

We have touched base with Mr Salah about our ferry journey to Sudan. The barge travels separately from the passenger ferry and leaves either Sunday or Monday, depending on how many vehicles he has for the crossing. We have a cabin on board the ferry which leaves on Monday afternoon.

That means we have a bit of time to take in Aswan and get the car ready.

We have read about the trouble in Southern Sudan. We plan to be well away from that area so it will not alter our plans for next week. We enter Sudan at Wadi Halfa and head down to Khartoum following the Nile. We then cross into Ethiopia at the Gallabat border crossing.

We are staying on the west bank of the Nile. Not so many options here for overlanding vehicles but we managed to find a man who deals with cars travelling further south who need a base for a few days. He owns a pet crocodile which he was proud to show us when we arrived. It came alive when he poked it a few times!

No crocodiles on the Nile but Lake Nasser,which we cross to get to Sudan, has them up to five metres long!

It’s our first encounter with a Nubian, a group originally from Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt.

Many thanks Tony for the new cartoon. It sums up our experience in Egypt superbly!

We travelled from Luxor to Aswan, following the Nile south. It seems near impossible to find somewhere to camp in Egypt. The police don’t take to well to it. After being moved on in one spot, we finally found a place right by the Nile towards Aswan.

There is plenty I want to say about the visit to Karnak and the Valley of the Kings but not enough time.

A fantastic ‘rub your eyes, how the hell can I be seeing this’ experience. Wandering around trying to avoid bumping into other tourists whilst looking at hieroglyphics and animal headed Pharoah’s as I tried to recall every jazz musician who has named himself after something to do with Egypt and the Pharoah’s. Not to be missed!

January 2010