Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sudan... feeling hot hot hot!

Getting from Egypt to Sudan with a jeep is a very costly and awkward thing to do. After a week of coming and going organising the boat from Aswan to Wadi Halfa and after a lot of waiting, the day finally arrived for us to go to the ferry.

We (us, seven other overland jeeps, a massive German truck and about 9 motorbikes all doing a similar Africa trip) all had to meet at the police station in Aswan at 8.30 in the morning. After about two hours of sorting things out from a helper of Daves (from South Africa), we all drove in a police escourted convoy to the port.

After a few more bribes from Dave at the port, we avoided getting the jeep searched and about 4 hours later finally got the jeep onto the barge. We then got onto the separate passenger ferry for our overnight trip to Wadi Halfa down the Nile. Our first class cabin was certainly not first class with a pretty pungent smell, but at least it had air-con.

Arrived in Wadi Halfa the next afternoon, what a sight, absolutely nothing there...

Got off the boat and after going through customs, we finally headed outside and into Sudan. The guys got in the back of an old land rover and I got into a Tuc Tuc with Dave and Magdi and went to Magdi’s house.

The next day the barges arrived with the jeeps; however Podge had to wait there all day to get the jeep off. Since he was gone so long, I sorted out a couple of other options just in case...

We ended our last night in Wadi Halfa with some gorgeous whiskey smuggled in by Stan and Frans… a perfect treat in a dry country. South Africans and the Dutch/Germans are all such a lovely group of people and hopefully our paths will cross further on down through Africa. We promised Dave we’d call into him when we get to South Africa, and I’ve to return a book I borrowed from him.

Stan, Lenie, Frans, Carline, Dave, Magdi, Anita,

Me, Dela, Marc, Janer, Podge, and Coen.

The next day we left Wadi Halfa and drove for hours through the desert. Throughout the trip myself and Podge have been having discussion after discussion about how long it would take to climb up certain mountains we pass. So when we passed one in the desert I was finally asked to put my money where my mouth was. I said it wouldn’t take more than an hour. Podge said I wouldn’t make it up in under two.

So, I popped on my trusty Yassir Arafat scarf, a white t-shirt and took two and a half bottles of water, oh and a Dioralite too, just in case. I’ve been up sugarloaf loads of times so not a bother. However the Sugarloaf is not in the Sahara, not as high and doesn’t have the midday desert sun beating down on you. It was HOT. HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT!!! I have to say, Sudan is the hottest country I’ve ever been in.

Anyway, I set off feeling very optimistic with a spring in my step. Half way up I passed a small cave with the biggest bats I’ve ever seen coming in and out. They were monsters. It was getting hotter and hotter and I was sweating buckets wondering what the hell had I gotten myself into? A man and his pride!!! Anyway, after about 42 min I was nearly at the top….

I found an overhanging rock and crawled into it for some well-needed shade, a sachet of Dioralite and a few minutes to contemplate life.

When I finally crawled out to continue, I quickly realised I had been defeated by a cliff. If I had managed to climb up there, there’s no way in hell I would have gotten back down. So the little voice in my head said; I think that’s enough Johnny and I started the long descent back down. Probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life. Destroyed my runners and got some whopper blisters too. Podge, enjoy your $1. Here’s a view from my last stop with the Nile in the background…

…and one of the jeep. It’s the little dot under the arrow…

Oh, did I mention it was HOT!!!

That evening it got eerily dusty and you could barely see the sun as we drove further and further south. I was so dehydrated and completely knackered. We free camped in the desert and surprise surprise, it was hot. When I got into my tent, the ground was roasting. Worst nights sleep ever!

Got up the next day and drove few hours to the pyramids in Nuri, which were actually built by Tutankamun, I think? Don’t quote me on that one!

Headed further south towards Khartoum and free camped again in the desert where Podge caught us some dinner. Janer tried her best, but it still tasted like shit.

As soon as it got dark we were joined by a load of bats flying around our heads, if you were on your own you’d be brickin’ yourself.

After a lovely long sleep in the desert with some interesting noises coming from outside, we finally headed for the capital, Khartoum. Stopped off at some other pyramids on the way but weren’t that impressive. As we got closer to the city, the landscape changed from sheer barren desert into more desert/savannah like landscape with massive flat white grassy areas and those African trees that grow wide with spikey leaves you see in programs about Africa funnily enough.

Finally we reached Khartoum, but had to wait until Tuesday to go the the Ethiopian embassy and get our visas. So, spent all day yesterday trying to get the air-con fixed in the jeep and after a lot of sweating and waiting, they told us to come back again today. Applied for visas this morning, then spent the rest of the day again back in the garage part of town (cars everywhere). Very productive day as we also picked up new straps for the roof rack and a shovel. Lots and lots of hard haggling though!!!

Roll on Ethiopia with its cold cold climate and those kids who throw stones at your car... Podge is going to go mental!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Egypt Part Deux - Luxor & Aswan

On our last night in Luxor, we were all invited to attend an Islamic Egyptian wedding by a guy called Mohamed who Podge met in a garage. Supposedly it’s an honour to have a foreigner at your wedding over here, so they got three for the price of one.

He picked us up about nine and drove us to a large building across town that’s used just for weddings. It was the ending ceremony on the second day of the wedding. Out of about 1000 people, Podge and I were the only two guys in shorts, and surprisingly, only a few people stared at us. We did wear shirts too though... Well, Podge wore a shirt; I wore a pajamas top, as I didn’t have one... Classy!

The bride and groom called Hamada and Shareen pulled up in a jeep with a load of bridesmaids all dressed in really bright colours. They held a framed picture of the bride and groom up behind them as they walked in. It was only taken a few minutes before hand which seemed a bit odd?

Anyway, the place was mental outside with fireworks and lads flying up and down the road on motorbikes and on the roofs of minibuses cheering and shouting, complete mayhem.

The happy couple danced with only women around them. Mohamed brought us up beside them and shoved Janer into the middle of it, so she had a little bop with the bride... it’d be rude not to. Then after the couple were seated on the stage in a big fancy couch, Mohamed brought us up immediately and we were the first to shake their hands and say Mabrook (congratulations in Arabic).

Next morning we packed up the jeep, including 2 crates of beer, and headed down to Aswan through the Western Sahara. You see the strangest things in the desert; possible relations of Turkish Kelly on their way to guard some Aswan brothels...

When we arrived in Aswan, we checked into the Hathor hotel right on the Nile. It had a pool right on the roof, so we headed straight up for a few cans, met three bang on Canadians, Todd, Jackie and Jill up there and ended up putting a serious dent in our Sudan supply of beer. Unbelievably, it was only our third night on the sauce since leaving Ireland.

After a late night, we got up the next morning and headed with Todd and Jackie to The Great Temple of Abu Simbel (3 hours drive away going 120 km/h). On our way there we were stopped at a police checkpoint just outside Aswan and told we couldn’t continue unless we travelled in an armed convoy. Supposedly, there’s a risk of armed rebels out in the desert that shoot at the cars that pass through. Anyway, we had to go back to the town, register with the police and wait until 11.30 for the convoy to leave.

After about 2 hours of driving across the desert in convoy, we had to pull over and throw a jerry can into the tank because the light had been on for about 50 km. While we were stopped, a tour bus going by also stopped and a police man hopped out with his machine gun looking none too pleased to tell us we weren’t allowed to stop. So we jumped back in and continued post haste.

At the Temple of Abu Simbel, there were 20 m high statues of Ramses II and some smaller ones of his wife Nefertari. Look at him, he's bleedin' massive!

Inside the temple, there were huge carvings in the walls and loads of small chambers covered in drawings and hieroglyphics. No cameras allowed inside the temple, so don't tell anyone I took this....

...especially not this lad...

Just beside The Temple of Abu Simbel was The Temple of Hathor. A bit smaller, but still pretty impressive.

According to the ever knowing Lonely Planet, these temples were dismantled and winched to higher ground in the 1960s so they weren’t covered by the rising Lake Nasser. As good as they were, it was a hell of a long way to go for just an hour and a half as we had to return with the convoy immediately afterward.

As luck would have it, on our way back to Aswan, the jeep ran out of fuel again. We were told at the police checkpoint there was a petrol station 15 min outside Abu Simbel, so we thought we’d fill up there rather than get the two full jerrycans out which can be a bit of a hassle. As usual, our information from the police was complete bull. After about 100 km, no sign of any station, the tank ran out of fuel and we had to pull over and lash in the remaining 2 jerry cans. The bus ahead of us came back when they realised we weren’t behind them and again, even though we told them we ran out of fuel, we were still told we couldn't stop. However, this time it was by some pissy little arsehole of a Spanish tour guide and about 50 pissed off Spanish tourists. The policeman on their bus was pretty sound though, didn’t even get out.

So, we spent the past couple of days sorting out the jeep to get it onto the barge for Sudan. Very very complicated procedure. However, Dave our South African friend has been extremely helpful in getting us through all the paperwork and red tape. It's meant to be complete mayhem...

Hopefully, all things going well on Monday morning, we'll get a police escort to the harbour then our jeep, 4 S.African jeeps, 3 Dutch jeeps, 1 German motorbike and 6 Australian motorbikes should all be out of here and on the way down the Nile to Wadi Halfa in Sudan. We have to go on a separate passenger ferry that gets there 2 days before the cars.!

Before I go, I have some awesome news. I'm sure everyone will be delighted to hear I finally managed to get my old flippy floppies which broke in Syria fixed. Two strips of leather, a bit of thread and a few well placed nails... absolutely amazing. Oh, there was also a cobbler involved too. I could hardly do it myself now!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Egypt - Land of the Pharaohs... and the Tourist Leeches

After the extortionate cost of getting from Jordan to Egypt (350 Euro, including the clever Jordanian ‘leaving tax’), we were faced with a 4-hour wait and even more fees in Egyptian customs (around 200 Euro along with having to give the police man a sneaky $30 bribe). However, we were finally in Africa, and I had a chance to try out my brand spanking new Yasser Arafat scarf I picked up in Syria!!!

We found an amazing beach place called Salem’s Big Surf in Neweiba with huts right on the sand about 5 metres from the sea. Spent the next 4 days doing absolutely nothing chillaxing on the beach. It was the most laid-back place I’ve ever stayed in, pure paradise.

Other than a cat running away with Janer’s fish at dinner one night, and a guy trying to sell me some home grown weed and opium, it was a pretty uneventful week.

However, all good things must come to an end and we headed for Cairo to get our Sudanese visas and see the pyramids. My good friend Soly (a native of Cairo now living in England, and the only person from Cairo I would trust) gave me the best advice ever…

Don’t buy anything you don’t want to buy.

Seems obvious, but it’s really something you need to keep constantly in the back of your mind. They’ll try selling you anything. The first person we encountered when we got into the city was some little scrote outside a car park. We stopped at the roadside looking for parking and he came straight up to us and said he’d take us to a cheap car park. We assumed he worked for one as he was beside it. Anyway, he hopped into the jeep and we drove around for about 5 minutes then he pointed and said, “hey, park there”, and by “there” he meant by the side of the road. He wanted 25 Egyptian pounds (about 3 euro) for one days parking. Obviously, we told him we’re not paying him to show us a dodgy parking spot on the side of some random road. While he was arguing with us about it, he then tried to swipe a 10-euro note from the ashtray. When we kicked him out, he then wanted some money for his troubles. What a complete douche bag! This was the first of many of Cairo’s complete chancers we were to encounter in the city.

Anyway, we were shown a hotel and a place to park by another guy called Sheref, who after took us down the road to a cafĂ© and got us some Egyptian tea and a good auld smoke on a Sheesha. The less said about ‘an fear seo’ the better! The Dire Straits song; Money For Nothing comes to mind!

Next day we went to the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo, a mental place. There was an African woman who was mad as a hatter... completely off her bean. She started coming up and talking to us, then mid sentence would wander off babbling to herself. She reminded me of the crack-ho who lived down the street from Tre and Doughboy in Boyz ‘N The Hood. Anyway, Podge was standing at the passport counter and she was standing beside him (blatantly skipping the queue) with her daughter. Podge smiled at the daughter, and your one immediately covered the girls head, then moved her face right in front of Podge’s and gave him the evilest stare ever. He still hopes she didn’t put a gypsy curse on him.

After then heading over to the Irish embassy (where the Egyptian police man guarding it was fast asleep) we got our letter of intention and headed back to the Sudanese embassy. After only two hours… bada bing, bada boom, we had our visas. All the blogs on the Interweb say it’s chaos and can take a week to get…. Luckily for us, not true!

The following day we went to the Egyptian museum and saw all the old stuff they took out of the pyramids. I have to say; King Tut’s display was pretty class. He was buried in a big mask made of gold with his face on it so the Gods could know what he looked like when he was reincarnated. He was placed in a solid gold casing shaped like his body, then this was put in a wooden coffin covered in gold, and this was placed in another bigger stone tomb, and this in another and all in a pyramid or something like that, bit like a Russian doll… hence he’s all so well preserved. We also saw the mummies of some old kings and soldiers. No cameras at all allowed inside, so here’s us outside.

I would have taken the picture above of King Tut's mask if I was allowed a camera inside. Just pretend I took it... I am!

Before we left Cairo, we just had to visit the pyramids at Giza. I couldn't be bothered photoshoping my bunny ears, thanks Podge...

As expected in Giza, some Tourist Leech arsehole tried to get some money from me as soon as I went in. Before I knew it he was taking my picture and getting me to stand beside a camel. We all know, if you take a picture of a camel, you have to pay, so I said no way. I kept telling him I’d no money over and over (even though I blatantly had), and then he wanted me to open my pocket to show him my wallet. I said there was no way that was happening, rooted through my pockets and ended up giving him an old lighter from Lidl. Again...an arsehole!

So, in summary… not a big fan of Cairo. It’s a shame for people from there that are genuinely nice, because all the Tourist Leeches ruin it for them.

After the pyramids we headed south along the Western Sahara road through the desert and free camped out there that night. It was an unreal experience, lots of stars. Found out after that it’s illegal, supposedly you need a permit which is very hard to get.

Got up the next morning after an absolutely savage sleep and drove about 8 more hours through the desert to Luxor. On our way, Podge had a momentary lapse of sanity and decided to pull off the road ending up going straight into deep sand and we got stuck. Luckily a couple of sound Egyptian guys in a lorry pulled over and after 5 attempts (the rope broke 4 times), we finally got it out… with some sterling driving from Janer.

The two lads totally redeemed our faith in the Egyptian people and even gave us a cake too. Before we left, Podge got a nice big wet kiss on both cheeks from the driver. Podge was wearing one of Janer’s headbands, so may have been sending the wrong signals. You can only imagine what would have happened if he was wearing his pink t-shirt too???

We arrived in Luxor that evening, crossed over the Nile and arrived at a campsite called Rezeiky Camping.
On our second evening there, 4 South African overland jeeps pulled in. We had already met one of them when we were in Petra in Jordan.

Such a really nice and really friendly group of people. They’ve already driven up through Africa on the west coast, up through Europe and are pretty much going the same route back down to South Africa as us. Their trip organiser Dave (check out his website above: Masazane) is bang on with some great stories and tips about Africa. He’s helping us get sorted with the boat from Egypt to Sudan which is meant to be a complete nightmare. Now we just have to wait and see how much it’ll cost.

Few days left here in Luxor, then down to Aswan. Next stop… Sudan!

Before I go, I feel I need to confess something or else I'll have a dirty conscience…
I did the Walk Like An Egyptian walk while at the pyramids. I know, I know… I’m only human. Janer made me!!!

The video for Europe and Turkey is up on Global-Slacker.com courtesy of Podge. Definitely worth a look…

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Syria & Jordan (the country)


After finally crossing the border into Syria (not a great experience) the first thing you notice is the massive pictures of their president absolutely everywhere, even in the back of car windows. Because of his nice ronnie, we christened him Anto. I think he’s about 70 now, God knows, he might even be dead? The second thing is, the border town looks exactly like you were in Call Of Duty 4.

That night we stayed in Aleppo in a hotel/dump, but at least it had a bed!

The next day we drove to the city of Lattikia which is right by the sea. As we were driving along, a guy in a taxi pulled us over and asked us if we wanted to stay in his Shallet. We said why not, and followed him to a place right by the sea. Lovely apartment, but it was actually his friend’s. They tried getting us to pay 100 US dollars per night but we got them down to 100 dollars for three nights. Not bad haggling, but we still probably paid well over the local price. Then the taxi guy then wanted us to give him 500 syrian pounds (about 8 euro) just for bringing us to the apartment. So we got him down to 300 syrian pounds (a fiver) and sent him on his merry way. The apartment was class! AIR-CON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Every now and then we tried to venture outside but quickly changed our minds.

Check out the big screen TV!!!

For the next couple of days, we pretty much just sat around the apartment with the curtains pulled, the aircon on full watching the biggest pile of crap possible on our 4 English speaking channels (CSI Miami is definitely included in that). On the third day, Flinn and Megan arrived. We all decided to go outside and ended up getting completely rat arsed. We started with overpriced Heineken and finished with some horrible stuff called Bear Beer from Germany. It was 12% and tasted like it probably came out of a bear.

Flinner was so happy with his Bear Beer purchase, and I'm sure the shop keeper was happy with his hug…

After a while sitting outside a kebab place talking complete shite, these two guys about 50 years old pulled up in a car with sirens, yes sirens! But they blatantly weren’t the police. They’d almost no English, but great craic.

Then myself and Flinner hopped in the back and we went for a drive around with the sirens on. Looking back the next day, it was probably a pretty stupid move on our parts. Still, we did get a free can of XXL which was like red bull mixed with vodka in a can. Anyway, after about 10 minutes they dropped us back and we returned to the apartment with it’s glorious air-con for some more beers and at the end of the night, Flinn said: “guys, lets suck it up and watch an episode of Entourage”, so we did. What a show!

We stayed an extra day to recover from the night on the town! So… 4 days just 20 meters from a beach and none of us went down there once!

As in life, all good things must come to an end. We had to leave our air-conditioned lair and head further south. We only had a week in Syria in total because of the high diesel tax, so we headed on down to a 7000 year old castle in Crac de Chevalier (spelling probably way off) near Damascus. When we were about to set off, the jeep wouldn’t start as our battery was dead. That was about the 4th time it had happened. After a good push, we were on our way, but we finally had to give in and buy a new one. We arrived at the castle just as it was closing, so we camped on the roof of a restaurant up the road and visited it the next day.

Have to say, it was an awesome castle. Would make a great place to play hide and seek, it's massive. Unfortunately, afterwards we had to say fare well to Flinner and Rootster again as they were heading off to Lebanon and Dubai for a few weeks. to see Flinner's sister and meet up with his brother Barry, the 6th Global-Slacker! Still, our paths will cross again very soon in Africa. Miss you guys!!!

On our way to the Jordanian border we had no fuel, no Syrian pounds and nowhere accepted credit cards. Eventually we got to one garage and the guy changed US dollars into Syrian pounds for us, but then told us he had no diesel. Lot of good that was. So we headed across the road to another garage but there was a massive queue of tractors and trucks, all trying desperately to get some diesel. When we drove up, the guy in charge called us over, blocked everyone else and let us into the top of the queue. Brilliant, 1000 Syran Pounds for a full tank of fuel (15 euro), and a lot of angry farmers. Good By Syria...

Next stop was Jordan...


The border crossing into Jordan went relatively smooth, except for a 15 minute wait in the middle as absolutely everyone working there took a break because of Ramadan. Nothing can cross their lips from 4.30 am until 7.15 pm, not even water.

We then drove to Jerash to a hotel called the Olive Branch. As it was impossible to find, we had to ask a guy in a restaurant for directions. He had very little English but said he’d come up with us in the jeep. After I dropped him back, the cheeky little bastard wanted 15 dollars. Needless to say, my choice of words to convey my disagreement with his proposal were not very Christian. So we camped out in the front of the hotel, ate some absolute muck from their kitchen and hit the hay. Next morning, we just relaxed in the pool and messed about on the auld interweb in the lobby until the guy behind reception began to become quiet agitated with our lack of checking out. So we left.

Onwards to Petra. On our way there, we decided to have a dip in the Dead Sea. It has Jordan on one side and Israel on the other, hence the number of military check points. Swimming in it is one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had. The water was really warm, and it was like swimming with Styrofoam strapped to your body. You couldn’t keep your legs under you they just flew back up to the surface. You could honestly go for a nap in it on your back and not get a drop of water on your face. The only down side is when the salt gets in your eyes… It really really really stings, I’m talking like when you’re a child and you get shampoo in your eyes stinging!!!! No amount of blinking can cure it. Still, it’s something I would definitely recommend for everyone to try once… the floating, not the stinging!

After that we filled up at a station up the road, and after about 3 miles, the engine died as the morons had put petrol in instead of Diesel, even though we emphasised Diesel. After a lot of F-ing and Blinding, we took out the empty jerry cans from under the jeep, and I crossed the road to try hitching back to the station. While I was doing this, Podge hopped under the jeep and worked his magic by emptying the petrol out of the tank. I never knew you could do that!

Anyway, after many attempts to stop a car (I obviously don’t have the legs), I stopped the worst car possible… the police.

I couldn’t tell it was them as they had their headlights on. Anyway, the universal thinking on dumping a full tank of petrol onto a road is, it’s pretty dangerous… especially in a country where it’s so hot. After trying to get them to give me a lift back to the station (which they wouldn’t do as they weren’t licensed to carry passengers) they noticed what was going on under the jeep. In broken English, one of them waved his finger at me and said “no, no, no, very dangerous, very dangerous”. They were really sound though and let us continue draining it as it was almost done. Anyway, they stopped a diesel truck going by and we bought enough to fill the two jerry cans.

After throwing a bit of sand over the fuel on the road, we were back on our way.

The next obstacle we encountered were the directions to Petra we got from a few soldiers at a military checkpoint down the road. He said, “Petra… go left for 8 km, then right for about 50 km. The road’s not the best, but with your jeep you should be fine”. “Not the best” was the biggest understatement of the century. It started as a dirt track, then got a bit better for a few km, and then turned into a mountain pass that’d make the Sally Gap look like the M50. After about an hour of twisting and turning in 1st and 2nd gear, we eventually made it to Petra, very tired and weary. We checked into a cheap hotel and hit the hay for some well needed sleepy sleep.

Petra is one of the new 7 wonders of the world and more than two thousand years old (from the info book). They say you need to spend two or three days exploring it, but we had one. We were just in the gate and a guy on horseback showed us a different route to the normal tourist one.

Seeing as a bus load of tourists were ahead of us, we said sure why not. It turned out to be class. We were walking around up and down cliffs completely off the beaten track for about 3 hours before we saw anyone else other than a goat herder and his goats.

It was unreal. Then, by the time we got around to the end of the tourist route, almost everyone had left so we pretty much had it to ourselves. The carved facade that made Petra famous is called The Treasury (or Al-Khazneh as they say in Arabic) and was used in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.

You know, the one with Sean Connery and the Holy Grail? See...

Anyway, after about 5 long hours of walking about in flippy floppies, we drove back into town for some well earned dinner!!!! Spent the night in the same hotel as last night. Expensive couple of days (ticket for Petra was around 38 euro each), but sooo worth it. Next stop… The Land Of The Pharaohs!!!