For all our English speaking friends we will give in this section of our homepage a summary of our trip. Our initial idea to select the language on the front page and use the same layout for different languages does not work with our provider and to duplicate all pages is something we don't want. As we will only write the travel diary in English please do not hesitate to send us an email should you have questions regarding other parts of our homepage e.g. the preparation of our trip.
We are often asked what we liked most. This is the only question we never managed to answer. We rather answer the question in a different way. We would travel all these countries again! Of course some cultural and scenic highlights are really standing out, but we have seen so many of them and the one and only outstanding highlight does not exist. As the trip was easier as initially expected and as we also did not experience dangerous moments we can really recommend doing such a trip, especially for people who have always dreamed about doing it. If you are moderately talented in working with the needed tools there is no reason not to do it. Tropical diseases have to be taken serious but nobody needs to be afraid. We did not pick up a single disease. Our monthly expenses during the trip have been below what we would have needed at home, although we did not miss anything during the trip. It was also worth to quit the job. From the moment we knew the date to fly back and start working again the character of the trip changed immediately, even though having had still 2 months ahead of us. Our conclusion is that the trip was an outstanding experience and every single second was worth it. We will definitely start travelling again like this, even though it will probably take quite a while until we will be able to do so.
After a delayed arrival in Munich incl. a detour via Paris we enjoyed a traditional Bavarian meal with the family. Strengthened but tired we opened thereafter the door to our clean flat (thanks to a cleaner) looking very much forward to the first night in our own bed. It was very easy to come home, also mentally. The 3 months in first world South Africa have looks like helped to acclimatise. The next question was if it would be equally easy to adapt to the working environment again. And indeed it was surprisingly easy. That both of us started again working with our previous employers has certainly helped to get back into the rhythm quickly. On 22.05.2012 we collected our car at Hamburg harbour. The car as well as everything inside the car survived the trip inside the container without damage. When the car arrived back in Munich at 10pm the whole distance covered during this trip was exactly 44.067 km.
The last days before flying back we had a very good time. With our small rental car and just a little luggage, staying over in a B&B, we almost felt like normal tourists. We also behaved like tourists as we had to bring home some typical African gifts. Saying good bye to South Africa after this 13 months and 13 days long trip was actually not very difficult as we were very much looking forward to meet our family and friends again. It was nice to spend again a longer time in South Africa, close to 10 years after having moved back. Even though South Africa is no longer an inexpensive travel destination (especially accommodation and Diesel) we had warm feelings and it was still almost like coming home. Some of the cost drivers have been, we have to admit, some luxury articles and services we could not resist to buy as we hardly got any of these on our way through Africa. South Africa has developed from our point of view quite well. The crime situation seems to get better and we had the feeling that there is more interaction between the different races, at least in the big cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. Of course the gap between the rich and the poor is still dramatic and even seems to widen, like in so many other countries. Also the new black middle and upper class does not seem to be willing to change this. Satisfaction with the achievements of the politicians is limited and the politicians don’t find answers (or don’t want to find) for the too low economic growth rate, the high (>20%) and growing unemployment rate, corruption, uncontrolled immigration and crime, especially amongst the poor. Never the less South Africa has the potential to successfully fight all these evils. We will definitely come back and have a look every now and then. Our friends, who have not forgotten us after all these years, will certainly help us doing so.
After 3 nice days in Paternoster we drove to Langebaan. Langebaan is a paradise for kiter and surfer and as we have never been there before we wanted to have a look and also visit the national park close by. Also here we stayed for 3 nights, although the place is nothing special apart from its location at that beautiful lagoon. The adjacent West Coast National Park is worth a visit because of its nice landscape. After a week at the cooler west coast we drove back inland. Our first stop was Tulbagh. Also Tulbagh is a wine growing ward and we visited a few wineries. Before ending our trip in the Cape we wanted to go back into the bush once more. To do this we visited the Karoo National Park near Beaufort West. Unfortunately it had rained also here quite a bit resulting in all the 4x4 routes in the park being closed. We explored the accessible part during the next 2 days and mainly enjoyed the landscape. Most of the animals must have moved to the temporarily closed part of the park. Our next stop was Prince Albert. Prince Albert is a charming little town not far away from Oudtshorn and definitely worth a visit, also because the roads between the two are dream-roads. We stayed 2 nights in the loneliness of the Bushman’s Valley and enjoyed it a lot before driving back to the Cape with its good wineries and excellent restaurants. As we wanted to find out how the wine industry has changed, we visited during the last 2 weeks several known and also new wineries. As the „Platter’s South African Wines“ (the South African Wine guide) got thicker and thicker over the past years we were no longer up to date. After driving from Prince Albert via Montagu, Robertson, Hermanus back to Stellenbosch we got a fairly good overview again. Apart from several new wineries there are also a number of new restaurants. Unfortunately the food is so good that we will have to put our jogging shoes on once we are back. While “working hard” discovering the wine lands we also found a shipping company for our car. On April the 19th we loaded our car into a 20 foot container. When being tired of wine we visited Robben Island and also drove to the Cape of Good Hope. The last days before getting on the plane we will spend in Stellenbosch.
In order to round up the picture of Africa we have a very last book recommendation. The book starts where the „The Africans“ ends and together with „The Chinese Gift“ the 3 books are giving a very good and fair overview over Africa. The title of the book is AFRICA (altered states, ordinary miracles) from Richard Dowden (ISBN 978 1 84627 155 7). Everybody how is interested in Africa and its people will not be bored by this book for a single second.
After 2 wet and cold nights in Buffels Bay we drove back inland. It was still cloudy in Oudtshorn, but a lot warmer and dry. In the afternoon we visited the Cango Caves, squeezing ourselves through narrow cracks. The next day, when we drove over Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert and back, we had very nice weather with not a single cloud up in the sky. Along the way we enjoyed the great views and we also found some blooming proteas. On the way to Cape Town we stopped over in Swellendam. From here we continued to Cape Town, the final destination of our trip through Africa. First we went to the motorbike rental company from which we rented the motorbikes for the following week and thereafter to the Table Bay Hotel. As we have never stayed in Cape Town overnight we used the opportunity and explored the waterfront and the city centre during the following two days by foot. Strengthened by the excellent and enormous breakfast buffet in the hotel this was not a problem. On Saturday we waited at the motorbike rental company for our friends to arrive. Together with Thomas, Ingo, Bruno and Emsi we toured the Cape during the following week. All men rode BMW motorbikes and Karin was driving the “service vehicle”. During this one week tour we first drove to the Cederberg Mountains where we stayed for 2 nights to give our friends a chance to recover from the long flight. Thereafter we drove to Robertson where we stayed at the Fraai Uitzicht Wine Estate (excellent food!), driving to Oudtshorn the next day. On the way to Oudtshorn we stopped at Ronnies Sex Shop. This is a bar in the middle of nowhere where you can get everything but sex and since friends have sprayed the word SEX on the wall the business is running well. From Oudtshorn we drove to the DeHoop Nature Reserve, with its nice coastal landscape, followed by Hermanus and Stellenbosch. All in all we drove 1640 km during this week of which around 250 km on gravel. It was very nice to have friends visiting us and unfortunately the week was over way too fast. After our friends left we stayed four more nights in Stellenbosch trying to organise the shipment of our car. We have received a lot of quotes but not yet the right one. From Stellenbosch we drove north to Tieties Bay (great!), where we camped for one night. Cold winds and the generally cooler climate on the west coast made us move into a small self-catering house in the nice little nearby town Paternoster. We are now here for two days and we really enjoy this place. We like it so much that we will keep an eye on this place. Tonight we will have rock lobster. The fisherman just brought three nice ones for just €15!
The Africans from David Lamb (Vintage Books Edition 1987, ISBN 0-394-75308-9) describes very informative and with a lot of humour the development of the African States from their independence until the early 80ies. Everybody who wants to know why Africa is as it is should read this book. Although the described period ended already 30 years ago the book is still up to date as the topic Post Election Violence 2008 in Kenya shows.
When we left Munich with 43.484km on our odometer we had no idea how many km we would drive to reach South Africa. 34.366km later we handed our car in for a major service at Steves Auto Clinic (SAC) Diesel in Centurion. Until then we changed the diesel and diesel-pre-filter twice, the air filter 3 times and the oil filter twice. We changed the engine oil 4 times and the front brake pads once. In the meantime we have 81.738km on the clock and we have no doubt that we will exceed the 40.000km in South Africa. In total we drove through 17 countries and up until we handed the car in for the service without problems. When we visited Autoliv in Johannesburg one of the employees told us that very likely the problems will start after the service and unfortunately he was right. During the service also the parts we had damaged where repaired/replaced, like the clutch and the leaf spring packs. Also the discs and the drums needed skimming and the brake pads had to be replaced. When we picked up the car after one week, everything seemed to be fine apart from a wrongly set caster, which we had corrected. Upon arrival in the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho we heard the sump plate rattling from underneath the car. After having a look we found 2 brackets with a pulled thread. On one bracket we could just add a nut, for the other one we did not have a solution. During the repair we found grease on the front left wheel. The cover of the CV-joint was loose and caused this mess. In order to fix this we took the wheel off and could not believe to find the brake pipe wrongly routed and severely damaged. When we tried to find out why the job was done in such a stupid and live threatening way, we found a snapped screw in the bracket that should hold the brake pipe. We had the remaining parts of the screw removed in Lesotho, cleaned everything from the grease, added some grease and fixed the CV-joint cover again with 2 screw clamps. Afterwards we routed the brake pipe correctly, taped the damaged area with a special tape, added brake fluid, removed the air from the system and screwed it to the now again functioning bracket. To fix all this took us almost half a day and there was no way for us to continue the trip through Lesotho as planned. In hind sight we have to be very happy that they pulled the threads. Without the rattling noise we probably would have only found out about the damaged brake pipe when it would have been too late. We don’t even want to think about the possible consequences, especially in a mountain area like in Lesotho. The problems were fixed in Bloemfontein at SAC without any cost for us, apart from the one pulled thread. But this is another story that has to be told over a glass of wine. SAC Diesel in Centurion we definitely cannot recommend! The employee working at reception (Meynardt) did not even bother to call us back when we left a message on his cell phone.
As planned we collected our camera and our car on the 16th. As the car was only ready in the afternoon we did not manage to also pick up out roof tent. We had to pay €2.200,- for the service incl. a new clutch. If the work would have been done well, the price would have been fair (see car update). Unfortunately we realised too late that the caster was set wrong, making another trip to Pretoria necessary to get this fixed the next day. On the way back we fetched the roof tent and were pleasantly surprised that they did not charge a single Rand for the modifications they had done. Thereafter we went shopping and were in for a surprise when we met at the butchery a South African couple which we had met in Malawi. After one more night in Joburg we drove to False Bay. The next day we visited the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, a park we never managed to visit before. We stayed for two nights and were surprised about the amount of rhinos we managed to see. After leaving the park we drove back to the sea, first to St. Lucia and thereafter through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to Cape Vidal, where we enjoyed the impressive coastal landscape. In Cape Vidal for the first time we lost something due to theft. A monkey managed to steal a muffin out of our car, although Karin was sitting right next to it. After getting our slingshot ready the monkeys stayed away. After Cape Vidal we did something we have not done before during the whole trip. South African friends recommended to stay at the Shakaland Protea Hotel near Eshowe to see „The Greatest Zulu Experience in Africa“. After a movie about the Zulu King Shaka was produced here in the eighties, the place was converted into a hotel showing the Zulu way of living today and in the past. The price for the room includes dinner, breakfast and 3 guided tours through the Zulu village. After our trip through Africa it was a little bit too much Hollywood for us, but for visitors without Africa experience it will certainly be a nice stay. After the morning show we drove to Durban and had a look at the city from the roof of the new soccer stadium. In order to escape from the humidity in Durban we continued to Howick Dam and meandered through the Midlands the next day, visiting also our first winery in South Africa. The wines produced in the height of the Midlands are more European in style and quite interesting. After another night in the Drakensberg we crossed the border to Lesotho at Sani Pass. After crossing the border you are immediately back into the Third World. The landscape and the people reminded us sometimes more of the Andes Mountains than Africa. After one night in Mokhotlong we initially had planned to drive right through the country to Maseru. Unfortunately this was made impossible by the problems we had with the brakes and the CV-joint cover (details see car update). After a temporary repair we changed our plan and drove to Oxbow from where we took a good tarmac road to Ficksburg in South Africa in order to get to the next SAC dealer in Bloemfontein to get the car properly repaired. It was a pity to cut our Lesotho visit short as we really liked the country. The trip to Bloemfontein was quite a detour as we never had planned to go there. Initially we wanted to leave Lesotho in the south, driving directly to the Mountain Zebra National Park. The garage fixed the problem with the brake and the CV-joint the same day, but they made the situation with the lose sump plate worse. This we only realised after arrival at the Mountain Zebra National Park. To drive back was completely out of the question and we also really had enough of these SAC guys. In the hope to be able to fix the problem later we removed the plates from the car and put them in the back of the car. The park is worth a visit because of the beautiful landscape should you be in the area. On our way to Addo Elephant National Park we took little dirt roads again through a magnificent landscape. The next day we crossed Addo Elephant from north to south, but compared to all other parks we have visited before the park had the least to offer. After one night at the Tsitsikamma National Park we arrived yesterday at Buffels Bay where we also managed to mount our sump plates again. Today we sit in a bar updating our home page and writing some emails as it is (surprise, surprise) raining again.
After arrival in South Africa we first drove to the Krüger National Park to have a look at the effects of the recent floods. At the gate we bought a wildcard for €220, allowing us to enter several South African National Parks for one year. In Uganda we paid the same amount of money for 24h! The many visitors, the majority of them with their own vehicle, show that reasonable prices work. Also staying at the camps inside the park is significantly less costly compared to most neighbouring countries and on top the shops in the camps are better stocked with a wider selection of goods and cheaper than in most supermarkets of the countries we travelled through. Only the real bush feeling you will not have, firstly because there are more people at the camps and secondly the camps are fenced in, preventing animals to enter the camps. The advantage of course is that you do not have to worry when going to the toilet at night. Although the flood had destroyed some roads and the water level was above some of the bridges we were not disappointed. Due to the partly dense vegetation in some areas of the park it is quite challenging to find animals anyways, especially in the wet season. An advantage of the Krüger Park on the other hand is, that the roads are well maintained and the water is draining well. During the 3 days in the park we managed to see the Big 5 several times (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo). On top we saw several animals living in herds, 1 cheetah, a pride of wild dogs and many birds, one species close to being extinct. The most astonished we were about the amount of rhinos we managed to see. Poaching of these animals is a big problem; already in the first 6 weeks of this year 54 rhinos have been poached in South Africa. Also Mozambique is suffering from poaching. Mantas are killed because the gills are believed to clean blood and reduce the blood pressure, of course without any scientific proof. We fear that this picture will not change as long as people are making so much money with these placebos used in traditional Chinese medicine. After 3 days we left the park to meet Kathi and Ferdi, whom we met several times during our trip, in Hazyview. During the following 3 days we enjoyed the Blyde River Canyon with its sights (God’s Window, Pinnacle, Bourke’s Potholes, 3 Rondavels etc.) and had a look at what has changed during the last 10 years. While Hazyview with its new shopping malls has changed a lot, Graskop and Pilgrim’s Rest are still like we had them in our memory. From Graskop we drove to Pretoria to get our windscreen replaced. Gustav, a South African we met with his wife in the Krüger Park, showed us the way to a garage, where they replaced the windscreen for a very good price. Afterwards we drove together to another garage to make arrangements for the long overdue major service. The helpfulness impressed and surprised us a lot. Our next stop was the Misty Hills Country Hotel in Johannesburg where we stayed for one night before moving into a B&B. The welcome at Misty Hills was outstanding. As we drove with our car to reception, we were asked where we were coming from. After giving a very brief description of our trip we were upgraded to bigger room. In the room we found a huge fruit basket and vouchers for drinks at the bar. The evening we spent at the next door Carnivore restaurant eating lots of all kinds of meet. In the morning we had to have pictures taken with us and the hotel mascot and afterwards drove to the company to meet the ex-colleagues and have a look at the positive development of the company. As the service appointment for the car was still one week away we left Johannesburg again after 2 days and went on a short trip to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and the Hartbeespoort Dam. Before leaving we sent a few emails to old friend and travellers we met during our trip to tell them, that we have reached Johannesburg. Upon arrival in Pilanesberg we already received the first phone call. Markus offered us to stay at his house instead of moving into a B&B again, what we happily accepted. We stayed 4 nights with him and his wife before moving back into the B&B, which we had already booked. It is unbelievable how the time was flying in Johannesburg. Almost every evening we went out with friends or other travellers. On one of these evenings we met Claudio who drove from Johannesburg to London in 5 months with his motorbike, also without having any problems. During the days we visited Johannesburg and Pretoria. Especially Johannesburg has changed in our eyes a lot, we think for the better. Apart from the car we also handed one of our cameras and our roof tent in for a service. Tomorrow we will collect everything again and leave Johannesburg on Friday after almost 2 weeks.
Also the border crossing from Malawi to Mozambique was again easy. As we crossed the border quite late in the afternoon, due to changing the engine oil in Malawi, we had to stay one night at the border town Mandimba in a pretty basic hotel. Normally these border towns are not very exciting and often unpleasant, but Mandimba is ok and the hotel as well as the food had been good and quite cheap as we had to learn later during our trip. On the way to Ilha de Mozambique we unfortunately did not find a place to stay. The gravel road leads through a fantastic scenery with lots of rocks left and right of the road, according to our guidebook one of the nicest landscapes in southern Africa. Apart from the landscape this road does not have much to offer. The villages are poor and although not a lot of people live in the area, you find clay huts all along the road. Therefore we had to drive around 500 km in one day to find a place to camp close to Nampula. The campsite is situated on a farm, owned by a Portuguese who produces meat. It goes without saying that the meat dishes are great, although a bit pricy. We had a very nice evening with the owner and we also had to taste his banana schnapps. In Nampula, Mozambique’s 3rd biggest city, we tried to stock up, but we could not find a single good supermarket (Shoprite closed down) and the prices were very high. Without purchases we drove to Ilha de Mozambique, buying fruit and vegetables next to the street, as so often during this trip. At least here the prices were still ok. At Ilha de Mozambique we stayed at a campsite right next to the bridge to the island. We were warned that the place would not be safe (at least for backpackers with tents), the Italian owner strange and on top very expensive, but due to a lack of alternatives we decided to stay there. Upon arrival we heard from 3 south American couples that 2 of their 3 tents were cut open the night before, luckily they woke up and nothing was stolen. Other travellers weren’t as lucky. The owner didn’t care and just said, the beach is open and there is nothing he can do. We did not have any problems and to our knowledge cars weren’t broken into yet. For travellers with tents we really cannot recommend the place. When visiting the Ilha we were prepared for the worst (beggars, “guides” etc.) and were very pleasantly surprised. We crossed the 3,5km long bridge by foot and walked all across the island without being bothered at all. We visited the whole island and also taking pictures was not a problem. Quite e few buildings have been nicely renovated and a lot of buildings have the potential to be renovated. Although everything can easily be seen in 1 day, Ilha de Mozambique is definitely worth a visit. On the way south we stayed overnight in a hotel in Mocuba. The hotel and the town were ok although the description in the Lonely Planet was far away from positive. On the contrary, the much better rated town before, Alto Molocue, we didn’t like at all. The recommended hotel no longer existed and the only other hotel, which was very basic, assembled a lot of drunken men at the bar. We just don’t like the Lonely Planet guide books; unfortunately it was the only guide for Mozambique we found in Nairobi. The next day, to our surprise, we got stuck in such a way that we had to be towed out, when having a look at a campsite next to the Zambezi. When you no longer think that things like this can happen, they happen. All diff locks did not help as the car was sitting with the whole left under body firmly on the ground. First we shovelled mud for a while and then the owner of the place came and towed us out, of course not without making some clever remarks. As we did not like the site and we expected more rain to come, we drove 30 km past Caia and stayed at the very recommendable M’phingwe Camp. We stayed 2 nights and from here we continued to Inhassoro. Inhassoro is a fishing destination for South Africans and apart from that, the little town does not have much to offer. We were the only campers on a huge campsite and after 1 night we decided to drive to Vilanculo. Our plan was to scuba dive at the Bazaruto Archipelago, but unfortunately Cyclone Funso prevented that from happening. All dive centres we talked to, stopped operating for 10 days. As the weather was getting worse we drove further south to Tofo, after 2 days in the hope to be faster than Funso. As such a Cyclone of course brings a lot of wind and rain, we decided to stay at a lodge in Tofo. Unfortunately Funso also here influenced the water conditions, already causing higher waves and poor visibility under water. We stayed for 4 days hoping that the Cyclone would move to open waters, resulting in better diving conditions at Tofo. This did not happen. As the weather was still nice with the Cyclone being almost stationary further north, we gave it a try and did one dive. The dive was unfortunately as expected with high waves, currents under water and a visibility around 5 m. As also here the weather was expected to turn worse over the coming days and on top the prices for scuba diving in Tofo were astronomical, we decided not to do more dives. As also the planned whale-shark safari was cancelled due to the weather we decided to leave and for the first time during the whole trip we were beaten by the weather. Luckily the road to Maputo was open again. The last heavy rains had washed a part of the road away with the result, that southern Mozambique was disconnected from the rest of the country. As nobody knew what this cyclone would do and as the weather was getting progressively worse we decided to drive to Maputo to avoid maybe getting stuck. On the way down we stopped for 1 night at Zsavora Beach where the sky was overcast and the waves also very high already. The following day we reached Maputo without problems, where we stayed 2 days exploring the city and having a look at was has changed during the last 10 years. We walked around in town a lot and we think that Maputo has developed nicely with its historical buildings, the busy city live and the fish market. At the fish market you buy whatever you want to eat and afterwards you ask one of the nearby restaurants to cook your purchase for you. Excellent! From Maputo we drove directly to South Africa, again having no problems to cross the border. Mozambique is a huge country in which there is not a lot to see between Ilha de Mozambique and Maputo, apart from lots of nice beaches, in the rainy Season when some of the national parks are closed. We had a good time with the Mozambicans, but we wonder how they manage to survive with the prices being so high. Very likely 80% of the population are subsistence farmers, not participating in the country’s economic development, and the rest can obviously afford it. Mozambique was the most expensive country of our entire travel so far.
We liked Malawi a lot although a lot of stupid things happened during this time. We had to have again a bracket welded, we managed to delete pictures without having them saved, we had a mouse in our car for quite some time and finally our windscreen cracked. But let’s start from the beginning. With 160l of diesel we entered the country, because of the fuel shortage we heard of. The border crossing was again very easy and for the second time in Africa it did not cost us a cent. Maybe Germany is paying so much development aid that we do not need a visa. Our first stop was at the Mushroom Farm near Livingstonia. We camped here high above the lake (~600m) and enjoyed the great view onto Lake Malawi. The next day we visited Livingstonia and had a look at the old Mission and afterwards carried on to the Nyika National Park. Although the park claims to have the highest population of leopards of all parks we did not go there because of the animals but because of the landscape. The park lies mostly above 2000m above sea level and impresses with its unique landscape. We were told that all the forests disappeared because of fire clearing the area to be able to poach more successfully. Sometimes it looks like being in Scotland. We stayed 2 days and nights in the park at very pleasant temperatures and nice weather and even did a night drive to see all these cats. Unfortunately this was not successful and just confirmed our decision not to visit more National Parks during the rainy season. Also we could see while being in the park, heavy rains go down in neighbouring Zambia. When leaving the park we all of a sudden heard a banging noise. First we could not detect the source but then found one of the roof rack brackets broken. Handicapped like this we drove very carefully and super slow, after having emptied the 2 jerry cans of diesel into the tank to reduce the load, to Mzuzu where we were sure to find a good garage. We found the garage and they welded the bracket the same afternoon. As we also needed to buy SIM-cards for the phone and the computer and do some shopping we decided to stay in Mzuzu. Here we could also see what happens when the rumour is out that petrol will be available soon. Already the day prior to the delivery, cars queued in row of two around the block. The next day when the petrol really arrived they were even queuing in row of three. When Karin took a picture of this chaos, a policeman without uniform asked her to show the camera. After assuring that the pictures on the camera are just for our private documentation and after assuring that we were not from South Africa (for one reason or another he did not like South Africans) he let us go. In the meantime the pictures are unfortunately deleted; please have a look further down. For us the fuel shortage was very nice as the streets have been most of the time empty. For the first time during this trip we stayed at a backpacker place, which in this case was run by two older men who have had a few whiskeys and cigarettes too many in their life. We camped in the garden and enjoyed the evening a lot with good food and very good music. The next day we drove to Chinteche where we camped at the Chinteche Inn. We can highly recommend the Chinteche Inn as it has a very nice camp site and the nicest and cleanest beach we could find in Malawi. Already upon arrival we could see the lake flies dancing in the middle of the lake. It looks very impressing seeing millions of these flies on the lake but it get extremely unpleasant when they hit land. A small swarm of these only 3 to 4 millimetre big flies hit the tent of our neighbours. We camped next to a mango tree and all we had to do was to pick the nicest up from the ground. Here we also met again South Africans, one family coming from Zambia, and they confirmed to us that driving to Zambia would not be a good idea at the moment. They told us that it would no longer be possible to enter the North Luangwa National Park and they got stuck in the South Luangwa National Park. As we liked it so much at the Chinteche Inn we stayed for 5 nights and left on the 4th of January. New Year’s Eve we celebrated together with all guests from the lodge, first at the buffet and afterwards around a fire on the beach, of course also with fireworks. On the 1st Roteltours came for one night and thereafter we had the place for ourselves. Our stay was unfortunately negatively influenced by two events. Firstly ,I (Ralph) deleted pictures Karin has taken without saving them. All attempts to rescue the pictures have failed so far but we don’t surrender. Should we manage to rescue the pictures we will update the Malawi picture gallery at a later stage. Secondly we managed to attract a mouse after having bought a fresh loaf of bread. After finding some droppings we emptied the car twice without being able to chase the mouse away. Unfortunately we cannot remove the plastic cover of the cargo area due to our canopy and this is exactly where the mouse was hiding. All we could do now was to remove all eatable things from the back and hope that the mouse would leave sooner or later. When we left on the 4th we took her with to Senga Bay where we stayed for 2 nights at the Cool Runnings. At the Cool Runnings we tried to update our homepage without success, because there was either a super slow connection or no connection at all due to several power blackouts. In Salima, on the way to Cape Mclear, we finally managed to upload the pictures and travel diary. On route we visited the old mission in Mua which is well worth seeing. In Cape Mclear we stayed at Fat Monkeys and as they are providing electricity we camped in the shade of a big mango tree. Also here we just had to pick up the mangos falling from the tree. Also our mouse was still with us, but after the first night we found droppings outside the car on the table and luckily thereafter we have not seen a trace of her again. After one week and several hundred kilometres further south the mouse finally decided to leave us. The water at Cape Mclear was not as clear as we were hoping. Therefore we decided not to do the planned dives. With a visibility of around 7m and the risk of getting into a thunderstorm we thought that it is not worth it. When our windscreen cracked, very likely through a falling mango, we decided to leave Cape Mclear and Malawi. On the way to Mozambique we changed once more engine oil and the diesel filters and left Malawi on the 10th in the afternoon. Not looking at the mishaps and the weather we liked Malawi a lot. The people speak English well, are helpful and friendly and very relaxed. Looking at the supply shortages (fuel, water, beer etc.) you probably have to be very relaxed in order not to go crazy. Also the police has been normal again and did not bother us much.
We have written a lot about Development Aid and also about the Chinese involvement in Africa. The book „The Dragon’s Gift“ from Deborah Brautigam (ISBN 978-0-19-960629-0) has a neutral look at this topic, is very informative and easy to read. When reading the book you will not only learn something about Chinese Development Aid in Africa but also what the western world is doing. Without telling too much, we can say that there is something to learn from the Chinese.
When we left Kipepeo Beach on the 21st it rained cats and dogs. The weather started changing already the day before, but the heavy rain came during the night. After a short breakfast we put the wet, but now salt free, tent together and left for Morogoro in the hope that the weather might be better further inland. On the way we had to drive through Dar Es Salaam, which was under water, also to pick up our Mozambique Visa and do some shopping. Outside town the road to Morogoro was partly flooded, causing the traffic to stop. Late in the afternoon we managed to reach Morogoro where it was dry and took a room at a little hotel. Luckily we managed to dry our tent in the evening sun. The next day we drove close to Iringa where we stayed at the very nice River Camp Site. From here we went to visit our last National Park in Tanzania, the Ruaha NP. This National Park is relatively inexpensive, maybe because it is located in such a remote area, but one of the nicest in Tanzania. Already on the way to the park we had to brake for an elephant, crossing the dirt road. After this promising start we were quite disappointed inside the park. Normally the Ruaha NP is one of the driest parks with an average rainfall per year of 500 mm and can easily be visited with a normal sedan car until the end of February. When we entered the park some of the dirt roads inside the park were so wet that it was not possible to go there. Also here it had rained too early and too much, like so often during our trip. In the park we were lucky with the weather, but not with seeing animals. Due to all the water there was enough food and water throughout the park, so that the animals did not have to come to the rivers to drink, making it much more difficult to find them. After a very nice night in the park, incl. a visit by a hippo and a hyena, just when we thought of giving up, we were rewarded. At first we only saw three lion couples dosing in the shade very close to the car. Then one couple did us the favour to mate directly in front of us. This incident was accompanied by a jealous (our interpretation) female, coming to disturb the couple after having mated (maybe there will be a video sometime in the future with this scene). Around lunchtime we left the park in order to arrive at the Old Farmhouse some kilometres south of Iringa still during daylight. There we took a room and wanted to enjoy Christmas Eve having a nice dinner at their restaurant. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed over Christmas and we had to cook. Over a good bottle of wine we fell asleep early, but before falling asleep we decided to change our travel plan. The visit of the Ruaha NP just confirmed to us that it does not make sense to visit more parks during the rainy season and this would have been the main reason to visit the Zambian Luangwa Valley. After studying the map we felt, that it would make more sense to drive first to Malawi and then to Mozambique. This was also the recommendation of a Zimbabwean living in Tanzania. Consequently we skipped not only Zambia but also Zimbabwe. Based on this decision we drove on the 25th to Mbeya and not to Njombe, where we also managed to get a nice Christmas dinner in the hotel where we were staying. On route we saw, apart from the always present and annoying police in the villages and driven over dogs, a lot of trucks lying on their side or “standing” in the bush. As the police is only checking inside the villages that the speed limits are respected, and everybody apart from tourists know where, some cars/busses/trucks drive like crazy outside the villages, resulting in numerous truck accidents. From Mbeya we drove south to Malawi, this time even with filled jerry cans, as we had heard that it might be impossible to get petrol or diesel in Malawi and if so it would be very expensive. What can we say about Tanzania after having spent 6 weeks in the country? We met very nice people, but also strange ones and very greedy ones. In our eyes the people in Tanzania are less cordial and do not have such good sense of humour as e.g. their northern neighbours. We found the high entrance fees to the parks as well as the toll on the way to Lake Natron really annoying. Also annoying was the police with their radar guns, everybody apart from tourists know where they are standing. We had to pay once for speeding which was ok, and they wanted to make us pay 2 more times which we did not, as we had not done anything wrong. The police in Tanzania are known to be corrupt and they really have been the most annoying during the whole trip so far. The country is beautiful and definitely worth a visit, although we had the feeling that tourists are seen in the first place as a cash cow. Saying that we were also lucky, e.g. when leaving Tanzania the friendly Tanzania Revenue Authority officer overlooked that we would have had to pay some more road tax.
We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We are very pleased that you enjoy visiting our homepage so much, but we also have to admit that we are benefitting a lot from putting all the content together, as it helps us to “digest” everything we are experiencing. In that sense we wish you and us an exciting 2012.
After a good rest we started our next safari on Dec. 4th together with Karin’s brothers. Well stocked up, this time also with enough beer for 4, we first drove to the southern end of Lake Natron. The lake is a very important breeding area in Africa for flamingos and on top the scenery is very beautiful. We knew that this safari would not come cheap and we realised this during the first day. Our travel guide prepared us to pay $15 “toll” on the way to Lake Natron, in reality we had to pay at 3 gates in total $115. It must have been similar in the middle ages in Europe. The next day we drove north, first along the shore of the lake, to the Klein’s Gate of the Serengeti National Park. As we left 30 min. later than Karin’s brothers in the morning, on top also taking a lot of pictures of the lake, we speeded up a bit after leaving the lake in order not to have Karin’s brothers wait too long at the gate. When we got there, we were very surprised not to see them. They arrived 45 min later, wondering that we were already at the gate. The driver could not believe that a Mzungu (white person) not knowing the area could have overtaken him, respectively could have chosen a different/faster route. In hindsight we believe that since this point the communication with the driver was disturbed. As the dirt roads in the northern part of the park were quite bad, due to heavy rain, we decided to continue south to the Seronera Camp where we stayed for 2 nights. Although driving pretty fast to reach the camp before sunset, we could see several animals like cheetah, a family of jackal, hyena and also some animals living in herds. The next day we followed Karin’s brothers for the morning game drive, seeing, the absolute highlight of the day, later in the morning 3 leopards in a tree feeding on an antelope. Unfortunately the light was not good enough to take real good pictures, but the sighting will for sure stay in our memory. After a short lunch Karin and I continued with our game drive. At first we failed to find the rhinos but later in the day we were rewarded by seeing a cheetah looking for pray and a pride of lions in arm’s length of our car. Again we did not see many animals living in herds and we started to wonder what all the cats are still doing in the Serengeti. The next day we left Seronera to the south in order to reach the Ngorongoro Crater. Shortly after leaving the Serengeti we found the animals we were looking for in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in which also the crater in located. A huge amount of wildebeest and zebra “waited” just behind the gate. No wonder that the Serengeti was so empty. Of course also here we were able to see lions, cheetah and hyena. The crater, we were told by other travellers, would not be worth the extra $200 they are charging for letting you into the crater with your own car. As we could join Karin’s brothers in their car we decided to have a look ourselves. We believe it is actually worth going down the carter. The landscape is impressive and we managed to see lots of animals during the 6 hours game drive. After lunch we left, again past Lake Manyara, for the Tarangire National Park. The park is known for its large population of elephants which we also managed to see. After getting back to Arusha we said good bye to Karin’s brothers and wondered how fast the 3 weeks passed by. On the way to the sea we stopped at the Usambara Mountains, where we also hiked a bit. From the mountains we drove straight into the heat to Bagamoyo, just north of Dar Es Salaam. Bagamoyo was the first capital of German-East Africa and it is a little quite charming town with its slavery and German history. After 2 nights at the nice but unfortunately mosquito invested Travellers Lodge we drove south of Dar to the recommendable Kipepeo Beach. Luckily there is always wind here and it is dry, resulting in very few mosquitos. Here we also met, after quite some time, other travellers again. Detlef and Connie are standing directly next to us with their Land Cruiser and yesterday also some South Africans arrived. It will be easy to spend the week here, which we have to wait for our Mozambique Visa.
Again we had to cross a border where other travellers had told us, that the border officials would not make our life easy. We were told, that we would be forced to buy an insurance that we don’t need, purchase reflective stickers which we don’t want and show a second triangle that we don’t have. All this did not happen. Actually the border was very easy to cross and the officials correct, friendly and helpful. Unfortunately it took a while to cross the border, as the single lane border bridge was blocked by many trucks on the way to Rwanda. After passing the border we drove again on the left side on very good roads through relatively uninhabited and now dryer areas. Due to the delay at the border, we did not manage to reach Singida before sunset. Shortly before dawn we found a nice little guesthouse in a little village where we could camp in the yard. We paid as much as what a room would have cost us, around €4, but as our bed in the tent was much bigger we preferred to stay in the tent. The communication was not easy, as the 2 ladies running the guesthouse only spoke Kisuaheli and our knowledge of the language is very limited. Both of us laughed a lot and we are sure that we were the first ones camping in their yard. Maybe we were even the first white guests the ladies had. The next day we reached Singida, where we wanted to find the Convent of the Pallottine Sisters. In this Convent Sister Hedwig is living and working, who is a very distant relative to me (Ralph). Indeed it was very easy to find the Convent. Already the first person we asked, a waiter at a hotel where we had a coke, was able to tell us how to get there, because his sister is going to the well renowned Secondary School, the sisters are running. After arrival at the school we found a sister who showed us the way to the Convent. We stayed 2 nights at the Convent with the sisters and thanks to sister Hedwig we could get a very good insight in what the sisters are doing. The sisters set up a Secondary School for girls, which is so successful, that even girls from Dar es Salaam come here. According to the sisters, 100% of the girls finishing the school are finding a job or are going to university. The school is so renowned that every year there are more applicants than seats. We liked a lot that the criterion to get a seat is the result of the test, the applicants have to write and not the religious denomination of the girls. The sisters are also running a dispensary and the priest is heading a home for the handicapped children, with at the moment 70 handicapped boys and girls. As the life of handicapped kids is even harder in African societies, compared to ours at home, the kids in this home are very fortunate. Although the sisters and the priest have access to the needed funds, compared to the orphanages we visited, we admire the work they are doing. We had all meals together with the sisters and we also attended church with them. We were very happy about the cordiality with which we were welcomed and we wish the Convent all the best for everything they have started. We also hope that, thanks to the well-educated girls, the Covent is making a contribution to the development of Tanzania. From Singida we carried on to the Lake Manyara National Park. The park offers in the first place a very nice landscape and does not have so many animals. We managed to see the famous tree climbing lions but we failed to take a picture. Viewing game here will probably also in future not get easier, as the increasing population is hampering the migration of the animals. After this short safari we drove to Arusha to meet Karin’s brothers. After 3 nights in Arusha we started to climb Mt. Meru. Mt. Meru is the perfect climb to acclimatise for Kilimanjaro. The climb starts at 1500m above sea level and in 3 days you reach the summit at 4562m. Already the start was exiting as we had to walk past a herd of buffalos. As we were accompanied by a ranger with a riffle we felt save and we had a close look. Thereafter we walked mainly through rainforest to the first hut at 2500m. Also the next day to the next hut at 3500m we walked mainly through rainforest. Up to here we were lucky with the weather and also the standard of the huts exited us. The standard, rooms with only 4 beds and clean working toilets, is significantly above the Kenyan huts. The summit climb started at 2:30 am and it was raining slightly. Unfortunately the slight rain turned into heavy rain during the climb. Although we were told by our guide that a steep rocky passage ahead of us cannot be climbed when it is raining, we did so without realising and even with our umbrellas in our hands. When the rain started to turn into snow we asked our guide if it makes sense to continue, still waiting for the critical part to come. The answer we got was, that there is now no way back as we passed all the critical areas already. With snow fall we started the last 500m difference in altitude. The higher we climbed the less snow we had and luckily the clouds opened up sometimes for a few minutes. The last meters in altitude had been quite arduous, as the way is always along the crater rim in a rocky terrain. Also unpleasant was that we had wet feet due to the rain, although we were wearing Gore Tex shoes. After a short break at the summit we started the long descend down to the hut 2000m difference in altitude below. Luckily we did not have rain during descend and we could have a close look at the “critical” parts. From our point of view the critical parts looked quite harmless, even though a ranger was confirming that you cannot do it when it is raining and that to his knowledge nobody has done it before. We do not believe this at all. Often of course you will find climbers here, lacking the equipment and experience to do such a mountain in bad weather conditions. The last 1000m difference in altitude down to the gate was easy and also here we were lucky with the weather. Also the heard of buffalos was there again and on top we could see some giraffes. The day of rest before starting the Kilimanjaro climb Karin and me commiserated each other because of our sore muscles. The ascend of 1000m difference in altitude to the summit followed by a descend of 2000m difference in altitude the same day had been a little bit too much for our untrained legs. After this short break we started the Kilimanjaro climb. This time our group was just Karin’s brothers and ourselves. Also here we decided to do the route with huts (Marangu Route) as we did not feel like camping in these wet weather conditions. Compared to technically more difficult Mt. Kenia and Mt. Meru, the challenge at Kilimanjaro is the height. In order to acclimatise we decided to have a day of rest at the second hut (Horombo huts) at 3700m. During this day we did a short climb to the saddle between Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi, slightly above 4000m above sea level via the Upper Route. Prepared as best as we could, we climbed the next day to the Kibu Hut at 4700m above sea level. As during the days before we walked slowly to give our body a chance to adjust to the height. Our guide often said: let’s go, but slowly. The locals say: pole pole. After a very short night without sleep we started ascend to the summit at 1am. With Karin leading (pole pole) we reached Gillman’s Point at 5681m at sun rise. Like the day before we also had during the summit day very nice weather with excellent clear views. Apart from a short rain during day 2 we were also lucky in this respect and this time our feet were dry. After a short tea break we climbed to the summit of Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak, where we arrived at 7:30am and fortunately we had the summit for ourselves. Apart from a slight shortness of breath, we all did not have a problem with the height. The view was just great and we took a lot of pictures in all directions. After 30min we started slowly descend which was actually very nice as we first could slide down some snow fields and afterwards areas of gravel. In this way we came down quickly without stressing our knees. Descend to the Kibu Hut took just slightly longer than 1,5h. Our guide was amazed by seeing us sliding down the snow fields. He then also tried it and fell promptly on his bum. He told us that in all his years at Kilimanjaro, he has never seen somebody doing this before. After a late breakfast we went down to the Horombo Huts, where we already arrived at 1:15pm. This time our muscles were fine and also the last 2000m difference in altitude down to the gate had been quite easy. In the beginning we feared that the Marangu Route would be crowded, but this fear was outside the main season baseless. The weather was excellent since ascend to the Kibu Hut, allowing us also to enjoy the great views, apart from the success of making it to the summit. What we looked forward to the most after the 6-day climb was a hot shower. Our daily water bucket (“water for wash”) ,filled just 2 fingers high, was just enough to wash our face and hands. Our team, consisting of porters, cook, waiter and guides did also this time a great job. The climb of both, Mt. Meru and Kilimanjaro, is certainly a highlight we will never forget and sometimes we even had a good laugh. Especially we laughed, when we saw a Russian group split up into 3 groups. We were told that the group had booked 3 helicopters (they also made an advance payment) to fly them down from Last Water (a little above the Horombo Huts) to Moshi after the climb. Unfortunately nobody asked the Park Administration if this is possible. As only rescue flights get permission to fly up Kilimanjaro, the Russians had to walk down what they also did swearing aloud. At the moment we are resting to be fit for the Safari in front of us.
Already after crossing the border we had the next surprise. Luckily a guy on a bicycle made us drive on the other side of the road. We could hardly believe it, but in Rwanda you have to drive on the right side of the road again. After so many kilometres on the left side this was a strange feeling. We checked immediately our travel guide to see if we had overlooked something, but like in Uganda we could not find any information, regarding traffic and traffic rules. After having managed to enter the country without accident, thanks to the guy on the bicycle, we drove to Kinigi. Like in Uganda we passed several big tea plantations and of course it was overcast and sometimes raining. Kinigi is the town from where the Gorilla Tracking Tours in Rwanda start, but this was not the reason to drive there. Kinigi just happened to be on route to Lake Kivo and there is one of the few camping opportunities in Rwanda. We did not see much of the volcanos of the Parc National des Volcans, where Kinigi is located, due to heavy clouds. From Kinigi we first drove to Gisenyi, before continuing to Kibuye. The former glamorous border town of Gisenyi, which suffered heavily during the civil war, is located beautifully at the shore in the north of the lake. . In order to reach Kibuye the same day, we decided to take the longer but faster tarmac road and not the bad dirt road. Thanks to this decision we arrived already at 4 pm in Kibuye and also managed to find a nice campsite at the lakeshore. On our way down to the Parc Nacional de Nyungwe we took the dirt road along the lake, which offers fantastic views at one of the most beautiful lakes of Africa. Apart from begging children, which reminded us a lot of Ethiopia, we had an unpleasant and a lucky experience. The unpleasant experience was, that the first stone of the whole trip was thrown at our car. A young begging kid out of a group of 4 kids had thrown the stone at the ca,r when we just passed them. Luckily he did not hit one of the windows. When the stone hit the car, I (Ralph) hit the brakes, reversed and jumped out the car to follow the boy. Unfortunately the boy had already disappeared. When I came back to the car, we met some adults of which one could speak English well. Two of the kids were also still there and they told the adults the name of the boy who had thrown the stone. When the adults told us, that the boy will be punished, we continued, also because we believe/hope that the boy got a huge fright when we stopped to chase him. Shortly before reaching the tarmac road it was up to us to get a fright. A bus approached us on the narrow dirt road and as always way too fast. We pulled right and stopped immediately to let the bus pass. When the front axle of the bus passed, there was approximately half a meter space between us, when the rear bumper passed it, was not more than a centimetre. We were sure that the bus would hit us. We met lots of vehicle with skewed frames, but luckily not on such narrow dirt roads. After having been lucky again we continued to the Parc Nacional de Nyungwe. Initially our plan was to do the Chimpanzee Tracking here. Other travellers had told us, that doing it in Uganda was a great experience, for some even better than the Gorilla tracking. It would not have been a problem to start the next day, but we would have had to take the ranger along as well. As our car has only 2 seats, and with no other tourists in sight who might have been able to take the ranger, we decided not to do the tracking. Also there is a slight chance to miss the habituated chimpanzees. Depending on whom you talk to, the likelihood is between 80% and 90% to actually find them. Probably it would have been better to visit the chimpanzees in Uganda and the gorillas in Uganda. In hindsight you are always cleverer. From the Parc Nacional de Nyungwe we carried on to Kigali. On very well winding tarmac roads we slowly approached Kigali. Due to ever winding roads in combination with little traffic, Rwanda is a paradise for motorbikes. On route to the capital we stopped at the Genocide Memorial Site in Murambi. On a little hill there are the buildings of a former school, which was never finished. Also here the Tutsi were rounded up by the Hutu and afterwards massacred. This only happened 16 years ago. The visit was depressing, also because it reminded us of our own history. What makes a visit of Murambi so unique is the fact, that mummified bodies, babies to old people of both genders, from one of the mass graves where disinterred and displayed, painted white on simple wooden beds. To visit such a site, learning about the history, is one thing, seeing and smelling the bodies is another thing. The memorial sites in Rwanda unfortunately show that mankind does not, or seldom, learn from history. The world has mostly closed the eyes over decades in Rwanda and also the UN soldiers did not intervene. A very disappointing role played France, as they trained the Hutu militia. After the Genocide the Tutsi found it very cynical, that also France sent soldiers to guarantee peace. Today the people of Rwanda try to avoid any tribal discussion and many memorial sites remind the population and the traveller of the Genocide. We can highly recommend a visit of Murambi. Due to this visit we reached Kigali late in the afternoon. In Kigali we stayed at the Dream Inn Hotel, which offers very good value for money and is in the city centre. We stayed for 3 days and changed again the oil of the car. We also had the wheel alignment checked and adjusted after realising that the front wheels wear more on the inside. As it looks, the little incident in Egypt damaged more than we thought. After 3 nice days in the unfortunately quite expensive Kigali, we carried on to Tanzania. Not only Kigali was expensive, the whole country has been more expensive to travel then all other countries before. It starts with the cost for diesel, is also valid for food and entrance fees to national parks, and ends with a lack of infrastructure for camping, forcing the traveller to take hotel rooms more often. When we asked why this is the case, we were told that on the one side this has to do with the inland location and the high transportation cost and on the other side, the cost is highly negatively influenced by the UN and all the Development Aid Organisations which are based in Rwanda. The Aid Organisations and especially the UN seem to pay enormous salaries, even for normal office jobs, like clerks which are of course expats. The estimations of how much of the donated money really reaches the persons concerned differ between 20% (long time German insider) and 10% (Rwandan business man). Based on what we have seen during our trip so far, we believe these figures immediately. Whoever will visit this part of the world should really pay Rwanda, the country of the thousand hills, a visit. Although you will find almost as many people on the streets as in Ethiopia and overpopulation is of course an issue, the people are begging very seldom. The people we have talked to, have been very cordial and helpful and we were comfortable all the time. Also Rwanda is offering with the Gorilla Tracking (like Congo and Uganda) a real touristic highlight. Also the visit of a Genocide Memorial Site is from our point of view a must.
We did not fish at Lake Bunyonyi. First of all we did not see any fishermen and secondly we were told that it would not make any sense, as the lake is with a depth of over too deep for our fishing rod. As the next day was nice, we went on a canoe trip. It took a little while to get used to the shaky traditional boat, but then it worked fine. The lake is worth a visit in the dry season. On route to Lake Bunyonyi we observed a strange behaviour of the Ugandan motorists that we have to write about. Should you ever drive in Uganda, do not be surprised if the oncoming vehicles use their right indicator frequently (driving on the left!!!). Most of the time (almost always) they do not want to turn right. By using the indicator they want to show you the contour of their vehicle. This is happening at daylight and the drivers mostly look very concentrated. If the vehicle on top is flashing the headlights, the driver is either ruthless (trucks, busses) or even more concentrated/stressed. After having seen this several times we remembered a chat with Kenyan about this behaviour. We observed a similar behaviour in Kenya (not that often) and we were told that it is used at night to show the oncoming traffic, where your car ends. When we asked him what he thinks the headlights are good for, we just received a puzzled look. From our point of view there are 2 main explanations for this. Either the driving license was bought or the driver does not see well. We believe that point 2 is actually more likely, as we have seen only a few Africans (also drivers) wearing glasses. The next we drove to Ruanda, already very curious about what will come next.
The border between Kenya and Uganda at Mount Elgon was the easiest to cross during our whole trip (exception Turkana, as there is no border post). The officers gave us the impression to be happy that somebody is coming to cross the border. On the Kenyan side they offered us a hand full of peanuts. The border is not used very often and there was not even a fixer around (fixer = people “helping” at the border). Our first destination in Uganda was the Sipi Falls. These impressive waterfalls are falling down over 3 cascades from the mountains. Unfortunately it rained again and during our time at and around Mount Elgon we never managed to see the mountain. Due to the cold and wet weather, we also decided to just have a look at the falls and not do the falls hike. From Sipi we drove down into the plains to Mbale. After leaving the mountains it got warmer and sunnier. Mbale is a pleasant little town where we organised SIM-cards for our telephone and the computer and did some shopping. Should somebody travel in the near future to Uganda, our recommendation is MTN. From our experience, the MTN network has the best reception throughout the country. In Jinja, our next destination, we stayed at the Nile River Explorer Camp at the Buyagali falls. The Nile, coming from Lake Victoria, is flowing here over some rapids. The weather was very nice and we stayed for 2 days. Apart from the “Falls” the main attraction is white water rafting on the Nile, but as we did not come to Africa to do rafting and also there is a slight risk of picking up bilharzia, we decided to just enjoy the view and an excellent dinner at the close by Black Lantern restaurant. From Jinja we drove to Kampala. In Kampala we took a room at the Red Chilli Camp in order to be more mobile in town. Apart from the traffic jams the town is quite pleasant. During a trip to the shore of Lake Victoria we paid our first bribe since we started the trip. When turning left we ignored a red traffic light, like many motorbikes right in front of us, and were stopped by the traffic police. The fine of 40.000 Ush (~ €10) would not have been the problem, the administrative burden was. Normally you have to go to a bank to pay the fine in order to get your driving license back at the main police station. This procedure was set up to fight corruption. As we did not want to lose time, we negotiated with the police man, that he would pay in the money onto the bank account of the Uganda Revenue Authority on our behalf (who believes that?). For such cases a fake driving license would not be too bad. We met travellers who really have a fake driving license, that they can leave behind if need be. Also a set of Ugandan number plates would come handy. After having done some serious shopping, we left Kampala to the north with destination Murchison Falls National Park. In order not to drive the same roads twice, we decided to drive through the park from north to south. When coming to the gate late in the afternoon, the ranger first updated us on the new prices. The $35,-/person/day are ok but the $150,- for the car were shocking. Even busses have to pay less. For the same car with local number plates one would only have to pay $10,-. To digest this information, we stayed the night outside the park, also considering not entering the park the next day. As the alternative would have been a 250 km detour and also because we really wanted to do the boat-trip to the Murchison Falls, we decided to swallow this bitter pill and enter the park the next morning. We have to admit the northern part of the park is nice and we managed to see several kinds of antelopes, Giraffe, many Buffalos and Elephants. Early afternoon we did the boat-trip to the falls and here the Nile is really falling. During the almost 4 hour trip, we could see many hippos, crocodiles, different kinds of birds, antelopes, warthogs and 1 elephant. The boat-trip was nice but the $220,- is too much for this park. The alternatives are Ugandan number plates or entering the park from the south with a tour operator. After leaving the park in the evening we almost got stuck in the mud when we approached the campsite. Thanks to our additional differential locks we managed to drive out of the mud without having to leave the car in the pouring rain. Luckily the night was dry and we could leave the campsite without problems the next morning. On route south, we could for the first time have a look at the DR Congo, across Lake Albert. Because of a bridge which was washed away we had to take a long detour on a bumpy, wet dirt road. When the road was blocked in front of us by a little overloaded truck, which got stuck in the mud, we luckily managed to drive around the truck slightly uphill through the veranda of a house. We had to pay €0,20, but this was quite a fair price. With the last daylight we reached Mubende, where we found a nice budget hotel. The personnel was very friendly, the room was clean and cheap, and the cook made the beef fillet we had with, to perfection. What else can you ask for? From Mubende to Fort Portal we passed huge tea plantations. Also coffee beans are grown and processed in the area. In Fort Portal we stayed 3 nights at the guest farm of Stefan Kluge (www.klugesguestfarm.com). The guest farm is not only for campers a tip. The food is excellent, more than enough and inexpensive. When we arrived there, we were sure to be to only campers during the next days. What a misjudgement. Only 1 hour later a MAN Truck with a Munich (!) number plate arrived. During the next 2 days we had a lot with fun with Julia and Paul, having made up their way from Tanzania to Uganda. During a day trip to the hot springs of the Semliki National Park we had a fantastic view into the Congo basin. From Fort Portal we drove south to the Queen Elizabeth National Park. As this park would have been equally expensive, we just crossed but did not enter the park. Still we could see several animals, buffalos and elephants amongst them. Our next destination was Buhoma, right at the border of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. We wanted to check at Buhoma if it is possible to buy a Gorilla Tracking Permit. Although this should no longer be possible, according to our travel guide the permits are only sold in Kampala, it was not a problem. Outside the main season (June to August and December) they are hardly ever booked out. When we heard that we could join a group the next day we could not believe it. Slightly nervous and after a longer briefing our group (8 persons = max./group) started together with a guide, a pathfinder, and 2 armed rangers. We found the gorillas already after 15 min. in a small piece of jungle between a lodge and a tea plantation. After 1 hour with the unfortunately lazy gorillas we went back to the park headquarter. Most of the participants were quite disappointed that it was so easy to find them. The locals on the other hand said, that we have been very lucky. The day before one group had to climb through the hilly jungle for 5 hours, before finding them and the way back took another 4 hours. One of the tourists was so exhausted that “porters” had to carry her down. From that point of view we might have been really lucky. Never the less it was a nice experience to observe these animals which are threatened by extinction so closely. As our group felt that we did not have enough rainforest, we decided to go on a 4 hour tour to the waterfalls in the afternoon. Also here we were accompanied be a guide and 2 armed rangers. During this trip we could see 3 of the difficult to find red forest duiker, several birds and the red-tailed monkeys, which are also quite seldom. After this trip everybody was happy with day, as we now have had gorillas and jungle. The next day we carried on to Lake Bunyonyi, were we are at the moment. And surprise, surprise, while we are sitting updating our homepage, it is raining cats and dogs again. The lake is very nice and free of bilharzia. And maybe, provided the weather improves, we will have a chance to go fishing and swimming. So far we did not feel like doing so, as it is simply too cold in this rain. Up to now Uganda presented itself very green, with frequent rainfalls (we are here during the small rainy season) and very hilly. The roads, no matter if tarmac or dirt road, are in a better shape than in Kenya and also the houses along the streets look better. This impression is intensified by all the flowers, partly growing in well-kept gardens. The people here are in a pleasant way shy and sometimes even look serious. This impression will change immediately once you approach them. We met a lot of very friendly and helpful people here in Uganda.
During the last weeks we finally managed to visit 3 Development Aid projects. Our in general critical opinion towards the subject has not changed. A few weeks ago Spiegel Online published an interview (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,785958,00.html ), which from our point of view describes the situation quite well. But what we learned by visiting these projects is, that for now Development Aid is still a necessity. We visited an orphanage just north of Nairobi, a Safari Camp supported by the German Embassy in the Maasai area, the Oldarpoi Mara Community Camp (www.oldarpoimaracamp.com), and an orphanage incl. school in Kisumu. Before describing the situation of the 2 orphanages we will briefly inform about the engagement of the German Embassy. Germany has helped the Maasai to generate income, from which 2 teachers for the local school can be paid. The Kenyan Government is only paying 2 teachers for 200 pupils. As this is by far not enough, the Safari Camp is financing 2 teachers and 2 more teachers are paid by the local commune. A lot more touching is the situation, which we found at the 2 orphanages, both are Kenyan initiatives. The orphanage Wajibu Wetu (www.hand-in-hand-fuer-Kenia.de) north of Nairobi is managed by the couple Jane and George, both having the needed background. They are caring for around 30 kids between 3 and 19 years old. The kids have become orphans for different reasons and some of them faced a cruel fate, e.g. a very little girl was sexually abused before she had the luck to come to Jane and George. Although the situation in the rented compound is very basic and somewhat cramped, one can say, that the situation is stable. The orphanage is supported by a German Club and some locals. For more information please have a look at their homepage. Looking at the orphanage Ket Wangi in Kisumu, which was founded in 2008, you cannot talk about stability at all. Compared to Wajibu Wetu they are running an orphanage and a school. Ket Wangi (http://ketwangi.wordpress.com/) is heavily indebted and support is needed everywhere. We stayed 6 days on the premises and could get some in depth insights. In total 77 orphans are coming to school of which 37 are staying at the orphanage. The kids are between 3 and 13 years old and became orphans mainly due to the post-election violence after the last elections and due to AIDS. It is heart-breaking to see that also 21 kids are HIV-positive (the medication is free in Kenya). Up to now Ket Wangi was mainly financed by the founder Emily Odera, who even sold a piece of land and her car to keep the facility running. The total cost for food, medication and salaries for the 13 employees (6 teachers) is around €1.200/month. Looking at it from a European perspective, this is a very small amount of money, but locally there is at the moment no chance to raise these funds. Until they have found a permanent partner, supporting the running cost as well as urgently needed advancement, the orphanage is highly dependent on donations. Today the kids sleep cramped on old matrasses on the floor in the classrooms. The hygienic situation has to be improved significantly, despite all the work being put into this subject. Although we have a problem with Development AID in general, both orphanages, and here especially Ket Wangi, deserve our support. After all it is not the kid’s fault that the political system is still so corrupt and unfair (the Kenyan Government is doing nothing!), even at the expense of orphans. For both orphanages is valid, that the orphans will benefit 100% from the donations. Should anybody wish to have more information regarding the 2 orphanages, please do not hesitate to contact us or the 2 orphanages directly.
After a few days in Nairobi we started heading towards Maasai Mara. On the way we visited an orphanage, just north of Nairobi (see Development Aid Final Part) an we stayed 2 nights at Lake Naivasha. The first night we stayed, like some weeks ago, at the Fisherman’s Camp at the shore of the lake and the second night in a small game reserve at the nearby Crater Lake. The landscape around Lake Naivasha is very nice and an ideal place to relax. From the Crater Lake we drove to the Maasai Mara, where we stayed at the Oldarpoi Safari Camp near the Sekenani gate of the park. The Safari Camp is managed by Maasai and supported by the German Embassy. We enjoyed a long evening around the fire place discussing the unfair political situation in Kenya. Late morning the next day we entered the Park, wondering if the $ 80 per person and day would be well spent. To make it short: YES! The visit was sensational and Maasai Mara is one of the best, if not the best, parks we have ever visited. Firstly you can stay 2 days in the park (they don’t stamp the time on the ticket) and secondly the wildlife is sensational. We saw several kinds of Gazelle, Zebras, Giraffe and huge herds of Wildebeest and Buffalo. At the end of the first day we were very lucky in finding a pride of lions with 3 young ones. We managed to also take some nice video shots, and provided we will find the time and a good internet connection we will put the video onto the homepage in the not so distant future. With this impression we left the park and we spent the night at the Crocodile Camp close the Talek gate. Around 6:15 am we entered the park again, heading northeast along the Talek River, trying to find our first Leopards. Before really finding them, we saw amongst the usual herds, Hyenas and a big sleeping male lions. To increase our chance in seeing Leopards we also stopped other safari vehicles, asking them what they managed to see. One of them told us of a sighting of 3 Leopards close by. First the Leopards were hiding in the bush, but then we could watch them for over one hour. During the course of the day we also found more Lions, Elephants, Hyenas and one Cheetah. A spectacular moment was also when we saw Hippos fighting in the river. These often lazy animals can be quite dynamic. When we left our viewpoint, I (Ralph) misjudged a hole filled with water and we fell hard into it with our rear right wheel. Initially we did not realise a difference, but later we heard a hammering noise. Driving through massive herds of animals, we left the Park late in the afternoon at the Musiara gate. As there is almost no touristic infrastructure, compared to the south-eastern parts of the park, we could not find a campsite outside the park. Luckily the rangers at the close by Oloololo gate allowed us to stay overnight. As they feared problems with their bosses, we left the next morning just before sunrise to be out of the way before the park was opening. The dirt road taking us to Homa Bay at Lake Victoria was really bad and every now and then we heard the hammering noise again. Apart from a slightly warmer shock absorber, we could not see anything and the car was driving perfectly normal. After arrival at Homa Bay, we first had a closer look at the problem. Our hope to find one of the engine guard screws lose was not fulfilled. The reason for the noise was a broken leaf spring. In order to avoid more leafs from braking, we had to have the repair done straight away. The Manager of the place where we were staying contacted the right person and in just a few hours the leaf was replaced. We did not even have to leave our campsite. The whole leaf-spring pack was taken out, repaired at the workshop and mounted again on site. The speed in which the repair was done impressed us and on top the repair was really cheap. Well prepared, we left the campsite after 2 days to drive to Kisumu were we visited another orphanage. This orphanage was visited by other travellers before and we agreed with them to visit the orphanage and have a look at the developments. We stayed for 6 days and had some very interesting, intense and touching experiences (see Development Aid Final Part). Yesterday we continued our journey and drove to Kitale, close to Mount Elgon. In Kitale we will stay for 2 days at a hotel with a nice garden and a good restaurant to update our homepage. Tomorrow we will leave Kenya, after having spent more than 8 weeks in the country. The time spent already shows that we liked it here a lot. The people are mostly very friendly, helpful and they have a good sense of humour. We did not laugh as much for quite some time. Of course the communication was made easy by the fact, that Kenyans speak English very well.
It is hard to believe that since the last update almost a whole month has passed by. We stayed one week in Nairobi, where we completed the immigration procedures, serviced the car and most of all we spent a lot of time in shopping malls, where we enjoyed the wide range of goods available. After just potatoes, tomatoes, onions and some fruit, since leaving Sudan and with the exception of Addis, this was a relief. Almost every afternoon we went for a cappuccino and we also found wine, but not the assortment and prices we would have expected. In Kenya half the population does not drink alcohol at all (Muslims) and the other half seems to drink predominantly beer. The day we left Nairobi ,we visited the Sheldrick‘s Elephant Orphanage, from our point of view a must for everybody visiting Nairobi. At the Orphanage 12 Elephants at an age between 9 and 24 months were raised and prepared for the wild life at the Tsavo East National Park. 11 of the 12 became orphans because their mothers were poached. As cow elephants only produce enough milk for one child, these elephants could not be adopted by other elephants of the herd. Without the Orphanage, these young elephants would have died, like many others, as they are dependent on milk until they are 24 months old. Poaching is a big problem, firstly there is a lot of money involved (e.g. Rhino-horn-powder for the „little“ Chinese) and secondly because of conflicts with tribes for living space and their traditional rites. The visit is by no means depressing, it is very informative and the little elephants are really cute. From the Orphanage we drove to the Amboseli Nationalpark. Opposed to what we had planned initially, we drove south, as the weather in Nairobi was cold and rainy (yes, again). We did not visit the Amboseli National Park, but we stayed overnight at a campsite outside the park. The next morning we were woken up by a ranger around 6 am, as the Kilimanjaro was not covered by clouds. After a nice breakfast with Kili view we continued to Lake Jipe in the south of the Tsavo West National Park. Arriving at the gate we had the next unexpected highlight. Early in the morning a pride of lions killed a buffalo not far away from the gate. Immediately we started looking for the lions and we found them at the buffalo. In total we found 5 lions. Apart from the lions in the park, we liked the south a lot more than the north,the park impressed us during the next 2 days mainly because of its elephant population. We left the park in the north and took the Mombasa road, the road between Nairobi and Mombasa, to drive to Tiwi Beach south of Mombasa. Upon arrival at the campsite, already in the dark, thanks to ferry chaos in Mombasa, Kathi and Ferdi came running towards us. They left us quite a while ago in Dahab, as they wanted to travel faster at that point in time. It was nice to meet them again and we decided to stay one day longer. Already there we started to develop the idea to do Mt. Kenya together. From Tiwi beach we drove down to Mwazaro Beach to use up the voucher from our friends (see Reisebericht: Vielen Dank an unsere Freunde). Thanks to our friends, we could enjoy the resort a whole week. The place is very nice, we had a very good room and the food was outstanding. We liked it so much, that we decided to stay 2 days longer. During these 9 days we did in the first place nothing. Our activities were limited to a tour into the mangroves, a walk into the village incl. a visit of the holy Baobab and 2 dives at the Kisite Marine Park. It was a pleasure to rest for a while after all these kilometers. Refreshed and curious about what will come next we started the next safari. On the way to Mt. Kenya we stayed one night at the Elephant Sanctuary (next to Shimba Hills) where we woke up at night, because a herd of elephants passed by close to our car. That the noise we heard was caused by elephants, we only realized the next day, when we talked to a ranger. A night in the bush can be quite exciting. The next day we drove through the Tsavo East National Park, which we can recommend to visit and where we also stayed one night. Shortly after our arrival at the camp site also here elephants passed by very closely, but this time we could see the animals clearly just 30 m away. After sunset we started a fire to make sure, that unwanted guests stay away. One of the rangers told us, that lions visited the camp the night before. We did not see any lions or other predators, although the baboons sitting in a tree close by were very nervous and loud for more than a hour. Normally they only very close. The most dangerous animal we saw that night was a big scorpion. The next morning we stayed in the park and late afternoon we reached Machakos, where we stayed one night in a hotel. During this day we received a SMS from Kathi and Ferdi, telling us, that they have reached with their VW-Bus the Youth Hostel in Naro Moro at Mt. Kenia. The next day we also went there and after putting up our tent we started with the planning to climb Mt. Kenya. After some discussions we decided that Ferdi and we would hike up the Sirimon Route and come down the Naro Moro Route. For whoever is interested: from the gate at 2600m to the Moses Hut at 3300m, from there to the Shiptons Hut at 4200m, next day from Shiptons Hut to the Summit at 4985m and down to the Mackinders Camp at 4300m, then decent to the Gate at 2400m. Already day one was a real challenge. Not that we met buffalos or elephants on the way, no, we had a heavy thunderstorm right above our heads with heavy rain and hail. Due to this thunderstorm everything in our backpack was wet, although we had rain covers above the backpacks. As the huts are not heated and there are no rooms to dry your clothing, we had no other option than to dry the clothing by wearing or putting it into the sleeping bag while sleeping. As it started raining around 1 pm for some days, now we decided to leave for the Shiptons Hut already at sunrise. Unfortunately we lost 1 hour on the way up because of orientation problems on a less used route. We decided to turn around and take the main route with the result that we had to do a couple of 100 height meters twice. These extra meters at 3700m above sea level were a big frustration for Karin. When a porter, coming down from Shiptons, asked us half way up to carry her backpack, we could not decline. Here you need to know that we were the only ones at Mt. Kenya without guide, porters and cook. Without the backpack the ascent was no problem and we reached the hut before the start of the daily rain. After a very short night we left the hut at 3:30 am for the ascent to the summit. Also for this part we hired a porter for Karin’s backpack. We reached the summit after 3 hours, shortly after sunrise and the sky was clear. The view was spectacular and the ascent and the short night were forgotten. After taking a lot of pictures and a short tea brake we started our decent. Already at 9 am we reached the next hut, were we recovered from the ascent sitting in the sun. The next day, again at sun rise, we started the long decent to the gate. The landscape was outstanding and the weather was great. Unfortunately the around 700 height meters through the highmoor were not a pleasure at all. Often we had to look for the right way and we got wet feet as well. Towards the end of the decent, 3 km away from the gate, we were lucky when a ranger gave us a lift down to the gate. At the gate we were picked up by Kathi who served the best pancakes when we came back to the campsite. After 4 days living on packet soup and cereal bars this was a real pleasure. Also taking a long hot shower was very nice. After a good night sleep we indulged ourselves in having lunch at the Trout Tree Restaurant (a must!!!). After lunch we parted ways with Kathi and Ferdi again. Maybe we will meet them in Uganda or somewhere else on the way down to South Africa. On the way to Nairobi we stopped for the night at the Solio Game Reserve. This private Game Reserve has a big rhino population and we were very lucky to also see 2 cheetahs. The campsite was very nice and the game reserve is certainly an insider tip. Today we arrived again at the Jungle Junction in Nairobi. Apart from doing some shopping, we first of all have to do some washing!
It is absolutely amazing how robust such a Pickup is. The routes we took had been partly very bad and we had all kinds of surfaces. We had hard and soft sand in the desert, rocky passages, muddy dirt roads incl. deep holes filled with water, river crossings of up to 70 cm deep, gravel roads with terrible corrugation and other material killing surfaces. The damages to the car are limited to several dents in the engine and gearbox guard, two little dents in the cabin, lots of scratches due to all the thorn bushes, one lost battery clamp and some lose screws on add-on parts. Also the Diesel quality was at least sufficient and we could not detect water or bigger impurities. The Diesel capacity of 165 litres was up to now more than enough, with the fuel consumption ranging from 8 litres per 100 km up to 22 litres per 100 km depending on the conditions. By regularly changing the filters (Oil, Diesel, Air) and the engine oil (now every 5000 km), we try to minimize the wear as much as possible. Also the tires we selected convinced us. So far (quickly touch wood) we did not have one damaged tire. The 4x4 system and the low range gears have mastered all difficulties without problems so far. The added diff-locks in the front and the rear, we only used once (to test them) so far, when we were stuck in the sand. The best cars for such a trip are, from our point of view, the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Toyota Hilux and the Mitsubishi L200. We have seen all these vehicles in all countries, except Syria, in noteworthy numbers. Of course this trip is also made with all kinds of other vehicles, but then often taking other routes.
When we entered Kenya on the 23.08.11 we did not think, that we would need 7 days for the almost 800 km to the tarmac road in Rumuruti. With the exception of the rest day in Maralal, the shortest distance we made in one day was 80 km. The dirt road along the Turkana Lake was quite challenging for the car, as well as for us, especially because of the rain in the southern part of the lake, changing the already bad dirt road into a muddy problem solving exercise. In the dry season (which should have been now) we can recommend this route, because of the nice and often changing landscape. In the rainy season, we believe, it is almost impossible to make it. During the whole trip up to Maralal, we bush-camped, therefore it was a real pleasure when we reached the Yare Camel Camp in Maralal, where we got a hot shower as well as an ice-cold beer. We liked the camp so much, that we decided to stay one more day. When we left Maralal, we were hoping for a better dirt road leading to Rumuruti, but unfortunately this was not the case. The road was bad and the rain and the truck traffic made this part an adventure. When we finally reached Rumuruti it was clear, that we would not be able to reach Lake Naivasha the same day. With Karl-Heinz we parted ways for a short while, as we were much faster with our car. Around 40 km south of Rumuruti, we decided to take a room at the Thomson’s Falls Lodge. Close to the Equator at 12°C and rain, we just did not feel like camping. The next day the sun was out and the visit of the 75m high Thomson‘s Falls was very nice. After the visit we carried on to Lake Naivasha, where we camped again. As the next day was cloudy again we decided to visit the Hell’s Gate National Park at a later date and drove to Nairobi. In Nairobi we first had to legalize us, getting the stamps for us and the car. As there is no border post down the Turkana Lake, this is the official procedure. Since then, we enjoy being in a real city where you can get again everything you want and making plans for the next countries.
One point we would like to mention upfront. We did not manage to visit a Development Aid project yet, but we took every opportunity to talk to people being active in this field. We talked to several Ethiopian citizens, one Kenyan, one American, one Kiwi, people from Spain, the Netherlands and also Germans (www.hand-in-hand-fuer-Kenia.de). We also still have hope, that our talking partners will comment what we are writing in Guestbook area. The summary of all these discussions is, that corruption in the receiving countries is the main problem. Should e.g. the giving countries try to link the aid to specific projects, quickly the accusation of colonialism is raised. A Kenyan newspaper reported that 70% of the goods for the Kenyans, suffering from the drought in the North, never reached them, because they had been sold. At the same time, Kenya has record harvests in South, but rather sells the products on the world market. All people we talked to have in common, that they do not trust Governments and that they hope for a dynamic movement, changing the countries for the better bottom up. One more point in common is, that they only support projects, helping the people to help themselves. Unfortunately does networking between these different projects only happen on a small scale. As everything, that is for free will be taken but not valued, we believe, that this practice has to stop first. If this is not happening, corruption and begging continues to be directly supported. It would be great, if the subsidies would go more into projects, really helping to develop the people. The role the Governments of the giving countries can only be interpreted (still), to create dependencies of the developing countries. From our point of view, the situation can‘t be explained otherwise, provided our politicians have some intelligence.
From Arba Minch we drove via Konso, where we filled up the car with diesel, and Weyto to Key Afer. Shortly before reaching Weyto you have to pass a Police Check, where Tour-Operators have to present a permit from Addis Abeba, allowing them to visit the Omo tribe. According to our travel guide, also we would have needed this permit, but as we did not read the whole travel guide when entering the country, we found out about this too late. At the check point we explained to the police that we would only travel to Jinka and we had to promise, not to the tribes or the national park. As we never planned to come back, it was easy to make this promise. Just before Key Afer we bush camped for the first time. Due to the fact, that there are less people living in the South compared to the North, this was not a problem and we did not have unwanted visitors. The next day we visited a traditional market of the Ari tribe. Unfortunately we had to pay an entrance fee, although we bought fruit and vegetables. Also for taking pictures, when making a portrait, we had to pay between 2 and 5 Birr. This all gave us already a hint of how the tribes are dealing with tourists. The easiest to avoid these discussions, is to use a strong telephoto lens. From Key Afer we drove to Jinka, where the Guide’s Association tried to fool us again. They told us prices, specifically for the guide, which were way too high. Therefore we decided to drive to the Mursi the day after next without a guide and continue to the Mago Park Headquarter thereafter, to check if it is possible, to drive South through the park to Turmi. When leaving Jinka, we were approached by a guide, telling us, that we would get a hefty fine, if we would drive to the park and the Mursi without them. We told him, that we were trying to buy food only and left him behind. The Guide´s Association was really unpleasant and therefore we hope that they are still waiting for us to come back. On our way to the Mursi nobody asked us where our guide is and we had no problems to enter the park and the Mursi area. From a car, coming from the tribe, we took over the scout, a guy in a uniform with a rifle, whose job it is to take care of the safety of the tourists during the visit. When getting there we feared that we are too late, but this time we were really lucky to be late. Most of the tourists had left the village already, when the Mursi started their annual Donga (a fight with wooden sticks, very important when becoming a man). Because of the fight, the attention of the people was towards the fighters and therefore we had the opportunity, to observe this very special event and take pictures undisturbed. When Karin visited the Mursi 2 years ago, the visit was quite unpleasant. Therefore it was even a bigger pleasure this time. One of the problems the Mursi seem to have is, that they get really drunk in the evening with the money, they got in the morning from entrance fees (100 Birr/person) and the photos and therefore visits in the afternoon are not recommended. Even though the visit was very nice, we had the feeling to be in a zoo, just that we were watching human beings and not animals. We had this feeling several times during our time in the South. Arriving at the Headquarter of the Mago Park in the afternoon, we tried to clarify if it is possible to drive through the park as planned. Their assessment was that it should not be a problem for our car, if it stays dry and the level of the Mago River would drop a few more centimeters overnight. According to the rangers, there should be no more problems after the river crossing, especially not for Karl Heinz and his truck. Overnight the water level really dropped by 5 centimeters and we decided to give it a try. Before driving through the river, we fixed towing ropes to the back of our car and I (Ralph) walked twice through the river to find the best way. Actually it was not a problem to cross the river, neither for us nor for Karl Heinz. Never the less, it took 2 days to cross the park (for just 70 km) and it was very good that Karl-Heinz gave one of the rangers from the Karo tribe a lift to his village. After less than 1 hour, Karl-Heinz got stuck, sitting on both axles, on the wet earth road. What wasn’t a problem for us with our 3 ton car, was a sweaty exercise for Karl-Heinz (and us) with his 12 ton truck. It took us more than 5 hours to get the truck out of the mud and without the support of the Karo, we would have definitely not made it the same day. After a night in the bush, we reached the Karo village and afterwards Turmi without any problems. As we had the opportunity, thanks to the Karo travelling with us, to stop at the first Karo village, coming from the North and to take pictures, we could skip the last village. Originally we had planned to visit this village, as Karin enjoyed the visit 2 years ago very much, but unfortunately things have changed for the worse. Apart from a parking and an entrance fee, they wanted also money for taking pictures. As we felt that these fees are too high, we decided against the visit. As we heard later, they tried to fool us again. When we walked away, they were very surprised. We believe, that we have been the first to go there and not visit them. Maybe this will change something for the better, but very likely not. In Turmi we visited again a traditional market, a market of the Hamar tribe, and surprise surprise, we did not have to pay for the visit. Also for taking pictures we did not pay anything, but we decided not to take close ups. The Hamar tribe does not seem to be as spoilt as the rest of the tribes, which we have visited. The next day we took a horrible dirt road to Omorate, where we got the exit stamp in our passport at the immigration office, but we could not get the Carnet stamped, as a customs office does no longer exist. Thereafter we drove to Kenya, taking an ok dirt road through the bush. All in all we can say, that Ethiopia is a country with a fascinating landscape, lots of culture and interesting tribes and on top, it has been the cleanest country since we left Italy. For everybody who can stand poverty and who can handle begging people, Ethiopia is a great country to travel, even when you travel individually like we did.
When we left Mekele towards the south we immediately got lost. We just could not believe that the new tar road would lead first to the east before turning south. As a consequence we ended up on a gravel road, first leading south but then turning more and more southwest. Because of this detour we did not manage to reach Lalibela the same day. We stayed over in Maychew which was nice as the hotel with restaurant was good, clean and cheap. Late afternoon we had the chance to watch a local dance group, perform their traditional dances in front of a group of politicians. The group told us, that there is a threat that their traditions and dances are slowly dying, which does not surprise us having seen the lack of interest the politicians had shown. We liked how enthusiastic the young women and men were and we promised to them to write about it. From Maychew we drove to Lalibela, because of the heavy rain not as planned through the mountains, but taking the better gravel road coming from the south. In Lalibela we had some luck with the weather as it stopped raining when we visited the rock churches and even the sun came out for a few minutes. Lalibelais a must for everybody coming to Ethiopia and the visit is really worth it. It is amazing what humans were able to achieve several centuries ago. From Lalibela the road to Bahir Dar leads over a high plain. The highest point is above 3000m high and also in this height crop is grown and big herds of cows are grazing. Bahir Dar is a nice little town at the TanaLake close to the Nile Falls.Also here you can visit churches and monasteries, of which the most important are on the islands in the lake. Due to the fact, that we visited during our trip lots of churches and monasteries of almost all centuries, we felt a bid churched out and therefore we only visited one monastery and instead enjoyed the hippos in the lake. The visit of the Nile Falls was nice due to all the rain, in the dry season the visit can be quite disappointing. Unfortunately we had to cut the visit short as I (Ralph) felt a bit sick (stomach) that day. From Bahir Dar we drove via Debre Marcos to Addis Abeba. Luckily the weather was good when we drove through the Nile Canyon. Initially the view is not spectacular but when you reach the bottom the canyon is really beautiful.From Addis we cannot report much, apart from the fact that white males, we know this from first hand, will always find a young female, regardless how old they are. Unfortunately it was raining every day, sometimes cats and dogs. To organize the Visa for Kenya and the Yellow Card (like our Green Card in Europe) was not a problem. The place where we stayed was good (Wim’s Holland House),mainly because of the central location and because of the fact, that we met many other travellers, most of them also going south. At Wim’s we agreed with a Spanish couple, an English couple and Karl Heinz from Munich to drive down Turkana Lake to Kenya, which is the more scenic but also a very remote track, provided the timing can be synchronized. In the meantime unfortunately only Karl Heinz and we are left. The Spanish couple dropped out because of engine problems of their motorbike forcing them to make the trip to Nairobi on the back of a truck.The English couple also chose to drive down the road to Moyale because of problems with the brakes of their truck. From Addis we continued via the Langano Lake, which we enjoyed a lot, to Arba Minch. Since we reached Arba Minch the weather is getting better with less rain and pleasant temperatures. Also the people here appear to be happier and friendlier.It is nice, that nature is the most important tourist attraction here. We saw huge crocodiles and I (Ralph) was very surprised when we saw them swimming in the middle of the lake. The National Park Nechi Sar is famous for the nice landscape and we also saw the first Zebras since we are in Africa.During the night in the park while bush camping, it rained again cats and dogs making the drive out of the park a real muddy adventure. As Arba Minch is the last bigger town for the next 1000 km, we stocked up everything we needed.
While driving through Ethiopia it became apparent to us that something is wrong with our international AID system. This statement is certainly not new, but seeing the deficiencies on a daily base brings it clearly to light. How come that almost everybody in the countryside is begging? Even very small kids on the back of their mothers are already trained. The same you will experience in touristic areas and especially at clerical sites. Why do even Priests want to get paid for opening an old Bible or for getting a picture of themselves taken and then put the money into their own pocket? How can the lack of self-initiative be explained that can be observed in many places? Why do people battle so much with maintaining what they have? We saw in the intensively agriculturally used North, farmers coming back from collecting AID (US AID, e.g. 50kg bags of wheat), with heavily laden donkeys and stretching their hands out asking for money. Too many kids are born and the agricultural sector, which has come to a dead end as written previously, is employing around 80% of the people. Without the intensive usage of fertilisers not much is growing any more. How is this possible although many millions of € flow into the country annually over decades? Everywhere you see signs of AID-projects like in the educational and the agricultural sector as well as of course healthcare. Why is there no or very little development to be seen in the country? Why do not more jobs exist outside the agricultural sector? Why do we meet so many disabled people, especially with eye problems? Why do only recently heavy investments in the infrastructure take place, with Chinese help? Is AID really helping these countries to develop themselves or is it just a sweet to keep developing countries small and quiet. The need of cheap raw materials as well as cheap labour (even Chinese companies run textile plants here which tells you a lot about local labour cost) is obviously more important to the developed countries than making a change here. Ethiopia is one of the biggest coffee exporters worldwide, but the big money is made by the roasting companies in the developed countries. Why is there very little value added in developing countries in general? We think because it is not in the interest of the developed countries. Our resume so far is that AID is also used to develop dependencies and that the organisations themselves as well as the local governments and also the church is benefitting from the established system and therefore the desire to really make a change is very low. How otherwise can it be explained that 4 Mio. US$ for the refugees from Somalia went missing in Kenya and the only statement from the government is: we will look into this matter. Also it is interesting to see the AID organisations (as well as the omnipresent UN) all drive big Toyota Landcruisers. Toyota really made an excellent job here, but the best marketing is done by the US, as always. The bags with their AID are so robust that they are used afterwards for all sorts of things. So even if there is only charcoal inside you get the feeling that the US is supporting everywhere. We do not want to influence anybody in the way you are donating money, but if we want to develop markets for our products here and if the people are really close to our heart, then something needs to be changed drastically. Our thoughts are purely subjective and not backed up by intensive research, but never the less we think that we are not far from the truth with our judgment. As we are thinking about this a lot and also met wonderful people who have shown to us that there is big potential in countries like Ethiopia we put our thoughts onto the homepage. During our travel we will try to visit one or more AID projects to give them a chance to convince us from the contrary.
Is there a country where almost everybody seems to be on the road by foot, where you do not see a single tractor while driving through more than 1000km of farmland, where kids are not shy at all and shout „gimme birr“ (the local currency) once they see you, where you are surrounded by people, no matter where you stop and where even money stinks? Correct, the name of this land is Ethiopia and it is by far the poorest country we have visited during our trip. The poverty is in sharp contrast to the magnificent landscape, the amount of historical (mainly clerical) important buildings and the friendliness of the people. During the last 1000 km from crossing the border to arriving in Mekele we could see all this. The landscape appears during the rainy season in an almost unreal green, in rains almost daily, but the sun is out also regularly, and despite a few secondary gravel roads which have been washed away, travelling through northern Ethiopia is so far no problem. It is hard to believe that just a few hundred kilometres away there is one of the worst draughts and people are starving. Highlights during this first part were certainly, apart from the relaxing start at Tana Lake, the Simien Mountains, driving along these mountains to Axum, the town Axum, the Monastery of Debre Damo and the interesting chat we had with two Ethiopian students during a funeral at the Rock Church of Abreha and Azbeha. Especially talking to the students was very interesting. Maybe they will comment our report, let’s see. Positive developments in Ethiopia are the infrastructure investments in roads and dams to produce electricity (supervised by Chinese, build with Ethiopian workers), the negative side is the agricultural system which has come to a dead end, but still employs around 80% of the population. We wish these students and all others, working on changing and improving the situation all the success with this mammoth task. By the way, the support from China is seen mostly positive. The money seems to flow fast and without any moral obligations. The price level in hotels, restaurants and cafes is consequently very low, only the cost for diesel has unfortunately increased significantly to around 1US$ per litre. Also very pleasant is that we do no longer have to bargain. The last days we stayed in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray province. It is very interesting to explore a town which is not on a tourist map. One very obvious difference is e.g. that nobody is “hassling” us.
Apart from the political problems nowadays, Muslim countries, at least the ones we travelled through, are very save countries to travel. Khartum e.g. we explored at night by foot and also walked through dark areas in downtown (like also in Aleppo, Damascus and Amman). In most major cities globally this would be at least terribly stupid. We also bush camped in all countries, without having problems once. For travellers the strict moral rules in these countries are therefore also a significant advantage. Once you have arranged yourself with this culture probably the only one going on your nerves will be the Muezzin, especially when you have the bad luck to sleep next to a mosque or when the Muezzin has no talent to sing what unfortunately happens quite often. As we managed to leave Italy without the car getting stolen we have to state that the safest part of our trip, latest when crossing to border to Kenya, will be over now.
Of course we changed money and of course they fooled us. Normally this is not worth mentioning as we only change small amounts and expect to be fooled but as I (Ralph) banged my head when leaving the exchange hut and because the guy was so annoying and because I was so angry about the situation and myself I have to write a few words. Everything you get told, should you ever get to this border, is lye! There is a bank on the Ethiopian side, the exchange rates are significantly better at the bank and the next 5 days will definitively not be public holidays in Ethiopia. Also you will find an ATM in Gonder. So far the exchange rates seem to be generally better in the banks compared to what private persons are offering. So, I feel better now.
As we did not have to organise any Visa in Khartum we spent 2 days for sightseeing and to update our homepage. Internet access in Sudan is generally fast and very cheap and observation also works. The same night after having updated our homepage the page Reisebericht/Travel Diary was blocked by Sudanese authorities (see Bildergalerie). Talking to people in Khartum we heard that the computers are fast to block websites when certain key words are used. We have no idea what we did wrong. One day later the site was accessible again, so what we wrote was not too bad. Never the less we felt observed during this one day, also because our car in front of the hotel was „guarded“ by 3 police men all the time. We discovered Khartum by foot and taxi, mainly in the morning and late in the afternoon. As the high temperatures in Khartum are accompanied by higher humidity (compared to the north) we spent the daytime updating our homepage in the air-conditioned hotel room. Khartum is not famous for its nightlife, but you will find all kind of restaurants, also some nice tourist attractions (like the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile, the Souks of Khartum and Omdurman, Mahdi’s Tomb and Khalifa’s House) and Khartum is your best option in Sudan to stock up whatever you may need. Since Egypt we tried to find the right oil for changing the oil. In the south of Egypt they only could offer 20W50 oil and according to our dealer we should use max. 15W40. We were not under pressure to change the oil but we kept our eyes open. When we found a Mitsubishi dealer in our GPS software „Tracks for Africa“ by accident (we can highly recommend this software to anybody planning to travel through Africa) we decided to pay him a visit on the way out of Khartum. Apart from buying oil we also wanted to buy a new diesel- and a new air-filter, as we had used ours already in Luxor. Indeed the dealer is using 15W40 engine oil and he talked us into changing the oil for us. During the discussion two gentlemen from the marketing department joined us and asked us if they could take some pictures of us and of the car for their in-house newsletter. We happily agreed to do so and we also answered several questions regarding our journey through Africa. In the end we did not pay for changing the oil and the two filters were sold to us at a 5% discount. All in all it only took two hours, although the workshop was full when we showed up. We want to thank Mitsubishi Khartum again for this excellent service! We are already looking forward to getting the article, which we will of course put on our homepage. Strengthened through coffee, tea, coke and oil we drove towards the Ethiopian border. In Gedaref, the last bigger town before crossing the border, we stocked up supplies. As it was market day, this was really easy and on top a nice, noisy and colourful experience. On the way from Gedaref to the borde,r the altitude increased and the closer we came towards the border the greener and cooler it was getting. Within 1 hour we managed to cross the border to Ethiopia. For Sudan applies the same as for Egypt, would the temperatures have been lower we would certainly have stayed longer. As travelling is very save and the people are very friendly it is really a pity that we “had” to rush through Sudan.
When we arrived in Wadi Halfa the same fight started again, now with the intention to get off the ship. The border formalities were completed quickly without problems and Mr. Magdi, who is dealing with car customs, approached us as expected. As our car was scheduled to arrive the next day, we excepted the offer to stay at his house for 10 SDG per person ( ~ € 2,5) per night. The only two hotel rooms with air condition in Wadi Halfa were unfortunately already taken. The next day our car arrived as planned. Without the flat tire on the truck of our friends we would have managed to leave the harbor already around lunchtime. Because of the tire, it took us until 4 pm to leave the harbor. The formalities were again no problem, maybe also because we were staying at the right place?! After one more night at Mr. Magdi’s house we drove to Dongola, were we had a sweaty night in our roof tent next to the Nile. The next day, after a short walk over the market, we met two couples with 4x4 cars at the petrol station coming from South Africa back to Europe. They told us, that the road from Wadi Halfa via Abu Simbel to Assuan should be opened officially for tourists this week Tuesday. We hope for all travellers, that this information is correct (see also Egypt Part 4). From Dongola we took a new road through the desert to Karima, where we stayed in a petrified forest overnight. We took another new road to Meroe the next day. Both roads were so new, that we did not have them in our map. Before these roads were built, the journey along the Nile was quite long on mostly bad gravel roads. Today it is a lot faster to drive the 1000km from Wadi Halfa to Khartum. In Meroe we managed to camp right behind the pyramids, the main tourist attraction of Sudan. Also this night was again very warm. During the coolest hour of the day just before sunrise we still had 37°C. Our friends were again a little jealous about our air condition in the car. Crossing the desert from Dongola to Meroe on new roads, financed by the Chinese Petroleum Company, was definitely worth it because of the touristic highlights en route, despite the hot weather. The Chinese are not only building roads here; they also oversee building of new dams in the Nile, forcing thousands of people to move and destroying important cultural sites. We are asking ourselves if the Chinese are so happy about the separation of South Sudan as the oil is there. Maybe this will be an opportunity for South Sudan to get the almost not existing infrastructure improved. During our travel so far we did not realize anything regarding the separation. The people we talked to, are very relaxed, regarding this topic. Some find it good, others think that the country will reunite. From Meroe we drove today to Khartum on a real tire destroying road, where we took an air conditioned room.
The people of Sudan present themselves in a very pleasant way, less forthcoming than their northern neighbors, yet open and cordial. One can see, that we come closer to the „real“ Africa. The women are wearing colourful dresses, are mostly not covering their faces and also sit with the men in the tea house. As alcohol is forbidden in Sudan it is good that we still have some reserves. For people loving fresh fruit juices it is paradise – at the moment a 0,4l glass of mango juice is costing € 0,25. Apart from that, the prices are generally higher than in Egypt.
From Luxor we drove past Edfu to Assuan, always along the Nile. In Assuan we had to get the Visa for Sudan which is only valid for 4 weeks from the date of issue. The Visa for Ethopia we got already in Cairo. Apart from the Visa we also had to decide on when and how to leave Egypt. The ferry from Assuan to Wadi Halfa was, according to the information we had, the only possible way. In theory there are two more ways to leave Egypt, one down the Red Sea cost to Port Sudan and one via Abu Simbel to Wadi Halfa. After some discussions, we and our Italian friends decided to give the ferry and the pontoon a chance. Should this not work out and force us to stay longer in Assuan because of our cars, we wanted to check out the road via Abu Simbel. Down the Red Sea coast would have been attractive because of the scuba diving opportunities, but unfortunately all hotels and dive centers close in July and August in Sudan ,because of the high temperatures and the missing tourists. The situation in Egypt would probably not have been much better. Regarding the road via Abu Simbel, we heard several times, that it will be opened also for tourists soon. Therefore we thought, that this road would be our best backup. When we went to the ferry office on Saturday 02.07., we were surprised by the information, that we could load the car the next day and take the ferry to Wadi Halfa on Monday. Despite the high cost (3013 EP for the car and 2x 322 EP for travelling on deck = € 425) we immediately bought the tickets. Other travellers before us got stuck for two weeks in Assuan, because of not being able to ship the car. Afterwards we started the departure procedure and were curious about whether or not we would have problems with our expired and maybe prolonged car license. Indeed nothing happened. Either they have a very efficient computer system, what we do not believe after having seen all the paper files piling up, or nobody cares at the moment, at least not in Assuan. That nothing was happening is also not quite right. At the traffic court we were asked to pay a fee of 12,50 EP. After completing the paperwork we were asked to come to the Managers office and we expected problems. Instead of getting problems we were given money back, as the right amount would have been only 3,50 EP. He commented this with the comment „this is the new Egypt“ and wished us all the best for our onward journey. Something like this we never experienced during our whole trip so far. After a refreshing night in an air conditioned hotel room we started Monday morning the fight for the best places on the ship. From other travellers and Egyptians we heard, that the space underneath the life boats (the ferry has 2) would be the best. Actually we managed to go on board amongst the first and secure and defend the space underneath one life boat. To do this was a master piece, as the ship is always full towards Sudan and during the day more and more it looked like an overloaded cargo vessel. Should anybody plan to do this trip, we suggest to book a first class cabin. When we bought the tickets the cabins were already sold out. The on cost of close to 200 EP per person is from our point of view worth it. After 12 hours at and in the harbor of which we spent 8 hours on the ship, the ship left Assuan around 6pm. We crossed the border to Sudan the next day around 11am. Unfortunately we could not see the temple of Abu Simbel, as we passed by during the night. The night was ok under these circumstances except the praying of our fellow travellers at an unearthly hour. In retrospect we need to say again, that Egypt is a very pleasant country to travel, and on top it is quite cheap. One liter Diesel is costing approximately € 0,13 and 20 little flat breads we managed to get for € 0,12. During all these weeks we liked Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, the White Desert and Wadi Hitan the most. At another time of the year we for sure would have stayed longer.
Before reporting the last 2 weeks we would like to highlight that Egypt is a very pleasant country to travel. Should the presidential election improve the situation in Egypt further, there is, from our point of view, no reason not to travel to Egypt, even if you are travelling individually like we. Especially this comment is valid when you take it slowly and travel outside the main touristic areas. The reports about aggressive Egyptians we can‘t confirm, only in Luxor the souvenir guys where a bid annoying. The best is to pretend to have visited the place often, that you know the prices and that you of course do not need anything.
From Cairo we drove the Wadi al Hitan. On the way we passed the Sakara and Dashur Pyramids and 3 lakes. Between the 2nd and the 3rd lake was even a 3m! high waterfall, the only one in Egypt and therefore it is famous. The attraction in Wadi al Hitan is Whale bones lying around in the sand, reminding us of times when the desert still was an ocean. The area is nicely done and the campsite is in a very nice place. The trip is worth it, not only for the Whale bones but also for the landscape. From here we started to explore the deserts, first on our trip to the Oasis Bawati. On route we first had to cross several sand dunes and afterwards we drove on a black plateau which consisted of sand with a layer of small black stones. The sand was sometimes so soft, that we had the feeling that someone at full speed (around 50 km/h) was pulling hard on the rear bumper. From Bawiti we drove again through the desert, to the Oasis Farafra. The highlight here was certainly the White Desert, which is definitely worth visiting. From Farafra we took another desert route to the Oasis Dahkla. The challenge here was the crossing of an endless (slightly exaggerated) sea of sand dunes. At the end of this trip, shortly before Dahkla, we had a slight crash in which luckily only the engine guard was bent. Suddenly the sand dune ended and we fell steep, around 70 cm. The contours of the sands were hardly visible in the midday heat and it was too late to brake. The problem driving in the desert (and off road) is to find the balance between not driving too slow (getting stuck) and driving too fast (many different damages). Also it is advisable to travel the deserts in the winter months as the dunes are harder and the contours better to see. Also the temperatures are nicer when you walk through the dunes to find the right passage. In total we made 625 km in partly very exiting 6 days (see picture gallery). During the next days we will try to bend the engine guard back and change oil, oil filter, diesel filter and air filter. The poor diesel quality and the dusty desert air require to change the filters earlier than at home. From Dahkla we drove to Luxor, which is really a highlight of the trip so far. The sights we liked more than e.g. the pyramids and Luxor is a very pleasant little city.
At first I have to say that you will be cheated almost always and more in the touristic areas. Our target is to come as close as possible to the price Egyptians would pay what sometimes really happens. Of course it is an advantage to travel slowly, having the time to talk to people and compare prices. Even in pharmacies they will try to cheat you. As Germans seem to be asked the highest uplifts we started to pretend not to be German. Mostly we say now we are from Hungary. The advantage is that Egyptians (at least the ones we met) do not speak Hungarian and therefore the conversation with confidence tricksters is always quite short. About Hungary they only know Budapest and Esterhazy.
After our luxurious days in the hotel we stayed 3 more nights camping in Ras Mohammed near Sharm El Sheikh. Here we met Sameena, Luca with kids and Frank again. We spent the time with snorkeling and planning our trip through Egypt. On route to Cairo we managed to get our Visa prolonged by 3 months in El Tur, but unfortunately we did not manage to get our car papers prolonged. From our guide-book we know that prolonging the papers for the car is almost mission impossible. As our papers are already expired, due to mistake of the officials when entering the country, it is even more important for us to get this sorted out. At a police check point they let us drive through, although complaining about our papers, but latest when leaving the country we might face a high fine or a significant Bakschisch payment. After a night in El Sudr we carried on to Cairo and tried our luck with the car papers again at Car Customs at the airport. The result is a handwritten note on the back of the Egyptian page of the Carnet de Passage with an expiry date of 22.08.2011 and an official stamp. If this works out we will probably soon find out. At least we have now something official in our hands. In the meantime we are 5 days in Cairo doing sightseeing mainly but we have also managed to get the Visa for Ethiopia. A highlight was certainly the boat cruise on the Nile together with Zacharias (who Frank met during our first day) and his family. Apart from the Nile cruise we also had a look at the most important sights, like the Pyramids, the Citadelle, the Islamic quarter incl. Suq and others. Cairo is a very interesting lively city in a still slightly instable political situation with people, once on the street in the traffic seem to be completely sick of life. According to Zacharias the situation is improving now. Let’s hope that he is right. Very likely we will leave Cairo tomorrow to drive to the white dessert down the Oasis road. After almost a week in Cairo we are very much looking forward to the quietness of the desert.
From what we have heard crossing the Border to Egypt in Nuweiba should be quite chaotic and nerve wrecking. Also we have heard from other travellers that the Egyptians in general can be pretty aggressive these days, mainly because of lack of business due lack of tourists. Therefore it was a very pleasant surprise when we were able to enter the country without any problems. A tourist police officer told us what to do when and we managed to complete all formalities even without giving any Bakschisch. It took almost 4 hours from arrival of the ferry to leaving the port, but it was never boring as we completed the formalities together with a UN employee (armored Toyota), 2 Dutch guys (old Citroen) and Sameena and Luca with kids (the Italian family with the Fiat truck) who served original Italian espresso. From the port in Nuweiba we drove with the Italian family and the Dutch guys to Dahab to meet Frank (old Mercedes truck) and Kathi and Ferdi (VW T3 Syncro). Dahab was a very good first destination. The people are friendly, everything is available (even brezels from the German bakery) and the prices are ok. We stayed 3 nights in Dahab at the beach, before driving with Frank, Sameena and Luca and Peter (German Motorbike rider) to the St. Catherine Monastery. On route, we took a gravel road through a Wadi, we stumbled over a small cannabis plantation next to a well (no drugs in Egypt?!) and we also had a look at the Blue Mountains. The Monastery is quite impressive with an equally impressive history. Unfortunately only Greek Orthodox Christians are allowed to visit the whole complex. We also hiked to the summit of Mount Moses where we were unlucky in seeing a cloudy sunrise and on the way down it even started raining. After this small hiking tour we drove to Sharm el Sheikh to meet my (Ralph’s) parents. We spent 5 very nice days together, above and under water. The nights in the 5-Star Hotel have been quite a contrast to our live before (and after). Today we will team up again with Sameena und Luca and travel together through Egypt.
From Dana we drove back to Petra and visited Little Petra. To visit Little Petra just takes 20 min. but it is from our point of view worth a little detour. And surprisingly they do not ask for an entrance fee. The night we stayed together with Belgians and French (3 Toyota, 2 Nissan) near Petra. It was a very nice evening and the first time we met travellers travelling by car with direction south. From Petra we drove to Aqaba in order to meet Allgäu-Orient Rally participants, who never arrived (see www.allgaeu-orient.de), but we met at the Bedouin Moon Village again travellers with destination south. Apart from an Italian family with destination India/Pakistan and a Dutch motor biker with destination South Africa we met only Germans, most of them also going to South Africa. It is a good feeling to see that we are not travelling alone. After resting a few days we went to Rahma Sands to meet a Dutch guy who is living in Jordan. As we never drove on sand with our car it was very good to get a few lessons taught. Of course we got stuck quickly. After a few exiting hours in the sand we stayed the night with Henk (the Dutch guy), one Jordanian woman and one Jordanian man having a very nice barbeque with wine, beer and a little campfire in one of the Wadis. We liked the area so much that the Italian family (with a 4x4 Fiat Truck) and a German couple (with a VW-Bus T3 Syncro) came to join us. Together we stayed two more nights in the desert and during the day we explored the dunes. From Rahma Sands Karin and I drove to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is quite nice, but can be easily done in a day. Also here, like everywhere in Jordan, you can camp wild, what we of course did. We went to Wadi Rum through the “backdoor” (desert in the south) and left through the “frontdoor” with the result that for the first time we did not have to pay the entrance fee. Back in Aqaba we did not believe what we were seeing the next day. While we were having a “lemon with mint”, a female motor biker we know came around the corner, looking for a place to stay. We drove with Angela in 2006 through Turkey, on our motor bike trip around the Black Sea, until our roads parted before Georgia. Angela was „just“ coming from South Africa and could provide us with the latest information. The world is really small! Buy the way we found out why there are so few motorbikes in Jordan. After a bombing attempt on a royal family member, motorbikes where forbidden for quite a while and just lately people where allowed to buy motorbikes again. In Aqaba we also saw a tank again, but under water as an artificial reef. After a few dives we will leave Jordan tomorrow night and take the ferry to Egypt.
Since we entered Syria we found this drink on the menus and we like the drink so much that we want to share the recipe with you.
Recipe (for one glass):
- Juice of one lemon
- Top up the glass with still mineral water
- Add a little sugar
- Some fresh mint leafs
Mix everything in a mixer and you will get a refreshing green drink. Add some ice cubes if you like. We wish you a hot summer.
After leaving Syria, luckily without any problems, we stayed 3 days in Amman. A positive first impression was, that we saw a lot of modern diesel cars on the roads (and no tanks). While we were in Syria we did not see our car model once, but in Jordan during the first days so often that we stopped counting. Two Jordanians told us that the diesel quality in Jordan is fine everywhere in the country. Good to know! As can be seen by looking at the cars on the roads, Jordanians are quite a bid richer than their Syrian neighbors. In the streets in Jordan we e.g. did not see many motorbikes compared to Syria where the 125 ccm bike seemed to be one of the major means of transportation. Therefore it was no surprise that the prices in Jordan are higher for everything. Amman was ok, but it is not a city that one has to visit. The traffic was as chaotic as expected and the orientation was not easy because of all the hills. After 2 days of sightseeing and some necessary shopping we left to visit some desert castles in the east of Amman. Based on a recommendation of a Jordanian, who was interested in our hardtop, we drove into the green (and cold) Northwest of Jordan. As it was raining and the temperature was only 12°C we stayed one night in a hotel. The trip was still worth it as we managed to see the town Jerash the next day in sunshine. In Jerash the second most important historical site of Jordan (from the Romans) after Petra can be visited. One hour later we were at the Dead Sea. You not have to go there for swimming as this does not really work at a salt content of ~ 33%, but taking pictures is fun. Really impressive are the canyons leading into the Dead Sea. One we made on our own and one (the Mujib Canyon) in a group with a guide. The most exciting part was abseiling over a 20m waterfall. Canyoning in Jordan is really a highlight! The last two days we spent in Petra. Again this is not really cheap (€55,-/Person entrance fee for 2 days, Jordanians pay €1,-) but an absolute Must! The first day we spent, at 31°C in the shade, to visit the main attractions and during day two we made another impressive canyon and slowly walked back visiting some more historical Petra sites. If you want to visit Petra 2 days are enough, unless you are a Historic, an Archeologist or a teacher. To avoid the crowded weekends we spent the last weekend in the Dana Nature Reserve. Jordanians are also frequently visiting their tourist attractions, but they are quite lazy when it comes to hiking. During a long 2-day hike we made another beautiful canyon and spent the night with a Bedouin family. Should you ever have the time during visiting an Arabian country, try it. It is a nice and unforgettable experience, although a very basic one.
Today we managed to cross the "closed" border to Amman coming from Damascus. But first back to Palmyra. Before leaving we had the opportunity to talk with the young manager of an internet cafe. He watched videos taken in Homs on Friday. He confirmed that the statements from Part 2 are the official government statements, he himself didn't want to take up a position. All Syrians with access to the media (also newspapers are reporting about what is really happening) give us the impression that they know what is going on, but again they avoid to take up a position. From Palmyra we drove to Maalula, 50 km north of Damascus, and stayed over night in one of the 2 cloisters (St. Tekla Convent). There we also took the decision, again after talking to Syrians and other travellers, to stay one or two nights in Damascus. With hindsight this was a good but also lucky decision as it would have been impossible to leave Syria due to order of events in Daraa. In Damascus we had since yesterday afternoon, although everything was normal in the streets, a real bad feeling. Therefore we tried to get reliable information about the situation of the closed border between Syria and Jordan, first from a travel agency and afterwards from the German Ambassy. Both sources could not really help us. In the end we decided around noon to give it a try and leave Damascus towards Amman, as the border is just 110 km away. The alternative would have been to drive back to Turkey (also risky due to e.g. passing Homs again) and to take the ferry to Egypt. After passing 3 check-points we left Syria without any problems, although the border, according to the media is closed. On the way to the border we also saw several old check-points, some of them still with tyres burning, all roads to and from the motorway where blocked by military with tanks and in the distance we saw smoke over Daraa. Together with us also some Jordanians and Syrians crossed the border. Since last week Thursday the police and military presence on the roads increased dramatically, also in small villages and in the "middle of nowhere". It felt like the calm before the storm. As we amongst others did not manage to visit Bosra and as we could not spent enough time in Damascus, which we really liked a lot, we need to come back some time in the future, assuming Assad and his regime will not mess it up completely. It is really sad that again a dictator and his regime is trying to stop changes towards more freedom for the people. We hope for all the nice Syrian people who have helped us a lot during these last 9 days (by the way also police and military) that they still get it right. As we did not take any pictures of police/military/checkpoints and so forth we are only able to show you the nice side of Syria.
After three days in Aleppo we drove to Hama. On the way we visited the dead city Sirdjilla and the huge antique complex of Apamea. Especially Apamea is worth a detour. And of course we got lost again. The maps as well the street signs are of extremely poor quality. On route we managed also to refill the car with diesel. So far we cannot detect a difference to our eurodiesel. The high sulfur content does not bother us as we do not have a diesel filter. Should the diesel situation stay like this we will at least not have problems with refueling. At prices of €0,25/Liter refueling is really fun. From Hama, a nice little town with a unique antique watersystem incl. huge waterwheels, we drove via Misyaf (Castle) to the Krac des Chevaliers (huge crusader Castle). On route we stubled from one army/vigilantes checkpoint into the next. This was a surprise to us as we where quite far awy from Homs. We passed some christian villages and it seems that they feele especially threatened. Also here we where helped by a christian syrian motarbike rider who spoke English very well. The guy told us that islamic fundamentalists from the Lebanon and Iran try disturb the peaceful coexistance of the religions in Syria. A similar strory we heard from a armenian lady in Aleppo. As this story was repeated by a muslim Beduin we where really surprised. IT is impossible for us to judge what is really going on. From the Krac des Chevaliers we drove to Palmyra, also to stay away from the weekend demonstrations in the dessert. Palmyra is a must for everybody visiting Syria. It is really impressive to walk through 2 centuries old ruins
In the meantime we have survived the first day in Syria. Except from the traffic, Istanbul is really a piece of cake compared to Aleppo, we are impressed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the Syrian people. As we got lost in Aleppo a young man jumped out of a taxi and showed us the way. A little later an elderly man stopped the traffic for us (really brave or stupid?) allowing us to enter a carpark. By the way the horn function is the most important function of a car here, forget the brakes and the lights. From other travellers in our hotel we heard that travelling trough Syria should not be problematic, incl. Damascus. Let's hope for the best. Aleppo, a quite conservative city, impressed us mainly because of the huge Citadelle in the middle of the city and the Suqs. Should you visit Aleppo after this crisis you should stay in one of the nicely renovated townhouses or at least go there for dinner. There are several in the Christian Quarter where you also will be able to order beer and wine. Our recommendation is to stay with the beer as the wine is sort of special.
The last 8 days we have been really lazy and we stayed more or less in one place, which was great. I can really recommend the Orient Camping in Konacik, especially when you want to continue your travel to Syria. As the weather in East Anatolia (still and again snow) does not support our travel plans we have decided to continue our travel to Syria. The German Department for Foreign Affairs has not yet issued a travel warning for Syria, so we feel it is the right time to cross the border now. 3 days ago a Swiss motorbike rider travelled to Syria and he send us an email with the latest information. As it looks everything seems to be fine. During the last 8 days we also visited Iskenderun and Antakya. Both towns have surprised us and we like them a lot. Iskenderun is a modern city and Antakya a quite historic town. Both have in common that women are visible in business life, tourists are almost not existing and we saw lot of bicycle riders in the streets. We have not seen this up to now. You do not have to visit these towns but if you do so you will not be disappointed. Yesterday in Antakya we stumbled into a standing lunch after the mid-day praying and quickly we had something to eat and drink in our hands. When we asked why, we were told that this is always the case in Mohammeds birthday week?! So we were lucky to get a free lunch as "faithless" people. We were really impressed by the hospitality and helpfulness (without any hidden agenda) of the turkish people, especially outside the touristic centers.
Finally it's warm. Since the 8th we are now at the coast just south of Iskenderun. Despite the cool temperatures we enjoyed Turkey a lot so far. Especially Cappadocia is worth a visit (Istanbul please see below). On top of visiting the classical tourist attractions we can highly recommend the hikes through the Love Valley and Rose/Red Valley in Göreme and the hike through the Ilhara Valley in Ilhara. No tourist attraction but worth a visit is the Turasan Winery in Ürgüp. The wines they offer are good value for money and we enjoy them a lot. Apart from doing sightseeing we also try to get a feeling for what life is like in the areas we are visiting. A good place to do so is to visit the weekly markets in the villages. On these markets everything from clothing over household goods/tools/fences to fruits and vegetables are sold. One kg of strawberries is around € 1,50 in Anatolia at the moment. The prices for vegetables are not worth mentioning. The amounts offered and also bought are exceeding our needs by far. E.g. grapefruits where sold on one market per 5kg directly from the truck. As we only wanted to have two grapefruits we showed the guy 2 fingers. Of course he thought that we wanted to buy 2 kg. When we finally understood each other he laughed and gave us the 2 for free. Something similar happend to us in a small supermarket when we did not have enough small change. Of course every now and then people try to take tourists for a ride. The best thing to do to avoid this is to always ask for the price, no matter what you are interested in. A feeling for the right price is quickly developed. When looking for accomodation it is worth bargaining. At least when it is off season and when you have some time to do so. A last tip for people travelling by car. It is no longer possible to pay the motorway toll cash. Make sure to get a prepaid KGS card from the rental car company or buy one at one of the toll stations. We unfortunately only managed to do so in Istanbul. As good Germans we do not want to use the motorways without paying, which was suggested to us by a turkish motorbike rider. Compared to him we would not be able to drive faster than the police with our car!
Istanbul is a city one must have visited. Apart from the tourist attractions we enjoyed the city life on both sides of the bosporus a lot. Most of the time we walked, but we also used public transportation (ferry, tramway, subway) which was by the way easier than in Munich. We really had a lot of fun, especially when we where invited sponaneously to the party of a motorbike club although we battled to understand each other. Fascinating about Istanbul we found the mix of tradition, history and modern life as well as the combination of eastern and western culture. What we definitely will not miss was the traffic. It was for sure not our last Istanbul visit.
During these 11 days we slowly made our way to Istanbul. The highlight, apart from visting friends in Bruneck and Verona, was Meteora in Greece. As you can see in the slide show the cloisters are really impressive. Other than that not much was happening.