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Djibouti

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Djibouti- a helter-skelter of highs and lows, decision and indecision, a mixture of excitement and boredom ….waiting for another continent.

We entered Djibouti with high expectations of relaxing on white deserted beaches and swimming with whale sharks around the coral reefs, but although this is probably possible…it was not to be.

We arrived here on a hot sticky afternoon, hobbling through the little but congested border crossing with …yet another flat tire. We stopped for the night 100m further on in a black stony amphitheatre surrounded by hot hills. One of our rims was leaking and we patiently set about repairing it, sweating profusely but with the promise of a cool night (desert….hot day/ cold night …wrong) the night was just as hot humid and sticky as the day, so much so that after half an hour of trying to convince the kids it was cooling down, we all climbed onto the roof of the truck clad in nothing but the darkness surrounding us. A column of trucks heading to Ethiopia from the port of Djibouti was already half a kilometer long and growing, but the stars were bright and the air vaguely cooler. Lusira s’ sensitive little tentacles were exhilarated by this unexpected adventure and she was soon rewarded by the sight of two shooting stars. Giulio on the other hand continued sweating and unable to sleep could be heard playing Lego, alone, in the darkness deep into the night.

The road for Djibouti town is a long winding streak of asphalt amongst arid black boulders with destroyed trucks strewn left and right of the road as drivers’ attention span wanes. When reaching Djibouti, after so much nothingness the town is at first disorientating. I t has a distinctly French feel to it, but with the slow pace of Africa. After a two hour search for an inexpensive but nice nonexistent hotel with a swimming pool, we headed for the Sheraton, where we had been told many months and kilometers ago by fellow travelers in Jordan that one could stay. One of the few places where overlanders are allowed to park and permitted to sleep in their own vehicles. We presented ourselves in a very unpresentable way, sweat soaking through our clothes and stress sparking from our eyes, the kids were covered in dust and ice- cream, looking like true little street urchins and completing the picture.

We were kindly shown to the parking lot on the sea front where we threw our unpresentable selves into the back of the truck. The heat was making us all neurotic and in five minutes we were all screaming for one reason or another, I showered everyone down in an attempt to cool our tempers….. but realized that it would be impossible to stay for any length of time in these conditions…..we really needed a guardian angel or a good plan. Just one hour after this thought as if by magic a clean shaven Indian looking man appeared looking curiously at our truck…..Yes our guardian angel had come in the guise of Pradeep and his wife Kumudu, a Sri Lankan family full of Sri Lankan hospitality, working as project manager at the Sheraton and living in one of the bungalows reserved for the expat employees. After a short introduction, he invited us to his house (lovely and cool air conditioning!!) and his wife pampered us with drinks and the delicious tangy taste of her eastern cooking. The children as relieved as us, without hesitation started exploring the toys chest and getting to know their new little friend David….we would survive.

Our second streak of luck came the next morning whist passing by the entrance of the Sheraton. After another impossibly hot night, by chance we bumped into Yanik, the general manager of the Sheraton, a friendly, open Swiss man, who on seeing the children (and probably our harassed faces) invited us to use the pool to cool off. By the end of the day we had come to an arrangement with him to rent at an extremely reasonable price , one of the empty bungalows next to Pradeeps’……we will survive Djibouti!!.

Lusira and Giulio after 10 months in the truck were overjoyed with the prospect of playing ‘house’ in the little cheerful bungalow assigned to us. They ran around like neurotic house wives, making their beds, sweeping floors and even trying their hand at a little washing up. Their two little Sri lankan friends, Avindu and David, have made the prolonged stay here truly memorable. Lusira has learnt to ride a ‘proper’  bike in the improvised playground with her new friends  and having constant access to the swimming pool has also meant that she has finally learnt to swim……but how have the grown children faired during this period?

Well after more than a month of staying put, and after the novelty of having a little more space (and privacy!!)  had worn off, our travelling feet have quickly become exasperated!! The shipping of our truck has really characterised the whole stay here. It has been  a series of negotiations, mad rushes (for nothing) hope, frustration ,despair, and again hope….we missed THREE ships each at the last minute for strange and wonderful reasons, but have finally loaded our truck (and our friends truck ‘Wobble’) on to a ship bound for Mumbai…no photos of our truck loading, Luca was too busy driving and coordinating operations, but  in compensation a beautiful drawing by Lusira of our trucks on the Indian Ocean with whale sharks in the water and flamingoes in the sky .

At one of the peaks of our negativism I was also unlucky enough to get dengue fever and had to spend a long painful ten days in bed, and doing blood tests….but then as if by magic the fog cleared along with the fever and aches and pains and all looked bright and sharp again…..the ship has arrived, I have my appetite back, the kids are serene, and to celebrate the occasion we had a lovely evening in the Sheraton guests of Yanik. An evening of flowing wine, good company and very excited children (who after lashings of chocolate mousse were even invited up on stage to dance with the Columbian band playing live that evening…..”.c’era una bella lady” said Giulio, who is now asking me every evening if he can go dancing)

It is always a strange mixed feeling to leave ones truck and nomadism in the middle of a trip, but now that I can feel things moving again I know I will look back with fond memories at the time spent here, for the people we met and got to know better, and who hopefully we will see again one day.

Thank you to those who helped and welcomed us in this strange small country that is Djibouti.

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Video Alert

just to inform you that after more than six months i’ve finally found the time and connection to upload a new video…enjoy


‘Ethopia close up’

http://vimeo.com/30300013


Kenya

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…. Well to title this post as ‘Kenya’ is a little misleading, but easier to insert into the blog. A ‘Tour of Lake Turkana’ would be more accurate; as we only saw a very small part of northern Kenya which I gather is also quite different to the rest of the  ‘developed’ Kenya. In all we only drove on about 20 km of tarmac road, otherwise on some of the worst kept pistes in Africa, potholes, mud and corrugation, in part compensated by the extremely colourful and bizarre tribes and strange landscapes. ..but I’m going ahead of myself. This strange itinerary that we undertook was inspired by a series of impulses. A chance conversation with a fellow traveller talking of an Italian travelling around Ethiopia in his truck, a phone call and discovery of common friends. Although they have never met, Luca and Walter talk enthusiastically about a remote piste running along the west side of the Omo river, down past Jimma, Bonga and Maji, travelling through Omo National park reaching the ‘beautiful long necked women of Lake Turkana’ on the Kenyan boarder near Lodowar…As a young boy Luca was inspired by a book written by Nino Cirani recounting a tour of Africa from Tunisi to South Africa and back up to Cairo that he and his companion Vittorio Parigi undertook in the mid 60’s in a land rover… the most vivid images firing Luca’s young mind were the photos of precisely this piste, where the two intrepid travellers slid through thick mud, thin invisible pistes in high grass at impossible angles and met strange wild tribes with exotic body tattoos and lip plates.

It’s soon Lucas birthday and this seems a fitting present, another little piece in the strange jigsaw of dreams to be fulfilled. We hope we will also be able to show the children some of the wild Africa with elephants, lions and crocodiles…. it will probably be a long time before we return to this part of Africa in the truck….

This little ’holiday’ was also to be a break from filming and taking photographs. We knew that the strange tribes populating this remote area are not keen on being filmed…and despite the huge temptation we didn’t want to spoil the experience. We have come away without a single photo of tribes people…but with many beautiful and strange images imprinted in our minds!

After a long stay at ‘Wims Holland House’ in Addis organising the trip and relaxing in the easy company of the staff, we set off behind Walters’ compact Unimog .The start of our route took us along a surprisingly (and somewhat disappointingly) well-surfaced ‘Chinese’ road with the usual muddy road works in between. We climb up through mountains into high forests and through huge tea plantations and picturesque villages. As we proceed the huts along the roadside start to be painted, people are shedding their t-shirts preferring colourfully draped cloths and now carry spears instead of sticks. Children bathe naked in the rain (I shiver for them at almost 3000m) and there is somehow a tribal feeling to everything. Faces too have changed….blood-shot eyes, blue- black complexions and hard proud stares, funny wormy hairstyles and robust muscular bodies. The women now show their breasts, their hair at times decorated with red mud and their skin covered with tribal scars, they carry their infants in leather pouches on their backs.

The area is suddenly scarcely populated and no one comes to our camp in the evening. I somehow expect to see a hyena or wildcat…the sounds are African with strange birds, crickets and other unknown noises.

When we finally reach Maji, it is a particularly insignificant little village that serves good hot spicy tea. We lunch on bread and goat soup, and then set of on a tiny track that is the start of the adventure we had imagined before leaving. Our pace is slow and hesitant, it is evident that we won’t meet any other vehicles along the way, and will have to clear the road of fallen trees and land slides. The rocky surface gives way to black mud, high trees and grass even taller than our truck. The path is so narrow that there is no room to get out of the truck…when I finally manage I feel somehow bare and exposed, expecting something to poke out of the grass any minute. The men we have occasionally met walking in small groups along the path are all armed with Kalashnikovs and wild faces…. they too would make me jump if they appeared (as they often do) silently and suddenly from the thick foliage emerging from invisible paths!

We are mostly driving on a narrow ridge on the top of a mountain; the land drops dramatically on both sides at times enshrouded in mist that works its magic on our imagination. As suddenly as the forest sucked us in, it expels us into a high plain with cultivated fields. We stop for the night in a clearing, greeted by a delighted group of women smelling of palm wine. They are friendly and suitably amused and hilarious at our presence…. they are also the only people who insist on being photographed. It is refreshing, and although they wear ragged t-shirts and aren’t the tribes typically photographed in this area, their faces are open and their eyes full of light…people who rarely see their own reflection and have no face to present you except their own. To my surprise an old man asks in Italian ‘dove andate?’ …I imagine him asking the same question 40 years earlier to a young Cirani in a very different, but similar world. In the morning we are given two huge sticks of sugarcane, I appreciate the gesture and return the hospitality with a cup of Italian ‘bunna’ (coffee) this too is appreciated.

The next day is perhaps the most memorable and bizarre of the entire trip. As we descend the mountain the scenery again changes dramatically giving way to yellow grass and scattered acacia trees.  As we advance small figures shoot in and out of the high grass, some totally nude with white tinted hair, others clad with strange ornaments, dimpled scars all over their bodies and huge wooden earrings as large as coffee cups. The children are too scared to succumb to curiosity and scuttle away, whist the older boys excitedly running along side our truck screaming strange words with their spears raised. I feel my adrenalin flowing and am glad that I know them to be friendly…in this remote context their expressions can be disturbing, until they inevitably break into their wide smile.

I spot a young girl with a huge ceramic lip-plate inserted in her lower lip, and am suitably impressed, its a strange shocking sight but one I have seen in many documentaries and photos…. what I have never seen and what shocked me more was when we stopped on a high ridge to absorb the scene…. to be met by a women without her lip plate!! Her bottom teeth have been removed and her bottom lip sags down to her breasts. She dries it with a cloth and starts stretching it to an incredible length. Then she holds out her hand to greet us. I can’t help smiling as little Giulio obediently holds out his hand…he normally hates greeting people, evidently he thinks it’s a bad idea to refuse!

Omo National park brings mud, rain, and animal droppings, but no animals. The scenery and smells are of elephant territory, but we have no luck apart from two stray ostriches. We struggle through the deep muddy tracks that spray up to our windscreen. The tracks are so deep that when you have to change direction it takes a good ten minutes of ploughing the ground with your tyres before they are released, a bit like driving on a railway track .The savannah gives way again to low acacia trees and young herders with their goats, as we loose any hope of seeing animals. When we arrive finally at the Kenyan boarder, we are informed that there is no boarder here and that we’ll have to cross the river in a hollowed tree trunk to do the formalities in Omorate on the other side of the Omo River. My eyes are now accustomed to the strange variety of tribes populating the area, but the concentration in this village makes me smile … old men resting on their carved wooden ‘cushions’ with large pieces of wood in their chin (chin?!!), leather in their hair and large earrings and metal bangles and bracelets just about everywhere, two month old babies being carried confidently by snotty three year olds clad in decorated leather skirts and other unusual paraphernalia…’C’est l’Afrique!! Since there is no customs or even any type of rubber stamp, we cross the boarder in no time and lazily chat to the Kenyan authorities (Your welcome into Kenya) We soon arrive on the shores of Lake Turkana, red in colour and full of flamingos but evidently no crocodiles as people bathe without hesitation. Lusira and Giulio go with the men to a colourful boat not far from our camp to try and buy some fish. A group of men in the mean time come to our truck to find out our mission. Strangely out of ten men only one has a complete set of eyes. An old man sits on one of our chairs and unceremoniously orders a cup of coffee…I try to placate him and light a small fire on which to boil the water only to discover that he’s totally drunk and also wants us to give him money to stay here for the night… he is sent away by Luca again without ceremony, but the incident somehow marks the start of a down note in our trip…

The next morning Walter wakes with a white strained face. He’s been sick all night and has a light fever, we proceed along the sandy and bumpy piste only to discover that Giulio too has a temperature, he is strangely listless and sleeps all afternoon. We head for Lodowar to change money and rest in a cosy campsite cum lodge…. I feel uneasy. Although we have given the kids ‘Malarone’ a prophylaxis against malaria for this short dip in to the lowlands, and have been careful to dress them before sunset and spraying them with huge quantities of insect-repellent, (I think Giulio only had three bites in all!) a fever with no other symptoms seemed ominous. The next day I take Giulio to do a blood test surprising myself with my apprehension, but my worries were well founded and the test is positive…we started a treatment with ‘Co-Artem’ immediately. The effect of the medicine is dramatic, by evening Giulio is running around excitedly, but the cure will take three days and we decide to choose an itinerary that takes us closer to ‘civilization’ rather than the planned piste around the lake. We are told the piste going towards Maralal is decent, going east we can also visit some game parks WITH animals.

Our route takes us through different tribal areas…it seems like a competition as to who can look the strangest and do the strangest things to their bodies. Groups of exotically clad people pop out from the fields in large colourful groups and it feels like a day of festivities, but I discover this is how they always dress. In a particularly isolated spot we come across a village with a roadblock at its entrance…. they have strewn acacia branches across the path in preparation for an expected ‘raid’ from a nearby tribe. They originally come from Lake Turkana but have moved further south because of lack of rain, the local tribes see this as an invasion of their territory. They shift the branches to let us pass, leaving me with an uneasy feeling and unanswered questions milling in my mind…there isn’t any village in the range of at least 50 km, will they march all this way with their spears, or will it be a surprise attack with Kalashnikovs like in other areas in the north?? I try to imagine living with a similar insecurity, and again my ‘European’ life seems light years away, I feel again somehow exposed and out of my element, realising that everything and anything can happen in these strange lands…what am I doing in the middle of all this??

In the evening we find ourselves in an enchanted forest with white delicate flowers covering the ground…. but I can’t enjoy the scene, my worst fears have come true and Giulio has a fever again…tomorrow we will take him straight to the hospital in Maralal. A lady with feathers on her head and beads down to her waist is cross when she hears the news and shouts angrily at the malaria spirits…she apologises to me, and I feel moved…I doubt they have any medicine to treat their own sick children or any means of reaching a hospital if they really needed to…

The next day is filled with dread and anxiety, as we approach the town I soon realise that it’s not at all what I was hoping for. The terrible potholes on the road leading to Maralal are ominous and a tangible testimony to my fears. When we arrive we find a lazy backwater village with very little amenities…. just the sort of place I would normally enjoy, but not today. The hospital looks big from the outside, but it takes us 15 minutes to find a doctor, I wait unhappily outside with Giulio on my lap contemplating the old ambulance parked in the courtyard with four flat tyres and long grass and moss growing around it…I keep reminding myself that it’s the people that make a hospital, not the buildings. It’s soon apparent that Giulio will have to be put on a drip of quinine for 24 hours. To my relief the doctor very kindly consents us to treat him in our truck…we can park outside the ward and the doctors will come to check him at regular intervals during the night. A glimpse into the ward makes me even more grateful… there are two patients per bed, head to foot, food being cooked on little stoves on the floor along with the cockroaches and no separate ward for children who are treated along with women old and young with all types of illnesses, from typhoid fever, to who knows what else…. Giulio looks wide eyed as an in-patient with a shaved head, layers of heavy colourful beads and long ears walks out of the ward…’I want the truck’ he says adamantly.

After the initial discomfort Giulio settles down with a Mickey Mouse video, a leaving gift from his uncle Massimiliano (thank-you!) This and the reassuring presence of Lusira (who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about) soon calmed him enough for him to fall fast asleep. After a sleepless night with moments of panic where Giulios’ fever shot up to 40 degrees despite the drip, by morning he seemed much better…he was responding well to the treatment and we would be able to leave the hospital in the afternoon, the nightmare was over!!!

Our time in Kenya was running out, we wouldn’t have time to see any parks or animals, and decided to take the ‘dreaded’ Moyale road back north (dreaded for its terrible corrugations and occasional bandits) It wasn’t what you’d call a good piste, but the terrible roads we had experienced so far in Kenya somehow made it more bearable, and we even saw a few gazelles on the way. I admit it was with a sigh of relief that we entered our ‘beloved Ethiopia’…not because Kenya has less to offer, but the trip had in the end been trying and strenuous, I felt like I was coming home.

The last two weeks have past blissfully (with Giulio fully recovered) in the company of a Dutch couple Paul and Maya met on the Kenyan boarder. They have been travelling for more than two years crossing west and South Africa with a Mercedes van, having sold all their possessions in Holland and taking every day as it comes. Chatting we soon discover that they spent some time with our French friends ‘Chamaco’ a travelling family of five who visited us on their way to Africa last year. We added our handprints to ‘Wobble’ along side those of our friends…. nice to feel part of an itinerant community. To appease Lusiras’ frustration at not seeing any animals we bravely affronted the muddy tracks around Lake…. and were rewarded with crocodiles, hippos, baboons and a curious visit of a lion family in the night. After hearing disturbingly load roar like sounds in the night, I confessed that I had forgotten how similar hippos grunts could be to lions, only to find lion footprints close to the truck in the morning…we weren’t even aware there were any in the park and had been very happy drinking sundowners outside by the fire at night!)

What next you may ask??…Well tomorrow we will be heading east to Djibouti where the various shipping companies will hopefully reveal our destiny. We have had no luck whatsoever with e- mails and numerous telephone calls, and will have to discover prices and sailing schedules at the port…our options are Oman or India, lets see.


Ethiopia

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Ethiopia….. well I feel a bit stupid saying (again) ‘well what a surprise and revelation’…maybe I’m just surprised too easily, but it has for me, certainly proven to be one of the most curious and unexpected countries we have visited so far. After the barren horizons of Sudan and the unbearable 46 degrees (that now seems light years away) the small and rather typical boarder town of Metema offered a stark contrast. I was immediately struck by the sheer number of people on the road, the wheeling and dealing, the noise the movement, the attraction and overexcited attention aroused by our presence. I wasn’t expecting it, and at first coiled up in my traveller’s shell. Then the next shock, after months of desert the green, green, greenery, cool air, muddy dwellings and ornately dressed women, animals and small children everywhere. It wasn’t going to be easy to find a quiet spot to stop for the night, but we eventually found a quiet field (that is, as quiet as a not so small group of little shepard boys can be, whispering and giggling around the truck.) Waking up was early as the little shepards were impatient for us to get up…to both Lusira and Giulios’ surprise and amusement the truck was surrounded. They played theatre through our little windows to an eager and excited crowd. Giulio tried strange faces, which got him several laughs, and Lusira more boldly put her hand out of the window with a peg for the children to reach only to be withdrawn at the last moment. They had made contact and could safely go out and explore. A scene to be repeated frequently during our stay. The rainy season dreaded by many travellers hasn’t been a problem so far. The small pistes are surprisingly well maintained and only occasionally do you have to wait for overflowing rivers to subside. Our first stop at Lake Tana in a beautiful campsite on the northern shore, gave us the chance to unwind and catch up on normal living matters (washing, reading, drawing, walking…etc) Lusira much to her dismay, got her hair platted by a little over-zealous village girl (lots of hair pulling and unknotting) but then very courageously encouraged by her new little friend, washed in the rather cold lake, and decided that from now on she was going to do her own washing  ‘like the Africans’ a promise she has diligently kept.

Our travels north have been characterised by chance encounters, spontaneous whims and generally letting events guide us. We stubbornly pursued a tiny little piste through the majestic Simian Mountains, only to find it slowly but surely petering out into a donkey trail, but the experience was gratifying and turning back after 3 days was of no consequence. In these ancient landscapes where all is done manually, from ploughing the fields to grinding flour and making butter, there is a tangible feeling of being in another era….as we drive through tiny meticulously tidy villages made of stone and mud, I study the faces that are studying me and wonder if I can possibly imagine what is passing through their mind in that moment, yes we have common desires and emotions (love, hate, passion, boredom etc) but I feel the very fibre of our being is separated not by a different culture but by centuries…. As I try to sleep in my super- technological truck, I can hear the mosquitoes and bugs through the nets on the windows, the hyenas make their strange noise and the rain pounds down drenching all that are returning from their fields…. I have warmth, dry clothes, a soft mattress, no bugs in the night, running water, gas at a touch, not to mention fridge, gps, ipod, computers, satellite phone etc….The old man who sold us a perfectly plucked chicken last night is patiently waiting outside and when we descend after breakfast utters a shocked scream when he sees Lusiras’ little black Fransisca doll, he thought it was a real baby and after had a delighted half hour shocking his friends with the mysterious object. We spend the morning in simple communications and jokes, and finally get to see the inside of one of the walled dwellings, we receive a gourd of fresh milk and in return give a little amulet for a small baby, I feel honoured to be able to get this small glimpse into their so different life.

At Axum we have a very different experience and get to know some university professors coming for student graduations here. They invite us to see their University at Mekele and after not too much thought we again changed our plans…travelling is about people, not just monuments. We spent four happy days parked inside Mekele University. Goitom explained some of Ethiopia’s technological developments and introduced us to his poet, songwriter and journalist friend Ghrmai . A friendship was immediately born as he interviewed us for his radio (VOA!)

We spent the afternoon together exchanging music tastes, philosophy and anecdotal stories. Later we invited him and his striking fiancée Feven to have an Italian coffee in our truck. The invitation was enthusiastically returned the next day and we lunched together at his house where we were also honoured with the traditional coffee ceremony, so typical of this country (amongst other things, grass and popcorn are scattered around the room, and Luca not realising, diligently picked them all up and put them back in the bowl only for them to be merrily scattered around the room again.)

It was with some trepidation that we headed towards Lalibela, perhaps the most visited town in Ethiopia. After so much time away from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist track we weren’t really in the mood. We needn’t have been worried; Lalibela is so unique that its potent atmosphere transpires no matter what. At almost 3000m it has that same festive high mountain town atmosphere similar to say Namche bazaar in Nepal. The low clouds envelop the streets only to reveal spectacular valleys below when a spark of sun fights its way through. The famous rock-hewn churches are stunning and left me wondering for weeks after. The idea that all is carved out of solid rock, from the vision of one man in such a short time (26 years) is inconceivable. The churches themselves are entirely functional and this adds greatly to their appeal. Early in the morning it is possible to witness exorcisms and other rituals foreign to our idea of Christianity. The symbolism of each church and its surroundings makes walking around the whole complex a truly unique experience, for me greater than any sight I have seen so far.

We are now sitting in Addis Ababa doing various burocratic tasks and feeling unusually at home. We will be heading south in a week’s time to the tribal areas around Lake Turkana…Sorry if my ramblings have gone on a little too long this time, but enthusiasm fired me on!


Sudan

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Sudan…well Sudan didn’t really get our full attention, by this time we were in a kind of heat frenzy , thinking only of surviving the day, to be then further  tormented at night twisting and turning on a sticky hot matrass untill dawn, only to be woken an hour later by yet more heat. We had obsessive dreams of cool Ethiopia…from 46 degrees to twenty six fantastically cool degrees, it was soon obvious we would be doing a transfer not a trip.In this short time the relaxed character of the Sudanese was immediately apparent, but we didn’t have time to explore, and so i can make very little comment.

The period was perhaps characterised most  by  the ship, sailing through Nile and lake Nasser  to reach Wadi Halfa. We had been dreading the trip, first because we had to leave the truck on a little barge that would take much longer to arrive, and secondly because the ship ,made for a small quantity of passengers, was rumoured to be overcrowded with Sudanese refugees from Libia. The cabins were ten in all and sold five minutes after the ticket office opened…our quest was therefore to get a place outside under the lifeboats where there would be a breeze and the minimum of shade…inside, very eloquently named ‘ the Hole’ (the hall) although airconditioned was definately  not a good option for western noses and  for  that matter western eyes, unused to such a mix of liquids and smells . Getting on to the boat was a long and rather nerve wrecking experience with hours of boring waiting punctuated with mad rushes and outrageous pushing almost to the standards of  getingt into a Rolling stones concert (in the 70’s of course)….but we made it and triumphantly occupied our life boat. From here on things were calm, clammy but also enjoyable. The chance to absorb the scenes of endless loading  (we left 8 hours after boarding) and to exchange a few words here and there with other passengers… always with an eye to defending ones territory from late comers. The night was long and hard for my bony hips, but i was somehow content and feeling dreamy under the warm stary sky imagining large  Nile crocodiles in the folds of the water beside the ship, ….my biggest concern, the children had managed wonderfully with the whole ordeal, once again teaching me that their limits are more than anything dictated by my limits. They never once complained about the heat and saw it all as an adventure, sleeping soundly on our little Tunisian carpets….we had even managed an improvised hammoc under the lifeboats that kept the atmosphere festive. Travelling with children is not only possible, but highly  rewarding , full of unexpected fun and moments of  great satisfaction and contentment !!

Our obsessive dreams of Ethiopia have come true and i am happily writing from Lake Tana wearing…yes a little jumper….Sudan will hopefully be revisited at a future date in the right season , our short trip certainly didn’t do it justice!! 


Egypt

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Egypt…so after three weeks i finally met someone else with a mac able to help me retrieve my photos. At a small petrol station along the sizzling roads of Sudan…a landrover and a nissan with two couples heading back north after two years of travelling. We chatt and exchange news like sheep huddled into the shape of the  metre square of shade provided by the back wheels of our truck.They agree kindly to loose a  sweaty hour in our truck…So  thank you Andrew and Kristina (www.sandlover.org)

Before reaching Egypt i had a strange incomplete and totaly contradictary image of the country. People seemed to either love it or love to hate it…I am decisively part of the first group and  ‘inshallah’ we would  certainly like to come back to explore more. We were here for six weekes and in the end were   defeated by rising  temperatures.

The recent revolution gave our visit a different feel, on the one hand you could still feel some underlying tensions and unresolved questions,but on the other hand people seemed to make a special effort welcoming us and sharing their  vision of  change and optimism for the future. Tourism unfortunately has still not recuperated, but people are being patient.

We were able to see highly touristic places in a more relaxed and pleasing way, without the usual bus loads of people. The monastry of Santa Caterina was empty when we visited it and we had the natural park of Ras Mohammed , 15 minutes from Sharm el Sheik all to ourselves…apart from a few very welcomed intrusions (of course we were the intruders) from local families that made us feel even more at home. We got to know the truly mixed community of ‘Sharm where the children spoke freely in at least  four different languages;a photographer specialised in underwater photography,an ex-captain of ships now with his own business, a journalist telling us  intriguing storiesof political coups in other times and African countries and  a beautiful half Egyptian and half Danish/ Swiss family that invited us into their home  and to Lusiras joy lent her   a snowwhite costume for the week-end, which she religiously put on after the temperatures cooled down below the fourties!!

Cairo chaiotic and calm at the same time. Too bloody hot to explore in depth but promising something attractive and intangible. We rented a plush boat with disco lights and (extremely) load music on request for an evening trip down the Nile with a family we got to know at the campsite…the small one year old baby was one of the witnesses to demonstrations in the central square his mother proudly tells…she is a school teacher and feels passionate about change…i wish them all the best.

The pyramids are.. the pyramids, inspiring awe and disappointment at the same time.Like seeing a film so quoted by the critics that it could never really satisfy your expectations. The Giza pyramids are somehow belittled by the mass of Cairo surrounding it, and i had to keep reminding myself of the lack of tools and technology in the ancient times of their construction. The’ bent’ pyramid was perhaps my favorite, the context is more suggestive  and whilst approaching it  i enjoyed contemplating the engineers dilemna when he finally after years of work must have realised that it wasn’t going to work, how to make ammends?? Would his family suffer for his error..how many sleepless nights.

The white desert..chalk, dust and magnificent sculptures. A suprising landscape of modern art with the benefit of millions of years of erosion. The seed of our origins and the seccrets of our change. Shapes that appeal to the modern eye for their fresh lines and brilliant white. Our special feelings for deserts was truly satisfied

Our trip in Egypt ended in Assuan that for me remains a special place almost making me forget the stiffling heat (and that’s saying alot!) The city is of course characterised by the Nile and all activity around it and  we were lucky enough to spend most of our time on the west banks  with its distinctive blue Nubian villages and terracotta amforas in the shade of the trees offering fresh water to any who pasess . We( again)  had to repair a tyre rim and got to know Mohammed, who guided us around his village and took us for a sailing trip on his Faluka…from here the nightmare boat to Sudan, along with hundreds of other Sudanese refugees fleeing from Libya in inadequate spaces, truly inadequate hygenic standards for extortionate prices, but then thats another story! This is the only way at present out of Egypt…We hope the road will soon be open to foreigners.


Not Egypt

Well, as my friend Peter is so fond of saying….”shit happens”  There i was happy after my days work, ready to update the blog, when my screen was suddenly covered by a pattern of little green worms and a loud little harikiri shriek signalled the end of my computer….I have no longer been able to get it started and alas all my images are on a hard disk formatted for macs!! So sorry friends, if i come across a traveller with a mac i will try and make amends but if not …no Egypt for the moment, except this photo expressing quite eloquently my mood…..grrrrrrr….and rusmfusmrusmfusm.

I will of course ( re)write impressions as it would be unfair to leave such a beautiful country without paying a little homage. So when my mood has improved and other technical issues have been sorted i will update.