The journey

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Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom
For the past 5 years, me and my best friend Nathan have talked about the possibility of travelling around the world by land and sea, and so finally we have a route, savings and time to set off around the world. What we are doing is living out a dream, a dream we share with many people worldwide, a dream of travelling this vast, diverse, beautiful and interesting planet, but unlike the many others who keep it as a dream, we have the tenacity to make this dream a reality.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Days 83 & 84: Kenya

Day 83

With Caz’s flight arriving in the evening we had a day to kill in Nairobi, but after the horrendous roads from Moyale the Landrover needed some attention and so we set about fixing all of the parts that had rattled off due to the corrugations.

Although it was day 83, I still hadn’t wired up the fog lights that had purely served an aesthetic purpose on the Landrover so far on the trip. The problem was that every time I tried to wire them, the wiring on the Landrover didn’t match the diagram in the Haynes Manuel, or some of the switches and relays had broken. After an hour of taking apart the entire dashboard to feed the wires through, the fog lights were finally up and running.

In the evening Caz arrived and I had prepared some cottage pie for the three of us. Caz had brought a tent with her, but the rain was so bad that night that the three of us had to cram into the roof-tent to avoid the flooding below.

Day 84

We left Nairobi heading for Kisumu on the shore of Lake Victoria hoping that the journey would not take too long. The roads were all tarmaced, but the potholes and Matatus were proving rather tricky obstacles to our intended velocity.

The Matatus are the Toyota Hiace minibuses that are restricted to 80kph and seem to have a special driving licence requirement whereby drivers must have an IQ of less than 53. Reading the papers I wasn’t surprised to discover that in one day there had been three separate road traffic incidents in Kenya killing over 30 people – all of which involved a Matatu.

We drove over the hill and down towards Kisumu just as the sun was descending over
Lake Victoria creating the most amazing red and purple sky in the distance. After finding a hotel and getting some dinner we headed back to our rooms for a cheeky drink to watch some DVDs.

Days 81 & 82: Kenya

Day 81

Having the previous day clocked up enough miles to take our journey past the 10,000mile mark we headed south in convoy with Joachim to reach another big landmark on our journey as we crossed the Equator just south of Nanyuki. At the Equator we had the obligatory photo under the sign, and I was given an explanation on the Coriolis effect by one of the locals, where he demonstrated the water flowing in opposite directions downwards either side of the equator, and directly down on the equator. (Although this is true in theory, at the close distances at which he demonstrated this it is certainly a magic trick, but one which I couldn’t work out how he had done it.)

The next stage of our journey was to drive to Nairobi, and so like we did along the Isiolo road, Joachim and us decided to drive at our own pace again (as his car needed several fixes in Nairobi) and so we agreed to meet at some stage along the main road. We sped off towards Nairobi at lot faster that Joachim, and decided to wait for him at one of the junctions about midway. After waiting for over 30minutes, we realised there was something wrong, and so decided to drive back to try and find him. After a long drive back to where we thought we had seen him last, we were just about to give up when we spotted a 4x4 parked at the side of the road in the distance. It was Joachim, and his gearbox had failed meaning the car couldn’t move at all. He was so glad to see us as one of the locals had offered him a tow for over £135/€150, but with us returning in our trusty tow truck of a Landrover and a virgin towrope we continued our journey to the capital once more.

We knew we would have to find somewhere to stay along the way as the distance was too great to cover before it went dark, and so just before I saw the sun descend from its midday position in the north to its evening conclusion in the west for the first time in my life, we found a random hotel/restaurant/bar where we could camp for free for the night.

Day 82

The next morning we resumed to tow Joachim to Nairobi where our intended destination was an overland campsite called Jungle Junction. By the time we arrived in Nairobi, the traffic was absolute chaos, and trying to tow another vehicle through congestion whilst still trying to navigate was proving an extremely laborious task.

Eventually we found the campsite just after midday and were so glad to see what a brilliantly comfortable place it was to stay. Most other overlanders who come through Nairobi also stay here, and the owner who is motorcycle crazy has his own garage in the compound with all of the tools and equipment you could ever need.

In the afternoon we visited the local supermarket which we were absolutely amazed by. It was just like being back in Europe with different sections stocking various foods and goods, and it was strange to see such a multicultural place once again as people of all races were doing their shopping there. We spent the remainder of the evening cooking and relaxing in the garden, whilst Joachim tried to find a garage where he could get his car repaired.

Days 79 & 80: Kenya

Day 79

The drive to the border was achieved before midday, and we needed to stamp out our passports and carnet on the Ethiopian side. The customs official noticed that our visas had expired and told us we would have to return to Addis to renew them. We asked if there was any way we could ‘pay’ for an extension at the border, and before long he reticently received a bribe from us for half of what we would have paid for an extension and stamped our passports out.

We then drove across to the Kenyan side where spent ten minutes and no money getting our passports and carnet stamped in, then proceeded to change lanes from driving on the right on Ethiopian tarmac, to driving on the left on Kenyan dirt tracks, and we were on our way to Marsabit.

We knew the road would be terrible, and that the distance of 150miles/250km would take a long time, and we were right. The first third of the journey wasn’t too bad, then the middle third was horrendous rocky roads mixed with thick muddy patches after a tornado twisted its path across the road in front of us on the horizon and brought with it a rainstorm. The final third was just terrible corrugations of the road surface that we had to navigate through in the dark. After over fourteen hours of driving we had arrived in Marsabit and we looked forward to a much needed sleep.

Day 80

An early start was once again required as the road to Isiolo we had heard was just as bad as the Moyale to Marsabit road. After less than two hours on the corrugated roads we had covered a distance of only 30miles/50km, and we were completely frustrated by the relentless shaking and rattling being done by the road surface to the Landrover.

Just after stopping for a bite to eat at the side of the road we continued our journey to see a familiar car parked up on the side of the road. It was the car of Joachim who we had met in Addis who we thought would be half way back to Cape Town by this time. We were glad to meet him once again, and he made our day when he informed us that the last 60km/40miles of the road to Isiolo was now tarmaced! We decided to drive at our own pace and meet up again where the tarmac started.

When we arrived at the tarmac we could almost hear the Landrover breath a sigh of relief. We waited for Joachim and continued our journey to Isiolo where we found a hotel run by a Dutch couple who had space for us to camp, and who cooked us one of the best (and most definitely the biggest) meals of trip.

Days 77 & 78: Ethiopia

Day 77

We returned to the garage to refit the tank only to find that the fuel connector pipe had been bent by one of the workers meaning that it wouldn’t connect properly. The tank came out once more, the pipe was bent back, and the tank was once more refitted.

The next stage was to bleed the fuel system of any air, but air kept coming through into the filter and the engine wasn’t running correctly. We called for a mechanic to sort it out once and for all, and after two or three hours of us all investigating, the problem wasn’t in the engine or the fuel system, but in the tank. And so, the tank was removed once more.

The problem was that the internal fuel pipe was touching the bottom of the tank when it was re-welded, and so wasn’t sucking diesel correctly. The tank was opened up, a piece was cut off the pipe and then it was welded once more. This time we tested the entire system before we fitted the tank back between the chassis, and everything was fine.

With the engine running, the car moving again and having spent eleven hours working, we set off back to Rolfs house only to find that the battery had drained and we needed a jump-start. Once back at Rolfs, the electrical system failed again and we dreaded yet another day in Addis fixing more problems.

Day 78

On closer inspection to the electrical system in the morning, I discovered that the mechanic had rewired our split charge system incorrectly when he removed all of the batteries to weld the exhaust pipe, and so the main battery wasn’t charging at all. We were relieved that it was such a simple solution, and astounded that the battery had lasted so long without being charged.

We were finally, thankfully back on the road and exuberantly heading south towards Kenya with the engine ticking over like a dream, and the tarmac being swallowed up beneath our wheels. The scenery of southern Ethiopia was changing around us from beautiful lakes within the savannah, to flat desert land, to mountainous fertile valleys where you might of thought you were in Cambodia.

We arrived in a small town called Yavello in the evening 251miles/404km later, and found a hotel for the night with a short drive to the border awaiting us the next day. From what we had seen of Ethiopia, we vowed that one day we would come back and spend longer exploring the vast landscape of the most fascinating and diverse country we had ever visited.

Days 75 & 76: Ethiopia

Day 75

Our 14th night in Addis would be our last. Our visas would expire before we reached the border at Moyale, but we thought we would risk not getting an extension for $20 each knowing that if anyone at the border would say anything, that a bribe would be cheaper.

One thing we needed to arrange for was vehicle insurance for the next countries we would be travelling through, and we were able to obtain Yellow Card insurance for Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia all in one policy in Addis for less than £40/€44 for a month.

The evening was spent at Lules bar where we said goodbye to him for the third and final time, once again enjoying his brilliant food and saying farewell to the other people we had met in our stay in Addis.

Day 76

After saying goodbye to Rolf and Rut we were back on the road, and we needed to fill up with diesel at the local garage. Half way through filling the tank, we noticed that diesel was pissing out of the side near one of the electrical connections at a ridiculous rate, and emptying all over the petrol station forecourt. We were devastated.

We drove back to Rolfs house and immediately back to the aluminium company ordering them to remove the tank, fix the problem and refit it at once whilst we headed to a restaurant around the corner for some lunch and a much needed drink.

The tank was leaking through the gasket of one of the connections that had melted when they had welded the tank for the second time, and the solution was to remove the gasket completely and weld the connection on. After this was done we checked the tank to find that there was a small leak through the sides still, and that an epoxy was needed to seal it, but as the sun was coming down and the epoxy needed time to harden, we would have to return the next day. Night 15 in Addis and still counting.

Days 73 & 74: Ethiopia

Day 73

We were still waiting for a call from Bruke at the garage, but it never came. It was becoming more and more frustrating having no car in a large city and having to rely on Rolf to give us a lift everywhere. The other option was to use the Hilux HiAce minibuses which were really complicated unless you knew the city really well, or to take a taxi which were quite expensive.

In the evening we had arranged to meet up with Jack and Ryan, along with Adam who had just arrived in Addis on his bicycle. We met at a top Italian restaurant in the city centre, introduced Rolf to everyone and shared stories about our journeys so far. After a few beers we aimed to get a taxi home, but as usual various taxi drivers constantly quoted us ridiculous prices just because we were white.

For a short journey which should cost us 50birr (£2.50/€2.75) we were being quoted 130birr, but a stupid quote meant we would search elsewhere. Eventually we found a taxi who quoted us 50birr exactly and we accepted. On the way back though, he took a wrong turn and tried to drive his Lada over a 20cm (8 inch) concrete central reservation in the road and got stuck. Me and Nathan had to get out and tell him how to drive it out safely, otherwise we would never have got home. This is why we needed our Landrover back.

Day 74

The call came in the morning that the car was fully ready. We arrived at the garage to see the mechanics still working and cleaning the car. After an hour it was complete though and we could finally drive off into the city to get the engine jet washed. The Landrover now felt and looked new again, it had never been so clean.

After going out for a bite to eat at Lules, Rolf reminded us that we still hadn’t sampled the local Taj, an Ethiopian wine made from honey. We had left tasting it all through our trip in Ethiopia until Addis where we had heard the quality is much better, and so in the Afternoon we went to a local bar which was renowned for the best Taj in Addis along with Lule and Chimey.

As per usual when with Rolf, the drinking didn’t really stop, and carried on until the late evening when we finished the night off by going for another traditional Ethiopian meal called Kitfo, a raw minced meat served with cheese and spinach, a weird taste, especially because I prefer my food cooked.

Days 71 & 72: Ethiopia

Day 71

Yet again we were hoping the tank would be ready after lunch, but it was a very optimistic hope if anything. By the late afternoon we had received another phone call wanting us to come to the factory and check that the tank looks good before the final welds were made.

The tank measured well and so we gave the order to weld it whilst we went for a drink around the corner to wait. One hour later and we returned to the factory to see the final welds being made before testing the tank for leaks.

It was too late to fix it back into the Landrover as the sun by this time was low in the sky, and so we went for a bite to eat and a few more drinks vowing to wake up early the next morning to finally get our Landrover up and running.

Day 72

We had drunk far too much the night before and woke up feeling still slightly drunk, but the tank needed fixing before we could get the Landrover back on the road and to the garage.

The fit still wasn’t perfect as the holes for the bolt fixings to the chassis we slightly wrong, but after two hours of toiling underneath the Landrover and bleeding the fuel system, the engine was ticking over again and we were on route to the garage.

The waiting game had resumed again, and we were again hoping for the steering, exhaust and CV joints to be fixed as quickly as possible so that we could resume our travelling. It wasn’t going to be ready at earliest until the morning though, and so a few beers at night once again quelled the frustration.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Days 61 - 70: Ethiopia

Day 61

The route to the capital city Addis Ababa we knew would be long, and so we started early in the morning to utilize the sunlight hours, so as not to drive on the roads at night. Our exit from the hotel wasn’t as hasty as expected though, as three minibuses had blocked us in overnight.

The roads were the same as on the journey to Lallibela, and once again we experienced some amazing scenery, eventually dropping down into a valley near Waldia that from my reckoning must be the most fertile place in Ethiopia. The whole valley was covered in various plants and crops, and the only visible part that wasn’t green was the grey and dry rocky river delta at the bottom.

The darkness was looming and we were still a long way from Addis, so we decided to try and spot a decent hotel for the night in one of the many villages along the roadside. The hotel that we found in a small village in Robit cost us around £2.00/€2.20 for the night, and the only thing to do there was to eat and drink, but with the price of beer and food being just as cheap, this wasn’t a bad thing.

Day 62

We left Robit early and continued towards Addis. The leaking from our fuel tank had worsened over night and we had split around five litres. This left us with a small cash problem, as we had budgeted to spend just enough money on Diesel to make it to Addis where we could once again use a cash machine to withdraw money.

We needed to change our emergency supply of dollars to ensure we had enough fuel, but once we had found a bank with a cash machine, we were fine. The next task was to phone Rolf and get directions to his house where he had invited us to stay. After getting directions, we proceeded to the nearest liquor store to buy him a crate of beer as a welcome present, and once we had arrived at his house, the old mans eyes opened wide with delight!

We spent the evening drinking and eating with Rolf and Rut in a local restaurant called Road Runner which was owned by a guy called Lule, a crazy Ethiopian who had spent many years abroad in the USA and Columbia to name but two. We were enjoying Ethiopia without end, and meeting some brilliant people along the way.

Day 63

With the tank needing to be fixed we spend the morning removing it from the Landrover and by the afternoon we were at the metalwork compound ordering a local firm that Rolf knew through the owner to fabricate us a brand new tank from zinc galvanised steel for 2000birr/£95/€105.

Then started the long wait for the tank to be made, and with nothing really to do or see in Addis, we proceeded to eat and drink our way through the Addis Ababa restaurant directory under the advise of Rolf and Rut.

In one of the bars in town called Kiel Bar we met a German student called Silke and her Ethiopian boyfriend Sultan, who after a few drinks invited us to try chat the following day, a stimulant plant native to Ethiopia and quite popular amongst the locals.

Day 64

Chat is a drug that is banned in many countries worldwide, but is legal still in a few including Ethiopia and even the UK, although I have never even heard of it in the UK. In Ethiopia it is chewed for long periods of time especially students and people of other professions who wish to stay awake and alert during the night.

The method of consumption by chewing and retaining the chewed leafs in the mouth appears to be a very social event (almost a ritual) and we were joined by Sultan and Silke and two university friends of Sultan. The leafs taste really sour, and one way of counteracting the taste is to simultaneously eat salted peanuts.

After two or three hours of chewing and conversing with each other with bulging cheeks full of chewed up leafs, we both agreed there was a small effect, with us both feeling more alert and awake, but only similar to taking a high dose of caffeine. We spent the rest of the evening in a local live music bar called Harlem Jazz drinking the one drug we know and love.

Day 65

We spent most of the morning and early afternoon trying to find a decent internet café so that I could update the blog, but all of the connections in Ethiopia are amazingly slow. We were informed that the fastest internet café in Addis is across the road from the Kiel bar, but one of the frequent power cuts in the city meant that the computers would not run, so instead we went for a beer across the road.

Rolf came to meet us and invited us to dinner at a large restaurant on the top of the hill overlooking the city called the Face of Addis, and we enjoyed a brilliant meal that cost less than £2.50/€2.75.

Then Rolf took us around a few bars in the Checenyia area of the city, unknown to us, this area is the red light district of Addis, and every small ramshackle bar with neon lights was full of prostitutes trying to ply their trade. Rolf at the age of 65 was loving every minute of the attention of the young girls that warmed to his old charm, but the only thing me and Nathan wanted to buy in these bars was a cheeky beer.

Day 66

Waiting for a fuel tank to be built in a city where the only thing to occupy the time is to eat and drink (and for the more uninhibited gentleman, to get a taste for the ladies) was taking it’s toll after drinking for four nights on the trot, but Rolf had arranged a barbeque in his house for a group of friends, and so we spent most of the day preparing the food, alcohol and a fire.

Ingo had now been joined by his brother Mark, and along with another overlander called Joachim that Rolf knew, we started cooking around 4 kilos of meat just after 5pm. The evenings musical entertainment was provided by me and my guitar, and lasted for hours with everyone requesting songs that I had the tabs for on my laptop.

The rain started late in the evening and the fire was abandoned as we took all of the furniture, food and alcohol inside to continue playing music and drinking under shelter.

Day 67

We awoke late with a hangover and were too late to go and get our Kenyan visas. Instead we tried to be productive finding a bank where we could withdraw money and an internet café with broadband.

This was supposed to be the day that the tank would be ready, we were hoping we would be able to pick it up in the evening, and be able to fit the tank in the morning then to take the Landrover to the garage, but the tank was not ready and we were unsure of how much longer it would take.

Yet again in the evening we went out for a meal and stayed up late drinking with Ingo on his last night in Addis before driving back to Bahir Dar.

Day 68

The Kenyan embassy opened at 9am, we were out of there by half past and then had to pick up our passports again in the afternoon. We were glad the process wasn’t as frustrating as obtaining our Ethiopian visa.

In the afternoon we drove to one of the overland camping grounds to meet Joachim who was interested in taking an unusual route into Kenya on the western side of Take Turkana and was hoping that we would be driving with him. We met up and told him about the delay with our fuel tank, which meant that if we wanted to drive together he would have to delay his departure from Addis which he wasn’t keen on doing after spending two and a half months in the city.

In the evening Lule from the Road Runner bar and restaurant had invited me to play the guitar in the courtyard of his bar after hearing from Rolf that I was playing at the barbeque. I played in front of around 30 people for two hours with the musical genres ranging from Irish folk, rock and country and western. For my troubles Lula had offered me free food and drink all night, but sadly I had a dodgy stomach and couldn’t take advantage of the free beer!

Day 69

With the tank taking longer than expected the Landrover was stuck in Rolfs compound still needing to be fixed, so we decided to see if the mechanic would come to the Landrover to fix it. He arrived to take a look at the Landrover and give us a quote estimate, but insisted we should really wait until the tank was in and drive it to his garage.

We still needed to buy some new bolts with which to refit the tank and so we took a drive to a hardware shop just around the corner. On the way there we bumped into Chimay who owns the Kiel Bar, and Rolf had arranged with him that we meet up for a drink in another bar nearby which served draft beer.

Every morning at breakfast Rolf would say “No alcohol today.” By lunchtime we would be drinking. After one drink he would say: “This is the last beer now.” Then after we had finished that one he would say: “One for the road.” We only went out to buy some bolts and we ended up drinking from sunset until after midnight, but as Rolf said: “When you buy some bolts, you have to have a beer!”

Day 70

We were hoping all day that the tank would finally be ready, and in the afternoon we phoned up to see if it was complete. It wasn’t so in the meanwhile we tidied up the back of the Landrover and waited for the call.

Later that day at around 3pm we had the phone call that the tank was ready. We drove out to collect it, and it looked good. We paid and drove back to Rolfs house, donned our clothes reserved for getting dirty and tried to fix it back into the Landrover before sunset.

The tank had been built three or four centimetres too wide and wouldn’t fit between the chassis. We were really frustrated by now, and had to drive back with the tank and inform them to fix it. We knew yet again that our wait would continue for at least another day.

Days 59 & 60: Ethiopia

Day 59

The route from Bahir Dar to Lallibela we knew would be a 50/50 mix of tarmac and gravel, and the main road from Lake Tana to Gashema was exactly that, as the road was still being built and tarmaced. The scenery and drive we both amazing as the twisting road which was often only one lane wide rose high into the mountains offering spectacular views, and some hair raising moments whilst overtaking lorries with a shear drop of over 1000m to one side of the Landrover.

The last 30miles/50km was really bad gravel, and took us down 2000m into a valley, and back up the same distance the other side to Lallibela. The engine started overheating with only 8km to go, but we let it cool down as it started to get hot before resuming our journey.

Once in Lallibela we found a hotel, and then tried to find somewhere to watch Man Utd play against Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final. We already knew that the Ethiopians was crazy for the Premiership, and so yet again it was easy to find a small tented garden with benched seats and a TV where the owner would charge 2birr (£0.10/€0.11) as an entrance fee.

Day 60

The reason we visited Lallibela was to see the rock-hewn churches that were built there over 700 years ago and carved out of solid rock with both the exteriors and interiors sculpted to form the architecture. From the inside, the churches are quite uninteresting, but from the outside, especially the more photographed church of St George looks really impressive.

Out of the eleven churches in the area, two are now covered with some rather crude space-frame canopies to protect the churches from the weather, and it is sad to see such an ungraceful display of architecture around what is a world heritage site, especially when the entrance fees to the group of churches are so high. (300birr/£25/€28)

Fed up of the hassling again, we decided to chill out for the rest of the evening in the hotel watching movies. Being a tourist in many places that we have visited along the way soon becomes a chore of politely telling people that you don’t require a guide or help or directions to a hotel (where they will get commission) as they follow your white skin down the street like a shadow.

Days 57 & 58: Ethiopia

Day 57

With the front axle now put back on, the garage were trying to charge us £75/€82.50 for the time spent removing and reattaching the front axle, even though we had warned them not to do any work until we have a quote. For four hours work in Europe this would still be above the normal price, but for Ethiopia, a waiter wouldn’t earn this type of money in a month.

We argued and eventually paid £30/€33 to the garage so that we could leave their compound with the Landrover and get back onto the road. We said goodbye to Rolf and Rut, but exchanged numbers agreeing to meet up again in Addis at Rolfs house in less than a weeks time.

The road south from Gondor led us to a small town on Lake Tana called Bahir Dar, it was an ideal place to chill out for a few days in the sunshine, reading and relaxing with a few cold beers.

Day 58

The Nile Falls we knew we located only 20miles/31km from Bahir Dar, and so we decided to drive out there with the Landrover after getting a quick breakfast at the hotel. The road there was terrible, but by now we were getting used to driving on the gravel roads that were commonplace in the more rural areas of Ethiopia.

We arrived at the adjoining village to the falls only to get the standard amount of persistent hassling from the locals trying to sell themselves as tour guides and it proved impossible to just wander around without someone latching on and following our every move. The falls were not as impressive as we had hoped, as the river has for a long time been dammed in a hydroelectric project, and would have been quite an enjoyable trip if it were not for the hassling.

We returned to the hotel to sit down watching a game of football on the large screen TV when we discovered we had a visitor. Rolf had recommended this hotel to us, and had decided to come and spend a night in Bahir Dar with his friend Ingo, and then to try and track us down to see if we fancied a beer! We spent the evening having a few beers with both Rolf and Ingo, before retiring to bed with a long drive in front of us the next day.

Days 55 & 56: Ethiopia

Day 55

After packing up the Landrover and driving back into Debark to drop off our scout we hit the road back to Gondor once again along the bumpy and dusty gravel road. Half way into the journey we were overtaken at high speed by a German registered Nissan Patrol who was beeping his horn waving to us enthusiastically.

As we got closer to Gondor we saw the same car at the side of the road with the bonnet raised, so we decided to pull over to see if we could offer any assistance. The fuel injector was broken and he needed us to tow him to the garage in Gondor. The garage was full of 4x4 vehicles getting fixed, and so we decided to see if we could get the Landrover seen to asking for the mechanic to look at the fuel tank and steering leaving him to give us a quote whilst we went for food with Rolf the German and his young Ethiopian girlfriend Rut.

Rolf had spent a long period of his life travelling through Africa and had now retired to Ethiopia where he had spent the previous eight years living in Addis. Rolf like us also had a taste for the beer, and so that evening we out for a good drink together, sampling the various Ethiopian beers that were available.

Day 56

Thinking the previous day that the garage were taking out only the steering shock absorber to test it, we arrived at the garage in the morning to discover they had taken out the entire front axle. We then asked them if they had prepared a quote for fixing the steering, the fuel tank and welding a small part of the differential and the exhaust. The quote came to $790 (around £500/€550). This was phenomenally expensive for what was only a days work, and involved no parts. We argued with the garage that this was silly money, and Rolf phoned a friend in Addis to see what price we could get the work done for there to discover it would be a third of the cost.

We informed the garage that they should put the front axle back on, and that we wouldn’t pay their ridiculous prices. Rolf was having the same problem with the mechanics trying to remove random parts of his Nissan without his approval, and asking for large sums of money to fix his car.

We would have to spend another night in Gondor, and so after going out for something to eat with Rolf and Rut, we ventured into a local Ethiopian bar where local music was being played with singing, drumming, dancing and drinking combining to form the evenings entertainment.

Days 53 & 54: Ethiopia

Day 53

In the daylight we discovered that the seams of the fuel tank were sodden with diesel. One of the waiters in the hotel knew a mechanic and so we arranged for him to come and see the problem and give us a quote for removing the tank and welding the leaks.

It took two mechanics two hours to remove the nineteen year old tank from the rusty fixings of the undercarriage, and once we had drained it and removed the bottom shield, six of us stood around the tank with a piece of chalk circling the dozens of holes, just like being stood around a pub quiz machine playing spot the difference.

The garage only had the electrical welding equipment and not the better oxygen based welding guns, and so the job was only really a temporary fix until we could either get it re-welded somewhere else, or preferably get a new fuel tank.

Day 54

With the Landrovers fuel tank back in place we drove up into the Simian Mountain National Park with our compulsory local gun carrying park scout who couldn’t speak a word of English. The park is home to over 6000 gelada baboons and after only a hours drive we spotted a couple of hundred at the side of the road.

We got out of the car to go and walk amongst the baboons and sat down watching and taking photos. The baboons were not intimidated by our presence, and would come within touching distance of us so long as we made no sharp movements. After a while we resumed the drive upwards to over 3,300m above sea level. We got out for another longer walk around the park seeing the amazing scenery including the Geech Abyss, a 2000m shear face of rock that dropped vertically from beneath our feet into the valley below.

We drove back to a campsite near the entrance to the park where we knew a few of the other overlanders we had met on the ferry would be camping that night. We cooked dinner on a campfire before the sun went down and I eventually got the guitar out to play a few songs to give us something to do once the sun had gone down.

Days 51 & 52: Ethiopia

Day 51

Away from the desert in the Ethiopian highlands the heat was once again bearable, and the sun shone down as we took a walk around Gondor to the Royal Enclosure, a walled area of the town with numerous remnants of castles and palaces dating back four hundred years.

In the afternoon Nathan was interested in watching the Manchester United game on the TV, so we set off on a walk around Gondor to try and find somewhere to watch it. It turns out the Ethiopians are crazy for the English Premiership and it wasn’t long until we found a hotel where they had the game against Everton on the big screen in front of around a hundred Africans and two Welshmen drinking a cheeky afternoon beer.

After the game we drove up to another hotel on the top of the hill to see the view and sample the local food. We tried the fasting food which consists of a large flat sour kind of pancake with numerous dips and vegetables on top. We weren’t overly impressed with the sour bread, but some of the dips were really tasty.

Day 52

To reach the Simian mountains towards the north of the country involved a long four hour drive on gravel roads to the ‘base town’ of the mountains called Debark. The suspension and steering on the Landrover were taking a battering, and the dust storm that was created by the back wheels was churning up dust into the small gaps in the rear door, covering everything inside with a horrible layer of dust.

Once we had found a hotel we decided to check that the Landrover was OK. The day we arrived at the Ethiopian border we had discovered a small leak coming from the fuel tank. Initially we had thought that the local youths who were hassling us for cash near the border had sprayed Diesel over the tank in some sort of scam, as they all appeared to know where there was a good mechanic once they had alerted us to the problem.

We took a closer look in Gondor to see there was actually a slow leak, but on another inspection in Debark, the tank was leaking around ½ litre (a pint) per hour. The sun was going down, and so we placed a bucket under the tank until the morning when we would try and get it fixed.

Days 49 & 50: Sudan & Ethiopia

Day 49

We returned to the Ethiopian Embassy before 9am, filled out the forms, and submitted our application. After waiting over an hour and a half, the visa officer called over Nathan asking questions about our trip, and then mentioning that she couldn’t issue us a visa as the photos in our passports were too old.

We argued politely that our passports were 8 years old, but still valid for two years and had been accepted by every other country we had passed through so far with no problems. We argued that whatever picture was in our passports, they would always be old, whether it was one year or nine years, and that they are still valid, but the stubborn woman seemed incapable of reason in her thinking and she insisted that we needed new passports to obtain a visa for Ethiopia.

The other option for us was to visit the UK embassy to get a letter with an official stamp from them explaining that the passports should be accepted. If we didn’t get our visa that day, we would have to stay in Khartoum all weekend. We found the British Embassy, but it only opened at 11:00am. The Ethiopian embassy closed at 11:30am, and we knew it was going to be tight.

We each managed to get a letter from the British Embassy which cost us each $100/£65/€75, but we had no other option. We returned to the Ethiopian Embassy at 11:45am, but were luckily still allowed to get the visa processed. One letter and two hours later, and we had our visa. Thankfully we knew we would be out of the unbearable heat of Khartoum the next morning.

Day 50

It appears that we left Khartoum at the right time. The heat that weekend apparently soared to a freak high of 50 degrees Celsius! Instead of being stuck in an oven, we were on our way to the Ethiopian border, with two new shock absorbers which had had managed to fit the previous day after the embassy fiasco had unfolded.

After around 2pm we had arrived in Gallabat and proceeded to stamp out of Sudan. Another problem of the visa fiasco and the Landrover repairs was that we had very little money left, and in Sudan we were unable to withdraw money from their cash machines. Luckily the border crossing into Ethiopia cost absolutely nothing. We completed all of the documentation procedures whilst being hastled by about ten locals wanted to help us, then asking for commission, but we crossed the border post (a piece of rope between two wooden sticks) for no cost at all.

The day turned out to be the longest drive of the trip, and we arrived in Gondor in the dark to find a hotel and go out into the town for a meal, and our first beer in 12 days. It was longest I had gone without a beer for 5 years, and as it slowly trickled through my stomach and into the liver, I was no longer ill, the loss of appetite had returned, and the shaky hands had stopped. The two meals and four beers had cost us less than £3/€3.50. We had arrived in Ethiopia.

Days 47 & 48: Sudan

Day 47

Glad to get out of Khartoum, we left the campsite without paying as no-one was ever there to take any money from us during our stay despite us constantly asking who we are supposed to pay. Trying to find the way towards Ethiopia was tricky with no road signs at all (not even in Arabic) and so finding the way through asking local people was like trying to play a game of ‘hot or cold’.

After stopping to ask directions in Wad Medani, a local who could speak English said he would show us the way if he could get a lift as his house was on the way. His house was in a small village just outside Wad Medani on the main road to Gedaref, and when we dropped him off he invited us into his house for a drink of tea, and even offered us the use of his bath or the guest bedroom if we wanted to have a quick afternoon nap! This for us summed up the general kindness and hospitality of the brilliant Sudanese people.

We wanted to get on the road again and get to Gedaref so that we would be close to the Ethiopian border the following morning. Once we had arrived in Gedaref, Nathan was reading a guide book which stated that visas could not be attained at the Gallabat border, and after checking on the internet we realised it was correct. We would have to return to Khartoum to visit the Sudanese Embassy.

Day 48

We didn’t relish the though of returning to Khartoum, but it had to be done. We knew that getting the visa would take a day, and that we would really need to get the rear suspension fixed – even with a bodge – as it was getting worse and worse. We set off early and arrived in Khartoum after midday, arriving at the Ethiopian Embassy to find that like all embassies it was shut for the afternoon.

We thought that might be the case, but knew we still had one day before the Muslim weekend in which we could obtain a visa, and the guards at the gate informed us it would only take two hours.

The next job was to find a hotel (as honest as we normally are, we didn’t want to return to the Blue Nile Sailing Club to pick up the bill) and to get the Landrover fixed. Returning to the Industrial Area we stumbled across four more Landrover spare shops, and found a guy who said he would be able to fix it the next day after we had obtained our Ethiopian visas.

Days 45 & 46: Sudan

Day 45

The plan in Khartoum was to try and fix the Landrover, but after searching the internet we couldn’t find any parts dealers in Sudan. Needing to look at the problem ourselves we decided to take one of the wheels off to get better access to the rear suspension, but the wheel nut spanner was old and simply bent as we tried to release the nuts.

We then took a walk into the city centre to find a new spanner for the job, and after asking in one garage, he directed us to the industrial part of the city where there was one Landrover parts shop. Sadly they didn’t sell the bushes and washes required for the suspension fix, and so we thought the best thing to do was to wait until we reached Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

That evening in the Blue Nile Sailing Club we saw another Landrover parked next to ours. It was a Series I, which we guessed was over 40 years old and we got chatting to the owner Beverly (male not female) who was from the UK and travelling around Africa having sold his house. This guy was quintessentially English, and we initially thought that he must be ex-military (even nicknaming him The Brigadier), but he was an electrician from Derbyshire.

That night a few other people who were camping had told us there was a talent competition at a local Italian restaurant, and so I took along my acoustic guitar from the Landrover. Some of the talent on show was shockingly poor, but even my rendition of Cannonball by Damien Grey was not good enough to beat a local rapper who sang about his love for Sudan being similar to his love for women. After the talent content the night was rounded off by two local bands who performed some Sudanese rock music.

Day 46

After another unsuccessful look for parts for the Landrover, we returned to wash the Landrover for the first time of the trip, and the brown bodywork was once again returned to it’s former blue colour.

We drove out to where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile to see the difference of the colour as they meet. It was interesting to see, but not as spectacular as people had made out, the Blue Bile looked blue, whilst the White Nile looked as brown as the Landrover before we washed it. We returned to the camp and sat down with the brigadier who was telling us of his trip and route through Africa, picking up some very helpful information on where to stay and which roads to take.

It was our last night in Khartoum, and the Blue Nile Sailing Club had a music night with more local bands on. Two of the Swedish cyclists who were on the ferry had just arrived and I sat down listening to the music whilst they told me of their journey from Wadi Halfa. After only 20km they had punctured two tyres, been involved in a road accident and then damaged the rear hub of one of the bikes, getting the bus to Khartoum where they could get replacement parts (which we eventually heard cost over €2000/£1900!).

Days 43 & 44: Sudan

Day 43

We awoke to find that the mosquitoes in the hotel had enjoyed a bite to eat the previous night - even though we had mosquito nets on. We hit the road once again and took the opportunity to stop for food and tea in a few of the settlements along the way.

Our destination was the Jebel Barkal, a series of Egyptian Pyramids just outside Karima. We took the Landrover off-road the long way around to the pyramids, and the suspension wasn’t sounding too good over the bumps.

The plan for the night was to camp in the Nubian Desert, the complete wilderness of Sudan offered an ideal place to find a spot in the middle of nowhere to get out the rooftent, set up a campfire and cook the evenings meal. We enjoyed a full roast with vegetables and gravy before getting some sleep.

Day 44

The journey to Khartoum would take us past another site with temples and pyramids, but we completely missed the turnoff, and we ended up miles away travelling quickly towards the capital. We decided to carry on and set up camp at Blue Nile Sailing Club where we intended to stay for a few days.

The food in Central Khartoum is the most unvaried selection I have ever witnessed. The choice is between Falafel, Fuul and kebabs, and after too much of all three along the way through the Arab world, we didn’t have much of an appetite. Plus, we couldn’t wash poor food down with a beer as Sudan has banned alcohol with Sharia Law being the legal system.

We did manage to find a wide selection of pirate DVDs for very little cost for sale in the city centre, so we spent the evening sat outside in the still over 30 degree heat watching movies on the laptop next to the River Nile.

Days 41 & 42: Sudan

Day 41

With the barge taking longer than the ferry we had two days to kill before getting the Landrover back. The previous night me Nathan, Jack and Ryan had played (and beat) the locals in a game of football, but other than that, there was nothing really to do in Wadi Halfa.

We spent the morning completing immigration registration and getting a photography permit, and then we chilled out in the shade drinking Pepsi and eating the local food. After returning to the hotel, we heard a knock on the door from one of the other drivers who had a 4x4 on the barge telling us the barge was arriving and that we should go down to the port to unload it.

We knew we couldn’t complete customs formalities until the morning but we arrived at the port to see the barge coming in before each of the vehicles was driven off the barge, half onto a floating platoon, then onto some ramps, and finally onto the pier. We just couldn’t understand why there was so much trial and error from the port workers in the method of creating a ramp when they do it every week, but after four different approaches, the last Landrover was driven off a now lighter and more buoyant barge making the last decent the largest drop, but probably the smoothest of all four.

Day 42

We awoke to complete the customs formalities, where the police took away all of our music CD’s into a small room for inspection, closed and locked the door behind them, and shut the curtain so that we couldn’t see what they were doing. Very strange, but perhaps they were hoping we had some pornography that they could watch.

With the roads ahead being newly tarmaced, we got a quick bite to eat and resumed our journey south. It turned out that the new roads that had been financed by the Chinese were better than most A-roads in Europe. The tarmac was smooth with no speed bumps to catch us out, and it even had cats-eyes either on both sides or just in the centre.

We stopped off at a few villages along the way to get some food and drink, but it wasn’t long until we had reached Dongola. We thought we had seen the end of the annoying Sudanese paperwork when we had left Wadi Halfa, but when we checked into a hotel for the night we found out we needed to go to the police station to get permission to use a hotel! Passport, VISA, South of Khartoum Permit, Photography Permit, Hotel Permit – what will we next need permission for??