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Sudan

Day: 229

KLMS: 35,820

Crossing from Ethiopia into Sudan is like stepping out of a packed, noisy bar into a quiet, empty side-street. As you cross the border line, the throng of people seem to just disappear and the noise is simply turned off. Sudan is a big open land, with a small population of the most dignified and gracious people you can ever meet. Considering the FCO portrays Sudan as a dangerous country, full of terrorists, we experienced nothing but the warmest of welcomes and enjoyed a couple of the most relaxing weeks so far on this trip.

The border crossing at Gallabat was our longest, hottest one yet. Arriving at 2pm, the immigration office was empty and no one was to be found at customs. We are then told that the generator for the office only switches back on at 3pm, so we must wait until then. By the time the generator grumbles back to life, we’re both feeling fairly hot and bothered and keen to get away from the border touts and into our next country. The passports are stamped through with little drama, but the customs official wants to check everything in the car. It seems his job is to try and find anything you may have purchased in Ethiopia so he can extract a tax payment. This included trying to charge us for a wooden mask we bought in Malawi, which still had the label and details of the mission where it had been made in Malawi. Rich patiently explained this one, but completely lost his cool when the customs official found some Australian toy Koala bears we had bought with us as gifts – ‘This is Ethiopian’ he declared. Rich, tired of this ridiculous man, grabbed them out of his hand and yelled ‘When have you ever seen a Koala in Ethiopia? You DO NOT have Koalas in Ethiopia. His little jacket says AUSTRALIA, NOT ETHIOPIA!! We are done here’.  With that we both got back into the car, me trying not to burst out laughing and the customs official looking rather put out, begrudgingly opened the barrier for us. The Sudanese side was instantly calmer, but there was a lot of paperwork to get through and no one was rushing. Despite already having visas ($70each), you also have to register once you’ve entered. This used to be done in Khartoum but now can be done on the border, for another $40USD each,  – Sudan has been the most expensive country to enter so far! All the paperwork is painstakingly copied out at least 3 or 4 times in carefully crafted Arabic script – this is then repeated at customs and again at ‘security’.  By 5pm we were finally done and on our way into Sudan. It had been a long day, starting with a puncture, the bull bar falling off and a long, hot border crossing so we were keen to find a camping spot and stop for the day.

The only beer you'll find in Sudan

The only beer you’ll find in Sudan

The most amazing thing about Sudan, is that you can pretty much pull off the road where ever you like and set up camp, there is no one around to bother you. So just 25kms out of Gallabat we saw a couple of small hills off the side of the road and decide that camping behind those would make a great first stop. It was the first fantastic night’s sleep we’d had in ages. No noise, no people, no prayer calls – perfect! We were up at dawn the next day to complete the 580kms to Khartoum – which all on good tarmac meant it would be an easy but long drive. We stopped for lunch at Wadi Medani, a little town on the Nile. Apparently a hot-spot for Sudanese honeymooners, we didn’t find it particularly romantic – the large brown town on the Nile’s brown waters,  just didn’t look that appealing!! We continued on, the long stretches of road disappearing into the distance, the small settlements along the way nothing more than 1 storey mud brick houses – did i mention it all seems to be hot and brown?

Brown towns

Brown towns

Into the desert

Into the desert

Khartoum itself, was actually  a pleasant surprise, much more civilised than Addis and a lot cleaner and smarter! We stayed the night at the Khartoum Youth Hostel, which had a lovely big courtyard we could camp in and didn’t seem to mind that we’d accidently parked in their prayer spot. As we set up our tent, the men bought out their prayer mats and prayed next to our car. We sat and watched them, and after they were finished they sat and watched us – both equally as intrigued about each other! The next day we explored Khartoum and went to see the famous Nile confluence, the joining of the Blue and White Nile. Again, they both seemed to be slightly different shades of brown,  but you can distinctly see the difference in colour of the 2 rivers as they meet before blending together. We also had to head to the Tourism office to obtain a photography permit, which lists what you can and can’t take photos of. Bridges are a particularly sensitive issue and many tourists have been arrested in Khartoum for this offence! I haven’t heard of anyone having to produce their permit, but in a country which is ruled under Sharia Law, we don’t want to test what happens if you break the rules!

My covert attempt at taking a photo of the nile confluence!

My covert attempt at taking a photo of the nile confluence!

From Khartoum we headed out to the Meroe Pyramids, the funerary tombs of ancient Kings and Queens which date back to the 4th century BC! As we headed further out into the desert, the vast emptiness was only broken by the tree-lined Nile, which seemed like a huge green snake winding it’s way through the desert. Most of the settlements we passed clung tightly to the banks of the Nile, but surprisingly many places we passed were miles away from the river –at least a days donkey ride to collect water enabling them to survive in the nothingness of the desert.  As we arrived at the pyramids we were greeted by men on camels – they were keen to take us for a ride – so was I. Feeling all excited and like an ancient explorer, I was up on the first camel and riding off towards the pyramids and into the sunset. Not wanting to be left behind it wasn’t long before Rich was onboard and we rode our camels together. It was wonderful! Once our ride was finished we drove out towards the pyramids to find a good camping spot. Despite it being a world heritage site, there was no one here and we had the whole place to ourselves! We found a fantastic spot in the dunes to the side of the pyramids where we spent the evening sitting out under the most amazing star filled sky. There really is nothing more beautiful than the stars at night in the desert. We then had the pyramids to ourselves the next morning. Many have been ‘decapitated’ by treasure hunters, but inside the remaining pyramids are some of the best examples of hieroglyphics you’ll find anywhere.

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Pyramids at sunset

Pyramids at sunset

Playing with shadows

Playing with shadows

Our desert camp

Our desert camp

Under the star-filled desert sky

Under the star-filled desert sky

Meroe was definitely worth the detour out into the desert and now with brand new tarmac roads connecting Atbara all the way through to Dongola and onto Wadi a journey which would have previously taken several days on slow gravel can now be done in a day. We whizzed through to Dongola, crossing the most ‘Deserty desert’ either of us have ever seen. Fortunately for us, it’s winter here so temperatures are only in the late 30’s so we had no problems with overheating. However, the dead animals and  thousands of burst tyres that line the roadside demonstrate that things are lot harder when the temperatures exceed 50 degrees celcius! We arrived late into Dongola and unfortunately the only decent place in town, The Nubian Guesthouse, has recently been sold so not liking the look of any other options, we headed out of town to find a bush camp, relieved to have the luxury of our bed to sleep in!

From Dongola it was the final stretch up to Wadi Halfa, on Lake Nasser, our final destination in Sudan. Despite a huge land border between Sudan and Egypt, the authorities insist that everyone must cross the border using the once a week ferry service from Wadi Halfa to Aswan. This helps keep tighter control on who is entering the country, but more importantly is a great money spinner for both countries. We had arranged for a fixer, the well known Mazar, to meet us in Wadi Halfa to help us arrange our departure. Despite the ferry service running once a week, vehicles have to travel on a separate barge used to transport goods between the countries. This means depending on what cargo is being shipped and when, you car can be waiting days. Having previously arranged with Mazar for our car to travel before us, we arrived on the agreed date, only to find that the car barge would not be leaving for at least another 3 days. So rather than waiting in the less than desirable Wadi, we decided to head back out into the desert and find a pleasant spot to pitch for a couple of days. Before heading out, Mazar, was very helpful and took us to buy bread and supplies as well as taking us to the local welder to get the bull bar fixed back on!

Welding the bull bar back on

Welding the bull bar back on

All sorted, we found a lovely spot on the edge of the lake amongst the sand dunes, were we spent a couple of very lazy days. On the third day we returned back to Wadi to organise our ferry tickets – the passenger boat and a car barge had arrived into port on Monday, so we were pleased to know that our ferry would be departing on time the next day and were told the car could also be driven onto the barge before we left. Feeling relieved that the plans were coming together, Mazar invited us to stay with him that evening so we could get going early the next day. It was our first experience of true Sudanese hospitality and we had a wonderful evening with him and his new wife. She prepared a huge meal for us of different types of meat and bread, which after 3 days of survival food (super noodles, Smash, pasta) in the desert we were very happy to be eating good food again – all with the right hand of course! After dinner, his wife was keen to show me all her locally made perfumes and natural clay moisturisers, i’m not sure if it was her polite way of saying that 3 days out in the desert wasn’t good for body odour levels, but it was fascinating to learn all about desert beauty treatments! As a newly married woman, she was for the first time allowed to use henna on her hands and feet and Sandal Wood incense, a smell reserved for married women only, to clearly distinguish them from single women. She showed me how they ‘smoke’ their bodies and clothes by sitting over burning incense – I was also given the smoking treatment, which had Rich in hysterics as i was made to nervously sit over burning embers and watch as the smoke came up through my dress! That night we lay in our little single beds in the courtyard of the house, wondering what the boat journey to Egypt would be like. As another legendary part of the journey amongst overlanders, we hoped it wasn’t going to be as awful as the rumours said it would be.

Desert selfie

Desert selfie

 

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The marmite of Africa: Ethiopia

Day: 221

KLMS: 34,097

Never has a country divided people’s opinions so strongly, as Ethiopia does. It really is the marmite of Africa, you either love it or hate it. For us, we are definitely marmite lovers and all our preconceptions about what Ethiopia would be like, were completely wrong.

For a start, the images of drought stricken land, famine and swollen bellied babies that we grew up with are fortunately now a distant memory for most Ethiopians. The countryside is green and fertile and agriculture is now the biggest industry here. The population is massive, around 85million, so yes there are people everywhere but we found them to be just as welcoming and friendly as anywhere else we’d been, not at all aggressive or hostile as we’d been lead to believe. No matter where you stop, even if it is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, people appear from out of the bushes. At one point, we pulled over to make some coffee and within minutes we had an audience of over 50 children!

A quick coffee stop draws a big crowd!

A quick coffee stop draws a big crowd!

Unfortunately the only English word that everyone seems to know is ‘You!You!You!’, which you can hear being yelled at you from all sides as soon as you drive into any village. It’s not quite, ‘hello, how are you, welcome to my beautiful country’ but as it’s the only word they know, i’m sure that’s what they really mean!  As the only African country to have never been colonised (apart from the Italians who claimed it for 5 years – long enough to leave their pizza recipes behind – thank-you!! ) Ethiopia is the first country we have been to which has it’s own real identity and unique culture – including it’s own calendar which is 7.5years behind everyone else (!) making it an absolutely fascinating place to explore.

Following our adventures out of Kenya, we literally collapsed into Moyale. Fortunately the border crossing was pretty straightforward and the immigration guy even came back from lunch early to check us through. However, before we had a chance to pump the tyres back up, a nine inch nail delighted us with our first puncture of the trip! We pulled into one of the tiny tyre repair shacks and got to patching up the hole in the tyre. By the time it was finished, it was getting late so we drove back down the high street to try and find somewhere to sleep for the night. Ethiopia isn’t really geared up towards campers, so this is our first country where we regularly stayed in hotels – but at $15-$20 for a room and $10 for two of us to have a two course dinner and beers dinner it still worked well within the budget.  Border towns are never pleasant and Moyale is no exception. As we sought a bed for the night we spotted a number of NGO vehicles parked outside one hotel so figured it would be our best option. Despite our tiredness, we had a really lovely evening with the local NGOs and tried our first tastes of Ethiopian cuisines – Injera (a sour grey pancake) eaten with an assortment of different spiced meats and traditional coffee, which was as coffee lovers, was sensational. The room itself was simple and despite the horror stories about toilet facilities in North Africa, our bathroom was ok! But from now on, there are some important hygiene rules to remember – always roll up your trousers before entering, don’t touch anything, take your own loo roll and always shower with your flip flops on!

Despite our best plans for sight-seeing in Ethiopia, the car had other ideas. Following the extreme mud on the Marsabit:Moyale road, although the car came through it surprisingly well, the engine had suffered a slight injury as mud had forced its way into the alternator pulley bearing creating a deafening squealing sound which needed to be looked at sooner rather than later. So instead of heading into the lower Omo valley region to see the different ethnic tribes, we headed straight for Addis Ababa. The drive was still beautiful, but the wonderful tarmac we’d been promised soon turned into broken and pot-holed road and to celebrate my birthday we were given another puncture – 2 in 2 days! Standing in the rain by the roadside, fixing a flat tyre on my birthday is not exactly how i’d planned to celebrate another year, but that’s overlanding for you!

Puncture repair No.2 plus audience

Puncture repair No.2 plus audience

We headed onto Awassa for a lovely stop by the lake, where we decided to celebrate both our birthdays properly at a fantastic little Italian, gorging ourselves on pizza and red wine! The next day we headed onto  Addis which has to be said, is probably the worst African city so far and as the base for the African Union, i was really expecting a lot more! Developers have decided to dig up the entire city centre road network in one go to make way for a new metro line, meaning that the whole city is a construction site. The traffic was abysmal and the pollution so bad we wheezed the whole time we were there – we really do not enjoy our time in African cities! Fortunately, we had a nice, if noisy, place to stay at Baro Pension where the very helpful manager allowed us to camp in the carpark. After checking out the rooms we decided we’d be happier in our tent! We met two other groups of overlanders, 3 guys biking down the length of Africa and 2 Frenchies touring Africa in a Fiat Punto! This little car, has in fact already completed 3 circuits of Africa and with 430,000klms on the clock  they proved you don’t have to have a 4WD to travel Africa……although keen to hear they go through Northern Kenya!

Stinky Addis

Stinky Addis

The Frenchies and their Fiat Punto!

The Frenchies and their Fiat Punto!

For Richards’ birthday celebrations we spent the day at Ethio-Nippon – the main Mitsubishi dealership in Addis. The team here, could not have done more for us and gave us the most fantastic hospitality and  service. Typically the part we needed was  specific to our engine, and no replacements could be found anywhere in the city and so we began discussions as to how long it would take to order one in – the birthday boy was not looking happy. As our faces looked more and more glum, the manager said he could try one more option for us, a black market option, which would be more expensive but they might have what we needed. Sure enough a few phone calls later, we were jumping into the car with the manager and heading off into downtown Addis where a dodgy looking guy, in a pokey little shop produced exactly what we needed! A genuine Mitsubishi part. He Of of course he charged us triple the price, but in that situation we had no choice so paid the extortionate fees and raced back to the garage to get the part fitted.

The extra time taken to get the car fixed up in Addis, also meant we no longer had time to visit the Bale mountains and the famous rock churches in Lalibela and instead needed to take a shorter route up to Lake Tana. Fortunately, the drive did not disappoint. The scenery was spectacular and as we drove out of Debre Markos the road wound it’s way down steep hairpin bends to the Blue Nile valley below, dropping over 1,000m before beginning the climb back up the otherside.  We reached Bahir Dar at the bottom of lake Tana, which although described as the ‘Riveria’ of Ethiopia did little for us, so we decided to push onto Gondar. Gondar is described as the real-life Camelot as it contains a central walled compound containing 6 different castles built by different Emperors in the 17th century.  We stayed at a fantastic place called Fasil lodge, where our first evening was spent sitting around a fire in the courtyard with the hotel owner who told us a lot about the history of the city and the culture of Ethiopia. As it was Friday night, the Coptic Christian prayer calls continued all night, which when sitting around a campfire with a glass of wine is rather atmospheric, but at 4am when you’re trying to sleep it can get pretty irritating!

Beautiful scenery

Beautiful scenery

The Blue Nile gorge

The Blue Nile gorge

Driving into the Blue Nile Gorge

Driving into the Blue Nile Gorge

 

We enjoyed a fantastic few days in Gondar, exploring the castles and the old town. We also tried to venture up into the Simien mountains, but park rules require each vehicle to carry both a park ranger and a scout – as we only have 2 seats they wouldn’t let us in unless we hired another vehicle for the company. ! They were our first and only unhelpful Ethiopians that we met and back in Gondar, our hotel owner was so disgusted that he was going to report it to the tourism board! Arriving back in Gondar, we also found that the fantastic Fasil Lodge was now solidly booked out – it was a big weekend across the country as Ethiopia faced Nigeria in the world cup qualifiers, so the whole town was full of football fans who’d come to watch the game on the big screen in the Piazza. The owner however  took us to another hotel in town which despite being much more expensive only charged us the rate we would have paid at Fasil. It was a great atmosphere in town and from the roof deck we could see over the rooftops of the whole town and watch as thousands of people piled into the town square to watch the game on the big screen. Everyone was dressed in Ethiopian colours, and had their faces painted in green, yellow and red so we joined in and got flags painted on the car too. Sadly they lost, but everyone still remained in good spirits and there was no childish/loutish behaviour that is often seen after England lose a big game!

Gondar Castles

Gondar Castles

English isn't great

English isn’t great

Football fever

Football fever

Our final stop in Ethiopia was at Gorgora on the top of Lake Tana, at Tim and Kim’s rest camp. A beautiful spot to relax for a few days, parked up under their huge fig tree with views across the lake. We enjoyed our final beers and began to get organised for our trip into Sudan – another overlander, Kevin O’Keef who is travelling down through Africa on his motorbike, gave us maps and lots of information about Sudan. Another country, which if you believe everything you read you’d never contemplate going to, but from everything we’ve heard from other travellers it is actually one of the most friendliest places you can visit in Africa. We headed out towards the Sudanese border, but before we could get there not only did we get another puncture, our third in Ethiopia(!),  but unbeknown to us the trauma of the previous corrugations had split the right hand side bracket holding our bull bar on! It only took a small bump to prise off the remaining weld and with a bang the bull bar was hanging off! Another bush fix and Rich’s handy work had the bull bar tightly strapped back on, much to the amusement of the locals who came to watch. We hoped the ratchet strap would hold it in place until we could find a welder.

We were incredibly sad to leave Ethiopia, it is is the first country that we feel  we didn’t really begin to scratch the surface of. There are so many amazing places that we still both want to see, so we’ll just have to come back another time!

 

Spot the goat :(

Spot the goat 😦

King of the Worrrrrrld!

King of the Worrrrrrld!

A scenic shot - photo-bombed by boy trying to sell me garlic

A scenic shot – photo-bombed by boy trying to sell me garlic

An overlander’s rite of passage: Marsabit to Moyale

Day: 213

KLMS: 31,368

After far too many days in another African city, our new shocks supplied by RAW 4X4 Australia arrived and we were finally able to head out of Nairobi. Leaving the city late, we only made it to Nyeri and headed for a farm, Sandai, which had been recommended by fellow overlanders Oli & Lisa. It was the perfect stop after the city and arriving late in the evening, the owner Petra, welcomed us into her home and seated us in front of the roaring fire with a big glass of red wine. After the city, the peace of the countryside was amazing and our host was so welcoming that we were very tempted to stay a lot longer. The farm sits at the foot of Mount Kenya where they run safaris into the nearby Samburu National Park, as well as offering riding safaris, painting tours, fishing trips – they would really cater for anything you wanted to do. We decided we would go back to Kenya to just spend time here, but for now we had to press on to our next country, Ethiopia.

There are two routes into Ethiopia from Kenya, a more direct but notoriously rough road from Marsabit to Moyale or a longer, very remote track via Lake Turkana. Both are legendary amongst overlanders, with tales of bandits, tribal clashes, breakdowns, chassis cracking corrugations and sharp tennis ball size rocks that can split even the toughest tyres; the mention of either road is enough to strike fear into the most hardened overlander. The road out of Kenya really is a rite of passage for any overlander travelling Africa and this article on Overland live blog tells you what the road can throw at you.

We had hoped that when the time came to face either of these roads, we would be in the company of other travellers to tackle the road as a team, but after as luck would have it, there was no one else travelling north at that time and so we were going to have to go it alone. We decided that we should take the most direct route, Marsabit to Moyale apparently the banditry had subsided recently and tribal clashes had eased off, we just had to hope to hell that the rains of the November wet season hadn’t already arrived in Northern Kenya. Our thoughts turned to our friends Oli and Lisa, who also had to drive this road alone and in the wet season – and the pictures from their blog had haunted us for a long time, the thick mud, lorries stuck everywhere and people on buses stranded for days. That night, despite our peaceful surroundings we barely slept.

The next morning, we were up at first light to hit the road. My stomach had managed to knot itself so tightly that not even Petra’s cooked breakfast could persuade us to eat. We just needed to get going, and get this over with!

The drive through to Isiolo was stunning, the beautiful scenery a welcome distraction, the green rolling hills inhabited by the Samburu tribe, their colourful beads a stunning contrast to their grassy surrounds  gradually began to open out into sandy, flat, camel-filled plains. As we pulled up at check point, another foreign vehicle pulled up next to us. We desperately hoped they would be going the same way as us, but unfortunately they were going via Lake Turkana, even though they had 2 previously failed attempts.The first time the car broke down (Landrover) and the second getting shot at and robbed by bandits and yet they were still keen to try again! It was at this checkpoint that they told us the news we’d been dreading, the rain had arrived the week before so not only was the Marsabit to Moyale road in bad condition, but the road leading into Marsabit was also extremely difficult. The knot in my stomach tightened further, our best laid plans of tackling this road in convoy and in the dry season were unravelling fast!

A dry start to the journey towards Marsabit

A dry start to the journey towards Marsabit

As we drove on, the tarmac finished and we bounced onto the corrugated sandy road, The 100km off-road stretch leading into Marsabit had come as a complete surprise as we thought it was tamac all the way up. We sat in silence, eyes focused straight ahead waiting to see what fate would have in store for us. We didn’t have to wait long, as we rounded the next corner the sand gave way to mud and the mud soon turned into deep wet, slush. Engaging low range and dropping the tyre pressures we ploughed through the wet sections of mud but before long we were at a standstill. Lorries had already begun to get bogged, completely blocking the road and so we waited as attempts were made to try and pull them out.  The new tarmac road, which people have talked about for years, is still very much under construction, and so conditions on the side track are worsened by the heavy machinery travelling up and down. However, the plus is that there are plenty of road workers and excavators on hand to pull people out when needed!

Plenty of people stuck along the way - everyone helping each other

Plenty of people stuck along the way – everyone helping each other

By the end of the first day, we’d made it into Marsabit, exhausted and a little stunned by the unexpected amount of mud we had already faced. The last 100klms into Marsabit had been hard work and we hadn’t even started the ‘notorious’ 250km section to Moyale yet! We were very happy to call it a day and pull up into Henry’s rest camp it was definitely time for a beer. To say this trip has turned us into mild-alcoholics, is probably an understatement, any day of driving in Africa always requires beer at the end of the day! Rich set to work checking the car and I began cooking up big pasta dinners to ensure we had plenty of supplies to last through the next few days. The sun had come out and we began to feel hopeful that things may not be as bad on the road ahead as we were expecting. But no sooner had we begun to relax, then a huge clap of thunder boomed out across the valley beneath us and as we quickly packed up tools and cooking equipment the heavens opened. We dived into the tent as the lightening, thunder and rain opened up on us. It was so bad it was laughable, the situation could not be getting any worse! Another sleepless night, as the heavy rain continued through the night, the not so lovely pitter-patter on the rooftent tormenting us into the next day. We awoke the next morning to thick fog and swirling misty rain, we questioned whether we were completely insane to continue in such terrible conditions but with the rains having arrived the road would only get worse and the way we had come was already on the verge of being impassable. If we were to wait, we would be waiting in Marsabit for weeks, something neither of us were particular on doing. The only option was to keep moving forwards.

Packing up in the rain at Henry's camp

Packing up in the rain at Henry’s camp

Fortunately the first 50km out of Marsabit is the most glorious tarmac imaginable, so as we dropped down from the mountain town we came through the low clouds and out onto the open road. By the time we hit the mud we were pumped, ready for action and ready for total Armageddon. The muddy track was slippery and slow going, huge, deep pools of water covered large sections of the road. It felt like everything we’d experienced so far on this trip had been preparing us for this – the river crossings in Botswana, the mud in Malawi and our overall new levels of resilience to be able to dig deeper than ever before. We ploughed on, passing yet more stricken lorries, buses and cars, who despite the passengers predicament all seemed remarkably cheerful and were happy to wait for one of the excavators from the road-building team would come and rescue them at some point.

We continued slowly, but were soon at a standstill once more as we came to another huge pool of water which had claimed its first victim of the day. A Landcruiser troop carrier had become bogged in the middle, blocking the road. There was no way round and the car, filled with road workers had decided to abandon the car in the middle leaving the main route blocked. The workers came over to us and said we should try driving up onto the embankment, where the foundations of the new road were going in, from there we would be able to drive round and rejoin the track further up. We took their advice and turned around, driving back down the track trying to find a clear route up onto the embankment. Rich got out and walked the area between the track and the embankment, it was soft, soft clay but with rocky sections so we thought we’d give it a go. As we drove off the track, the soft clay began to take hold of the wheels and it needed a lot of momentum to keep the car from sinking down. We soon realised that this was not a good idea, but just hoped if we were able to get up onto the embankment, the surface would be more hard packed and easier to drive on. With foot to the floor, we sped the car up the side of the embankment and onto to the top, but as soon as we onto the top,  what looked like hard-packed surfaced was just more soft clay – shit, this was a really bad idea! We kept going for as long as possible, but as we hit yet another large pool of water, the inevitable happened and the car sunk lower and lower before grinding to a complete stop.  We were now stuck in about a foot of muddy water and far from the beaten track. It was time to get digging. Rich got to work trying to remove mud from under the wheels so that we could get our Maxtrax (sand/mud ladders) under the wheels to create some traction. Digging Kylie out of this on our own, without help was going to take all day. But with no other option available at that point, we had to keep digging. After about an hour of trying different things and desperately trying to keep frightening thoughts of being stranded here for days at bay, I heard the sound of another car driving up the track below us. Without a second thought I began running, slipping, sliding through the mud to try and get down the car before he passed by. The old 60 series Landcruiser had managed to find a way round the other stricken cruiser and was heading our way. I skidded down the embankment and ran towards the car waving frantically. It must have been quite a sight for the car’s 5 occupants to see a lone white female, covered head to toe in mud running towards them. Thankfully they stopped! I explained our predicament and they also said they’d tried to follow our tracks onto the embankment but had got stuck. I asked, then begged and  pleaded with them to come and pull us out – initially reluctant to come to our rescue due to realising how soft the ground was  where we were stuck, I was able to reassure them by showing that the 2 roads were almost joining up just ahead, so it would be easy for them to drive round to where we were. They agreed! A huge wave of relief swept over me, we were saved! I directed them round to where Kylie sat looking sorry for herself and Rich, not having seen where I’d run off to, was relieved to see me arrive with back up. The men got out of the car, but as Henry (the driver) reversed the car round to line up with ours he managed to slip straight into another pool of water, also bogging his car right up to the chassis. Great, our rescue attempt was looking like it was over before it had begun – the other guys were also not looking impressed. So it was all hand on deck to try and rescue the Cruiser first. We all began to dig, push, bounce the Landcrusier until we get its wheels onto the Maxtrax – it was sheer brute force with everybody pushing but  we finally got the back wheels to grip and force the car out the muddy predicament. Huge cheers erupted as we got the first car out and the stern faces began to smile again. To keep their vehicle clear of the mud, we looped together 3 snatch straps and attached it to Kylie and as soon as the cruiser had regained some grip he was able to pull our old girl out with no problem. With both cars freed, we made our way back to the track. A lesson learned – never, ever leave the main track!!!

Our turn to get bogged

Our turn to get bogged

Our rescuers also get stuck

Our rescuers also get stuck

One big muddy mess trying to pull both cars out

One big muddy mess trying to pull both cars out

The guys in the cruiser, were in fact researchers from Marsabit, who were trying to locate the current whereabouts of certain Gabra tribe members. They were only heading so far up the track that day, but agreed we should follow them as the road was only going to get worse. We travelled in convoy, happy to have another vehicle with us, suddenly the extreme situation seemed a lot more relaxed and the adventure, dare I say it, was becoming quite fun?

We reached a small research station, where the other guys would have to leave us as they were going to head ‘off piste’ to try and locate the tribe. We were still 140km from Moyale, so we would need to stay the night at the next settlement of Turbi. With the guys leaving us, the situation began to feel serious again, they were also still very worried about us making the last 20km stretch into Turbi as it was the worst section of the road. They recommended that we should wait where we were until another vehicle came by, so we thanked the men for their help and gave them beers from our fridge before saying goodbye. I think the look on my face said it all, as within minutes of the men returning to their car Henry came back over to say that they’d discussed things further and had agreed that they would go and do their work, but they would come back for us and escort us to Turbi, they were too worried to completely leave us! I was so thankful, I wanted to hug and kiss him right there.  We sat on the side of the road and watched as their landcruiser disappeared off over the horizon. It was a surreal moment, abandoned in the middle of f***ing nowhere, with nothing but open, rocky landscape stretching out before us, the odd tribesman with his herd of camels passing us by and spectacular storm clouds rolling in across the plains in front of us.

Waiting for our buddies to come back

Waiting for our buddies to come back

Camels cross the plains as the storms roll in

Camels cross the plains as the storms roll in

We waited for over an hour and as we began to wonder whether they would be true to their word, the white of their cruiser came back into view. Almost jumping up and down with excitement that they were back, we readied ourselves for the last slog to Turbi – the storm clouds were by this point so heavy that we’d lost all sight of the hills of Turbi in the distance. As we drove on, the rain became so torrential that not even the wipers on the fastest setting could clear the rain and mud off the window and by now the water on the road was so deep that it was regularly coming up over the bonnet. This was the Armageddon we’d been preparing ourselves for! How we got through the last stretch to Turbi I do not know – we had to pull the Cruiser out again on the way, but Kylie had made it through no problem! As we arrived in Turbi, a huge crowd gathered round us, we were the first cars through in days and everyone was curious to see the Muzungos who’d arrived. Unbelievably, the researchers, once they had got us safely to our destination turned round to head back down the same road. Genuine heroes.

The majority of the track looked like this

The majority of the track looked like this

The view out of windscreen for most of the journey

The view out of windscreen for most of the journey

Last stretch into Turbi

Last stretch into Turbi

Our valiant heroes!

Our valiant heroes!

Turbi (the town of seven hills) is settled by the Gabra tribe. It really is nothing more than a few simple shops set amongst the traditional round cloth huts of the tribal residents. Amongst the huts, there is a tiny ‘lodge’ which has been funded by the local women who offer simple rooms to travellers but were happy to allow us to camp within the fenced area.  As we pulled in, a large crowd of children formed around the car, bemused by the Muzungos who were taking up residence in their village and two men came to welcome us to the village. The women prepared hot bowls of water and once we’d had a wash we sat down with our new friends,  to hear all about the Gabra tribe. Already aware of the tribal conflict in Northern Kenya, we were both a little unsure of our surroundings, but were quickly reassured that peace had been declared between the neighbouring tribes, 4months prior.  In a land where water is so scarce in the dry season that villagers have to walk 25km every day, where nothing can grow and survival rests solely on livestock, cattle raids can easily lead to outright war. Only 8 years ago,  1,000 armed rival tribesman stormed the village at dawn, killing nearly 60 people, mostly young children and stealing thousands of animals, a horrific act that lead to many years of conflict, which had only recently been resolved. It was the harshest living conditions we have witnessed yet and so it was fascinating to hear about our people survived out here.  We were invited to see inside one of the Gabra huts and as is tradition when guests arrive, sweet camel milk tea is served. For these people, water is as valuable as gold and their generosity was overwhelming. It was an incredibly humbling experience to spend an afternoon with the tribe, learning about their traditional way of life.

Trying to clean up in Turbi

Trying to clean up in Turbi

We also met the head teacher from the local school, the most inspiring woman we have met so far on this trip, Thume arrived in Turbi 6months ago to establish the first girls school. In a place where girls are married at the age of 12, importance has never been placed on educating girls, but through Thume’s work with the local community, she is successfully encouraging families to allow their daughters to attend school.  The next morning, we visited the school where her girls were keen to meet us, it was one of the most moving experiences of the trip. Walking out across the village in the early morning sun, we passed the original school where so many children had been killed a few years before, heading out towards the new school building where we could hear the childrens’ laughter long before they came into view. As we arrived, the young girls in their neat little uniforms and braided hair formed orderly lines in front of the school, eager to greet us. As we stood before them, Thume lead them into a song, the sound of which, on that morning, was so beautiful and so moving I could feel the tears welling in my eyes.  At that moment, all thoughts of where we were, what we’d been through and what was yet to come had vanished, it was wonderful just to lose ourselves in their beautiful singing.

Tea with the Gabra at Turbi

Tea with the Gabra at Turbi

Our wonderful hostess, her little boy was terrified of us

Our wonderful hostess, her little boy was terrified of us

Storm clouds at Turbi

Storm clouds at Turbi

Our visit to Turbi Nomadic girls school

Our visit to Turbi Nomadic girls school

We left Turbi feeling completely humbled, inspired and ready to take on the final challenge of our journey. The previous evening the rain had stopped for the first time in days, giving the road a chance to start drying out, we knew this was our best and only chance of getting through, so we hit the last section hard. We came across more buses of people which had been stranded overnight, the biggest problem on this section of track was the water. As we waited at one particular pool for a bus to be pulled out, the passengers crowed round our car.  ‘You will never get through’ they shouted, ‘The water is too deep’, ‘You must go back’. It felt a bit like a Thelma and Louise moment as we looked at each other. There was no going back! We ploughed into the water,  a 200m stretch of deep water lay ahead of us and we insanely began yelling and shouting at Kylie to keep going, and keep going she did. As we drove out the otherside we felt invincible and our old girl Kylie was more than proving herself. It was the longest drive to Moyale, every kilometre felt like an eternity but after 3 full gruelling days and 250klms we’d made it, and with that one of the greatest adventures we’ve ever had, had come to an end.

One of many huge water crossings on the way to Moyale

One of many huge water crossings on the way to Moyale

The end! Tired beyond belief but so relieved to have finished!

The end! Tired beyond belief but so relieved to have finished!

Our live tracking is back up and running!!!

Hi, our live tracking is up and running again now that we are in Ethiopia and back within the Global Star  network. To see where we are please click the tracker image below or go to the ‘Live Tracking & Route’  page on the website…….

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Click the image to see where we are……….

Cheers R&S

Kenya

Day: 210

KLMS: 31,113

As time frames and money begin to run out, Kenya for us was really going to be little more than a pitstop in Nairobi to get the visas we needed for heading north into Ethiopia and Sudan. Despite the less than ideal situation in Northern Africa, we have had confirmation from both locals and other travellers that it’s still ok to travel through, as long as certain areas are avoided. So with the decision made, we braced ourselves for a stressful few days, tackling the hell-bound traffic, in a notoriously dangerous city, to dance through the ridiculous hoops of the visa application process.

As we entered into Kenya, we began the steady climb up onto the western rift to the town of Eldoret, which at 2,500m provides the tough training ground for most of Kenya’s marathon champions. The cooler climate, the open fields and the roadside markets selling carrots, cabbages, onions, rhubarb(!), made it all suddenly seem very British, it was rather lovely. We found a great camp just outside town called Naiberi, where we could have happily stayed for a few days, but alas it was full steam ahead to Nairobi the next day.

Eldoret - Wall of champions

Eldoret – Wall of champions

 

Driving into the city, we were both quite surprised at how smart and modern everything looked. I think due its reputation we’d expected nothing more than some slum-ridden hole and as we drove into Karen to find the legendary campsite Jungle-Junction, the tree-lined streets could have been taken straight out of Richmond! Jungle-Junction is famous amongst overlanders – the central must-stop place to re-stock and repair before heading either north or south. As a famous cross-roads, it also means overlanders can swap valuable information about the ‘other side’ as well as finding new buddies to travel with on the lesser known roads. However, being low season and with problems in North Africa putting off many, we were disappointed to find that the usually busy campsite was pretty empty, just us and an Austrian couple, who are also heading north but at a slower pace. We spent the evening discussing strategies for the next few days and working out which embassy to tackle first.

And so the visa dance began. A trip to the British Embassy for a letter of introduction to the Sudanese embassy, because a passport is not verification enough? 3 hours later, and 50quid down, (yes, 50 whole British pounds for a letter confirming our names and passport number!) we left with our letter. Of course, this took us past 12pm, which meant that visa application hours at both the Sudanese and Ethiopian embassies had closed, so we headed back to camp. Day 2, we left at 8am and took 2hours to travel the 8km into town. We decided to take on the Ethiopian embassy first as the ambassador, according to many overlanders, is a face-tattooed witch who takes great pleasure in watching people lose all dignity by running them round in circles and then grovel at her feet for a visa. We had also been warned by other overlanders that this face-tattooed (yes, a crucifix is tattooed onto her forehead wish I had a photo!) is also a man-hater, so must only be approached by women. On this good advice, Richard was left to ponder his fate outside, while I tackled the witch alone. I must have danced for her well, as after a long interrogation about every single stamp in my passport and the third time of being sent for more copies of different paperwork she signed the application form and told us to come back after lunch with a receipt showing we’d made the payment at the bank round the corner. Lunch breaks at embassies are 2hours long, so we loitered around outside, hoping not to get car-jacked until their excessively long sandwich break was over. Returning triumphantly with our bank receipts, the clerk handed over our passports with the golden tickets to Ethiopia inside. Win!

Exhausted we headed back to JJ’s to compare notes with our Austrian friends, who’d similarly had success with their Sudanese visa. We swapped notes and prepared to tackle the next embassy the following day. We all headed to bed early, resting up for another day of visa hunting, but let’s just say that night we realised that the security at Jungle-Junction was far from adequate for a city like Nairobi and the next day we all packed up and moved onto a much nicer, secure camp called Wildebeest Eco Lodge which is run by a pair of Ozzies!

It took 4 full days of driving round Nairobi to get the visas for Ethiopia and Sudan sorted, we were exhausted! Once the visas were firmly embedded in our passports, it was back to Jungle Junction during the day to give the car a full service, changing filters and all fluids as well as a good clean out to ensure she is in tip top shape for the next adventure.  Once all the jobs were finished, we treated ourselves to a trip to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a charity which provides care for orphaned baby elephants until they are old enough to be re-introduced to the wild. It was amazing to see the keepers feeding and interacting with the babies, who now seem them as their ‘mothers’. The project is incredibly successful in reintroducing the elephants as well as continuing the fight against poachers, I just read the British Army are now going to provide more support which is fantastic news.

We are still in Nairobi, the lovely Wildebeest is a sanctuary I’m reluctant to leave! We are waiting for our replacement shocks, provided by RAW 4×4 in Australia (thank you for your continued support!) to arrive before we can head off north.  We have decided to take the most direct route along the Marsabit to Moyale road, the one part of the trip that we’ve not been looking forward to and with the rains about to arrive any day, we will be very happy to finally leave Kenya and get to Ethiopia!

 

Feeding time at David Sheldrick orphanage

Feeding time at David Sheldrick orphanage

 

Keepers and their babies form strong bonds

Keepers and their babies form strong bonds

 

Playing is exhausting

Playing is exhausting

 

I just love mud!!

I just love mud!!

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