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Thread: The Epic Delivery - Johannesburg to London in 39 days. 4 GS's. 4 Pizzas.

  1. #33
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    The North East
    Truly "Epic"!

  2. #34
    Ghoa Tsion to Bahir Dar, Western Ethiopia

    Friday, 14th September 2007

    'You mother f...!!!' The thick Italian accent crackled over the bike to bike radio giving Luigi's feelings away. The object of the 'Godfather's' affections was an Ethiopian boy still dancing and taunting in our rear view mirrors. We had just been introduced to the main form of entertainment for young people in the northern Ethiopian highlands. Throwing rocks at foreigners. Over the next 2 days we were all introduced to this sport as stones sticks and other nasties were tossed mischievously or just plan maliciously at us or into our paths. Why, we could not tell you. To be fair, less than 10 % of the millions of people thronging the roadside through the whole of the Ethiopian highlands looked like they might bear some malice towards us, the balance were the happy cheerful waving sort that we had become used to so far on our journey. But dodging missiles hurled form the roadside became a very real feature of our ride to the Sudanese border.

    The green, green of Ethiopia was definitely starting to take its toll on us. As much as the verdant countryside lifted our spirits on first entering it, the constant rain and damp were weighing on our minds now. Mud and slippery pot holed tar, misted up helmet visors and the constant on and off of rain suits as we crossed form rain storm to sweltering humidity and back to rain again.

    The fertility of the land was contrasted by the squirming poverty of the villages we passed. Every inch of the highlands is being tilled and worked to produce some form of crop but we did not see a single mechanical device in our entire journey through this countryside and not a single dwelling outside a village that had progressed beyond mud hut status.

    We had all slept fitfully in the ‘Blue Nile Hotel’, partly due to the state of our accommodation and partly due to the anticipation of starting the morning off on the sheer Goha Tsiyon pass at first light the next morning.Our trepidation was not unfounded, we entered the pass with gusto the next morning to have our breath knocked from us by the shocking beauty of the escarpment plunging away from an altitude of 3000 meters, a sheer 2000 meters to the valley floor and the Blue Nile River far, far below. The track surface was rocky with gravel and patches of mud that required intense concentration to navigate the heavy bikes around and through without plunging off the side and into the abyss. With the rising sun throwing everything into a gentle orange relief, each of us made our way 20 km down to the bridge crossing the Blue Nile which was pregnant with flood waters. And now up again, back on to the plateau. This massive valley had been gouged out of the highlands by the Blue Nile over millions of years as it collected the constant rain of the Ethiopian highlands and sent this gushing down to joint the White Nile at Khartoum, in the Sudan.

    The road wasted no time in gaining altitude again, straight up from the river, it made a push for the head of the escarpment that was wrapped in cloud above us. By 2000 meters we were seeing more and more mud until we rounded a twist in the track to find a queue of trucks stationary and stretching for a few hundred meters up the road. I suspect that there was a groan in each of us at this sight. “What now?” We navigated carefully past the stranded trucks up to the source of the problem to be greeted by muddy chaos. A bus, a truck and a four wheel drive all grounded up to their axles in a muddy porridge with vehicles queued up on either side trying to get through. This scene must have been like this for a day or so judging by the build up of traffic on either side.

    After a brief reconnoiter, it was clear that we had two bad options to try getting through this mess onwards to our last Ethiopian destination, the town of Bahir Dir. We could try and squeeze our steeds between the stranded bus and truck in the middle of the road or we could try and navigate over the drainage ditch to the left of the carnage and over the piles of rocks that were being packed by willing truck drivers and bus passengers in an attempt to create an escape route.

    One try at getting my bike through the first option ended in failure as the wide cylinder heads of the boxer engine would not fit through the gap provided. The last option did not look like a great one, thankfully another option was added as one truck broke through the mess and managed to free the stranded four wheel drive, opening a shallow stream of water that was exposing a rocky bottom along the side of the road. If we could get our bikes across the mud and into the stream we could make a run up the side of the chaos and break back into the road further up and beyond the jam. This had to be it, we wasted no time in tying a tow rope to the front fork of one of the bikes and plunging across the mud and into the stream with one person pulling, two pushing and Carlo paddling his feet like a Jesus lizard, we tortured the bike through a blue haze of clutch smoke up the stream over the rocks and back across the mud onto the road. Excellent, three more bikes to go and we were home free without any falls. At almost 3000 meters high and in the 100% humidity, this exertion had taken its toll on us and we mounted our bikes again with wobbly knees and wet to the outside of our riding jackets with sweat from the effort.

    15 km more, the climb ended and we were back on tar and making good progress towards Bahir Dir. A brief scare at our first petrol stop as I searched frantically for the collective purse to pay the petrol attendant. A few heart stopping moments later, it turned out that Curt had picked it up from where it had fallen from my pocket the previous evening and stuffed it in his tank bag before forgetting about it.

    Onwards to Bahir Dar on Lake Tana with its island monasteries. We arrived at the run down but beautifully situated Ghion hotel on the shores of Lake Tana with some light to spare and made short work of booking in and ordering up two masseurs that were on offer at the reception counter. The ladies appeared shortly and after making sure that there was no expectation of this finishing in a happy ending, Curt and I treated ourselves to one of the best and most well deserved full body massages that we have ever experienced.

    The massages worked their magic and for an hour we forgot about the 800 km that remained between us and Khartoum tomorrow.

    The Sudanese border crossing awaited us and we had read many reports of the crushing paper work that lay ahead of us. Let’s hope that our luck continues. We are going to need it to make the kilometers tomorrow.

    Watch the video of the Goha Tsion pass:

  3. #35
    Bahir Dar, Ethiopia to Gedaref, Eastern Sudan
    Saturday 15th September

    Captains Log – Star date Uncertain, we have been drifting through this green star system for what seems like an eternity, we have still found no sign of intelligent life and it is requiring more and more effort to navigate around the bewildering number of life forms that we are finding in our path. Driving through Ethiopia, is like porting back a thousand years, except of course for the power lines following the passage of the road and the odd pair of Nikes on local feet and the smattering of AK47’s visible along the route; and the throwing of stones from the side of the road which I am sure would not have been tolerated in those times; and the maniac taxi buses that hurtle past us in both directions, and …. OK, so Ethiopia is nothing like being ported back 1000 years but I can guarantee that it is nothing like anything else that you have experienced or are likely to experience.
    Ethiopia is a curious looking mix of tropical Asian, South American and African landscapes. It is a meeting point where the peoples of the North and the peoples of the South and the peoples of the West and East all mix together in a swirling and colourful whirlpool of racial types, ethnic dress and religious beliefs and mother tongues.
    The ever present contrast of the obscene fertility of the fields we were passing, with the most basic living conditions of the thronging multitude of mostly bare foot Ethiopians no longer surprised us. The ever present damp was starting to eat into our squidgy bits and we were longing to feel the dry sandy heat of the desert again.
    So towards the desert we would go and hopefully today. An early start from Bahir Dir, and we tiptoed our way out of the city in the dark. We knew that today the chips were down. We had 1 full day left before we needed to have our bikes loaded on the Khartoum train and Khartoum was over 800 km to the West and North of us but held the promise of escape from this suffocating damp and psychotically cheerful green landscape.

    A couple of hours under our belts and a fantastic tarred mountain pass which took us plunging down and back up again through some exhilarating twists and turns. A tricky clay mud slide across the road claimed one victim as Luigi slipped on a slippery section and went into a slow motion slide across the road. A big fright for all concerned but little damage to the bike and only a bump to Luigi’s pride. This almost turned into tragedy as a mini-bus taxi rounded a corner and slid wildly across the road with its breaks in full lock. Four jangled bikers scattered out of the way, saying hasty Hail Marys, to thankfully see the vehicle slide past the downed bike by a few inches.
    Back up and onwards, mercifully the land started to drop away and the rain clouds receded and it was time to turn West and off the tar towards the Matema border post and the Sudan.
    180 km of good dirt road later, we had dropped 1000 m into wilderness again and had made great progress. It looked like we might actually pull this off. We made the Matema border post by lunch and got stuck into the border formalities. Luigi and I assumed responsibility for the foreign desk on this crossing and dived into our first challenge with gusto. We had passed the customs office earlier and been waived on. Like all good customs offices, this office was about 30 km before the border post. Imagine the genius that this set up required. The uniformed official manning the office had adamantly waived us on, miming that the customs officials at the immigration office up ahead would have stamps for our Carnet’s.
    Trustingly, we had carried on towards the border only to have the ancient ‘customs official’ look at us blankly when we displayed our Carnet’s. After some back and forth and some masterful bonding from Luigi’s side, we managed to talk the old man down from sending us the 30 km back to go and argue with the previous guy. With some assistance from a young ‘facilitator’ that appeared with a welcome command of English we managed to progress towards rummaging in the old man’s desk for a stamp that might approximate a carnet stamp and we were away. Who knows what the Amahric stamp actually read but it was enough to complete the carnet process and we were free from Customs and onto Immigration in a sadly leaning hut on the other side of the dirt track. Here we sat squatting in the heat while a young man behind a desk took each passport and checked the passport number against an old hand written ledger of passport numbers that we assume had been blocked from crossing Ethiopian borders. This excruciating process was only slightly relieved by the polite interrogation that we received from his partner in crime who gently grilled us about our origins and activity on the trip so far. No malice intended, we moved on with success in our sights and finally broke free of wonderful Ethiopia into the tender embrace of the Sudan.

    With luck on our side, there was a good chance that we could slip through this side of the border and get through to the beckoning tar road on the other side and on towards to Khartoum with time to spare. Having fathomed what the process was here, Immigration, register as an alien, then Customs, then register with security. Immigration was swift, although, paying the $70 each to register as an Alien was scandalously painful and we moved onto customs. Only blank stares from the uniformed gentlemen behind their fraying desks in the ram shackle building passing for a customs office. After some urgent miming and some broken English, it became clear that the only person that knew how to deal with Carnets was the ‘General’ and he unfortunately was not available due to him needing to take some urgent rest elsewhere. Lucky for us, there was a good chance that he would reappear at about 16H30, 3 hours from now. And so any chance of us making further progress in the light was dashed – Africa has a funny way of letting you build up your hopes and then smacking you back down again just to show you who is in charge. So wait we did, squatting around the customs office like we were part of the furniture.
    16H30 and no sign of the ‘General’, after some commotion on our part, a local gentleman was roused and dispatched on a motorbike to see if he could locate the ‘General’. Thankfully for us, the ‘General’ appeared shortly, if rather grumpily and huffed and puffed his way into his office, slamming doors and muttering under his breath. We introduced ourselves as cheerfully as we could, given the circumstances and were told to sit down as he was ‘not fine, not fine at all…’. We sat in glum silence watching him shuffle papers around his desk, apparently aimlessly. His mood lightened substantially as we managed finally to break the ice with what was becoming our standard trick. Getting him to guess Luigi’s age, everybody so far has been amazed that Luigi is 64 years old given that anybody local, even near that age looks like Methuselah, gnarled and withered by the elements. This speeded things up marginally and after 2 hours of mind numbing paper work, including the serial numbers of all of our electronic equipment, we were free to press on into the now swiftly impending darkness. Our now, old friend, the ‘General’ waived us a toothy good bye, we never figured out exactly what his authoity was, but he certainly seemed to carry some clout and we were not about to test it.

    If we were to stand any chance of making Khartoum in time, we had no choice to but to break our golden rule of ‘never ride in darkness in Africa’. So ride we did, to make matters worse we were heading into more bandit country along the Sudanese side of the Ethiopian border and in the worsening light, we could see that the landscape was wilderness to the horizon on either side.

    A few hours later, the town of Gedarif could not have come soner, we stumbled into the chaos amidst hooting tuk tuks and white robed Muslims all now seeking respite from the day’s Ramadan fast.
    We found shelter at a reasonable quality (given our now very low standards) but crazily expensive hotel and we had achieved our first foothold in the Sudan.
    Khartoum lay within our reach, we would need to start our ride in darkness tomorrow and ride like the wind to make the loading time on our train by 14H00. We were feeling confident that we could do it, the next day would tell.

  4. #36
    We should have brought it the big guns for our Metema border crossing... if only we had known:evil

    We actually got tired of the rolling green hills of Ethiopia... until we got into the Sudan. This is the last of the fantastic but unnamed mountain pass in north western Ethiopia. Like the previous Ghoa Tsion pass... just tarred

    Arriving late at night in Gedaref after our wonderfull customs experiance in Sudan we simply dived into the first hotel we could find. Empty, expensive, and ok.

  5. #37
    Gederef to Khartoum
    Sunday 16th September

    Gedaref to Khartoum
    Sunday 16th September 2007

    “Carlott, are you sure we’re in the right city” is the just of what crackled over the autocomm two-way radio unit as we entered Khartoum. We found ourselves in a city with 4 lane highways, branded eating outlets, new hotels and a skyline pockmarked by construction cranes – always a sign of something happening in a city. As we entered form the South, having done an early morning dash of 420kms from Gederaf, we witnessed brand new hotels, a shopping mall, a tarred ring road, and Curt’s biggest signpost of civilization; paved walkways!

    Unsure of our actual destination we headed for one of the few hotels that are pre-loaded in the Garmin unit. Using the now tried and tested navigation method of ever-decreasing-concentric-circles we eventually navigated our way through the now-expected traffic of a central African capital city – constant hooting and attacking each lane change with a hail-mary that the other guy has moderately functional brakes.

    The Le-Meridian hotel had been re-named since Garmin update their database but it turned out that the hotel we did check into was indeed the Le-Meridian. This little piece of luck was to prove to be one of our last for some time.

    From Khartoum there are two routes (well probably three if you include teleporting yourself) to get to Wadi Halfa, the gateway from Sudan into Egypt. One route heads east from Khartoum and follows the Nile from Dongola all the way to Wadi Halfa. This is the most often traveled route. The second heads north from Khartoum on a tar road to Atbarra and then hits the sand of the Nubian desert for about 600kms. This road is really just the sand next to the train track that departs weekly from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa.

    We had heard reports that the road along the Nile had been flooded but this was not something we had verified for certain. Of more importance to us howevere was that we had lost a day with our shock absorber problems and doing either route would take 3 days, whereas the train is scheduled to take two days. We had heard reports of the this train and none were complimentary, but since the ferry from Wadi Halfa only leaves once a week – a delay would result in us having to wait in Wadi Halfa for a week and thereby a failed trip in terms of the 39 days arrival date in London. So the train it was…

    This decision set in motion a chain of events that will stay with us for all time I believe.

  6. #38
    "I'd rather ride than try and tie the bikes down in this" was Curts general feeling. As it turns out he was right - for the wrong reason however.

    We eventually convinced Curt that riding alone was not really an option...

    They have this idea that the bikes need be drained of petrol before being loaded on the train. So these guys end up drinking more petrol than they siffon, petrol puddles on the floor and, in the end leave enough petrol in for us to ride at least 100kms.... AWA - Africa Wins Again. With temparatures exceeding 60 degrees celcius in this window-and -airless carriage and the train track littered with burnt our carriages we accede to local knowlegde however.

    With no actual tie down points, strapping the bike was an excercise in creativity. It was also hot... very hot. We paid 60USD for the boxes and tyres that you see the bikes jammed against.

  7. #39
    Next... the actual train ride.

    This is a video clip that Curt edited together. The ride report from my perspective follows.


  8. #40
    Wadi Halfa, Sudan (Update)

    Thursday, 20th September 2007

    Khartoum to Wadi Halfa. By train and hope. 920kms

    There's a Spanish train that runs between
    Guadalquivir and old Saville,
    And at dead of night the whistle blows,
    and people hear she's running still...

    The story goes that the train runs forever and that its passengers are the souls of the dead; with the devil and the Lord playing poker to decide who gets all the souls. Although the story comes from a Chris De Burgh song titled Spanish Train, the train trip from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa felt as if the lyrics had been written while on this train.

    The train itself must have been an object of desire 45 years ago; when the fold out tables in each first class cabin supported bone china tea cups filled with Ceylon’s finest; while passengers watched the Nubian desert flash by, their faces gently washed by in-cabin fans and the regular offer of ice-cold face cloths laced with lime. And, of course, there would have been the food, prepared no doubt in accordance with the most stringent of British customs and practices. The cabins would be cleaned at each stop and the seats replaced at the first sign of non-optimum lumbar support. The latrines too would have been the focus of regular, mandatory maintenance and cleaning.

    That was 45 years ago.

    As our watch nudged past 2:30am, 17 hours after departure, the sandman fought a desperately losing battle with the train that was using all its tricks of the trade, learned after many years to keep us from mush needed rest. It was during this time that I could not stop my mind from reciting the opening refrain from Spanish Train. As my mind edged in and out of sleep, my thoughts were filled with being a passenger on a train of damned souls, heading into the forever with no chance of escape.

    The giant grey beast bucked and rolled on suspension last replaced after the last world war. The heat seemed to intensify and close in at night, seemingly insulated by the blackness around us. Our fridge thermometer confirmed thirty six degrees Celsius. At 2am. The monotone chugging of the wheels and cogs and pistons of the ancient train did nothing to alleviate the feeling of desperation that seemed to engulf us as we lay in contorted positions in a futile attempt to get much needed rest. Like a bad dream we were hoping that if we slept we would wake up to find that it was in fact just a dream and that reality was somehow different. An attempt to get up and seek refuge in the great grey hulk was greeted by the sight of bodies clad in white robes, lit by the intermittent flicking of faulty neon tubes, scattered anywhere that would support the weight of a human body. One distinctly got the feeling that it did not matter if they were alive or not. The souls of the dead came to mind once again.

    An attempt to navigate past the hordes of motionless white robed objects turned into a game of seemingly live and death hopscotch as the train used every trick to dislodge your footing and send you into the darkness. Over the bodies. In the dark.Sweat running down your face and dripping onto those under your feet. You arrive at your destination. Your body can longer harbour the vast quantities you have consumed during the forty degree sunlight hours and you arrive at a door with a small, intact, sign marked “WC”. The door is slightly ajar and bangs closed in tune with the train. Every second beat of the train is one beat of the door against its old metallic frame. It is as if the train and the room behind that door are in collusion. Despite the room not being lit, one can faintly make out the train tracks rushing by through the hole in the floor that is the toilet. The smell would indicate that despite this free flow system straight onto the train tracks that the motion of the train once again wins and that the floor is tainted with human waste. The same waste that is carried through the train by the bare feet that walk the corridors between cabins and toilet. The same corridors that are now occupied by those motionless figures.

    Well that Spanish train still runs between,
    Guadalquivir and old Saville,
    And at dead of night the whistle blows,
    And people fear she's running still...
    And far away in some recess
    The Lord and the Devil are now playing chess…

    Sunrise brought much needed hope. And victory. It felt as if we had defied the chess game where the stakes were the souls of the dead. Our first class cabin started to look better. The fold out table was long since retired, the only remaining evidence of its existence being the steel supporting arm. The seats backs are held in place by nails that allow for easy removal at night so as to provide some reprise from the hard, waste strewn floors where people feign sleep. We use our blow up mattresses to cushion the aged suspension. The over-door fan, exquisitely made and still in good nick, has not turned in many years, yet has a switch – only for hope one can assume. The window does indeed close, but like all things on this train, it is a trade-off. Live with the dust the locomotive kicks up as it relentlessly pushes its way through the Nubian Desert, or live with the ever-increasing temperature that mounts when you close the window for even ten minutes. Having the window closed would be like boiling a frog slowly. You would surely die. Then there is the smell of people. All aspects of people. Spit, urine, waste, sweat. One gets the feeling that every action and movement is carefully planed and in some way contributes to surviving this journey. That is all that matters and those that do this journey often know this. We do not. As the sun breaks the flat horizon I start to understand that this is only about survival. Not about manners, or formalities, or courtesy. Just about survival.

    As the shadows of the telephone poles that have followed our journey get shorter so too does the time to our destination. We follow on our GPS and with just 100kms to go to Wadi Halfa the conductor seems to sense defeat. There will be no souls for him on this journey – and he speeds up to the fastest we have been thus far – fifty kilometers per hour. Some ten kilometers out we are greeted by old Bedford trucks that have musical horns that follow at what seems to be breakneck speed alongside the train.

    The only feeling I can muster after this journey is one of survival. The juxtaposition of seeing the Nile flood plains covered in water up to the train tracks, and the relentless desert on the other side is somehow watered down. The awe inspiring beauty of the Nubian Desert is not forgotten, but is not foremost in my mind. We have survived. Our precious cargo has survived. Our bikes have survived.

    The Nile Hotel seemed like an Oasis, as it surely is after such a journey. At night the beds are moved out into the open, and during the day they are moved inside to escape the heat. Despite its relative size Wadi Halfa seems to live and die each week, on the arrival of the train, and the departure of the ferry to Aswan. 36cm television sets are placed outdoors for free viewing, three wheeled taxis scoot around dodging pedestrians and other movables, and immovable. Big old Bedford truck transport people and their belongings for free between the Lakondas (Hotels) and the ferry. There is lots of luggage everywhere as this trip seems to be a trip of hope for many. Escape to greener pastures, wither in northern Africa or even beyond. We met a guy who was going to stay with his brother in Australia. Another family were going to Libya, and yet another to Tunisia. I am sure they also feel like they have survived.

  9. #41
    The lady that was to pull us through the depths of hell.

    The rest of the grey snake that followed us around for two days

  10. #42
    Not all trips to Wadi are succesfull. There were many of these carriages along the tracks... as well as lots of a train wheels!

    Our eccentric, if not cantakerous Sudanese cabin-fellow.

    The view from our 24 carriage prison cell

    It would seem that these railway sleepers would be better served on the railway line...

    Evidence of the Nile in flood. Not the Nubian desert you would imagine. On this side at least.

    The forty year old suspension contrived to snap a 1000kg tie down. The "droplets" in the air are actually the dust particles that are over exposed with the cameras flash.

    First class haedrests for first class riders...

    If you can see it you can sleep eat or spit on it

    The toilets in the train have a free flow system

    and this is the other end.

    A short video of the loo!!! :puke1 :puke1

  11. #43
    another view of the nile in train ride from hell....


    Here one can see the route options once you're in Khartoum. Folow the left loop next to the nile or follow the right loop through the nubian desert. The train follows the right loop

  12. #44
    Wadi Halfa to Aswan, Egypt

    Friday, 21st September 2007

    Anybody who believes that the world is round needs to come to the Sudan to calibrate their view of the world. I too once believed this untruth cooked up by NASA in a Hollywood movie studio, but now I have been to the Sudan and I know that the world is definitely flat, flat and dry and as inhospitable as Satan’s bald spot. In fact the memory of green and the memory of land that can hold the attention of so much as an anorexic goat has faded and the Nubian Desert has burned our heads full of rocks and dunes and stony plains stretched taut from horizon to horizon. What beat gets played out on this desert drum skin from season to season, I cannot imagine, as we did not see evidence of any natural life from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa. Barring of course for the mighty Nile which collects the waters of Lake Tana and Lake Victoria from the Blue and White Nile Rivers, far to the south and then oozes languorously (I’ve been dying to use that word) north from Khartoum through Wadi Halfa, down Lake Nasser (a monumental head stone to the first Egyptian president) past its prison wall at the northern end of the damn, through the southern Egyptian town of Aswan, then Luxor and its historical treasures, to a final curtain call with the Mediterranean at Alexandria which has been a crossroads of history since Phoenician times. This incredible journey of over 6000 km from the Ethiopian highlands at 3000 m to the Mediterranean sea (yes, at sea level !) makes this the longest river on the planet and our desert interrogation was rudely interrupted several times during the train journey as the Nile threw one of its flooded coils over the train track in an explosion of palm trees and cultivated fields.

    The Nile took its leave of our train tracks well before the half way point of our journey and left us alone to the choking dust and heat of the Nubian Desert.

    So it was that we made our way to Wadi Halfa on the southern tip of lake Nasser and after a pleasantly rural night’s accommodation in a reed hut at the Nile Hotel, boarded the ferry bound for Egypt and the port town of Aswan over 350 km to the north.The trick of course with boarding the ferry was that we had 4 monster bikes with luggage to get into the boat in competition with 600 screaming, spitting, less than accommodating Arabs, none of whom had improved their moods through the searing discipline of the Ramadan month.

    Once our bikes were secured to the lower deck, we made our way up to the first class cabins that we had secured at the last minute through our invaluable Sudanese facilitator Midhat Mahir and were pleasantly surprised by habitable little holes with nothing less than freezer class air-conditioning. The traverse of the lake disappeared in air-conditioned delight with the extra-cabin excursions limited to procuring meals and water. We whiled away some happy hours swapping tall stories with a few other travelers thrown together at this North African cross roads: Bedaa and Katinka, a South African couple from the Cape that had been drifting up Africa for 5 and a half months; Will and Dave, a pair of British gentlemen that had been on expatriate contracts in South Africa and were now driving a Range Rover and a Land Rover Discovery from South Africa back to the UK and finally Dean, an eccentric loaner from Nebraska in the American Mid-West who was on leg number who knows what of a very long around the world adventure by public transport that he was documenting for his newspaper column back in the USA. As had become customary by now, we swapped web site addresses and e-mail addresses and sincere promises to stay in touch before docking in Aswan harbor. It was here that we were to suffer our first lesson in Egyptian bureaucracy that would make every other brush with African paper work look like tricycles with training wheels.

    After the hope of a false dawn and having our passports stamped and being allowed to unload our motorbikes as we docked, we were crushed by a 5 hour wait cooped up in the ferry until all the 600 or so passengers had had their paper work completed and lined up through the vessel all aimed at the single exit to the dock. Then a mad scrum to exit and we made it to the customs office to have our Carne’s stamped by just after 13H00 to have it politely explained to us that the other offices we would need to visit before being road legal in Egypt were closing at 14H00 and would not reopen till Sunday. Our hopes of a speedy exit from Aswan dashed, we settled in to listen to the process that we would need to follow in order to achieve the much needed permission to continue our journey north. What follows cannot be made up, so must be true, I would suggest that nobody try this at home as we are trained professionals and take no liability for any crusty re-enactments back in South Africa.

    Step number one in Egypt; get passports stamped by stern looking Egyptian official while onboard Lake Nasser Ferry, then get passport rechecked 5 hours later when exiting ferry. Step two; get Carnet stamped at Customs office after parking in the fourth location shouted in Arabic by more stern looking Egyptian gentlemen with bi guns. While at customs office, part with $ 100 US each for the pleasure of disgracing Egyptian roads with your vehicle and fill in badly put together form ‘confessing to pay any and all amounts that may be demanded by the Egyptian Consumables (Customs) office while in Egypt’. With this behind you, Step 3 involves taking a letter written in Arabic by the customs office to the local traffic police office which is 20 km away and only opens on Saturday again (today being Thursday) asking them to please write a letter to the insurance office, which only opens on Sunday (today being Thursday) which in turn will relieve you of some more money to issue extra Egyptian insurance on top of the COMESA third party insurance that you already have covering Egypt and then write a letter back to the traffic police who then, if they are in good spirits will write a letter back to customs who you will then take the aforesaid letter back to and given that God is smiling on that day, customs will then issue you with a set of Egyptian number plates allowing you to then report to the local Tourism Police office where you will hopefully be allowed to join a convoy at 14H00 on Sunday heading north to Luxor.

    Simple! Certainly our young Egyptian host at the customs office looked rather puzzled at the dismay he saw unfolding on our faces as he explained the process to us. ‘You do zis differently in Sous Africa?’ he asked quizzically as if doubting that we could possibly have reached this level of sophistication in the far south. ‘ No, same process there too’ we reply, not wanting to lessen any chances of getting our Egyptian number plates released to us by this same young man at the end of the pointless marathon.

    Anyhow, nothing left but to drown our frustrations in alcohol, which is mercifully available in Aswan, if for the price of a small third world country. The first beer in more than a week slides joyfully down our throats, we have shacked up in the Isis hotel on the banks of the Nile with nothing to do but watch the white sailed Felucca’s slide past and catch up on our beer deficit. Life could be worse but we will have some big kilometers to catch up on to Cairo to put us back in favor with our demanding schedule when Sunday comes around.

  13. #45
    We did ask for the best accomodation money could buy in Wadi Halfa. The Nile Hotel sounded the business...

    They do put the ex-pats in one area and we met a few different groups, some going up and some going down. A great source of information and also great to meet our first english speaking people in about 10 days. Some guys did the route along the nile and the pictures of landrovers with water over their bonnets definately confirmed that we made the right decision to take the train... as bad as it was. Spending a week in Wadi would possibly have killed me!

    Dinner in these parts of the world are always a little like gambling. We did however perfect the art of going into the kitchens and all but making our own food.

  14. #46
    This is the offices of uber-fixer, Midhat Mahir. The only reason I mention this is because if you go anywhere near this part of the world you simply have to utilise this guy. Midhats claim to fame is that he has about 0.5% body fat, has riddden through the Nubian desert (900km) on a mountain bike in something like 5 days!! He can also organise anything. Here's what he did for us:

    - booked our super luxurious hotel in advance for us. (you should do this because everyone wants to stay there while waiting for the ferry)
    - booked our train trip from Khartoum to Wadi and had his brother meet us in Khartoum and escourt us to the train station and helped us get all that stuff sorted out
    - he arranged the exit from Sudan in it;s entirety, carnet, visa etc
    - his other brother, Mazar, actaully went with us in the ferry into Egypt and assisted with the calamatous entry procedure into Egypt. Simply superb.

  15. #47
    This is a vid of getting on the ferry, which like all things African, is not what you expect. (1min48")


    The cabin was small but had power and aircon. The only problem was that you couldnt turn the aircon off so you can either freeze or boil. No in between.

    Toilets in central Africa are always quite an experiance.

    If you get a general accomodation ticket you can sleep anywhere!!

    There is food on-board but you should ask for the first class chicken! Apparanetly there is a second class chicken. They also the stock the most fantastic Guava juice known to man. Seriously.:freaky

    If you send your car (or bike) on the cargo ferry - this is it. The downside is that you can only get it off the ferry a day later in some cases, and it leaves a day earlier from Wadi Halfa.

  16. #48
    This is a longer video clip of the ferry, with some duplicated footage. About 6minutes as a podcast.


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