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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.

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Fiesta adventures in Zululand

Day 78

1,500 Fiesta Klms

Just back from our mini adventure – wow, driving in Africa is definitely not for the faint-hearted! Driving out of Durban was like being in Gran Turismo, everyone drives so fast and if you can’t keep up, then the polite thing to do is get out of the way and drive in the hard shoulder! Despite pushing the little fiesta up to 110km/hr, we soon realised that our place belonged firmly in the hard shoulder so pulled over to allow everything else to pass us. This would have been fine, except you are then faced with trying to dodge all the people, market stalls, animals that seemed to line the motorway despite being miles from anywhere. Coming from a place which has a population of only 20million, we can’t get over how many people there are here!

Our first destination was St Lucia, an incredible wetlands area and the first World Heritage site in South Africa. We arrived in the afternoon and although a blissful little place, unfortunately our accommodation was not what it looked like on the picture…well maybe it did 20years ago, but not now. Oh well, it was extremely cheap and once we’d fumed the room out with mozzie killer, it was just about bearable! It’s on nights like these we wish we had our comfy & clean bed in our tent! We are counting the days until Kylie is here! That said, it was pretty cool to sit on the balcony at night and here the hippos in the river just below us…our first African animal!

We took a boat trip the next day down the river to view the hippos close up – a fact i didn’t know was that hippos can’t swim! When you see them in the river, they are either standing in shallow water, or walking across the bottom and  jumping up to the surface now and then to take a breath!

Heading north we ventured up to our first game reserve – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi , the oldest reserve in Africa and credited with saving the white rhino from extinction. We stayed in Insinkwe bushcamp just outside the park – thankfully this one was fantastic! Driving into the park for the first time was exhilarating – you just didn’t know what would be around the next corner and being in a tiny fiesta only added to the excitement.  It must have been beginners luck, but in the first afternoon we saw 4 of the big 5 including both black and white rhino as well as giraffe, zebras and an assortment of different antelope. Our first encounter with an elephant however, was slightly terrifying, as we pulled up to the river’s edge, the dominant bull decided to charge out of the water straight towards the car in front of us. There was a mad panic as the cars all tried to get out the way, but luckily our little getaway car was amazing at reversing at high speed and we were soon able to breathe a sigh of relief! Our second close encounter was with a white rhino! Slowing down to check out 2 warthogs to our right, we didn’t realise that when they started running off, it wasn’t because of us, but a rhino charging full pelt towards us all from our left.  Fortunately, the rhino saw us and turned in time to miss our car (which is a miracle considering how bad their eyesight is) and i only saw him as his horn was about level with the passenger window! How we all missed each other i don’t know, but it certainly made for one hell of a first game drive!

We felt so privileged to have seen a number of rhinos on our trip they are under huge threat from poachers with the horn trade being bigger now than ever, fuelled predominantly by the demand for Chinese medicine. The game parks in South Africa are investing heavily to try and protect rhinos as much as possible and success stories of how many poachers have been caught or killed are banded about in the newspapers. However, with  rhino horn commanding such a high price it seems the risks are worth taking for poachers and the risk of getting caught is not a strong enough deterrent . If rhinos are to survive extinction,  there needs to be more focus  on tackling the source of the problem, not just the poachers who are simply supplying the demand.

After our animal encounters, we took the drive 4hours north to the battlefields, for a history lesson on the Anglo-Zulu & Boer wars. The scenery was just spectacular, with rolling green hills covered in lush long grasses – the livestock here look a lot healthier than those in WA! Driving through the rural villages, it’s hard not to be shocked by the poverty that sits just outside of the city. The disparity in wealth is unbelievable. From big mansions, well healed people and flash cars, to the small thatched circular huts , roaming cattle & ladies sitting on the verges cutting the grass with scythes.

We stayed in Dundee and were fortunate to meet Evan Jones the local historian who told us a lot about the history of the area and the battles at Islandwana and Rorkes drift, made famous by the film Zulu. He was keen to point out the inaccuracies of the film in detail, i didn’t like to say that i hadn’t seen it, but fortunately Rich had! He really helped to bring it all to life for us and made the visit to the battlefields a lot more interesting!

We’re now back at our base in Durban waiting for the car. Apparently it arrived on Tuesday, so we are now in constant contact with our agent to work out when it will be offloaded and through customs. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe not? This is Africa time now.

**Update as i post this. We found out yesterday that to get the car released we also needed the original copy of our ‘Bill of landing’ which we only have as a soft copy. The Australian shipping agent had failed to mention we would need this, so once again they have let us down and left us ill-prepared. Fortunately our shipping agent this side is being fantastic and has managed to arrange a permission to release without original paperwork and we could have the car by this afternoon!!

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Kylie leaves Australia

Day 48:

KLMS Travelled – 11,932

In just under 50days we’ve driven nearly 12,000km!! The journey so far has taken us across the breadth and length of Australia in what has been an incredible ‘warm up’ for our next leg across Africa. Having the opportunity to get used to life on the road has been invaluable before we hit the unknowns of Africa and despite this being the ‘easy’ part of our trip, we have learnt so much in such a short space of time. Learning how to live out of your car certainly takes some getting used to and never being more than a foot apart from each other can be testing on even the strongest relationships! However, we soon found that we naturally fell into a new routine, each of us having our own roles in the day to day set up of camp, making fires, cooking dinner, car maintenance, route planning etc. Our days were full!

As we headed into Perth, it felt strange to be breaking up the team so soon – we were really just getting into it – but our plans had always  been to hit Africa in June, so we could start the drive north through the winter (hopefully drier) months.  My parents arrived from the UK, the day we got into Perth, ready to make the most of our downtime while the car was at sea and spend two weeks touring the Margaret River with us – it was amazing to be back in the luxury of a house again, with a comfy bed, flushing toilet, hot showers…you really do appreciate the simple things in life when you’ve been camping for so long!

Most of the ‘improvements’ will be done once we get to Africa, but we installed black coreflute board into all the back windows so the car is more like a van now and will stop those prying eyes from seeing in. We also gave the car a proper clean out, washed everything and then did another cull of stuff we’ll be taking with us. Thankfully mum and bought a spare bag for us, so they could take anything back we didn’t need.

We chose CargoOnline to send the car with – their quote was much better than the others we’d seen and we knew other overlanders had used them to. They were really easy to deal with and were very patient with our questions and constant date changes! We dropped Kylie off in Fremantle, and once the rooftop tent & box were taken off we watched excitedly as she got put into her container for the long voyage. The guys at the depot thought we were pretty weird to be bouncing about taking photos – but for us it felt like waving off your firstborn on! And just like that it was done…..all seemed a little too easy???

A few days after the car sailed,  we got an email from the shipping agent to ask if the car was on a Carnet – we assumed all cars needed a Carnet, so thought it was a bit late to be asking these things! Turns out the Carnet needs to be stamped by customs before the car leaves the country?? We didn’t know it needed to be stamped out of Australia and as it hadn’t been requested we hadn’t given it another thought. Shit. Emails & phone calls were flung back and forth, but by this time it was late Friday night of the long weekend and nothing would be resolved for a few days.  At least we were in the Margaret River – a few wineries later and our minds were soon distracted! Our agent Rhys, on the other hand worked through the public holiday to ensure that we would be able to get a customs stamp retrospectively and it was a huge relief to be sent confirmation that we could take our Carnet to Fremantle customs house to be stamped once we were back in town. Phew. We now know that a Carnet has to be stamped in and out of every country – including Australia!

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