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Belated congratulations

Thanks Mike – you personal journey was also inspirational to us! You have managed to get to the parts of Australia that we wish we could have seen! I guess We will have to go back one day. Thanks!

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude

Just a quick post to congratulate Richard and Sophie from Morgan Safari on their arrival in London. I met these two when we were camped next to each other on a beach in Western Australia, when they were nearing the end of the Australian leg of a Sydney to London journey (via South Africa) and I was about a third of the way through my round Australia trip.
Although I actually did more kilometres than these guys during my zig-zagging lap around Oz, most of the roads they travelled would have been a lot, lot, lot rougher and more dangerous than anything I travelled, so well done guys !
(now, have you got itchy feet yet ? started thinking about your next adventure ? LOL )
So if anybody is contemplating an overland trip through Africa, or just want some armchair adventuring, hop on over to their blog at

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The truth about ‘that’ night in Nairobi

So when we were on our travels there were some things that happened which we didn’t feel were appropriate to include in our blog; until now. Because now that we are safely back in the fold and families can see for themselves that we are still in one piece we can admit that things were sometimes more serious than we let on.  One particular incident we glossed over, was on 20th October we were in a huge armed robbery in Nairobi, when 6 men armed with assault rifles, handguns and machetes broke into our compound and Nairobi lived up to its pseudonym, Nairobbery, in spectacular fashion.

It had been another hectic day in Nairobi, navigating the heavy traffic travelling between embassies to obtain our visas for onward travel. We arrived back at our campsite, Jungle Junction, late afternoon exhausted but elated that our visas for Sudan and Ethiopia had been granted. Our Austrian friends who were camping close by had also had success so we enjoyed a few beers together to celebrate our hard-earned visas.  A few more people had arrived during the day, an older, slightly crazy German guy who had been travelling alone in his camper and 4 Japanese tourists who were going on Safari the following day. They’d set up their dome tents  within the small, hedged garden close the main house, whilst ourselves and the Austrians were parked out in the main grassy area of the walled compound. As we shared drinks with the Austrians we discovered that an armed robbery had taken place only a week before and although we felt unnerved by the news, it was too late it in the evening to move on and realistically the risk of it happening again so soon were relatively low. However, just to be cautious we decided to move our car from the centre of the paddock and tuck up next to the hedge at the end of a row of 4×4 vehicles which had been recently left to go into storage, at least there we didn’t stand out as much if robbers did decide to return.  We laughed off our nervousness, but deep down we both realised that despite the seemingly safe and leafy suburb that the new campsite was in, apart from the wall there was not much security to speak of.

We said goodnight to our friends and headed off to bed. The nights in Nairobi are very unrestful. A modern, slick city by day soon takes on a dark and sinister feel at night. In a place where every home is protected by high levels of security and guard dogs, the night air is filled with the sounds of thousands of dogs barking interspersed, not to mention intermittent gun fire! I remembered reading about the ‘Twilight barking’ in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, but this was closer to hell than Disney!  Around 1.30am, we were woken by shouting from within our campsite followed quickly by loud bangs and gunshots. I sat up, heart pounding, frantically looking out of the tent window to see if I could see what was happening. As I looked towards the main building I could make out the dark silhouettes of 6 men armed men running round the building. A wave of fear swept over me and the blood drained from my face. I grabbed hold of Rich who was next to me straining to try and see out of the window on my side. ‘’What can you see, what’s going on?” he said. I turned to look at him ‘’It’s happening again, we’re being robbed’ I replied.  Hearts in our mouths we sat deathly still in our tent, not daring to move, not daring to speak, not daring to barely breath as we watched the events unfold in front of us.

From our rooftop tent hidden in the shadows, we watched as the robbers forced their way into the first building, kicking the door in and ransacking the office, before using a metal bar to force open the campervan of the unfortunate German who was parked just in front of the office. The German was pulled from his van and beaten before tied up face down on the floor. The commotion had also woken the other guests and without thinking the Japanese tourists, camping by the house, turned on torches to try and see what was happening. The light only bought attention to them and within seconds the armed men were over at their tents, slicing through the flimsy material of their small dome tents with machetes to pull out the terrified tourists. With guns held to their heads the Japanese were forced to handover everything they had – which was a hefty bounty for the thieves of ipads, ipods, phones and cash. The terrified tourists were roughed up and thrown to the floor where they were threatened at gunpoint and tied up, ironically with their own ipod cables. All the time, Rich and I were only metres away praying that a scanning flashlight from one of the intruders would not reveal that we were there too. By this point, fear had turned into pure adrenalin and we contemplated trying to make a run for it, but in an open compound with little cover, there really wasn’t anywhere to run too. So we waited; trapped in our tent, on the roof of our car and unable to reach our phone we couldn’t even summon any help. Already 90minutes had passed since the robbers had first entered the property.

With the focus now on the Japanese tourists, the old German decided he would try and make a break for it, managing to free himself from his restraints and starting to run down the driveway. He didn’t get far as he was quickly spotted by 2 of the men who gave chase. They ran out of our view, all we could here was the German yelling as the 2 men closed in on him and then suddenly a single gunshot was fired and everything went quiet. We lay in the darkness of our tent, our hearts pounding so hard we were sure they could hear us but we were convinced the German had just been murdered. The silence was followed by fleeting footsteps, and we believe at this point that the group divided and those who satisfied with their booty from the Japanese left over the back wall, whilst those who had yet to take anything worth their while remained within the compound walls. We lay in the darkness, not even daring to look through the window anymore, trying to work out which direction the footsteps were heading in and how many were still left. With the main building ransacked and the other guests robbed, there was only one place left for the robbers to check and we knew it would only be a matter of moments before we were found. Sure enough, the footsteps soon started in our direction and we could hear as the men began to try the door handles of the parked cars next to us.

As the footsteps approached us, we had already gone beyond fear and we both fell into a surreal state of calm. It wasn’t a matter of being scared anymore, this was about survival and we were both mentally preparing ourselves for what was about to happen. We had no way of defending ourselves, we didn’t have a gun, our pepper spray was locked in the car along with our maglite (truncheon) torch. The game was up and we would just have to do whatever they wanted in order to survive. The men reached our car and we could hear their hushed voices as they tried the door handles, then probably confused by the sight of the rooftent and unsure if anyone was in it, they began to rock the car from side to side to try and scare us out. We didn’t move. One of the men then climbed up onto the back of the car to try and pull the gas bottle from its holder, Rich sat up slowly and looked through the meshed window straight at the masked robber, who was only centimetres away.  The robber, too busy trying to remove the gas bottle had not noticed that he was almost face to face with Richard. Frustrated that he couldn’t remove the gas bottle, he then fired a gunshot right next to the car, the sharp cracking sound of the bullet echoed around the compound. We held each other tightly as we felt his weight on the ladder,  putting first one foot, then second onto the bottom rung. I closed my eyes as I waited for the outside zip to be pulled up, but just as his hand found the zip a number of gunshots were suddenly fired at entrance to the compound.

There was a lot of confusion as gunshots rang out and the gates opened to allow a vehicle through. We were not sure who had just arrived, whether it was police or more robbers but we knew that someone was still at the foot of our ladder. As the vehicle came up the driveway we could hear many more people running around accompanied by more gunshots.  We stayed down, worried we would be caught in the crossfire, it was like something out of the Wild West.  It only lasted for a few minutes, but those minutes felt like forever. As the situation calmed we could hear the other guests talking again and realised that it was the police afterall.  At 4am, nearly 2.5hrs after the robbery began, we were finally able to climb down from our tent, feeling shocked and shaken by what had just happened and feeling incredibly lucky that we had just  survived completely unscathed and with all our belongings. At the foot of our ladder lay a discarded rope that was no doubt intended for tying us up. It sent shivers down my spine to realise just how close we’d been. We walked round to find the other guests, relieved to see that the German had not been shot after all, our Austrian friends were fine and none of the other guests had suffered serious injuries. As is the way in Africa, once the police had ‘’cleared the scene’’ they did not hang about to collect statements or provide further security reassurance and left. In Africa, you can’t rely on the police the way you can in the western world. But I guess in our case, something was better than nothing and we were glad that they eventually turned up!  We helped the Japanese tourists pick up their remaining belongings, they had lost pretty much everything and despite have only arrived the day before, they were all keen to head home on the first available flight. We gathered everyone together inside the main building, too frightened to go back outside and so we decided to wait out the night there. Unbelievably the robbers returned about an hour later (different ones, the same ones? I don’t know)  trying to force their way through the gate but fortunately with everyone awake, we were able to scare them off by turning all the lights on, shining torches towards the gate and generally making a racket. The sun took an agonisingly long time to rise, it had been the longest night of our lives.  We decided not to risk another night at JJ’s, and moved to a much more secure campsite.  As we arrived at Wildebeest, we could not have been happier to see the high walls, electric fences and security guards that surrounded the beautiful eco-camp. The fantastic Aussie owners immediately put us at ease, and It allowed us some time to recuperate from the ordeal and mentally prepare ourselves for the ongoing journey through Africa. Its true though,  if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger! 

So looking back on things, would we have done things differently? Probably not. Ultimately we were just very unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is the same where ever you are in the world. I haven’t heard of any other overlanders getting caught up in anything like this.

Before the trip people asked us if we would carry a gun? The answer is still no. If you carry a gun, you have to be prepared to use it and know how to use it well!  The moment a gun is pulled out, things will escalate immediately into a life threatening situation.

Would we go back to Nairobi? Honestly, only if we had too! Cities are not great places in Africa and we would always try and limit the amount of time we spent in them, unfortunately if you have to get visas en route it is unavoidable. However as long as you’re sensible most people are fine! For us, out of all the countries that we visited, Kenya was certainly the most unsettled, which isn’t something we weren’t expecting. There is a lot of underlying tension between tribes, ethnicities and religious groups – but again, we were there when Westgate had not long happened and our particular experience made us a lot more sensitive than we otherwise would have been. It’s still a beautiful country, with so much to offer but it’s certainly a country where extra caution needs to be taken.

 

 

 

 

The Race Home for Christmas

Day: 255

KLMS: 40,539

With the Africa leg of our journey completed, it was now a race against time to fulfil our promise of being home by Christmas. We had decided that the best route home would be to catch a boat from Israel to Italy, using Grimaldi, a reliable Italian cargo company rather than trying to face the nightmare of shipping out of Egypt.  So with a few days to kill before our ship sailed, we ventured off into Israel, with no GPS or road atlas just a topline map I’d torn out of a tourist guide!

We drove up through the Negev desert, which has to be hands down one of the most beautiful deserts we’ve driven through. Huge mountains and deep canyons provided a spectacular backdrop as we made our way up to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at -420m! A number of flash resorts and spas line the ‘shoreline’’ but the only camping option was in a carpark, but with the mountain backdrop and a view of the sea, it was actually rather lovely as carparks go! Despite the cool, overcast weather, we were both dying to jump in and test out our ‘’floatability’’ in the Dead Sea. We giggled like small children as we bobbed around like corks in the extremely salty water and for Richard who has not floated since he was foetus it was all rather exciting.

Bobbing about in the Dead Sea

Bobbing about in the Dead Sea

From the Dead Sea we headed inland towards Jerusalem, although neither of us are particularly religious, we were fascinated to see the most fought over city in the world. As we entered into Jerusalem, sans map, we were unaware we would be driving through the huge West Bank wall that separates the Palestinian and Israeli areas. As we approached the wall, we were soon flagged down by the army to pull over and there were tense moments while our car was surrounded by soldiers and security checks were done on our car. We were soon cleared to go, but the intense security surrounding the city was unreal.

The West Bank Wall

The West Bank Wall

We drove to the walled Old Town, which despite its small size contains the highest concentration of significant religious sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Inside the walled citadel, the warren of tiny streets lead you from markets to hidden churches to open piazzas – it is absolutely beautiful and completely mesmerising watching so many different religious followers rush about their daily rituals,  seemingly oblivious that any other religion exists but their own. The bells of the Christian church chime at the same time the Coptic prayer calls begin, which crackle loudly over the speakers to try and drown out the Muslim prayer call from the far side of the city. It is a total melting pot of religious beliefs, all of which are competing to be the dominant faith and so despite its beauty the ancient city felt very intense.

Young Jewish boy

Young Jewish boy

 

We decided to follow the Via Dolorosa – the final route Jesus took through the city with the cross. It was a fascinating journey through time, finishing at the Church of Redemption (Holy Sepulchre) which marks the spot where Jesus died and is buried. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of those around us, as we watched as people deep in prayer pressed themselves down on the marble stone said to be where Jesus body was laid out after he died. As we moved through the church we came through to the tomb itself, where queues of people waited for hours to go inside, most were deep in prayer, some quietly weeping. Feeling slightly fraudulent that we were in the holiest of places, and not part of a religious pilgrimage we didn’t stay long!  For us, it was an intensity level beyond what we were comfortable with and we found the whole thing rather unsettling. Travelling through so many different countries, we have seen the many ways in which religion is used and how beneficial it can be in bringing together communities, providing support in times of need and peace in troubled times. However in the holiest city in the world, it felt like the most divided and intense place we’ve ever been. As we crossed over into the Jewish Quarter, through yet another line of armed soldiers and security scanners to see the Wailing Wall, we felt very uneasy.

Walking the Via Dolorosa Jerusalem

Walking the Via Dolorosa Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

After our foray through the ancient city, we decided to head out to Bethlehem – afterall it was nearly Christmas. In my mind I was still expecting the nativity scene, but there wasn’t a manger or a donkey in sight. The church of the Nativity now marks the spot where Jesus was born and queues of 2 hours long waited to go down into the room, where a marble cross marks the exact spot where Jesus was born. We wondered around the church and were allowed to go down an alternative set of stairs and skip the queues into the lower levels to see where Jesus was born. We stood back and watched as people pushed and shoved their way through to touch the stone that marks the exact spot. It was certainly a fascinating and eye-opening experience.

By the time our shipping day arrived, there was a huge sense of relief to finally be onboard knowing that we’d completed the hardest section of the journey and from here on in, it would be plain sailing so to speak. Our home for the next 5 days would be the Grande Europa an enormous, 50,000tonne car freighter ship which although designed for cargo shipments has had a number of cabins converted for passengers – although on this voyage it would just be us and 25 crew. For the first time in months we could sit back and let someone else worry about where we were going, what food we would eat and resolve any mechanical issues – bliss! We had a steward to look after our every need and a fantastic Italian chef preparing 4course meals for Breakfast, lunch and dinner! However, as we headed out into the Mediterranean the seas soon began to swell and as we tried to relax in our cabin that night, the boat began to lurch heavily over the waves. We awoke to the news the next morning that the Port of Alexandria had closed due to bad weather and so we would have to wait until the storms cleared. We spent 4 days at sea, enduring gale force winds and crashing waves. Despite the size of the boat, felt like we were on a small dinghy. The waves throwing us upwards, before falling back down 20-30m into the trough of the wave. Our saving grace was to be able to pass the time lying down watching back to back episodes of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones – we day we hit a new record of 10hours straight!

Our Med Cruise ship

Our Med Cruise ship

A better day at sea

A better day at sea

 

By the time we reached Salerno in Italy we were 4days behind, so there was no time for sightseeing. We just wanted to get home. So in 3 days we drove the length of Italy, up to the snow covered Alps into Switzerland and the wine regions of France and onto Calais to catch our next ferry. Expecting more delays due to the bad storms and snow, we actually made such good time that caught the channel ferry a day early. We were exhausted and bleary eyed and having expected that our first sight of the white cliffs of Dover would be an emotional moment I think we were just too tired to really register what was happening.

Nearly home - very cold crossing the English Channel!

Nearly home – very cold crossing the English Channel!

 

As Kylie’s wheels touched down onto English soil, it was a big moment, the phone calls and text messages soon started and we drove onto London in a haze of excitement, relief, sadness and anticipation of seeing our families again. Initially a welcome home brigade had been organised to meet us on Tower Bridge the following day, but having arrived earlier than expected we were happy not to have a public fanfare. Just us, finishing our journey together, an incredible moment that was almost too much to take in. As we pulled up alongside Tower Bridge, our journey from Sydney to London was complete, 40,539kmls, 21 countries, 255 days one hell of an adventure!

We’d bloody done it! And sadly, although all good things come to an end, to make it back in time for Christmas with our families was the perfect ending.

Kylie and the Queen

Kylie and the Queen

We hope you have enjoyed following our adventures – you’ll be pleased to know there are still more stories to tell and trip summaries to write – so don’t tune out yet!  We would like to thank all of you who helped us make this dream possible. From our families who gave us continued support and never said ‘Don’t go’ despite what things looked like on the news, to those who helped us out of sticky predicaments – towing us across deserts or digging us out the mud, the mechanics that kept our old girl Kylie going,  our fellow adventurers who kept spirits high on the road,  the motivational messages, kind words  and comments from friends across the globe and of course the generosity of so many people who welcomed us  with open arms and showed us the real Africa.

Out of Africa

Day: 242

KLMS: 37,597

Egypt was the first country we’d been rather sceptical about visiting. With the ousting of Morsi only a few months previously and violent protests still occurring across Egypt the instability and unpredictability of the situation had made us question whether we should be attempting to drive across. However, from other travellers and local information, we learned that although protests were unpredictable, they were contained to central city areas so easy to avoid and unlike previous ’uprisings’ in Egypt, this time it was very much an internal political battle and tourists were not being targeted. Upon arriving in Egypt our main problem was that that due to the lack of other tourists we got a lot of hassle from local hawkers, desperate to sell you a boat trip, a horse and carriage trip along the Nile or invitations to see a shop filled with random tat, but with the promise that ‘’looking is for free – but I give you very good price if you want to buy something.’’ It was relentless and very trying at times. In Aswan, the road along the Nile was lined with forlorn looking malnourished horses and empty carriages and the river banks were filled with empty Feluccas and numerous huge floating Nile cruise hotels with no one aboard. The impact of the ‘Revolution’ on an economy reliant on tourism has been disastrous; the situation all felt very sad.

Empty Nile Cruise boats

Empty Nile Cruise boats

Hundreds of empty boats in Aswan

Hundreds of empty boats in Aswan

We were welcomed where ever we went, people were so happy to see tourists. We were constantly reassured ‘’Egypt is safe, our problem is with Morsi, no trouble for tourists!’’. However in their desperation to make us feel welcome, take us to nice places, help us spend our money and prove that Egypt was still a great place for tourists, the relentless attention didn’t make for a pleasant or relaxing experience.  Combined with the hangover from previous terrorist attacks on tourists during the last 15 years, every tourist area is heavily guarded by armoured vehicles, machine gun wielding soldiers and ‘’special police’’ with handguns wedged down the back of their trousers like something out of Miami Vice. Apparently it’s there just to reassure tourists, but it just made us feel uneasy!

Filling up - yes thats a tank on the right and a sniper on the roof top left

Filling up – yes thats a tank on the right and a sniper on the roof top left

So as planned, we took the most direct route across Egypt. Fortunately they have stopped armed escorts along the majority of our route, but we had to pass through numerous, pointless, check points, having to present passports, licences and insurance documents at each one and answer the same question of ‘Where you from’ ‘Where you go’…it was very tedious. We took the new desert road towards Luxor, something which also caused much debate at the beginning check point as to whether tourists were allowed to drive alone on this road. We asked if it was safe and they said yes, so we asked why we couldn’t drive on it – they didn’t know. They then thought they might need some dollars to allow us to pass, but fortunately a senior officer came to our rescue and with a big smile allowed us to pass.  We continued towards Luxor, before turning off towards the Red Sea coastal resorts. Complete sacrilege, I know, for not staying in Luxor and seeing the incredible sites but we’ll keep that one for our retirement when we are too old to overland and have instead switched to cruising, when we can just float down the Nile, sipping G&Ts and being taken to all the wonderful historical sites under someone else’s steam!

Big guy not looking so big anymore

Big guy not looking so big anymore

The desert drive lead us to the red-sea resorts on the Egyptian mainland. Vast, monstrous complexes of unfinished, half built tacky resorts that stretch for miles and miles. We were dumbfounded that the demand was ever so high as to require so many hotels and apartments?? To break up the journey we stayed in a couple of these tacky resorts, cheap last minute bookings made for great deals at 5 star hotels, and although splashing out on a nice hotel room was a welcome break from camping, we both struggled to comprehend how people can sit in these resorts for weeks on end – unless you’re a diver – what would you do?

Give us wilderness, camping and wildlife any day! We continued on, sticking closely to the coastline and crossing through the Suez tunnel underneath the canal and into the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai has been a hot bed for unrest and terrorism since time began and although the trend for kidnapping tourists seems to have abated, a recent spate of attacks on soldiers and police, mostly in the North, included a car bomb that had recently been detonated at a checkpoint we’d be travelling through. The adrenalin was pumping as we began the next section of our journey. We passed through the many checkpoints around the Suez with no problem, half expecting someone to tell us we couldn’t pass through into the Sinai but we were waved on without mention of armed convoys or security problems. We began to relax. The road was good, so with cruise control on (yep, it still works!) we felt relieved that the journey down the Sinai Peninsula would be over in a few hours. However, about half way down as we slowed down at another police check point we were asked to pull over and wait. They couldn’t speak English and we don’t speak Arabic and not being able to understand what was happening made us agitated; after all, being held at check point was probably the most dangerous place we could be! As we waited, we realised that all passenger vehicles were being held and after an hour, over 50 vehicles had joined the group with armed police heading up the front and chasing the tail of the convoy. We didn’t understand if there was a problem ahead, or where it was dangerous, or where it would end, but suddenly all engines had started and it was go, go, go!

Lining up for convoy - that's Miami Vice man on the left

Lining up for convoy – that’s Miami Vice man on the left

Convoy line up beginning to grow

Convoy line up beginning to grow

Driving in convoy through the Sinai

Driving in convoy through the Sinai

The convoy was a farce form the word go. It was like the whacky races as mini buses, lorries and cars flew past us, no one wanted to be at the back! Neither did we! So we sped up and to our surprise Kylie comfortably reached a new record cruising speed of 110km/hr which allowed us to maintain a ‘sheltered’ position within the middle of the pack. We passed through 2 more checkpoints, each time we were held while the convoy regrouped before being allowed to progress again. It was intense and pretty draining and by the time we reached Sharm El Sheik we were exhausted and certainly not in the mood to be told by police that we couldn’t take a car to our hotel in Naama bay. Tempers flared and the words ‘’I’m a tourist, not a terrorist’’ may have escaped my lips once or twice. But, since the car bomb attacks in 2007, no cars are allowed near the hotels so we had no choice but to park up the car and walk to our hotel for our last night Egypt and our last in Africa. That night we celebrated in the rooftop pool at our hotel, the barman was kept busy all night. We had made it across Africa, in a car that many said wouldn’t make it and this moment was something neither of us had dared to imagine until we were actually there. The cocktail of emotions was immense, elated to have achieved something so huge, relieved to have made it one piece combined with the sadness that the adventure was coming to an end…but we were still a long way from home.

The next morning, with raging hangovers, we drove the remainder of the Sinai Peninsula and headed towards the Israeli border at Taba. In a hazy state we somehow managed to drive straight through a checkpoint, so in dramatic fashion were chased down by police and ordered to go back. As punishment they decided they wanted to search everything in the car, which took over an hour and an half while they pulled everything out, disrespectfully rummaging through our personal items. I took great delight when the officer found my ‘She-wee’, in not telling him what it was until he’d fingered it for long enough trying to work it out. He dropped it like a hot potato when I told him it was a ladies urinating device. He then tried to confiscate our pepper-spray, Leatherman, GPS (which he claimed was a satellite phone) and binoculars(!) which were classed as ‘white weapons’. We declined his offer, took back our things and said thank you to the unpleasant, gum-chewing, ray-ban wearing, did you see my gun in the back of my jeans, self-important police officers, for making us feel so welcome in their country and got on our way. Finally we reached the border, which went surprisingly smoothly on the Egyptian side and we met our first friendly officials since we’d arrived in the country. The customs police wanted to search the entire vehicle once again, but after explaining that this exercise had just been completed 20km down the road, including being searched by sniffer dogs they seemed happy to let us go. Of course, they wanted a bribe for not searching us again, so we cunningly offered them some Israeli Shekels which they were very quick to refuse! The haphazard approach to security on the Egyptian side was laughable, yet infuriating but things suddenly got a lot more serious as we drove through to Israel, where security levels were beyond anything either of us have ever seen. As we approached we were held between two barriers, while I can only assume checks were being run on the vehicle as we were surveyed at a distance. Above us, manned look out points watched our every move, while casually dressed, athletic men paced around in front of us, talking urgently into their ear-pieces whilst clutching their lightweight hi-tech M16’s.  When finally it was deemed we were no threat, the barrier in front of us opened and we were allowed to drive into the central area. We were greeted by an unexpectedly stunning, dark haired, dark eyed, petite woman who walked up to the car to welcome us and talk through the next stages of the procedure. We were going to have to completely strip the car, and send everything through their scanner, before the car would be taken off for a further search, scan and x-ray. Trying to attempt the Israeli border with a hangover was probably not the best idea, but the fact that the officials were so pleasant and apologetic made the whole process much easier, not to mention the fact that everyone was incredibly good looking! We managed to strip the car and scan everything in fairly good time, but once customs was complete, Immigration wanted to know more about the Sudanese stamps in our passport. They took Richard off for more questioning and a number of questions seemingly related to emails in our account, which they must have been able to access having provided our email address. You could only wonder what information they had on us and how they were able to access it all! By the time the searches were complete, the interview finished and the car put back together, it had taken 7hours! And just like that, we were out of Africa!

Kylie Unpacked in customs

Kylie Unpacked in customs

Made it!

Made it!

The Crossing

Day: 232

KLMS: 35,820

Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world, some 550 km long and 35 km across at its widest point, it forms the watery divide between Sudan and Egypt and is the setting for our next adventure.

We were up early with our fixer Mazar and headed straight for the market where he could begin the arduous process of arranging all of our documents to get through immigration and customs. By 9am, we were at the port and despite being winter, the temperatures were already reaching 35°C. The passenger ferry and cargo barge had arrived the previous day and we sat and watched the chaos of boxes being unloaded and dumped in huge unorganised piles in front of customs; there were people shouting as others forced their way past carrying the most enormous loads up on their shoulders, or commandeering any type of moving object to help lift their goods from other men, trolleys, wheelbarrows  and donkeys. We realised we would have to sit and wait for customs to try and work their way through the carnage before we would be allowed to load Kylie and ourselves onto our respective barges.

Down town Wadi

Down town Wadi

Customs carnage at Wadi

Customs carnage at Wadi

We waited all day, realising as the hours ticked by that the barge that would be taking kylie to Aswan was still stacked high with boxes of stuff and the likelihood of us driving her on was diminishing by the minute. As the cars have to use the separate cargo barge, their timetable is completely dictated by what goods have to go where, so there is never a guarantee of when it leave. The passenger ferry however, generally runs from Wadi Halfa on Tuesdays and when the Captain deems the boat full, it leaves. So by 3pm, Mazar suggested we should board and find a good space on deck to make our camp for the night. We handed over the car keys to him and headed for the ferry – it made us both uneasy to be leaving our team mate behind, but we trusted our fixer and knew he would do all he could to send her on as soon as possible. As we walked up to the ferry , the boat was already packed, arms and legs seemed to hang off every level, but Mazar had told us to head straight up to the captain where for 50 Sudanese pounds we would be able to offer a small bribe for the privilege of sitting up at the helm, away from the hoards of people.

This still needed to be emptied before Kylie could go on

This still needed to be emptied before Kylie could go on

Even the lifeboat was full!

Even the lifeboat was full!

We set up ‘’camp’’ on deck, rolling out a picnic rug and blankets to sit on and were soon joined by 2 other firanjies – Josep, a Spanish solo traveller and Steve a Manc who’d cycled up from Cape Town. We had a good group to while away the hours and finally by 5pm we were on our way.  We could still see Kylie sitting forlornly by herself in the customs yard. Hopefully this wouldn’t be the last time we saw her!

Having fun up on top deck

Having fun up on top deck

Mmmm free meal

Mmmm free meal

Despite the horror stories we’d heard about this boat trip, we actually rather enjoyed it. Ok the toilets were pretty unpleasant and the free meal was average, but with our camp set up and new friends to pass the time with, the hours soon flew by and lying out under the stars was pretty spectacular – between us counting out the shooting stars that streaked above our heads. Despite the chilly night, we all managed to get a fair amount of sleep and by 10am the next day we had arrived in Aswan.

As soon as the boat had docked, people began throwing their goods off the deck or forcing them out of any window they could. We watched as the chaos unfolded once more. We waited for the crowds to leave the boat and were thankful when our Egyptian Fixer, Kamal arrived on the dockside to come and help navigate us through.

Sunrise on Lake Nasser

Sunrise on Lake Nasser

Good morning campers!

Good morning campers!

The Egyptians are a very shouty and confronting bunch, very unlike the reserved Sudanese and i took an immediate disliking to them. It was total bedlam as Kamal lead us from the boat and left us in what looked like a cattle pen at the end of the jetty while he went to organise our visas. Hundreds of people began to pack into the immigration pen, along with their luggage and boxes of stuff. Tempers began to flare as people slammed into each other, knocked each others boxes over and started pushing and shoving each other out of the way. A number of fights broke out in the pen, which in usual Arab style really just involved a lot of shouting and shirt pulling but we were all running on short fuses and patience was wearing thin. We found an area out of the way and waited for the chaos to clear –  it took 4 hours for us to get through! We were not enjoying our introduction to Egypt.

Stuck in the Immigration pen at Aswan - not happy!

Stuck in the Immigration pen at Aswan , Rich, Steve & Josep – not happy!

Fortunately things improved once we were out of the port and on our way to a highly recommend guesthouse, Ek a Dolli, in a Nubian village on the west bank of Aswan. Sadly as with most tourist ventures in Egypt at the moment, we were the only people staying, but good for us, the prices are a bargain! Relieved to be somewhere civilised after so long in the desert, words can not describe the joy of being somewhere clean, with a decent bed and a proper toilet!!! Not to mention, being somewhere with beer! We spent a very relaxing 5 days exploring the sites of Aswan, the very impressive Philae, the High Dam and a hilarious Felucca (traditional sail boats) trip down the Nile, which despite their being no wind, they insisted that we still went. We spent 3 hours being towed by various motor boats, interspersed by some serious rowing from the captain and his 1st mate!

The view from Eka Dolli - The High Dam in the distance

The view from Eka Dolli – The High Dam in the distance

Philae - Temple of Isis

Philae – Temple of Isis

Hard work for some on the Felucca!

Hard work for some on the Felucca!

But very relaxing for the rest of us on the Felucca

But very relaxing for the rest of us on the Felucca

Finally, and with some relief, we got the call to say that Kylie had arrived in port! We headed back down to the chaos and spent another morning waiting for our fixer, to clear the car through customs and organise the Egyptian drivers licence, insurance and Egyptian plates. We were very happy to have the car back again –in total it had taken us 10days to get from one side of the lake to the other! But after a relaxing few days of being a total tourist, it was time to get back on the road and make up some serious mileage. Due to the problems in Egypt, we’d never planned on hanging around and so it was going to be foot to the floor to get through our last African country and into Israel in time to catch our boat to Italy.

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