December 06, 2017

Narrated Audio Blog

Egypt was our 25th and final country in Africa. We arrived at the Wadi Halfa border to cross from Sudan into Egypt on the 14th November. We arrived with supplies because this time we knew for sure that we could be camping at the border.

We had travelled Africa without a Carnet de Passage (basically a passport for your vehicle) and for many countries we either passed through without any documentation required for the motorbikes or we completed a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) at the border. Taking the path of the TIP is a bit more effort and at times risky in Africa but it saved us a lot of money. Stu's research online indicated we would most definitely need to purchase an Egyptian Carnet at the Wadi Halfa border and we had all the contact details and costs to organise it. Our supplies were basic and for a few days in case we couldn't get access to shops. But what we had read online quite consistently said people could leave their vehicles at the border post and take public transport to the nearest town to stay in a hotel while the vehicle documentation was sorted out.

Stu was all over this border crossing. He had contacted the most reliable Egyptian fixer, called Kamal, weeks before we arrived at the border to let him know we were coming and to email through copies of our vehicle documents. Kamal had reiterated the timeframes and made no promises to get our documentation faster, in fact he warned us that depending on the day we arrive it could take longer than usual.

This particular experience highlighted just how important expectation management is in difficult or stressful situations. We spent 6 days and 5 nights in no-man's-land between Sudan and Egypt. This is simply how long it took to get the Egyptian papers for our motorbikes to bring them into Egypt. The reason we stayed at the border rather than leaving the motorbikes was because we hadn't expected outrageous fees from the Egyptian border control to leave our motorbikes on Egyptian soil without a Carnet. They told us it would cost 300 Egyptian Pounds per motorbike per day. In total this would have cost over €200. Our bank accounts were nearly empty and we couldn't put this on credit card so we had no choice but to sit it out at the border. We can honestly report that the time passed quickly and we have fond memories of this week.

The stretch of no-man's land between the two countries was approximately 300m long by 100m wide; a rectangle of sand, sky and tarmac. One or both of the countries had started building a structure for scanning vehicles but it was not in use so was essentially a very large carport but nobody could park under it. There were no shops, no toilets and no running water. We set up our tent near the Egyptian gate where security was on guard 24/7. Behind was 4 lines of trucks spanning the length of road, that's a lot of trucks. They were all waiting for their documentation and cargo to be approved so they could carry on their journeys as well.

How did we pass 6 days here without going stark raving mad? We must thank a group of Egyptian truck drivers at the front of the queue, right near our tent, who invited Stu for tea on our second day. He was walking Weeti and Shadow and they beckoned him over. Nobody spoke English, and we didn't speak Arabic but yet they got to chatting. They took us under their wings and invited us for tea and some meals every day. We had a look around their trucks, very curious what it was like inside the heavily decorated cabs. Each had their own set up and unique comfort to show off but all had decent beds and lots of photos of their loved ones hanging around. They were really kind to both of us and our dogs. All the truck drivers were though. At around sunset, nearly everyone in no man's land would head over to the large square of pavement near our tent and have a game of football. Those not playing carried their chairs over and sat on the sides watching and talking. We joined our new friends and they encouraged Stu to get up a play, pointing out how skinny he was and what an asset he should be to one of the teams. Unfortunately running around on the tarmac in bare feet took its toll after a couple of nights. Janell, a keen footballer, had sat patiently and enjoyed observing the games, acutely aware of the cultural difference here for women and not at all trying to get involved in the game. Janell was in fact the only woman in no-mans land and possibly a 20km radius for the majority of our stay at the border. Needless to say she got lots of attention and was constantly having photos taken of everything she did. But on our last night she was invited to play and got right in. They nicknamed her Mo Sallah.

The other saving grace for the week was being allowed to pass through the golden gates and into the Egypt border post every day to use the cafe. This was a privilege only we were granted, none of the truck drivers could enter but they didn't hold it against us. We took our camping chair, laptop and toiletries in with us and handed over our passports at the gate. The girls weren't allowed in the cafe so we found a spot opposite the restaurant where we set up the camping chair against a wall with an overhanging roof so we weren't in the sun during the day. Stu would buy falafel wraps and water then we could take turns using the bathroom in the cafe to brush our teeth and have a 'shower'. We cut the top off a large water bottle so we could fill it with tap water and use it as a scoop. There wasn't a shower in the bathroom but the toilets were always wet so it was no issue undressing in a cubicle and then pouring water over ourselves to freshen up. The scoop capacity didn't allow for lathering up with soap and shampooing hair, it was just enough to reach every bit of flesh and hair, it was cool and refreshing and we felt a million dollars afterwards along with our minty fresh breath. We stayed the whole day because we could only pass through once and Janell really needed to use the toilets because there was nowhere to hide from all the eyes during the day in no-mans land to relieve herself.

There was only one day that was a bit of a challenge for us. Friday is a holy day and the border is shut. We knew this and grabbed extra bottles of water and food supplies on Thursday. Going to the toilet involved holding a big cardboard box beside a wall to crouch behind for privacy until it was dark. The 'shower' was a moral booster so we decided to still give it a go and took turns holding our tarpaulin near another wall for privacy and pouring a bottle of water over our head. Janell went first and after Stu we gave the tarpaulin a good shake when all of a sudden a Deathstalker dropped to the ground. A Deathstalker is a scorpion found in the North African desert. It likes dark places and usually comes out at night. As we've been repeatedly setting up camp in the desert in the dark it may have got inside our tarpaulin that we use as a ground sheet in our tent. We called our truck driver friends over, they did a slicing acting across their throat to clearly symbolise the danger of the little creature. One of them had a thick piece of foam and tossed it on top of the scorpian and then stamped on it. It was dangerous to have him running around the place, especially with most drivers wearing flip flops and sandles and no emergency care for treatment nearby. To emphasise this point, a fire broke out on the Sudan side one night we were there. Egypt's fire truck very quickly responded and drove to the golden gates. We all watched the fire truck and its crew sit at the gate for about an hour before turning back to base. The border control wouldn't let it pass through to assist, probably didn't have its paperwork in order.

Kamal returned on day 6 with all our documents and we finally went through the golden gates for the last time. It still took us a few hours to get passports stamped and forms completed. Our truck driver friends managed to pass through the same day as us but were on the road to Cairo quickly and we said our goodbyes.

Once through the Wadi Halfa border its a short ride north to the ferry where we crossed Lake Nubia to Abu Simbel. The ferry was lovely, the breath of freedom on our faces as we glided across the sparkling blue water. We met up with Kamal for tea in Abu Simbel, picked his brain on things to do and see in the area, then headed for the Abu Simbel temples just down the road. These temples were moved here in the 1960's along the river to protect them from flooding when the Aswan Dam was built. There was a grand entrance to the car park and tourist centre for the site. The car park was near empty and it was late afternoon so we asked security if we could camp by the restaurant/cafe for the night and visit the temples in the morning. They were fine with our request and showed us a good place to set up our tent. We headed over to the cafe to ask about showers. There was only the male toilets open but with nobody around the staff grabbed a hose and fed it through the window into the toilets and showed us where the tap was to turn the water on and off. We took turns standing under the cool stream of water in the toilets, lathering up with soap and scrubbing every millimeter of our bodies. Finally clean and feeling reborn we went to the cafe for dinner and a few beers. It was lovely and we slept like babies.

Unfortunately the entry price to the temples was more than we had expected and more than we could afford with cash. We packed up and rode to Aswan instead that day. Janell was feeling unwell all day and thankfully we had booked two nights at the Takela Kata Guesthouse right on the Niles water edge next to the dam wall. It was a lovely guesthouse including breakfast with a good hot shower, comfortable bed and evaporative cooling. Janell got worse before she got better, lets just say she saw more of the toilet than the boats floating on the Nile outside the window. The day she managed to finish her breakfast we returned to riding, headed for Cairo.

It was around 1000km to Cairo along one sealed road which we did over three days. It should have been fairly quick and pleasant riding days but the Egyptian Police were insisting on Police escorts from check point to check point. We had heard something about this before reaching Egypt but didn't really understand what was happening. From Abu Simbel a police check point had tried to escort us to Aswan but we very strongly resisted, insisting we weren't paying anything to them, so they let us go. This side of Aswan didn't seem to be negotiable and it really slowed us down. Every time we pulled in to the next police checkpoint on the highway we had to pull over and wait for a new car and team to have tea, fill in some paperwork and then join us to continue travelling. It was frustratingly slow. They even set up a picket in the lobby of our hotel that night. There was absolutely no way we could take another two days of this palaver so when we left the hotel with the police car in front, we found a turn and detour we could take so we could lose them and it worked. There was no way a car could turn around and catch us in the town traffic. We also discovered an alternate highway to the east which unfortunately missed Luxor and some other sites along the Nile but the road was empty. We camped for the next two nights just off the road to avoid unnecessary attention.

All this intrigue and covert riding was quite exciting and added to the achievement of reaching the Great Pyramids of Giza. Another site we couldn't afford to visit and dogs weren't welcome so we just grabbed some photos outside the perimeter. Still pretty cool though, our little dogs from South America sitting on their motorbikes outside the most famous pyramids in the world. It was so busy there and the traffic was horrendous. Not really our scene so we didn't stick around long.

There was a little incident that probably highlights just how tired and crazy we were after 12 months circumnavigating the African continent. We were riding through a town with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Stu was in front and we were crawling along with the traffic, our load far too wide to creep through. A car behind Janell was sitting really too close to comfort and eventually knocked her from behind. She didn't go over, nothing was broken but she immediately put her bike on the side stand and walked over to the driver to tell him what she thought of his driving abilities. Just bare in mind over the past two months she'd be attacked in riots in Ethiopia, very dangerously t-boned on a highway in Sudan, had countless breakdowns, been sick a few times (never really got well), had to put up with ridiculous police escorts and was constantly harassed by people taking photos of her. This poor man was the straw that broke the camels back. The already terrible traffic was made worse because she refused to move until one of the traffic police loitering along the road (doing nothing) reported the incident. Janell took photos of the car and her bike, had all the details recorded and ended up at the tourist department at the local Police Station making a formal complaint about the driver. This all took up several hours and at the end of it she turned to Stu who had been very supportive and patient, apologised and laughed at just how outrageous she'd been over the whole affair.

We were making our way to Alexandria to ship our motorbikes from Africa to Europe. We just had to make it there in one piece and we only had one more site to see. We took a detour to Port Said to see/cross the Suez canal and touch the Asian continent. But we couldn't just take the ferry back, we needed to at least have coffee before heading back. We searched the database of "Food" on our Garmin operating Open Street Maps and to our absolute amazement found a place called Central Perk Cafe, from the hit TV Series Friends. There was a cardboard cut out of Gunther, the staff let us take some photos with him. It was fantastic, we had coffee and muffins then continued on to Alexandria.

Alexandria is a pretty city. It took some time to organise shipping the motorbikes and booking flights for us and the dogs but what better place to be sorting that out, certainly much much nicer than being in Cairo on our budget. We enjoyed walking the girls along the waterfront every day, eating fresh locally made seafood dishes and window shopping in the very fashionable boutiques. There was definitely a bit of celebrating to be had. Our final post for Africa summed it up well "Overlanding Africa with dogs (Casablanca to Cape to Cairo) . We made it!! Morocco to South Africa to Egypt all with Negrita and Shadow and no barriers or quarantine. There were plenty of challenges along the way with our motorbikes and we learned a lot about ourselves and life in general. It had been a roller coaster 12 months but we are exhausted and ready for some stability. Next challenge is getting the girls back into Europe, but we've done our homework and we're prepared so this shouldn't be a problem at all."

The Pack Track: 25 countries in Africa, 50 countries in total and counting.

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November 14, 2017

It was by no means a secret to anyone that the thought of entering Sudan both excited Stu and made Janell quite uneasy. And even she would be the first to admit that there was no reasonable explanation for this feeling other than a link to the war torn country of South Sudan where Stu had deployed for 6 months on a peacekeeping mission during his service in the Royal Australian Navy. As is so often the case on this adventure we were both surprised and delighted by what we saw and who we met and left Sudan with a genuine fondness for the desert country. The border crossing from Ethiopia didn't quite go as planned and resulted in a 2 night camp at the border. We were travelling without a Carnet for the motorbikes but had been advised that we could get an 'in/out' (transit) permit at the Sudan border which would allow us to cross Sudan in 48 hours. You can imagine that 48 hours to cross a country is not ideal, you see very little other than the tarmac and there is the risk of a breakdo...

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Violent Riots in Ethiopia
Violent Riots in Ethiopia

October 29, 2017

Ethiopia proved to be unique amongst african nations from the get go. At the border crossing we were invited to have tea with the officials while they worked out how to import our bikes without us having a Carnet. The process was easy in the end, they just completed a customs declaration form, which included all our electronics (phones, laptops etc.) and added the bikes to this. There was no fee, we just had to show the items on the way out inorder to get our passport exit stamp. Ethiopians are a proud people, most people would bring up the fact that Ethiopia had not been conquered by a European nation at the start of any conversation. We thought the people smiled naturally instead of having a downcast look that so many African's and other ex-colonials have from the poverty and gross class division forced on them. Ethiopian culture was warm and inviting and their food was an absolute delight. As part of their very unique take on Christianity, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has over 1...

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Uganda and Kenya
Uganda and Kenya

October 09, 2017

Uganda was the only country in Africa that we had both travelled to before The Pack Track. In February 2013 we spent a few days in Kampala, squeezing in a one day safari, before heading off on a cruise of the Canary Islands. Riding our motorbikes across the border and onto Ugandan territory felt poles apart from this past memory. How easy it is to fly in and out of a place, stay in a resort and then boast of having been there. If any country put our overland travels into perspective, to appreciate just how far away from Australia we were, it was Uganda. We crossed into Uganda at Kyanika. We had to obtain an Exit Confirmation certificate for the motorbikes in Rwanda and then pass through the Police checkpoint where they registered the bikes leaving the country. Uganda had a one-stop border post which is always a sight for sore eyes, everything in one building is so much easier and quicker for us. At the Customs Office we imported the vehicles where we needed to pay 73,000 Uganda Shil...

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