|Update #1 : Near Hammam Lif, Tunisia||Update #8 : Not well in Gondar, Ethiopia|
|Update #2 : The edge of the Sahara in Douz, Tunisia||Update #9 : Addis Ababa, Ethiopia|
|Update #3 : The Hotel Movenpick - Cairo, Egypt||Update #10 : Kampala, Uganda|
|Update #4 : Aswan, Egypt||Update #11 : Back to Kampala, Uganda|
|Update #5 : Khartoum, Sudan||Update #12 : Zanzibar, the spice islands|
|Update #6 : Still in Khartoum, Sudan||Update #13 : Windhoek, Namibia|
|Update #7 : Gondar, Ethiopia||Update #14 : Johannesburg, South Africa|
1 May 1999
We have just had a very difficult conversation with a drunk ex-French Foreign Legionnaire from Germany who speaks a mixture of French/English/Spanish. As you can imagine, 24 hours on the ferry is a very long time, so anything to pass the time helps.
So far the journey has gone as planned. We spent the first night in Spain after leaving Madrid at about 11am, 28th April. The first night was a little stressful, as there was no parking close to the hotel. So we removed all the stuff from the roof rack. A real pain.
Andorra is a very pretty country and we passed the highest point on the European leg at 2408m. Still loads of snow in the Pyrenees, but we had no time for skiing. The only oddity was on leaving, the customs guy on the French side could not believe we had so much stuff, but nothing to declare. (Andorra is tax free, so a shoppers paradise).
In Marseilles, the campsite we were looking for, turned out to be in another town. Anyway, when we eventually found it, it turned out to be ok. There are no campsites in town. We spent two days in the same place getting our stuff sorted out and getting used to living out of the car.
The ferry loading went well. We had spent time yesterday looking for the terminal, which was time well spent, as it took us a few hours to find. We were told that we would have to pay a surcharge because our car is taller than 1,8m, but this did not happen. Everyone was loaded, even the sedans. We did have some trouble leaving France with no French visas in our passports. Armed soldiers were called, but after 20 minutes of discussion, decided that Spanish residents did not need one. So Africa, here we come. One point; investigate getting a cabin if you come on the ferry. Price wise, it shouldn't add much and may be worth it.
2nd May 1999
We eventually took up the option of a cabin last night. At 50FFr per person it seemed a price worth paying!
Entry into Tunisia was a breeze - getting
us in, the car in, obtaining Tunisian driving permits and through customs,
took all of 20 minutes. The same cannot be said for finding the campsite.
It is south of Hammam Lif and NOT well marked. The bonus
is that we are totally alone here, listening to the birds singing.
We are now on the edge of the Sahara in Douz (Tunisia). It is very hot and we are being sunburnt to death already. We have found a great campsite, not always easy to do in Tunisia, (I will post the GPS co-ords on next update) with good facilities.
So far we have visited Tunis and Carthage in the North and travelled down the Eastern border with Algeria. We did make it to the Northern most point of Africa and took the obligatory photo - not much to see really. The large tourist trade does not use the road South we took and we were constantly stopped by the police to check our papers. They were always very friendly and all they wanted to be sure of was that we were not trying to sneak into Algeria.
We spent two nights at Tozeur (camping at Degache) and did a route from there to the Eastern most oases, right up to the Algerian border. The most interesting of these was Mides in a deep gorge.
Today we crossed a large salt lake called
a Chott (Chott Jerid), the road is easy and is worth it to stop and appreciate
the flatness of the earth. We also visited some southern oases - Zaafrane,
El Faouar and Nouil. Here there is a desert route, which is nearly non-existent,
and we had to dig our truck out three or four times before we tried to
cross a small salt lake
and had to dig again. At that point we retraced our steps. Plenty of time for digging later when we really have to.
Tomorrow we continue East to see the troglodyte villages and the fortified villages in the Desert Mountains of the South. Then Libya and the real sandy stuff!
Libya. What a place. So few visitors that all facilities are basic but also pretty clean. Crossing the border from Tunisia was a breeze, we used an agent, which was recommended, and well worth it, because ALL writing is in Arabic, no Latin writing at all. It took us 20 minutes and $250 to do so. This is normal and in fact if you do it yourself you can pay more.
We headed directly South, after getting lost
in Tripoli and aimed for a hotel that was not. We ended up camping on the
side of the road behind a police roadblock. Surprisingly the police
were drunk even though alcohol is banned in Libya. They even offered us whisky but we refused. However they did not give us any trouble at all. Scott was very ill that night too, not with anything in the stomach but with fever and shaking. It cleared up well the next day.
We spent most of our time in Libya at the Oribi lakes near Germa. These are lakes in the great sand sea. We had planned only for one day but it was so nice we stayed three. We met a group of students, who came and took over the campsite for a day and they invited us to eat and sing with them. It was actually great. They even brought their own live sheep, which was prepared right there. We have given up on the vegetarian options because itís easier to trust well-cooked meat than washed salad stuff.
Libyans are very friendly and are always asking how you are enjoying their country. There were no problems at all travelling in Libya.
Getting out of Libya and into Egypt was a real pain. We arrived at the border at 9 in the morning and finally got onto Egyptian soil at 5 in the afternoon. We had to do a 260 round trip to find a stamp we had not gotten in our passport to get out of Libya and then our car was completely emptied by the Egyptian authorities and searched. It takes four hours of constant moving things before you finally get a valid permit and cost us in the end $300. This put our plans in a mess for the day and we ended up driving at night to the nearest town to find a hotel. We found one, which was really crummy but had safe parking.
The drive to Cairo went fine. There are loads and loads of police checks but they just want to know where you are from and where you are going. But it does slow you down. We found the campsite in Egypt by going to the tourist office near the Pyramids and picking up a guide, "a brother of a friend who knows the man who owns the campsite" (this is the way in Egypt). It turns out he did and the campsite is very pretty but in a hellhole of Cairo - reminds us of scenes from Calcutta or Dehli. We are the only ones who are on any sort of overland trip and camping here.
Renee got ill during our first day in Cairo and we decamped and found a nice hotel. We have taken a break from the third world for a while while she recovers.
We are not getting good signals about travel to Sudan. We are the only people trying to do this and no one has information (not even the brother-uncle-friend - grape vine) On Friday we will head south and see what we can do. There are no boats from Suez to Port Sudan and none from Jeddah to Djibouti. It seems as if we are going to be stuck.
Hopefully our next update will be more factual.
We will try to leave Cairo on Friday and head for Aswan.
The gods have smiled upon us.
Left Cairo on the 21 May after seeing a small sample of the wonders it holds. The Sound and Light show at the Pyramids was awesome. After five days in Cairo we decided to get on the road again and headed ever South. We were told that the road along the Nile was to be avoided or even not allowed and we should head along the Red Sea. This we did and arrived at the resort town of Hurghada after seeing the Coptic (Christian monastery) at St Pauls.
Hurghada is a hotel town with loads of places to stay except camping. We found a decent place, which even had access to a beach, and we swam in the Red Sea. A divers paradise.
Next day we headed down to Port Safaga with plans to cross the desert to Qena and head to Luxor. We were surprised to be stopped at a police check point and be told we could not do this on our own but had to be part of a police convoy. Luckily there was one leaving in two minutes. This was made up of about 20 vehicles, mainly tourist buses, we were the only private car. The convoy went ALL the way to Luxor and you could only stop where it stopped, of course at places with expensive cokes.
Luxor is incredible. Apparently 33% of the WORLDS monuments are here alone, and you can believe it. We visited a very small number, these where the Luxor Temple, The Valley of the Kings, and the Karnak Temple. It was just too hot (43 degrees C) to do anything else. The Valley of the Kings holds many treasures and is a must to see. Go in the morning because there is no shade. Everything costs about 20 Egyptian pounds to see each time. We spent two nights in Luxor.
This morning we again had to join a convoy south to Aswan. We were the only ones this time and felt a little odd being preceded and followed by police car. The second half we even got our very own policeman in our car fully armed too. Very nice guy he was too.
At Aswan we went straight off to the Nile Navigation company and they told us that the ferry had left yesterday, but for cars a Swiss group had hired a barge for their car and were due to leave tomorrow. This is where the Gods must have smiled on us. We had heard of these guys in Cairo over a week ago, they had already left a week before so we thought we would not be able to join them. They have spent the last two weeks struggling to arrange this barge and have paid for it themselves. They were equally delighted for us to share the expense and join them. So tomorrow off to Sudan. We have agreed to travel through Sudan together and look forward to it.
Hopefully the rains will not have started in too much urgency in Sudan, and hopefully this barge works out and we do not need to go back to Cairo. Rick has found a few shipping companies as back up in case. Next update should be from Khartoum in a few days time.
Crossing into Sudan could not be easier! We were very lucky to have teamed up with a Swiss vehicle that had done all the prearrangements before us. It is fairly easy to do just takes time. Contact Mr Salim at the Nile River Navigation Company in Aswan (Cairo office cannot help) - this is next door to the Tourist Information. Barges can be arranged on request at a fixed price of 5800 Egyptian Pound ($1 600) regardless of the number of vehicles. We shared this between the two of us but you could fit maybe five or six cars on it. The barge took all of us as passengers too but if there are more cars we are not sure if it will just take the driver. The per person fare is an added 81 Egyptian Pounds. The regular ferry leaves every Monday from Aswan and is managed by the same guy.
The boat ride is long, slow and boring. We started Tuesday afternoon and arrived outside Wadi Halfa Friday morning. Friday being the Muslim day off we could only go into the harbour on Saturday. So four nights on the barge. It is very very hot too, so have some form of shade with you. Also take lots of drinking water. We ended up boiling bits of the Nile everyday because the Nile River Navigation Co told us 22 hours on the boat. The boat stops at night.
Getting into Sudan started with us digging the truck off the beach, there is no jetty and the we had to lift the Swiss car (a VW Kombi) and then we got stuck in a deep hole. The Sudanese officials are very very friendly and the Customs guy doubles as the local tourist agent too. The process takes a few hours but is totally painless; it doesn't cost a cent either. No carnet, no money.
The Customs\Tourist Agent is a very nice guy and is very willing to help in any situation even arranging boats going the other way. He is
Mr Midhat Mahir Ahmed
Tel + 249 251 22 222
Fax + 249 251 22 158
Fax + 249 251 22 000
These faxes are in his brotherís place of work so phoning first may be better.
Wadi Halfa is a sad place. It was covered
in the rising waters of Lake Nasser in the sixties and never recovered
its Nile beauty. We saw photos of it as a thriving bustling town before
the dam and now it is a dry dusty (very very dusty) nowhere. The people are completely opposite. They will give everything they have, even though they have very little. The most generous people we have met so far.
The Drive to Khartoum is another type of hell. Directly across the Nubian desert. It is 500km of sand. We agreed with the Swiss to travel together and this made it 500km of hard work. The road is only passable with 4x4 and the Kombi took lots of digging, pulling, pushing, and lifting. At one time we had to move it from sand ladder to sand ladder (luckily we had four) over tens of meters. The drive took two full days of 16 hours each. The reason for the rush too was to get to Khartoum within the allotted three days you have before you need to register.
Registration in Khartoum is cheap and painless; travel permits are cheap too but extract a little more pain. The major problem is the office hours of 8 to 2 each day (12 for government offices), which restricts what can be done in one day. Khartoum is quite nice. The Nile river joins here from the Blue and White Nile so it still has some good scenery. We have also left the desert behind for now so a bit of a relief. It is also very safe with hardly any hint of military presence, in fact we feel far safer here than in Cairo and far less hassled than in Tunisia. Food and lodging are fairly cheap and there are lots of good clean hotels (no hot water but the cisterns are on the roof so in reality there is no cold water)
So now we are trying to get into Ethiopia. We have come across a major obstacle; the Ethiopians will not issue us a visa to cross by land. The only option is to fly !!!!!!!! A bit hard with a Discovery as hand luggage. This was a surprise to us as we had spoken to this very embassy from our home in Spain one month ago and were told - No Problem - (This is the answer to it all by the way, so really check that it is no problem). Now we are back to investigating boats. This time from Port Sudan to Djibouti.
It seems as if we will be in Khartoum for a few more days. The next update is likely to be from here again.
Well, here we are - 6 days later and still in Khartoum! Getting into Sudan is easy but if you want to leave by land to Ethiopia that's another story. Also what we found to be a really big hassle was the application for travel permits. It requires a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and endless 'come back tomorrows'. The advice we can give on this is if you are arriving in Wadi Halfa, do your travel permit there and list every town you MAY want to visit. Doing a second application is hell. If you are not arriving in Wadi Halfa, do whatever you can to avoid having to do the application in Khartoum. A smaller centre has to make it easier to achieve. After visiting the police every day since we arrived we finally got one approval yesterday.
So where are we now? Well, we have a travel permit that lets us go all the way to Gallabat on the Ethiopian border. We also have a visa for Ethiopia (issued against an air ticket) so our plan is to visit Gallabat and see what we can do about getting into Ethiopia by land. All reports say this border is wide open so we will have to give it a go ourselves and see what we find. If this doesn't work I guess it is back to Khartoum to try other options.
We have finally met other tourists! We ran into 2 Canadians who are travelling by public transport, also doing a North to South route. They came through Wadi Halfa and met up with a German guy on a motorbike who crossed from Ethiopia into Sudan one week ago and had no problems at all. The journey by public transport sounds rough - they needed 7 days to get from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum. Also they met the same story at the Ethiopian embassy and are now investigating air tickets. Since Ethiopian Air is the only carrier to fly to Addis Ababa we are starting to believe this is simply a way to make money for the airline!
Tomorrow we leave Khartoum. Yes!!!! We head off to Wad Medina and Gedaref, spending the night there. The next day (Tuesday) we plan to head to Gallabat and see what the border situation is. After that we will see what country we are in before we decide what to do further. Holding thumbs!
One last item - to all our friends who are
sending us emails and signing our guest book. Thanks for all the good wishes,
our email time doesn't allow us to reply but we do get to read the messages
We crossed from Sudan by land and had no problems but for one thing - on the Ethiopian side, the ONLY immigration official had gone to Addis Ababa, and we had to wait for him to return. We waited FIVE days!!! Some people were there for 11 days, so we were lucky I guess.
We were stuck in a small village, Shahede, 40km from the border and were luckily able to camp in the grounds of the immigration building. So now we have a record for long border crossings, one we hope never to break.
This time Scott is the one sick in bed. Our Swiss friends who we helped through the desert have stayed on in Gondar for a day or so extra to help us out. We took him to the local hospital yesterday, where he got a course of antibiotics. The doctors see no infection, so are confident that he will be fine with this. He has diarrhoea, and was vomiting, but thatís stopped now. Last night he ate some supper, so is improving already. He had a good nights sleep and is up and about today - just taking things easy. We'll be here until Wednesday morning (17 June) before heading off again
Just to backtrack a little, we will describe the journey from Khartoum. First point - do not even think about travelling without a permit. It is well scrutinised entering AND leaving each and every region. The road from Khartoum to Gedaref is poor quality tarmac without too much traffic. Gedaref was a disaster. We arrived late and whenever Renee walked into a hotel, it suddenly became full. We had heard of this, but not experienced it before. We were forced to stay in the most expensive hotel in town.
The next morning early, we hit the road to Gallabat, 155km away. The first 70 km was muddy dirt, but not too bad. The next part was terrible! The road disappeared, and we followed tracks from one village to the next, getting directions at each one. The last 20km took over 2 hours and we had to dig and pull our Swiss friends Kombi out of the mud repeatedly. We arrived at Gallabat at 4.30 pm ready to spend the night. We had no options here - there are about 4-5 houses in town and no place to stay. We were hustled out of Sudan in about 20 minutes. In the border town on the Ethiopian side, Mabema, we picked up a police escort to take us to Shahede, 40kms away for immigration procedures. We slept in the car outside the police station. Next morning, we went to the immigration office, only to be told (as in previous update) that the immigration man was in Addis Ababa and we would have to wait for his return. After endless to-ing and fro-ing from one official to the next it was made clear to us that waiting was our only option. No one knew where he was or when he would return, but we were not allowed to leave town.
Five days later he arrived, but only after being fetched by a messenger we paid a bounty to! From that point, immigration took 5 minutes. In the end, he had been gone for 11 days. There were 7 Europeans and about 20 locals waiting for him.
Last Sunday, we drove from Shahede to Gondar, only 187kms, but a full days drive. The road was very muddy with many river crossings and steep hills, which were a strain for the Kombi. To make matters worse, Scott was feeling ill, leaving Renee to do most of the 10 hours of driving.
The first 3 days in Gondar were dedicated to nursing Scott back to health and then we finally said goodbye to our Swiss friends Felix and Alfons. We spent 2 days exploring Gondar - the Royal Palace and churches are incredible.
This weekend was spent at the Simian Mountains. Cold and sometimes wet, but breathtakingly beautiful. Tomorrow we head south to Bahir Dahr and the Blue Nile Falls.
Faxes and telephones are few and far between in Ethiopia, so we expect that only in Addis Ababa will we be able to do another update
We have arrived in Addis Ababa after many hours of driving. From Gondar we headed South to Bahir Dahr, the main attraction if which is Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls. The falls are very impressive but because there is a lot of rain at the moment the water is a very muddy brown - not what you would use for tourist brochures! On leaving Bahir Dahr we headed up to Lalibela to see the monolithic rock-hewn churches. This is really a place worth visiting, the churches are incredible. We used a guide and I would recommend that everyone do this. The guides are not only very knowledgeable, they also have a store of interesting stories and anecdotes. Most importantly however, they guarantee you entry into all the churches (there are 10). The churches are normally locked and there is a priest responsible for the keys of each church. If he is not there, the guide makes sure he is tracked down and the church opened up for you.
Lalibela is also a very sad place to visit. The rains are late this year and people from the countryside are flocking to the town in search of food. The level of abject poverty is very sad to see.
Travelling in Ethiopia has proved to be hard on our poor car, or to be more precise on our tyres. We have had three punctures so far, two of them wrecked the wheels. Travel is becoming more difficult because the rains are starting to arrive. We have been lucky so far but a fellow traveller on a bus from Bahir Dahr to Addis Ababa was stuck for quite a few hours while people were extricating trucks from the mud! This is not an experience that we really want to share so we plan to head South to Kenya from here. Every day that we have been in Addis we have had 2-3 hours of really hard rain, time to find sunnier climes!
As far as our hopes of meeting other travellers, we have been singularly unlucky. To date, the only foreign vehicles we have seen have been the ones we were stuck in Shahede with. The only other travellers have been limited to a mere handful, one in Bahir Dahr (and again in Addis Ababa) and 3 or 4 here in Addis, none travelling overland. It is sad to see how severely the war is affecting the tourist industry in Ethiopia. We must say however that apart from seeing buses of soldiers heading up North we have seen no evidence of the war and so far Ethiopia is the country with the lowest police and military presence - one example being that since leaving the border, we have not passed through one single roadblock.
We arrived in Addis Ababa on Saturday afternoon, a few minutes before the daily downpour began. Yesterday, Sunday, we were not able to do too much so we visited the National museum, particularly to see the bones of 'Lucy' and spent the afternoon brushing up on our Spanish with two visitors from Barcelona.
Today Scott spent time on the car, we bought two new tyres, and apart from that the car has done well. Problems that have occurred have either been solved or not too disastrous : in Sudan we bent the rear stabilizer bar, it is very exposed and it is one thing I would strengthen before such a trip again, this has had no affect on us though because average speeds have been 30km/h. On the road to Lalibela the power steering reservoir broke loose, it is held on by only a single nut so I would also suggest strengthening this, and we had it welded back on.
Last day in Addis Ababa. We visited the Mercado, the largest market in all of Africa it is claimed and we can well believe it. We did have someone to show us around, which is highly recommended because it is quite a maze and also pretty dangerous.
We decided to splash out for lunch due to it being Scott's birthday tomorrow, (36 poor old fogy), and we went to Castelli's near the hotel. Rather upmarket and costing around 10 to 15 dollars per head which is very expensive for Ethiopia. Unfortunately Renee must have had something bad for breakfast because she did not feel to good. Anyway we recommend the hotel. Renee is feeling 100% now so it was a short-term thing.
That is one thing about this type of travel, you move from place to place quickly and never get used to the food. Eventually you get ill. Every other traveller we have met, few though they have been, have been ill for part of their journey.
So we have been in Ethiopia for nearly three weeks, though being stuck at the border for five days buggered up some plans. Due to the heavy rains we will now head to Kenya, going off main roads is now very hard in Ethiopia, and pass directly to Uganda without going to Nairobi, so we may only update when we get there. We will leave Addis Ababa on Wednesday morning and hope to get to the border in two days.
It has been a while since the last update
but we have been pretty busy in that time. After leaving Addis Ababa our
plan was pretty much to head straight down South to Kenya but with one
thing and another it all took a little longer than expected. Firstly we
hit a town called Awasa on the Rift Valley lake of the same name. It was
such a nice place we stayed for two
days! It was just in a beautiful setting right on the lake where we could sit on a bench watching fish eagles and kingfishers. Really a recommended stopover.
We headed South from Awasa hoping to reach the border that day but unfortunately we ended up being involved in a minor accident. We are all OK, what happened was that an old man walked directly into the car on the side. Fortunately we were going very slowly so the damage was not too serious. We rushed him to the local hospital, only about 200m away and they patched up his injured foot. That part took no time but of course we had to call in the police and settle with the family. Guilt is not an issue here, the driver is always culpable and we were expected to may the hospital bill (about 8 USD) as well as a fee to the family to make it all right. The police monitored all this so I assume it is how things are always done. It took us almost all day to get out of there though so if no one has said it before, be careful out there. If the damage had been serious we would probably still be there trying to sort it out. Needless to say we were a little shaken by the whole thing, especially Scott who was driving at the time.
We then spent the night in a little town called Yabello before heading off to Moyale and the Kenyan border. We got there pretty early in the day but decided to cross over anyway. Everyone recommends staying on the Ethiopian side as there are more options than on the Kenyan side but the border only opens at 8am and there is a convoy leaving every day at 9am. With our previous experience of border crossings we decided not to take a chance! We first wanted to fill up with diesel but found that this was only possible after 12noon. No electricity to run the pump before noon! We waited till noon, duly filled up then found out that the Ethiopian immigration officials were on lunch until 3pm! Echoes of our arrival!!!
Anyway, the officials arrived at 2:30pm an wonder of wonders, all formalities on both sides were completed within an hour. After our previous experiences this was truly miraculous. We camped on the Kenyan side in the wildlife services grounds and were ready for the convoy the next morning.
Now this whole convoy is a little strange. There are apparently bandits in the area so a police convoy is provided for security. However, the trucks kind of left whenever they felt the urge and the convoy quickly deteriorated into nothing. We drove the first 80km with a soldier in the back but I am still not sure if it constituted official protection or if we were simply giving him a lift! We spent the first night in Kenya camping in Marsabit and the next day drove down to Isiolo, along with a motor biker (on an Indian made Enfield) that we met in Marsabit. If you think going through Sudan is tough, this guy came through Yemen!
This was a terrible stretch of road - Moyale to Isiolo. We were warned that it was hell and that was no exaggeration. I am very pleased that we did not hit it when it was wet, there were some stretches of dried mud that would have been impassable in the wet.
Once in Isiolo things changed totally - from
there you can ride on tar all the way to Cape Town, a very appealing option!
We spent two nights in Isiolo, camping at a place called Range Land. It
was really great and once we reached that point everything suddenly started
looking easy. Since there every town we have been in offers more and more
options in terms of food and other products, there are plenty of camping
opportunities and there are OK
tar roads. We finally feel as if we are on holiday!
After Isiolo we drove down to a place called Thompson's Falls and finally crossed the equator! This is a significant milestone so it felt very good to actually reach that point. We went North again pretty quickly but at least we are now truly in the middle of the journey. We then spent a night at lake Boringo but moved out of Kenya pretty quickly. There were matatu (local bus/taxi) strikes on and they were threatening to keep ALL vehicles even private cars off the roads. We did not hit any trouble but saw plenty of rocks that had been used to block roads and also kept running into other tourists who had no cars and were basically stuck. We gave a few people lifts but felt that when the aim of the strike changed to forcing the President to resign that we were better off out of there. So we left Kenya and headed to Uganda.
After another very painless border crossing - this time we had to buy visas so it was not free but still quick and easy, we were in Uganda. For the first time at a border we kept running into people who wanted to "help" us and show us the way to the customs office or immigration office etc. They also all expected to be paid for their services so we seemed to spend a lot of time fending off willing helpers. This was a first for us but apparently will happen all the time from now on!
We drove to Jinja and spent two nights camping there. The campsite is in a beautiful setting, probably the best yet, overlooking the Nile river. We also spent a day on the river, doing some white water rafting. What fun, and highly recommended too.
Uganda is wonderful, there are many, many foreigners here and a lot of them are South African. We met a whole group at the Jinja campsite so were treated to the delights of braais and potjiekos (South African cooking for those of you who don't know!). We were also offered accommodation so are now staying with a great couple in a small flat let under their house. We are enjoying the luxuries of daily hot showers and automatic washing machines! This is why we think Uganda is so nice of course, we are even carrying around a mobile phone and can get calls from home - life is good!
We are not sure of our plans from here. We want to take a ferry to Tanzania but this only leaves once a week, on Mondays. Today is already Tuesday so it really will leave us with very little time here in Uganda if we take next week's boat. We may stay here for two more weeks, go gorilla trekking, up to Murchison falls and do chimp trekking as well. If we do this, it looks like climbing Kilimanjaro may not happen. At 250USD for a permit, gorilla trekking is not cheap! Money aside, we seem to be running out of time to do and see all we want to. Anyway we are speaking to someone this afternoon about the options and decide what to do after that. Either way we will be sending at least one more update from Kampala. The internet cafe we have found is great - fastest access we have had yet! Cyber World Cafe on Kampala road - remember the name!
So, that is it for today, at the moment Scott is at a garage giving our car a check up. The mechanic seems to think that everything is going very well and we are really just doing some general checking and tightening up. The last stretch of dirt in the North of Kenya was like riding on a corrugated iron roof, I am amazed that the whole car did not vibrate apart! So that is all for today, expect another update, probably from Kampala, before we leave on the boat.
We have had a great time touring Uganda. Our first stop was Murchison Falls, which is in the North of the country. It was really an excellent place to stay - we camped at the top of the falls and were the only people at the site. The place was very, very noisy - what else can you expect at the top of a waterfall but it was very nice, particularly our own little family of three hippos that we shared the site with. We also did a boat trip on the river which was excellent for seeing birds, hippos and lots of other animals. The only problem was the Tsetse fly - there are lots. One point is the price - it costs 15USD per person per day to enter parks in Uganda which and added to the 30USD we had to pay for the car in Murchison falls, our little trip there cost over 100USD! The expense is taking in a foreign registered vehicle. Ugandan vehicles cost a minimal sum to take into parks.
We are seeing so many birds on this trip that we even went ahead and bought our first bird book to help us out with the identification!
Next stop was the Kibale Forest National Park. We drove down along Lake Albert to the park. We camped at a community campsite right on a crater lake opposite the famous and crowded CVK camp, and it was in a wonderful location. Follow signs from Park headquarters to get there and don't be put off by the small, rough track!
We did chimp tracking in the forest and did manage to see chimps - two to be exact, a mother and baby. They were in a tree, which was very, very tall so were quite a way away from us but it was still a good experience, and worth doing. The walk in the forest was great, we heard many, many birds (not seeing them all) and saw heaps of butterflies.
After that we visited Fort Portal which is a really pretty little town nestling in hills covered with tea plantations and with stunning views of the Ruwenzori Mountains. All written info says that the Ruwenzori National Park is still closed to tourists but apparently it is open until the tree line so it is possible to do day walks in the area if you wish. We stayed in a great lodge - Ruwenzori View lodge and we recommend it highly - not only for its hot showers and excellent food but also for the friendly hosts. The campsite in Fort Portal, which is well advertised locally, is pretty terrible.
Our next stop was down to Mgahinga National park - a long day's drive. We were intending to track gorillas down there (it is cheaper than Bwindi) but two overland trucks pulled up the day before us and booked out a solid 5 days of tracking. This is of course the chance you take if you don't book and we were unlucky - the week before they had had no visitors.
The trip to Mgahinga was definitely not a waste of time. We saw stunning views of the volcanoes (part of the Virunga chain), had a great time at the community campsite, were entertained with songs and dancing by local children and even watched a traditional blacksmith at work.
We have mentioned Community Campsites before in this update and will do so again, just a brief note about them. These are campsites that aim to allow the community to benefit directly from tourism in a given region. The guys running the campsites are all incredibly enthusiastic and all receive training on issues such as community development, eco-tourism, birding etc. Support them!! This is how you get to see Ugandan schoolboys singing traditional songs and old blacksmiths forging knives by hand.
Back to the gorillas. Everyone, from Park rangers to a tour operator (Volcanoes) was very helpful and radioed through to various people to confirm for us that we could track at Bwindi the next day so off we rushed leaving after lunch - another long days driving, only 150km but 5 hours on bad, very dusty roads!
Now for the highlight of the trip - Gorilla
tracking! Firstly, it was a very long walk in the forest, over three hours
to find the gorillas but when we did find them, Wow! We had excellent viewing,
with gorillas of all ages and sizes approaching us, wait for the photos!
You are only allowed one hour with the gorillas but what an hour it was,
I would recommend it to
anyone despite the high price (250USD pp). At Bwindi we also stayed at the community campsite and were once again welcomed with the friendliness and helpfulness we have only experienced here in Uganda. As you arrive somewhere, somebody walks out to greet you saying 'Hello, my name is ..., you are welcome'. Now that's what I call a good way to arrive.
So here we are back in Kampala. This morning we went off to arrange and book the ferry to Mwanza in Tanzania. It leaves Monday at 4pm (every Monday) and costs 35USD pp (this is for first class) and 80USD for the car, a very good price for a boat ride of about 18 hours.
We'll spend the next few days in Kampala preparing and stocking up for the next stage of the journey South of the equator!
Here we are in wonderful Zanzibar enjoying the white sands and blue seas. But first, more about how we got here...
The ferry across Lake Victoria was an interesting experience to say the least. Contrary to our expectations it is NOT a roll-on roll-off ferry. They do take cars but these have to be lifted on board by a small crane and wheel clamps! It does not look very safe or stable and we had a few nervous moments watching our car suspended above the bay but at the end all went well and we arrived in Tanzania without incident but 4 hours late.
Here we did the obligatory Serengeti/Ngorogoro route. It was really great. Without going into too many details, the parks in Tanzania are really expensive but we did get to see all the main animals except for leopard. We saw lion about 5 or 6 times, heaps of buffalo, wildebeest and zebra. We camped two nights in the Serengeti and 1 night just outside Ngorogoro at Safari Junction camp. Camping in the Parks costs 20 USD pp while safari junction was only 5USD plus it had hot showers so there was no contest.
From there we drove on to Arusha and had an unplanned stop due to strange noises emanating from the region of the front wheel. We went to the much-touted Masaai camp but it was packed - at least 6 huge overland trucks, lots of people and loud music that we beat a hasty retreat. We stayed at Klub Afriko in the grounds of an unoccupied house with access to the bathroom. Once again we were alone. We had a look at the car and found nothing, more about that later.
Next day we drove down to Dar and camped at Mikato Beach resort. This place is new and run by a friendly couple of Australians. They have allowed us to leave the car there while we are visiting Zanzibar. Before leaving for the island we took another look at the car and found that tightening the stabiliser arm solved the problem. Relief all round!
We have been here on Zanzibar for 2 days and leave later this afternoon. It is a wonderful place with a great atmosphere. We have spent ages just wandering around Stone Town and have also done the obligatory Spice Tour, which was actually very interesting. We splashed out and stayed in the Tembo Hotel right on the beach - complete with swimming pool and 4-poster bed! It is a renovated old house and reminds us a lot of the Parador hotels in Spain.
Tomorrow we head further south - Malawi and
Zambia. Hopefully we can do our next update from Malawi.
A very busy week of driving. We left Dar Es Salaam with the intention of doing some distance and we have done just that. We spent the last ten days on the road with only a two-day break at Victoria Falls.
The road out of Dar is not too bad, the first 60km are potholed but they are resurfacing the road and in a few months time it will all be good. We stopped in Iringa for the night at a place simply called "the farm". It is well sign posted 50km south of Iringa, and is really good because they separate the big trucks from the independent travellers. We met a group of South Africans here who had been up to Ethiopia and had hoped to go to Sudan but were not able to get Visas - This confirms our theory that you must get the visa before even leaving home. They had had a weird experience in Awasa (Ethiopia) by being in the middle of a battle between police and bandits with AK-47 shots going over their heads. I really liked that place too. It just goes to show you never can be sure of the situation in some countries. Luckily they all got out unharmed.
We had a long days drive to Malawi and had to wait while the customs officials had a meeting. Fortunately it was not too long a meeting and we soon were on our way. We tried to get fuel in Karongo but they had none and had actually run out 3 days before. A bit of a problem because the next fuel station was 250km away at Mzuzu and we only had enough for 150km. We had met an overland truck driver in Dar es Salaam who kindly gave us 10 litres and then in a small town along the lake we bought a jerry can full from a tout on the side of the road. This gave us enough fuel to get down to Mzuzu the next day.
We only stayed one night in Malawi at Chitimba Beach Resort, called Des's Place in all the guidebooks. Des has not been there for nearly two years and is now run by Gisa and two partners. Not too bad a place but if busy then the two toilets and bucket showers get queues for use, it is directly on the over Landers route and there were three trucks there that night. We had heard that they have security hassles too with tents being slashed and stuff stolen but we did not have any hassles.
We were planning to spend the next night in Lilongwe but arrived at 3:30 so decided to push for Zambia. We crossed the border with no hassles and even braved the "money changers" by buying Zambian Kwacha. They are notorious thieves and need to be watched, they tried to pass 1000 bills off as 5000 to us but we had been forewarned and did not hand over any cash until we had the right amount. We camped at the wildlife services camp in Chipata, which has great showers with electric geysers, the first we had seen for a while. Camping does not seem to be a problem in Zambia as we had passed two others from the border to Chipata and passed many more in the country that were not mentioned in guide books or on maps.
Lusaka turned out to be a nice surprise. We arrived Sunday afternoon and camped at Eureka campsite about 10km South. Lusaka seems a nice place with loads of good shops and supermarkets. We did not cook but headed back into town for excellent chicken burgers and ice creams. You can buy steaks at the campsite if you want. The road to Lusaka has a 100km stretch of bad potholes, this is about 200km before reaching Lusaka. The rest is pretty good.
The drive the next day was to Victoria Falls. We had none of the hassles at road blocks that everyone talks about in Zambia, only one person asked to see our third party insurance and no one did a road worthy check on the truck.
At Victoria Falls we checked out the Zambian side before crossing into Zimbabwe. This side only cost $3 per person to see as opposed to the Zimbabwe side, which costs $20. Though to be honest the views from the Zimbabwe side are better because you can walk along more of the falls. We camped at the municipal caravan park, which is right on the river and has good facilities. It is actually in the game reserve which provided us with some very close up views of an elephant which came to investigate our car and of course the ever present baboons, warthogs and monkeys.
We did not do any of the "adrenalin" stuff at the falls like rafting ($95 pp), Bungi jumping ($95 pp) etc but decided to take a flight over the falls. This was fantastic and must be the bargain of the falls at $70 per person for a 40-minute flight. They take you in a six seater plane and circle the falls a few times and then head along the Zambezi to the swamps looking for animals. It was really very good because, besides the spectacular views of the falls, you got to see the Zambezi both sides of the falls, to appreciate the difference between the canyons and flat lands, and also see loads of elephant and game from above. This we recommend to everyone to do.
We spent two nights at the falls and met some other travellers, Debbie and Gavin, who had been travelling Southern Africa. Had a nice time and a relaxing day off driving. We headed for Maun the next day but again reached it early so pushed on to Ghanzi. We camped at the Kalahari Arms hotel but there are many other options, which I would recommend above it. There is nothing wrong but it is a very small camping area - two tents and a small caravan and it was full. We left at a leisurely pace the next day and got into Windhoek at about 2:30.
We used our Carnet to enter Botswana and were told upon leaving that they could not stamp the export foil. It appears that Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland form a Common Customs Area and they only stamp it on the way in and out regardless of which countries you pass. I did check in the customs regulations and found this to be true. Hopefully the South Africans agree.
In Windhoek we are staying at Renee's cousins place so are being well looked after. Again we get to use a real washing machine, shower when we like and sleep in a real bed. We are spending three days here and then heading to her uncles farm in the Namib desert. The end is in sight, we are not yet sure how to feel about that but relief is one emotion, a bit sad too.
Hopefully we will do our next update from Cape Town.