Chapter 9 – Sudan

Sudan was always intended to be just a country we had to go through to get from Ethiopia to Egypt. What I knew about the country was not much, mainly knowledge from my school days about soils, geology and the physical geography of the Nile.  Of course the news at the time, and not without grounds, painted a very negative impression of Sudan.

There had been a long and brutal civil war between the north and south; atrocities committed in connection with Chad and Dafur; international arrest warrants for Sudanese leaders for alleged breaches of human rights and war crimes; and a complicated history that includes the Ottoman empire, Egyptian rule and from the late 19 th century until 1965, British colonization.

When we entered Sudan at Matema the country had very recently separated into a  Black Christian South and an Arabic Islamic North. Clearly the Sudanese infrastructure was still rather chaotic and so we expected to be delayed with admin and paperwork at the border and we were. Arabic was now used instead of Amheric and we soon learnt the standard As Salamu Ali Kum, a commonly used and very peaceful greeting that always brought a very warm response. The people seemed very mild in temperament, friendly, calm and conservative. Chalk and Cheese when compared to the Ethiopians who always jumped about like excitable Shih Tzu lap dogs.

There were of course new rules and protocols to adhere to that were unfamiliar and very different to those that I was brought up with and generally ignored during my English middle class roaming catholic upbringing. No doubt they were also very different to Fanny’s “pinko commie capitalist atheist confucian sports school” upbringing in Shanghai as well.

We had been fortunate to get our visas in Nairobi, thanks to the very useful consular letter given to us by Ms Li in Cape Town (Consul General). The Chinese seemed to be very much in favour in Sudan and so I would often use Fanny as our trump card, not only because she was Chinese but she was able to charm anyone we met in Sudan. VisaHQ, the UK agency I had used to get my Ethiopian visa (I had to actually send my passport back to London from Nairobi), was not issuing Sudanese visas at the time and so we had been fortunate that we had been given the letter.

Unfortunately, the period of stay permitted by our visas was only two weeks, and it required us to further register within three days of arrival and part with even more cash at the Immigration offices in Khartoum, which would prove to be a very frustrating and tedious procedure. Its seems that Sudan is to bureaucratic efficiency what King Herod was to babysitting. Still, it could be worse…we hadn’t been to Egypt yet!

We had been told by fellow travelers we met coming from the north that Sudan was rather boring, there was very limited food, fuel and water, that it was blisteringly hot, but on the positive side that the Sudanese people were very friendly.  Our experience was that only the last two things were correct and we were never sure why there was a general perception that there wasn’t any food. The food was plentiful, cheap and delicious, provided you like “ful“,  the Sudanese version of tibis. I’ll eat anything…I even ate food from a 7-11 in America once.

Anyway, the food situation was just as well because when we opened our motorcycle panniers to retrieve our precious tomatoes, cabbage, onions and chilis all we saw was a bag of hot grey slime. The temperature in Sudan was just so hot and reach up beyond 50 degrees centigrade at certain times in Khartoum. Everyone had said we had to drink lots of water and we were grateful for the 30 litre water bag the Dutch guys gave us in Malawi. Water discipline is important and you need to keep drinking large quantities of water even when you are not thirty.

In the deserts of Sudan there appears to be no sweat on your body, but in fact you are dehydrating quickly and perspiration evaporates immediately. Fortunately, there are communal water drinking vessels and large earthen ware jugs placed almost everywhere and whilst it might be pushing the hygiene envelope somewhat, the alternative of dehydration is even more serious to health and well being and will creep up on you if you are not careful.

Standing out from the crowd in a Sudanese street

Standing out from the crowd in a Sudanese street – Al Qadarif

Very friendly people

Sudan-physical-map

Sudan, before it was split into north and south used to be the largest country in Africa

Lots of curious faces…  as a woman biker in a very strict Muslim country Fanny really stood out.

There were mosques everywhere and calls to prayer were five times a day and very loud.

Often we would be only people on the road. Here there is some greenery near the border with Ethiopia. Later the classic golden desert fills the landscape

A very annoying waste of the good part of a day (out of a total of 14 permitted on our visa) spent registering ourselves and our bikes in Kartoum. Waste of money and waste of time.

Delicious food .. some of best we had in Africa so far. A big surprise. Later the food in Egypt also  got a big thumbs up.

A typical meal for us in Sudan .. and setting. Couldn’t be happier.

Bring your own customs official... in fact its Magdi cadging a life on back of my bike

Bring your own customs official… (the famous Magdi at Wadi Halfa)

.

As a probationary inspector at the Royal Hong Kong Police training school in Wong Chuk Hang (Aberdeen) in the mid 80s–and I am sure my former squad mates can testify that I am not exaggerating–we used to stand to attention during drill lessons on the parade square, dressed only in baggy shorts, boots and with a peaked cap on our heads in temperatures that could reach the late 40s. It was so hot that the polish would melt off our boots and whilst standing bolt upright to attention you would have to discreetly shift from foot to foot, much like those lizards do in the outback of Australia, to reduce the heat coming up from the parade ground tarmac and scorching your feet.

I can safely report that Khartoum was even hotter.  It was one of the few places that the faster you rode on the motorcycles the hotter your face became. It was like putting a hair-dryer onto full blast and pointing it directly at you face for hours on end. This is why we, and the locals were covered head to foot. Far too hot to allow any flesh to be exposed to the elements.

We didn’t have a great deal of time to get to Khartoum and so we set off on good roads through rather flat and featureless terrain. The motorcycles were going brilliantly…no problems at all. I was a bit worried the scorching heat might affect the engines but as long as we were moving along at a good pace and getting air across the radiators the temperature gauge seemed to be OK. Whenever we stopped of course it made sense to switch off the engine to prevent them overheating.

We got to a town called Al Qadarif (Gedarif) as the sun was going down and searched the GPS database for a place to stay. I had wanted to bush camp, but the food had spoiled and the ground surface was surprisingly boggy from the border so far and not ideal to pitch a tent on.  After riding around the very busy town and being quite tired from a journey of more than 400 kilometers from Gonder in Ethiopia, including a reasonably stressful border crossing, we were not too bothered where we stayed so long as the bikes were safe and we could lie down.

Eventually we stayed in a very cheap and very basic hotel, in a room without windows. It was not very nice at all and so we quickly unpacked, secured the bikes inside the lobby next to a guard, dumped our things and went for a walk around the town.

The town was an unexpected and welcome surprise, teeming with activity, the markets and bazaars were still in full swing at 7 pm and it was full of restaurants and exotic food stalls. What was this about there being no food?  We had truly left so called “Black Africa” and were now in the Middle East, with all its exotic smells, noises and sights. As for food, we were spoiled for choice and settled on Arabic style chicken, falafels and ful with bread and delicious fruit juices.

There may be no beer or alcohol in Sudan, but they know how to make great tea, coffee and fruit juices. There was also the aromatic smells of apples, cinnamon, cloves, raspberries and other flavours coming from Shishas which were bubbling and being puffed on in all the coffee houses and street corners.  We sat outside in the hustle and bustle, with men in white robes (jallabiyahs)  and turbans or embroidered hats who politely welcomed us and asked kindly about our trip and impressions of their country. So this was Sudan.

‘Its a bit hot isn’t it, Fanny’

This stretch of road passes through sandy desert near Khartoum and is quite busy with trucks. The sides of road were strewn with tyre retreads that have come off.

Its like being blown with hot air from a hairdryer

We are often asked why we are wearing thick riding gear in such heat… surprisingly its cooler than just being exposed to the hot air.

.

The next day we got petrol, filtered again through our “Steve Thomas” invention, with no hassles from the patient and friendly attendants despite the fact we faffed about and spilled fuel everywhere and then we headed off towards Khartoum.

After a full days riding along decent roads with moderate traffic we arrived and Khartoum was not what I was expecting. Addis Ababa was a complete karzi, but Khartoum was more modern, interesting and organised. There were modern car show rooms on the outskirts of the city, much like in other developed cities, but interspersed with lots of mosques and minuets. The traffic lights worked, unlike in Addis Ababa, and nearly everyone was dressed in the white jallabiyah. I did not see many women, but those we saw were conservatively covered as required by Islamic custom.

We were not sure where to stay, but we had earlier bumped into two German motorcyclists, Tobi and Kati riding southwards on the Ethiopian side of the border. They were riding smaller cc trials bikes and we swapped notes and they recommended we stay at the National Camp in Khartoum where the Sudanese athletes are trained. Not at the Blue Nile camp which was universally considered by all reviewers as ‘not very nice’… especially the lavatories.

Whilst we were at the side of the road Tobi asked if by chance we had a spare rear inner tube and as it happened I did. It was taking up room in my pannier, repaired and in good order from the puncture Fanny had in Tanzania.  I handed it over to Tobi who seemed very relieved as he had been agonising about lack of inner tubes for the journey ahead … especially the tough roads in north Kenya. Its very comforting that the adventure biker community is such a close knit one and mutually looks after each other.

Anyway, now in the capital of Sudan we rode into the National Camp, the coordinates of which I had entered earlier into the GPS from a notice board at Wim’s Holland guest house in Addis Ababa, among other useful coordinates for Sudan. It was common for travelers to share the GPS coordinates of places to stay and useful locations such as garages, repair shops and fixers. The camp was a bit bleak, utilitarian and spartan, dominated by a huge mosque right in the middle, but a very welcome sight to Fanny and I.

The whole of Khartoum was full of mosques from which calls to prayers would be blasted loudly and often. This sounded quite nice for about five minutes, but the wailing and chants continued almost constantly until we left two days later. I know salat required praying five times a day, but what I didn’t know was it started at 4 am and was unrelenting throughout the day.

We were to notice many similarities between Arabs and people from China…such as a fondness for bickering, haggling over prices and making a lot of noise. However, I have personally found both these ancient cultures to also have in common strong traditions for producing superb food, very warm hospitality and an unbridled curiosity in what other people are doing, especially foreign visitors. My own culture no longer has any traditions or values, and if there were ever any in England they have been watered down into anomie. I suppose this is why I find international travel and especially living in places like China so fascinating.

In Sudan everything is down to Insha Allah (God wills), but for me, God has neglected to include me in his distribution list about his will and to my secular mind the human earth bound prophets throughout history seem to be in complete  disagreement. Later when we reached the Holy lands I would keep a lookout for the new iCommandments version 2.0 and any clear and unambiguous messages coming from any burning bushes, but sadly the only burning to be found in the Sinai desert or Jerusalem were my piles. How about a miracle to restore my Faith? Just a little one. A phone call from Max junior perhaps, or a logical and rationale conversation with his mother. Like high octane petrol in Africa, I seemed to be running a bit low on Faith.

I don’t want anyone to think I’m an atheist like my commie riding partner, Fanny… or Stephen Fry or Christopher Hitchens or Stephen Hawkings. Why are atheists so smart and the faithful so intolerant and dimwitted? Who knows? God maybe?  I think I believe in God and I also think I believe that England will win the FIFA World Cup again, that Pakistani cricketers aren’t all cheats and accountants are interesting people. Perhaps more accurately I am a member of the “undecided”, a non superstitious and rational group of people who just likes the peaceful ambiance, history and architectural splendor of ancient religious buildings and the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Or, perhaps, an agnostic, dyslexic insomniac….laying awake at night wondering if there really is a Dog. Ouch!

Anyway, after we arrived at the camp gates and explained what we wanted and registered yet again we were shown to a very nice little grassy spot where we could pitch our tent, right under a minuet’s loud speakers which were adorned with colourful purple and pink fluorescent strip lights.. which were on all the time. Insha Allah.  Fanny got out her MC Hammer modesty trousers again and we settled into camping along side Sudan’s national football team and the country’s other athletes.

Fellow desert travelers

Sudanese Pyramids at Meroe

I rode off road on sandy tracks for a closer inspection of the pyramids. Not sure a police blue flashing light is absolutely essential on a motorcycle but it amused me and that’s the most important thing. Pyramids were good too.

Umm… pyramids in Sudan. Would you adam and eve it?

Nubian pyramids are pyramids that were built by the rulers of the Kushite (centered around Napata and Meroe) and Egyptian kingdoms. Prior to the Kushites building these pyramids (which are located in modern day Sudan), there had been no pyramid construction in Egypt and the Nile Valley for more than 500 years. The area of the Nile valley known as Nubia, which lies within present day Sudan, was home to three Kushite kingdoms during antiquity. The first had its capital at Kerma from (2600–1520 BC). The second was centered around Napata from (1000–300 BC). Finally, the last kingdom was centered around Meroë (300 BC–AD 300).

Bit of history ……The Nubian pyramids were built by the rulers of the Kushite (centered around Napata and Meroe).  Prior to the Kushites building these pyramids in Sudan, there had been no pyramid construction in Egypt and the Nile Valley for more than 500 years.
The area was home to three Kushite kingdoms during antiquity. The first had its capital at Kerma from (2600–1520 BC). The second was centered around Napata from (1000–300 BC). Finally, the last kingdom was centered around Meroë (300 BC–AD 300).

Fanny and the bikes … on the banks of the River Nile at sunset (sung to tune of Madness’s Night Boat to Cairo far too many times)

Don’t think I could ever be a Muslim.. the hats don’t suit me.

Would I like a ride on his camel.. umm… no. Would he like a ride on my KTM… umm.. no. Each to their own.

Nice little camping spot by the Nile in northern Sudan. What’s this about crocodiles and snakes?

What!?  No KFC or miniature pyramids in a snow globe? Oh yes.. this is Sudan, not Egypt. Phew!

No wonder George Bush the 2nd said it was the Axis of Evil. Not a KFC, McDonalds or plastic pyramids in a snow globe to be found anywhere. My goodness.

Fanny loves riding on sand ...

Lots of sand and gravel roads …  Fanny loves them (not)

Self portrait at Meroe

Me with my KTM 990 Adventure R at the Meroe Pyramids in Sudan. Happy days. indeed.

.

Very soon after arriving at the National Camp we were discovered by Vladimir, a Ukrainian oil engineer who was marking time in Khartoum while his papers were being organised for his new posting to an oil refinery in South Sudan. Vladimir had been told that his papers “will be ready tomorrow”, for several months now, and rather than living in a tent like us, his company had splashed out on two adjoining air conditioned containers with satellite TV and other creature comforts while he waited. He quickly briefed us on the lay of the land, rules, what to do and not to do, and importantly where to get food.

Everything was “No problem” with Vladimir and although I don’t think he was bored, because he seemed a busy, smart and energetic sort of guy, he was clearly very lonely and so when two foreigners rocked up through the gates he was very happy to have some company, even if they were English and Chinese.

Vladimir had gone sort of native, could speak very good Arabic and had given up drink, but only through necessity. When I told him I still had two bottles of fake whiskey and vodka in our panniers he was very alarmed and warned me I could get 40 lashes for alcohol possession. I had actually forgotten that we still had these bottles and not given it much thought as I just assumed you couldn’t buy alcohol in Sudan…not that you would be beaten like a red headed stepson if you actually possessed it.

Very soon after we had set up our tent Vladimir sidled up to me, looked left and right in a very guilty looking manner and said in a whisper, ‘I have a proposition for you’. ‘You bring over vodka to my room and we watch film and enjoy air conditioner, yes?’

Sounded like a plan to me and I gave commander like instructions for Fanny to get the contraband and bring it over.

‘Why me?’ She protested.

‘Because they are in your pannier, you are a woman and you can hide them in your MC Hammers’

You can’t argue with that logic and a few minutes later Vladimir and I had our feet up on his table, “Johny Varder” whiskey for me and “Smearitoff” vodka for my new Ukrainian friend whilst we watched “Men in Black” and descended into a conversations of scribble and an evening of muted laughter, lest the alcohol police come round and take us off to chop chop square for a good whipping.

Fanny wasn’t having any of it and decided to spend an evening with her new 19 year old Sudanese friend who ran the camp Internet office which was air-conditioned down to a positively chilly 22 degrees from the outside temperature of over 50.  She left Vladimir to seriously fall off the wagon and for me to acquire a hangover that lasted for 48 hours.

For some bizarre reason all foreigners had to register again with three days of entering Sudan. Actually its not a bizarre reason, its a blatant tactic to screw more money out of any person visiting the country. A double whammy of visa and processing fees.  So, we got up early and in temperatures that were already high and rising quickly we set off through the streets of Khartoum to where Vladimir told us the government offices were located.

It took us about an hour weaving through the unfamiliar city streets to find the offices, but even so we arrived bright and early at 7.30 a.m. so that we would be first in the queue. However on arrival we were told the offices did not open until 9.00 a.m  and so we went for a wander and came back later to see the government officials still reading newspapers behind the glass of the cubicle compartments.

‘Excuse me I’d like to register, what do I have to do?’ I enunciated slowly

The official, without looking up, pointed up at a clock on the wall which was indicating a few minutes still to go until exactly 9.00 a.m.

Registering in Khartoum … again.

As we did to get around  many cities and save fuel and hassle, we on my bike.

As we did to get around many cities in Africa and save fuel and hassle, we rode one bike and left the other at the camp site.

Blue Nile where we had to go to in order to get an invitation to stay letter in order to complete registration.

Blue Nile where we had to go to in order to get an invitation to stay letter in order to complete registration.

.

And so I stood exactly where I was watching the seconds tick by, and spot on nine asked the same question.  The official made a sort of irritated huff and slowly folded up her newspaper and I thought she was going to say “the computer says nooo”, but instead she sent me off to photocopy every piece of documentation we had, and which we already had several photocopies of.

‘What’s wrong with this photocopy?’ I pleaded, waving a wad of paper at her. Without a word or even looking up she prodded her finger towards an old fellow who was sitting in a corner of the office with an ancient looking and well used photocopier…at a pound a sheet. Oh for goodness sake, but there was no choice.

Things got no better and this tedious and completely unnecessary pen pushing and red tape went on for about an hour with the officials displaying every annoying trait learnt by public servants across the planet. Inevitably a document was required that we didn’t have and we were instructed to find an agent or go to a hotel that would issue us with an invitation letter.  Couple of deep breaths, calm down and get on with it… no point arguing the toss … and so we left the government buildings and rode through Khartoum to the other side on the city in temperatures that were to reach over 50 degrees centigrade by mid morning.

In fact, we had to go to the only other campsite we had heard of called Blue Nile and after eventually finding the manager, he scribbled some Arabic on a largely already completed proforma and handed it back to us in exchange for ten US dollars. By now it was ridiculously hot and the city was busy with traffic, mostly SUVs and 4x4s with their windows firmly closed and air-conditioners on full blast. Our GPS was not very accurate or up to date and so by accident we ended up exploring most of the city.

By midday we got back to the immigration office, handed over the required documents and the fees and had our passports endorsed for the remainder of the two weeks stay. Why couldn’t all this have been taken care of at the border crossing? Why was it necessary anyway? Anyway, by then I was too relieved it was all over to be angry any more and so rode off back into the city and found a shady spot to park the bikes next to a local restaurant and had ful and salad for lunch – and breakfast.

In the afternoon we decided to play the game, “Find the Egyptian Embassy” as I still did not have a visa to get into Egypt.  Fanny had already got her visa, not just any old visa but a diplomatic one having charmed the Egyptian Consul General in Shanghai before she set off. I heard it was possible to get a visa on the Wadi Halfa to Aswan ferry, but it made sense to try and get one in advance… just in case.

Eventually we found the passport and visa section of the Egyptian Embassy about an hour or so later after nearly being arrested for riding our motorcycles too near to the presidential palace. Apparently it is an offence that only a motorcyclist can commit .. no idea why. A tank or one of the many bakkie pick-ups with a mounted machine gun on the back I could understand, but a motorbike? .

We parked the bikes, again in a shady spot to stop them melting and banged on the doors until someone came. Its closed we were told. And tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. Was there any way I could apply for a visa?  No.

‘Right, I’ll get it at the border… I’m British don’t you know’. Then added for good measure and Fanny’s amusement  ‘We used to own Egypt… how hard can it be?’.

‘Are you sure?’ Fanny asked

‘No”. And with that I had had enough of dealing with Sudanese officialdom for one lifetime and we returned to the camp, despite the GPS trying to get us arrested again.

The next day we packed up and left while it was still dark and just before calls to prayer. Khartoum wasn’t that bad and the camp-site was a pretty decent one and apart from the government officials people treated us very well, but time was running out and we had a long way to go. We filled our 30 litre water bag again with water that Vladimir had assured us, through his own scientific content analysis of the communal water tanks, was clean and actually contained trace elements of minerals good for our health. Excellent.

Vladimir gave me a Sudanese woven white hat that made me look a bit daft, but I accepted it gratefully, wore it proudly and we said our farewells and vowed to visit the Ukraine one day. Yet another amazing character we met on our travels and a new friend.

Our Internet research, our Michelin map of north east Africa and the GPS were not helping with our planning of the route ahead. Basically Sudan just looked like a huge yellow desert with a squiggly blue line through it that depicted the Nile. Khartoum is where the Blue Nile and White Nile merge and further north it is just the Nile–an incredible river that cuts through the nothingness of the desert all the way to the Mediterranean sea, the lush banks of which have spawned some of the worlds oldest and greatest civilizations. It is truly amazing to see and we count our ride through Sudan as one of the highlights of the entire trip.

It also resulted in “Night Boat to Cairo” by Madness being played far too many times on my iPod and too much silly dancing. I had to explain to Fanny that the style of 2-tone ska dancing, which I was clearly not very good at, was very popular and cool in the late 70s and early 80s with bands like the Specials, The Selector and Madness. Fanny remained unconvinced and put these jilted movements down to my stiff ageing joints and general lack of rhythm.

There is in fact a tarmac road that follows the Nile for several thousand kilometers in the direction we wanted to go, but allegedly there was also a road of unknown quality and surface that cuts across the Nubian desert. The existence of this road could not be verified by my GPS or any maps, but the local Nubian people were adamant that it existed and so we took a risk and decided to try and find it.

As we rode north through the town of Shendi on the road towards Port Sudan we could see the road littered with tyre re-treads that had come off the numerous overloaded trucks that used the busy route. My father, Peter used to be in the retreading industry, first with Pirelli and later with his own company. Looking at an endless verge of shed treads I thought we could have been millionaires if he had chosen to work in Sudan rather than Burton Upon Trent, and my mother wouldn’t have run off with the village blacksmith’s Neanderthal son, and, and. The things that run through your mind when riding through the desert. Amazing.

By stopping and getting directions from people in the street we found the new road and would follow it in a west north west direction through pristine white sand deserts. It was not marked on my GPS which just indicated we were “off road”, but it did exist and was very good quality and obviously very new. Often the fine sand drifted onto the road and the wind would blow it about and form patterns like flowing water. I am quite sure if the road was not used and maintained that it would completely disappear and become engulfed in the desert as the sand was constantly encroaching.

Our beautiful tar road straight through the sandy desert

Our beautiful tar road straight through the sandy desert

Pyramids in the distance

Pyramids in the distance

Time to reflect and enjoy the silence

Time to reflect and enjoy the silence

Meroe

Meroe

The NIle and its lush banks meandering through the scorching dry desert

A Souvenir from the Sudanese police. A speed camera in the middle of the desert. We never saw the speed cameras and no idea how they were camouflaged. In the end the police just gave us a warning and let us keep the pictures.

A Souvenir from the Sudanese police. A speed camera in the middle of the desert. We never saw the speed cameras and no idea how they were camouflaged. In the end the police just gave us a warning and let us keep the pictures.

And one for me too...  The police even had a printer in the middle of the desert to print out this "evidence".

And one for me too… The police even had a printer in the middle of the desert to print out this “evidence”.

.

As it started getting late we were both keen on bush camping, but our attempts to find anywhere around Atbara were proving difficult. We actually looked around a very colonial part of town that had big British style family houses that were beginning to look quite sorry for themselves and all traces of Britishness had been Islamified, a bit like Bradford, and indeed the village of Utley where my ancestors come from in Yorkshire which now looks like a squalid suburb of Karachi on “bin day”.

‘Lets camp by the Nile’, I suggested to Fanny, and she was quite keen and so we zigzagged through town and back streets to the banks of the huge river and found a grassy spot which we could camp on and make a fire. It looked really nice, but we were soon discovered by the sort of menacing teenagers found throughout the world that you don’t want to meet. They were very much like the hyenas in the movie “The Lion King”,  a couple of cocky ones and a very dumb one.

It was obvious to me that they were “scoping” us out to steal or rob from later, perhaps during the night. The “Idiot Boy”  kept giggling to himself, and he visibly dribbled when he caught sight of our cameras and other possessions as I opened my tank bag. They continued to hang around and annoy us with feigned and insincere friendliness. Its the same anywhere in the world… you have to be suspicious of teenagers who actually want to spend time with adults. There is always an ulterior and inevitably selfish reason. I was slowly losing my patience with them and so I discussed with Fanny in Chinese what we should do.

She wanted to stay, but I knew very well these local oafs were nothing but trouble, and now they had found a target in their own back yard. It would not end well for one of us, probably not for them as I had a bag full of offensive weapons and Fanny is perfectly able to take care of herself… she is a boxing champion after all. Had I misjudged the situation? Nope, I didn’t think so. My sixth sense that always seems to serve me well had kicked in and I recognised it for what is was. A bad place to be and a very bad place to set up camp.

I have a passionate hatred of feral thieving yobs that started from my police days in London when I saw the viciousness and harm they could cause their innocent victims, often preying on the elderly and most vulnerable.  I decided to err on the side of caution and so we rode off to find another safer spot where we could relax and sleep in peace.

A nice camp site by the River Nile, until we were discovered by the local yobs. We would have to find a more remote spot.

Our home for a day or so near Atbara

Our home for a day or so near Atbara

Fanny wastes no time settling in.. in fact she's fast asleep

Fanny wastes no time settling in..

And wastes no time falling asleep

And wastes no time falling asleep

Our host and his little girl

Our kind host, Ahmed and his little girl

Thank you very much to Ahmed and his family.

Thank you very much to Ahmed and his family.

.

We had noted that the opposite bank of the Nile looked more remote and so we went back into town, rode across the main bridge, down into the papyrus fields and weaved our way across agricultural paddy fields to a sunny spot by the banks of the river. We thought we were alone but soon realized there were some people inside a thatched hut next to the river. It turned out that inside were some very laid back middle aged guys who were smoking hashish and appeared to be very relaxed and chilled. We broached the idea of camping with them. ‘No worries’, came the answer, ‘you like some?’ one added offering us a huge spliff.

‘No thanks’, I replied, ‘I never smoke and ride’.

‘No worries’, ‘be happy’ and they gave Fanny a regular Sudanese tobacco cigarette which she gladly accepted, as indeed a recipient of the Shanghai Sports Personality of the Year Award should.

We did a quick recce of the river bank and worked out the optimal position to pitch our tent that looked dry, smooth and flat and yet sufficiently safe from a nocturnal visit by crocodiles, snakes or scorpions, all of which we were assured were plentiful at this particular location, although I couldn’t see any sign at all and was slightly doubtful that any would cause us any trouble anyway.

While we were looking around another man came up and introduced himself as Ahmed and the owner of the land– all of it.  I apologised for trespassing and asked if it was OK for us to camp on his land.

‘No problem’, came the answer, but after a pause he said  ‘but here not good place’  and then said some Arabic words which we did not understand but through sign language we found out meant snakes and scorpions–and apparently a lot of them. What about Crocodiles? – Yes some of those too.

‘Stay at my house…good’, he insisted. ‘Marhaban   مرحبا Welcome’

After some thought, that included wondering about Sudanese snakes and Nile crocodiles, and getting over the initial embarrassment of too much unfamiliar generosity, we agreed to go back to his house.

He ambled along paths and across small ridges and bridges spanning the irrigated farmland and we followed him slowly on our bikes. As we approached the nearby walled village, still crawling along and wading our bikes as slowly as he was walking Ahmed gave a running commentary and introduced every house we passed– it seemed every single one of them belonged to some kind of relative or family member.

Eventually we arrived at a gated complex, not too dissimilar in looks to the infamous compound Osama Bin Laden was captured in in Pakistan a few months later and after riding through some impressive wooden gates, we parked up our bikes in his courtyard. Ahmed then went off and I was really hoping he wasn’t going to reappear with some mates armed with various sharp bladed instruments and a video camera.

When he did come back he was dragging some steel framed beds and I will admit the first thought that went through my mind was that we would be tied down onto them and become the latest stars in some macabre YouTube video, but all Ahmed was doing was setting them up in the courtyard outside his house with mattresses, sheets and pillows so we would be comfortable for the night. I looked at Fanny and she was positively brimming with excitement at this latest development in our adventure. Ah the Chinese… bless them … no imagination whatsoever.  I, on the other hand, with far too much imagination, was already in the advance stages of an escape and evasion plan.

Once the beds were set up we hung our huge mosquito net above them using our pannier bungee cords attached to nearby trees, unpacked the minimum amount of overnight kit, prepared the bikes for the next day and washed ourselves. Finally I started to relax  and we both looked around in amusement at the strange situation we found ourselves in.

Later, just as the sun set we were treated to a meal that consisted of everything that Ahmed and his wife had in their pantry, a truly eclectic mix of food items that included jam, tinned pineapples, some kind of sweet coconut and milk mixture, tinned sardines and processed cheese triangle, just like the ones I used to eat as a kid. Clearly they were not expecting guests.

Ahmed was apologetic that the meal was not good enough and pleaded with us to stay a few days so that he could show us around Atbara and prepare a lavish banquet of roasted goat, Nile fish and other Sudanese specialties. It was very tempting, but the visa problem remained. Ahmed explained that one of his eleven brothers was a high ranking general in Khartoum and everything was ‘No Problem’.  ‘Visa– no problem’, ‘Stay, please’, ‘Everything no problem’.

With a good deal of regret we had to turn his generous offer to stay longer down. I am never entirely sure of the polite and correct protocols and etiquette when being offered such kindness, but with an internal time clock that was nagging me to press on and having discussed with Fanny we decided to get going. One thing is for sure, my previous impressions of Sudan, its people and it culture was changing rapidly and very much for the better.

As it turned out Ahmed was very well connected. The house next to the courtyard we were sleeping in was still being renovated and Ahmed gave us a guided tour of the many rooms inside. He very proudly described the decoration in progress, right down to gold leaf covered ceilings and bejeweled curtains. It was obviously going to be a palatial home and we said we would love to visit again in the future. Ahmed was insistent that we should return and stay with him and his family. He was also, so it seemed, very taken with Fanny, clearly a candidate for wife #4.

We had an amazing and restful sleep under the stars, protected from any insects by the mosquito net and wafted with gentle breezes from the Nile and surrounding deserts. Could not be better and we slept soundly, occasionally waking to wonder where we were and take in the star studded sky.

We were greeted in the morning to amazing coffee and breakfast. We swapped contact details, met some of Ahmed’s children, one of his wives and many of his extended family, learnt more about Islam and Sudanese life and again, as was all too often on the trip, we had to bide our farewells to a new friend all too soon. They were absolutely fantastic people and we were truly humbled by their kindness and hospitality.

Later after we had left Fanny asked me how the women in Arabic countries put up with being hidden away in the shadows, as we rarely saw any in public, and how they put up with being married to a man with other wives. I replied its probably just the same as in China as many so called successful men I know keep a mistress, sometimes a few, and sometimes by the hour. ‘You know what KTV lounges in China are for, don’t you?’

‘Karaoke’, she said with a laugh. Yeah, right!

We then packed up and left a crowd of cheering and waving friends and relatives of Ahmed, crossed the Nile again just outside Atbara and we would not cross it again until we reached Merowe, 400 kilometers away on the other side of the Nubian desert.

As we rode at a steady 100 kph we entered a world very few people will ever see. Pristine white sand desert, sand dunes, rose coloured rocky mountains, Bedouin camps and the occasional camel. There was very little traffic and none of the tyre retreads littering the side of the road that we had seen on the highways around Khartoum and on the relatively busy route to Port Sudan.

Our GPS database was completely unaware of this road, as it must have been quite new.  It appeared, as indeed it was, that we were in the middle of nowhere. It was all that adventure riding was meant to be. I absolutely loved this bit of our trip.  The route from Atbara cut through the desert to the ancient pyramids at Jebel Barkal and across the desert again to Dongola where we would pick up the Nile again and follow it north to Wadi Halfa near the border with Egypt.

More sand.. it is Sudan after all.

Riding through the outskirts of Atbara along a long sandy road… and then up onto a tar road and across the Nile and desert again towards Jebel Barkal.

Fanny cruising through the Nubian desert under the hot sun.

Fanny cruising through the Nubian desert under the hot sun.

Crossing the Nile again

I barely get off my bike to have a pee, Fanny being a woman mades a bit more effort. Watch out for those vipers and scorpions!

Strawbucks

Strawbucks and our KTMs

A rest stop .. Nubian style

A rest stop .. Nubian style

Our new friends... they gave us coffee and we shared a water melon with them  at what must be the most remote and interesting coffee shop I have ever been to. What fun.

Our new friends… they gave us coffee and we shared a water melon with them at what must be the most remote and interesting coffee shop I have ever been to. What fun.

We really were a long way from anything

In the car park at Strawbucks

In the car park at Strawbucks

Sometimes you just have to stop and take in the surroundings.

Sometimes you just have to stop and take in the surroundings.

And do some push ups and sit ups. Why? Because I can.

And do some push ups and sit ups. Why? Because I can.

Bit of jog too.

Bit of jog too.

When ever we get near to the Nile life appears again

As we got nearer to the Nile life started to reappear.

Its amazing to think that this part of the world has pretty much remained unchanged for millenia

Its amazing to think that this part of the world has pretty much remained unchanged for millennia.

Back in a small town by the Nile

Back in a small town by the Nile

More Pyramids ... this time at Jebel Barkal ... Napatan Pyramids

More Pyramids … this time at Jebel Barkal … these are Napatan Pyramids

Riding past Jebel Barkal... extremely hot and Fanny's starter relay is having problems

Riding past Jebel Barkal… extremely hot and Fanny’s starter relay on her bike is having problems. We really don”t want to break down here and of course, we do. One of the few times we had a problem with our KTMs on the whole expedition. 

Jebel Barkal pyramids

Jebel Barkal pyramids

.

After about 150 kilometers we stopped for a rest and a water break at a straw hut in the middle of the Nubian desert and found out they had coffee. So this must be Strawbucks. The people who lived here in the middle of nowhere recognised themselves as Nubian rather than Sudanese or Egyptian.

We drank very good coffees under the shade of a canopy, were encouraged to take some water from large earthenware pots using a long ladle and played with the children. We had been balancing a huge water melon on the back of Fanny’s bike and here seemed a good place to cut it open and share with our Nubian friends. In the sun the temperature was in the late forties, but in the shade of the straw hut much cooler.  And so we sat eating cool water melon, drinking coffee and enjoyed the incredible friendliness and hospitality offered by people with no real material possessions. In reality they had more than most people…  they seemed happy and content.

Later on after another stretch of riding for an hour or so we stopped for another water break. We each had to drink about 8-10 liters of water a day in Sudan as it was so hot and dry. We were again in the middle of a dry sandy desert and when we attempted to get going again Fanny’s bike wouldn’t start.  Its not a good feeling to break down in such a place, but I had a tow rope and there was a small town next to the Jebel Markal temples and pyramids we could get to.

I did try to bump start her bike, but with a 1000 cc V-twin engine it is nigh on impossible, especially on hot sandy roads. I then did some banging on the starter motor and fortunately the engine got going again. I was, however, a bit concerned about what the problem actually was and whether we could get it fixed and get to Wadi Halfa in time for the once a week ferry, and before our visas run out.

We cruised into town and Fanny stopped the bike and it refused to start again and so I had to push it until we found some people who pointed us to a very small garage and workshop which seemed to be mainly repairing tut tuts, the three wheeled taxi things found across the world from Thailand, India to Egypt.

We were soon surrounded by a huge crowd as I started my attempt to explain what had happened and what I thought was wrong with Fanny’s bike. I was very concerned that their general enthusiasm to help might disguise general incompetency to understand the complexities of a modern KTM motorcycle, as most bikes they would have come across were the generic and ubiquitous Chinese 150cc ones covered in chrome, with little more sophistication than motorcycles from 50-70 years ago.

Anyway, beggars can’t be choosers and a mechanic started poking about with his lighted fag hanging from his lips and dangerously close to the fuel tanks, with of course much debate and heated discussion from all the people around. He spoke no English whatsoever and somehow or another we managed to communicate and we eventually became quite good at rather technical discussions.

The KTM 990 Adventure is not the easiest bike with which to get to the guts of the LC8 engine and electronics and requires removing fuel tanks, panels and importantly remembering where all the bits originally came from and were attached to. From my EOD days I learnt tidy, systematic procedures and discipline which are often employed by western mechanics, but in Africa they do it their own way, and this always stressed me out as bolts and wires were strewn about in the sand, being collected by me and placed in logical sequence in a container, only to be knocked over by one of the many onlooker’s flip flops and strewn about in the sand and debris again.

A very nice brass, and much used, multimeter tested all the circuits and eventually we came to the conclusion, as I correctly guessed, that the starter relay had a problem. If it was hit with a spanner it worked, but eventually this technique stopped working despite ever larger spanners and heavier tools being used to bang it.  Short circuiting the electrical connectors at the top of the relay did start the bike, but to a dangerous firework display of sparks and when it was put back together this would be too dangerous and inconvenient to do, and so a generic Chinese starter relay was sourced from somewhere or another.

I inspected it closely as it beared little resemblance to the KTM one, certainly it had less wires sticking out of it and no safety fuse along the main circuit. I am quite sure KTM put a fuse along the main circuit for some reason.

We tried fitting the relay in parallel to the existing relay and it worked but it would no longer fit inside the Touratech belly pan protector, and the mechanic’s suggestions to use gaffer tape to secure it to the side did not appeal to me…whatsoever.

I think I am on my knees praying rather than fixing anything.

Easy to lose a bolt or nut in the desert sand so I insisted that everything was laid out in an orderly matter... but not easy with dozens of people swarming about try to help and give advise.

Easy to lose a bolt or nut in the desert sand so I insisted that everything was laid out in an orderly matter… but not easy with dozens of people swarming about try to help and give advise.

Fanny supervising me doing the bike fixing in fifty degrees heat.

The great mechanics who helped us. The guy, Ahmed on the left remains a good friend of ours to this day

P1030139

.

The only solution was to replace the KTM relay with the Chinese one and use a circuit junction box that I had packed with the spares in my panniers. I insisted on using this rather than joining the wires with tape as suggested by one of the local mechanics. I also made sure that a 30 Amp fuse was wired into the circuit, scribbled the wiring circuit onto the inside of an opened cigarette packet, tested the circuits with the multi-meter and then started the bike several times to make sure everything was OK.

The only problem now was to make sure the Chinese relay, which was cylindrical in shape, could fit in the rubber casing that the KTM relay fits into (a rectangle) and Bobs your uncle. With some rearrangements, filing off some corners and securing firmly in place with a few other cigarette packets, wire and tape it worked.

By now it was 9.00 p.m, dark, I was covered in oil, grease, sweat and Nubian desert and I would quite happily have given Fanny away for a cold beer. Whilst sorting the bike Fanny had been busy and found us a place to stay only 50 meters from the mechanics place and had already unpacked all our stuff.  It was one of the grimmer dungeons we stayed in, but we didn’t mind. To my mind everything was a complete success and after getting most of the grime off in a mosque foot bath we could relax and get some bread, ful and water, get a night’s kip and get off early in the morning… if, of course, our handiwork was successful.

Despite the grubby surroundings and being in an environment as far removed from anything else we had ever experienced we slept soundly. I was up early the next day and checked that the relay was working and that everything else appeared to be in ship shape. I refilled the bikes with the Steve Thomas filter and we prepared ourselves to cross the Nile yet again and head across another long stretch of desert towards a town called Dongola.

The desert was again spectacular and I reflected on how lucky we were to see it and to ride wonderful motorcycles across it. It was definitely not on the tourist itinerary and later when we saw all the red skinned and lardy Europeans ambling around the tourist spots in Egypt, I thought back to this privilege and how unadventurous many people are and what they are missing out on.  Unless you are sailing a small yacht in the middle of the ocean you will rarely experience such peace and solitude.

If you are a multi millionaire sitting in your office, you are still a human just sitting in an office however much money you have. I remember conversations in the past with high salaried Big 4 and law firm partners who, when not talking about work or networking to get work, would talk about golf, vicious ex wives, other knitting circle members or ways to commit suicide.  Their only other activity would be drink and drugs to drown the drudgery and disappointments of the day into a soporific haze.  You only have to see the pubs and watering holes that surround the financial centers around the world to see this.

Lower down the pecking order, the world’s lab rats sit all day in their cubicles, adorned with cheery holiday snaps of themselves at Disneyland or at the office Christmas party, with “Star Wars” and “Hello Kitty” figurines balancing on their luminescent spreadsheets. They beaver away all day, and often into the evening without a glimmer of recognition for their efforts or a kind word, looking forward to the highlight of the day.. mealtimes. To my mind this must be the place we Catholics call Purgatory.

A few enlightened people do live the dream though and this can be achieved  regardless of how much money you have, although having some cash does make it easier. Its mostly about attitude and living life to the full. Travel does indeed broaden the mind and there are a million excuses to say ‘No, wish I could, but…” and only one to say ‘Goodbye, I’m off to see the World’.

Just before my father passed away he confided in me that he never did do what he really wanted to do in life and for one reason or the other had been rail-roaded towards second best choices and desires. His final words of advise to slow down and smell the roses, and a warning that life is not a dress rehearsal did not fall on deaf ears.

To me motorcycling is about freedom–a modern day way of getting on your horse and trotting off into the sunset.  See new things, breathe fresh air, meet new people, face new challenges–and overcome them. Of course the exhilaration of  riding a motorcycle is always a pleasure that I never get bored of. Its never predictable, boring or mundane. The desert crossings were also a time when I would be quite happy in the moment, not thinking about other things, not wanting to be anywhere else. Only paragliding can compare, living the moment and enjoying peace, tranquility and Joie de Vivre. 

I was a tad disappointed when the pristine white desert we had been riding across started showing signs of green, then electric pylons, mobile phone towers, and then evidence of human activity. All too soon we had reached the Nile and would follow it all the way to Wadi Halfa where I knew we would encounter hassle and annoyances in connection with getting our motorcycles and ourselves across the border to Egypt.

The road was not too bad and the density of towns and villages was less than further east. We planned to bush camp in the desert section to Wadi Halfa but as the sun went down we had several unsuccessful attempts to get off the main road as Fanny was very reluctant to ride on deep and soft sand, and every single route to a promising site to pitch our tents required doing so.  The only alternative was for me to ride my bike first and then come back and get Fanny’s bike but this was more difficult than it seemed as a fair degree of exploration was needed to find a good spot. In the end we decided to “plough”  on to Wadi Halfa.

It has been wonderful riding with Fanny and occasionally we had to confront her riding limitations. Perhaps one day she’ll race the Dakar as the first Chinese female competitor. I believe she could do it with training and practice. I have never met a stronger and more determined woman. China Dakar team and sponsors take note.

Camping site

A typical camping site making use of a bit of shade for bikes and our tent.

Not alone ... even in the middle of the desert

Not alone … even in the middle of the desert

Rest break.. peaceful and tranquil country

Rest break.. peaceful and tranquil country

Fanny and her KTM cruising through the Nubian desert.

Fanny and her KTM cruising through the Nubian desert.

Getting late ... sun is very low. Keeping a look out for a campsite

Getting late … sun is  low. …and so keeping a look out for a good campsite

Fanny behind me. A long ride from sunrise to sunset.

A long ride across the Nubian desert from sunrise to sunset.

Still in the mountains through which the Nile cuts on the way to Wadi Halfa

The sun setting above the mountain in north Sudan. The Nile cuts its way through these mountain ranges on its way to Wadi Halfa where it widens into Lake Nasser, formed by the dam further down river at Aswan, that provides electricity for a large part of Egypt.

Wadi Halfa .. with our hotel — The Kilpatra (center)

Watching the sun set at the end of a day in Wadi Halfa as we wait for the ferry to Aswan, Egypt

Locals praying as sun setting … .

Wadi Halfa

Fanny up above Wadi Halfa

Wadi Halfa views

Walled compounds and settlements around Wadi Halfa

Wadi Halfa views

Wadi Halfa views

Enjoying another amazing sunset in Sudan

Enjoying another amazing sunset in Sudan

.

We descended down from the desert mountains and into Wadi Halfa which is the only entry and exit point between Sudan and Egypt. There is actually a huge land border stretching all the way to the coast along the Red Sea, but no one is allowed to cross, despite several new roads being built. We had looked at roads shown on Google Earth along the coast, but we were told they were not open to foreigners. The only crossing was here at this rather scruffy and dusty town on the shores of Lake Nasser where we would have four days to kick our heels applying for permits and waiting for a barge on the Tuesday to take our bikes, and a ferry the next day to take us to Aswan.

We booked into the Kilpatra hotel, which was about the only place to stay and acted as a sort of RV point for the document and ferry fixers. The room was pretty bleak and dirty, but the outside bathroom was absolutely disgusting and made me gag each time I had to go in. In the end I disobeyed the out of bounds sign and used the women’s bathroom which was only slightly better. I have seen worse in China, but I never had to experience such a bad one for more than 5 seconds before I hastily retreated and made alternative arrangements. But here we were stuck with this revolting hole, something on this planet only a human could create and tolerate. It seemed the management of Kilpatra hotel don’t eat pigs, but they seemed perfectly happy to live like one. Strange.

It was pretty hot and the room had no fan and no windows. Fanny being a woman was not allowed to sleep outside where all the men put their beds at night and so we soldiered on, spending as little time in the hotel as possible and suffering somewhat at night. On reflection we should have camped outside the town, but it would have been inconvenient given all the admin we had to do. Most of the time we got it right, this time we didn’t.

Apart from the hotel I got to quite like Wadi Halfa. We had fried fresh fish each morning;  ful and falafel each night; there were stalls selling fresh fruit juices; a few nice walks to go on; we could use an internet cafe to contact the outside world; watch movies at night on a communal TV, provided it wasn’t showing thousands of people walking round and around a big cube in Saudi Arabia; and we met all sorts of other travelers who had gathered at this bottle neck.

There was no other way to cross between Sudan and Egypt at that time. New roads had been built, but they were controlled by the military and were not for public use and so the ferry, which takes eighteen hours, was the only way. The Nile is dammed at Aswan where there is a hydro-electric power station and the lake (Nasser) extends as far as Wadi Halfa where the ferry’s and barges are moored and where there is a chaotic immigration and customs building, police station and a military base. Pretty basic stuff.

Our fixer who we contacted in Khartoum was called Magdi, but his estranged cousin Mazaar turned up and there was some confusion about who was doing what and looking after us. Some kind of fixer turf war. In the end I handed all our documents, passports and fees to Magdi who turned out to be very efficient and arranged for the bikes to go on a barge on the Tuesday and for us to go on the ferry the next day. We bought the cheapest seats available which meant we had to camp on the deck which wouldn’t be too bad for a “Night Boat Up The River Nile”.

Fanny and our friend, Antoine from South Africa who had cycled across the African Continent and like us was waiting in Wadi Halfa for the ferry.

Fanny and our friend, Antoine from South Africa who had cycled across the African Continent and like us was waiting in Wadi Halfa for the ferry.

P1030279

Taking our customs fixer Magdi down to the barge jetty with me … perched up on the bags.

Preparing bikes

Preparing bikes

Sorting the bikes

Nubian guys helping us get our bikes on a barge to Egypt along the Nile

Fanny riding along the banks of the River Nile in Wadi Halfa to a jetty

Securing bikes on the open deck with whatever I can find. The Nile looked calm at the moment, but it was not uncommon for storms to break out and for Lake Nasser and the Nile to become quite choppy and so it was important the bikes were firmly strapped down.

Lining up the bike … I had to wait for gap between barge and jetty to narrow and also for the barge to lift slightly in the swell so the belly pan didn’t scrape over the edge ….. Its all in the timing. Of course the KTM with its Touratech belly pan is as tough as it get which is why we were riding them.

Our ferry that will transport our motorcycles up the Nile. We will take a passenger ferry the next day.

Riding my bike off the jetty onto the ferry at Wadi Halfa

Riding Fanny’s bike along the jetty… and then off the jetty and hopefully onto the barge

Making sure bikes are secure

Making sure bikes and all our riding kit is secure We were only going to carry valuables and a light bag onto the ferry so everything including our riding gear and boots and helmets was secured onto the bikes or locked in the panniers.

 I have never had a problem taking command of a situation and I wasn't going to accept faffing about and taking risks with our bikes.

I have never had a problem taking command of a situation and I wasn’t going to accept faffing about and taking risks with our bikes…nor was Captain Hamada (on right)

Ride along the shores of Lake Nasser

Ride along the shores of Lake Nasser

..

The barge which the bikes were to go on wasn’t really designed for vehicles and I had no idea what it was actually carrying, but I was grateful we could get them on a boat to Aswan cheaply, which left the interesting task of actually getting the bikes physically onto the barge and securing them.

The usual loading dock was not designed for drive ons, being too low as cranes were used for the cargo and so for a small facilitation payment the Captain agreed to move the barge to a pontoon a kilometer or so upstream where I managed ride the bikes off the edge of the pier and plunge a couple of feet down onto the deck without too much trouble. My Adventure R had no problem as the suspension is high, Fanny’s bike has a little less ground clearance and so the plunge off the edge had to be timed to when the barge was closest and at its highest.

With a firm hand I helped with and supervised the securing of the bikes behind the wheel house and then we waved goodbye as our only possessions disappeared in the hands of Captain Hamada and his crew of strangers to hopefully arrive in Aswan on the following Thursday, the day when we were also scheduled to arrive on the passenger ferry. A big dose of trust was needed in such a situation, and perhaps a prayer.

We had of course ridden our bikes to the ferry and had to walk back, but not without shaking hands with every single customs, immigration, police and army person. I had used up a few “I used to be a policemen” credits to smooth things along and this resulted in dozens of handshakes and back slaps before we could escape and walk back across the desert to the town and relax until the next day. As we were hiking across a barren and scruffy bit of sandy desert between the shores and the town a pick-up truck pulled up alongside us and inside was one of the custom officials and he kindly gave us a lift back to town in the back of his truck.

Back in town we had a dinner with some of the fellow travelers we met.  Antoine from South Africa had ridden his bicycle all the way from Durban, only taking a flight from Kenya to Sudan as he was not allowed to ride through South Sudan, but he had pedaled across all the deserts, starting very early each day, resting from eleven until three when it was hottest and then cycling again through the late afternoon and early evening. Amazing stuff and if you want to lose 20 kilograms try it yourself.

There was also an “over-lander” truck that had started its trip back in Cape Town, one of the very few overland trips that crossed the whole of Africa. Later, the truck would go missing for a few weeks in Egypt due to the vehicle barge breaking down and some dodgy customs shenanigans. We very nearly took the same barge, but I did my homework and over some coffee I was educated about the way things were done and correctly made the right choices. There were also some guys who were backpacking around the world using public transport and had some amazing tales to tell. One from the French bit of Canada and another from the USA (brave guy, although he looked middle eastern and spoke Arabic).

The next day we boarded the ferry and due to pulling some strings we got on first and secured the best position on the deck, laid out our sleeping bags and settled in for the eighteen hour ride to Aswan. I still didn’t have an Egyptian visa in my passport, but importantly the bike documents were all in order and we were onboard. Three hours later, in the middle of the Nile we saw a small speed boat approach, some documents were exchanged with some officials and we were told we were now in Egypt.

Great, I thought. Right, where’s the bar?

Inspecting the bikes and wondering if I’ll ever see them again.

KTMs now all secured on the barge next to a jetty in Wadi Halfa on which they will travel up the Nile to Aswan in Egypt. I hope.

Just handed all our possessions and bikes over to some complete strangers

Just handed all our possessions and bikes over to some complete strangers

Using the trouser legs from my cargo trousers as hats as we hike back to Wadi Halfa town after putting our bikes on the barge

A bit hot walking back to town. Trouser legs make good sun hats

A bit hot walking back to town. My trouser legs make good sun hats

Pack of desert dogs

Pack of desert dogs

Getting a lift back to town on a pick up after getting bikes on barge at a jetty on Lake Nasser

Getting a lift back to town on a pick up by the customs officials at the prot

Having a rest with a fellow Chelsea supporter

Having a rest with a fellow Chelsea supporter

Tut tut to the ferry

Tut tut to the ferry

Our campsite on the deck of the ferry for the next 18 hours

Our campsite on the deck of the Wadi Halfa to Aswan ferry for the next 18 hours

As expert campers we have secured the best bit in the shade on desk that will also protect us from a rather strong and cool wind during the night.

As expert campers we have secured the best bit in the shade on desk that will also protect us from a rather strong and surprisingly cool wind during the night.

Heading north towards Egypt

Heading north towards Egypt

P1030386

Settling in and enjoying the sunset. Wondering where the bikes are though... they have 24 hours head start on us.

Settling in and enjoying the sunset. Wondering where the bikes are though… they have 24 hours head start on us.

Sun sets on Lake Nasser at Sudan/Egypt border

Sun sets on Lake Nasser at the Sudan/Egypt border

Goodbye Sudan ... Hello Egypt

Goodbye Sudan … Hello Egypt

.

Next Egypt….

Chapter 7 – Kenya

Kenya– Chapter 7

The first thing we noticed at the Kenyan border was an elderly couple being towed in a magnificent MGA sports car behind a Toyota pick-up. Whilst we were mingling with the crowds waiting to clear customs I remarked to the owners on what a splendid car it was and inquired why it was being towed. The lady, in an extremely plummy English accent, replied that she and her husband were Kenyan and had been having a wonderful adventure, but sadly their dear old car had broken down, but they were muddling through and confident it was just a minor glitch in their grand plans to drive across eastern Africa.

In the chaos of the border crossing, which in reality was no different to any of our previous crossings, I thought that the image of the classic British sports car and their vintage owners presented a rare snapshot of a bygone era when style and unflappability in the face of adversity were the way things were done. Later, I witnessed the old fellow being messed around by an oafish customs officer who insisted that his stricken MGA be towed back, all of some 50 yards, to an inspection bay to be looked at.  From where it was parked, towing it back was going to be very awkward and the customs officer could very well have got off his ample bottom, walked over and inspected the vehicle where it was already. Nevertheless, the old chap was too gentlemanly to complain and resigned himself to this completely unnecessary and troublesome task.

Fanny and I, armed with passports and the Carnet de Passages for our motorcycles, breezed through the immigration formalities. I made good use of the Tanzanian vehicle licenses that were valid for three months, and the supporting yellow Comesa insurance documents that would cover us for the remainder of the African countries we planned to travel through, after of course I made some minor amendments and circled some additional countries that I thought should have been included on the certificate in the first place.

I was asked by an immigration and customs official how long we planned to spend in Kenya to which I replied about thirty days. He then demanded that I hand over US$20 for each bike as additional import duty, or whatever. “I thought the carne de passage covered all the import costs”, I complained? It seemed not. For any period above seven days an extra charge was levied. I then asked, ‘If I say we are going to spend just seven days in Kenya how would you know if we stayed longer?’

‘We wont’, he replied.

‘I’ve changed my mind, we’ll stay seven days’, I quickly corrected.

‘OK’, he replied, ‘No charge then, ‘Enjoy your visit’.

As I was leaving the official added, ‘Which border will you leave by?’

‘Not this one, Sir’, and with that I scurried off to the bikes that Fanny was guarding and we got going again.

Kenya ... a bygone age

The Kenya/ Tanzania border  … and a car from a bygone age.

Political Map of Kenya

Arriving at the border control point in Kenya

At border crossings one of us had to do the paperwork (usually me) while the other (usually Fanny) looked after and guarded the bikes.

Riding through Nairobi… I am sure 40 years ago it would have been very nice.

Nairobi streets

Looking at the bikes in the Jungle Junction workshop

Looking at the other bikes in the Jungle Junction workshop

.

Either side of the Tanzania/Kenya border is pretty much the same geographically, but Kenya was clearly influenced by having many more people.  The main north/south road which passed through beautiful African bush lands on the Tanzanian side, now passed through dusty, crowded and very scruffy villages which got closer and closer together until they were just an catatonic sprawl of dusty grey mayhem. The traffic density had multiplied to saturation proportions and the Chinese road construction activity was in chaotic full swing with endless diversions onto appalling gravel roads, across small streams and occasionally open sewers.

When we could we weaved our way through anarchic traffic conditions coming in all directions and coughed and spluttered in the dust and black diesel fumes all the way into the center of Nairobi which to my mind might have been pleasant once upon a time, perhaps when the MGA owners were in their twenties. There were parks and tall building, but like modern day Lusaka, the infrastructure hadn’t kept pace with the growth in human numbers. Too many people and too few who give a damn.

I followed a track on my GPS towards a campsite in town called Jungle Junction (http://tracks4africa.co.za/listings/item/w171200/), our intended rest stop while we serviced our motorcycles and applied for visas for Sudan and Ethiopia.  But first, we scanned the centerof the muddled city for a place to stop and find something to eat. After weaving about in the maddening traffic and crowds we stopped outside a Kenyan version of KFC and found a willing “lurking person” to guard our bikes for a few shillings while we had a break.  I don’t really trust lurking people as a rule and so I found an observation spot on a balcony where I kept a constant vigil on our KTMs and our worldly possessions while we munched through congealed oil covered in bits of chicken and lard. Quite tasty, actually,  in a calorie explosion heart clogging sort of way.

We then went back to our bikes which by now were surrounded by dozens of people. Luckily they appeared to be intact and we thanked our bike guard and handed over the agreed fee. A quick blast of our Akropovik and Leo Vince exhausts and the crowd reared backwards and we headed out of the center of the city towards a more leafy part of town.

It is here in a residential area behind tall gates and high fences that we found our small oasis for a few weeks.  Jungle Junction, famous to overland adventurers is owned and run by Chris, a German chap who used to work for BMW Motorad in Kenya. Chris run a very nice lodge and has a well organized and fitted out workshop and garage.

It also had a good sized lawn for camping and a small lodge with rooms for the wealthier guests. The main house had a sitting room, dining room, and kitchen that all residents could use, and there was free WiFi that worked most of the time. Outside in the garden and driveways were an assortment of adventure motorcycles in various states of disrepair, adventurer campers and trucks and other weird and wonderful vehicles that were crossing Africa.

Some had given up, some were in for repairs and some just taking a well deserved break and like us applying for visas or waiting for spare parts to be shipped in from various parts of the world. Everyone had stories of daring do, adventure and misfortune.

Soon after arriving and setting up our camp we saw vehicles limping in from various parts of Africa where the treacherous roads had broken them down into their component parts, often destroying their shocks, suspension, fuel filters, fuel injectors, tyres, bearings, electrical systems  and frames.  Some bikes came in on the back of trucks and were unceremoniously dumped onto the lawn, together with their distressed and fatigued owners.

Chris had seen it all before and I realized that there was a pecking order for his attention. BMW bikes came first, naturally, then other motorcycles, and then vehicles with four wheels or more.  This upset some people who thought that their needs took priority, but Chris had a business to run, a life to lead, and only so much time and was, for all intents and purposes, a bush mechanic. I got to like and respect him very much and he was very good to Fanny and I as we went through what was to become a rather frustrating time. He was a fountain of knowledge on routes, weather, road conditions and general local know-how and with his friendly staff made us feel very welcome.

Camping at Jungle Junction in Nairobi… a trans-Africa adventure travelers oasis

The world record home made adventure 4×4 that has been around the world many times

Almost the perfect combination … an off road 4×4 camper with a Yamaha XT 660 on the back… how good is that?

Chris of Jungle Junction

An extremely nice place to stay in the center of Nairobi and a hub of useful information and advise

Jose and Noah from Spain with their BMW F650GS …and its dodgy fuel pump.

Adventure bikes at Jungle Junction

Other adventure bikes at Jungle Junction

Jungle Junction...A little oasis in the middle of Nairobi

Jungle Junction…A little oasis in the middle of Nairobi

.

There were already some people at Jungle Junction who had been there a few weeks for whatever reasons. Some waiting for parts and repairs, and some taking stock before heading off again into the bush and deserts.  It reminded me of entering the Officers’ Mess on the very first day I joined the Royal Hong Kong police back in the mid eighties. The more senior intakes at the training school had taken up the best positions in the “Mess” and lorded it over the newbies. Here in the sitting room of Jungle Junction in Kenya the “seniors” had done the same. There was a particularly irksome Australian who had taken up residence who was seemingly the world’s authority on everything to do with adventure travel.  In fairness he did have some credentials to this claim. He was a former Dakar Rally mechanic, had built a very impressive adventure car that looked like a huge Caterham 7 with a tent on its roof and had a diesel engine that could run off old chip pan oil.

He had already entered the Guinness Book of World Records by traveling 250,000 kilometers around the world—the longest for a home built car. What he did though to upset me from day one was to endlessly criticize our bikes and was the prophet of doom about every aspect of our trip and planning. According to Digger, our bikes were going to fall apart, we would not find any fuel, there would be no chance to get Ethiopian visas, and if we did managed to get on the road to north Kenya I would be murdered and Fanny raped, or worse, Fanny murdered and me raped.

He was of the school that believed the only adventure motorcycles were the old style bikes he owned himself, maybe the Honda Africa Twin or perhaps the Yamaha XT 500 and that the modern electronic fuel management systems on bikes like our KTMs were not appropriate for adventure riding. In fact, motorcycles that did not run off steam were totally unsuitable for the task and the only really suitable vehicle was his mutant Caterham 7 thing. According to him, if you couldn’t repair the bike with a flint strapped to a stick in the back end of beyond you were not worthy to be a member of his “Destination Unknown” adventuring community.

His boastful exploits about journeys in the Congo and Amazon rain forest would have been interesting under any other circumstances, but he went on and on until I decided with Fanny that we would have no more conversations in his hearing in English and so we switched to the Mandarin channel until he got bored of me and found a Kawasaki rider to persecute.  He only turned his attention back to me again when he overheard my stage whisper that it was possible to cross the river between north west Namibia and Angola on a rope pulled pontoon which I had done a few years previously. “Hey! Charlene”, he bellowed to his other half who was cooking pies in the kitchens, “this pom reckons you can cross into Angola from the Skeleton coast”…. “Nooo Way” came an Aussie reply from within a cloud of chip fog in the kitchen.

What I had neglected to share was that the pontoon could only take a vehicle with a maximum of two wheels.  I would like to think that one day when Digger of the Bushveld is stuck on the banks of the Cunene River in the north of the desolate Skeleton Coast looking towards the other side he thinks back fondly of me. He’ll be OK, though. No doubt in true adventure survival style he could cook up his wife’s large and prosperous looking buttocks and use one half for fuel and the other for a tasty roast with lots of crackling. Don’t blame me… its the bloody Larium malaria tablets…they give you all sorts of strange thoughts.

One of many strange adventure machines crossing Africa… (or not)

Me on one of my kit tidying up campaigns… checking Fanny’s panniers for contraband hair conditioner

Our home at Jungle Junction for a few weeks while we sort out visas and get bikes  serviced for next leg through to Egypt

Our home at Jungle Junction for a few weeks while we sort out Ethiopian and Sudanese visas and get bikes serviced for next leg through to Alexandria in Egypt

ECU cable

 

KTM Nairobi

My lovely bike, oh and some other people at KTM Nairobi

.

My efforts, however, to champion the cause of KTM were not helped by several limping into Jungle Junction with fuel injector problems. They were not alone. In fact, many different types of bikes were limping in with the same problem.  All bikes have their Achilles Heals, and for the LC4 and LC8 engines that power the KTM 640/690 and 950/990 Adventures (respectively) the three main ones are … or at least used to be on the older models:

1)      the fuel filter, and in particular its inaccessibility and difficulty to replace easily in the bush. Also, there is no space along the fuel line to add another fuel filter (as you can do with some other older bikes).

2)      The clutch slave which had a tendency to fail; and

3)      the water pump which also had a tendency to break and allow radiator coolant to escape into the engine oil.

Its a well known and obvious fact that KTMs, and indeed most modern bikes, do not like bad fuel, especially the low octane and contaminated petrol commonly found throughout this part of Africa.  As a rule, motorcycles, and any other vehicles for that matter, do not like fuel mixed with kerosene, diesel, water, or dusty red sand, and sadly that is the cocktail that is commonly served up at most petrol stations, particularly the road side vendors who sell fuel from grubby yellow cooking oil drums.

I was not really aware of the clutch slave issue and we never had a problem anyway, but when we did get to the UK, as a purely precautionary measure, I replaced the standard ones with more robust after market Oberon clutch slaves. Could I tell the difference? Not really, but they looked pretty.

We had not brought spare water pumps with us because they were too heavy and in the end we did not need them either. The water pumps had already been fixed on later models, and many older models had already been upgraded during routine servicing cycles.  I did, however, bring spare petrol and oil filters for both bikes…. and just as well as these would have been difficult to source on the road in Africa and were items that needed replacing during normal servicing and oil changes.

The other thing I had not done and perhaps should have known about was to have sourced an ECU diagnostic and mapping program, installed it to my laptop and had a USB to ECU cable to connect to the bike. Without attempting to go into detail I do not really understand myself, modern KTMs do not have carburetors, but rather electronic fuel injection systems, much like modern cars and so when things go wrong tuning with a screw driver and unblocking jets with a  piece of copper wire will not suffice anymore.

What is required is that the electronic fuel injection system is connected to a computer that will check all the electronics and adjust the mapping to differing conditions …such as type of fuel, octane levels, altitude, and none standard exhaust systems like the Akropovik and Leo Vince cans we had on our bikes.

My view about adventure travel is that one can do it using whatever vehicles one likes, and so called bush mechanics and maintenance will inevitably change with the times. If you can afford to buy and have the space to carry the latest tools and spares, that’s fine. If not one must improvise using whatever one can get one’s hands on, be it a rock or an electronic ignition diagnostic kit. There is no need to be afraid of new technology and modern electronics on motorcycles and cars. We all carry smart phones, ipads and laptops nowadays and these small and light bits of kit can be uploaded with all sorts of useful electronic tools, maps and “how to” guides and manual.

Later, after I had already paid KTM Nairobi an astonishing amount to connect both bikes to their computer for just a few minutes, did I find out about, and download, a free program called “ECU Tune” from the internet. However, I could not use it because I did not have the necessary ECU to USB cable. Later I would get hold of the cable, but in the end we never needed it. The bikes were fine, mostly due to good maintenance and (as I describe later) filtering the fuel before it went into the tanks.

The main reason for stopping in Nairobi was to get the bikes serviced. I can’t think of any other reason to stay there for any length of time as it’s a bit of a dump. Its polluted, dusty, smelly, overcrowded, run down, a bit boring, falling apart at the seams and a bit edgy… apart from all that it’s alright.

Later, when we were in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia we caught a glimpse of some news on the TV that over a hundred people, mostly children had been burnt alive in a ghetto only a few kilometers from Jungle Junction.  Apparently some people had been stealing petrol from a tanker and it exploded, tragically incinerating them as they were scooping it up, probably into dirty yellow oil drums to sell to people like me.

The KTM garage in Nairobi  is run by a man called Ian Duncan, and I had contacted him repeatedly in advance about tyres as we made our way to Nairobi.  When we arrived he was not around and had in fact disappeared off to Uganda to compete in a rally race and the garage was left in the hands of a teenager called Adam. Adam told me they weren’t really interested or geared up to deal with adventure bikes and only really looked after the rally cross and enduro type bikes that KTM are famous for.  That said he was energetic and keen to please and so we did manage to book the bikes in for a service, albeit at an extortionate price for the pair. When we came to collect the bikes later that day I found that the chains had not even been adjusted or oiled. 

‘Oh!’ Adam said, ‘Oiling the chain will be extra’.  So much for a professional bike service, huh?

As for tyres?… we had no luck. We would have to try and find suitable tyres for the tough roads ahead from somewhere else, most likely at enormous cost and delay to our schedule.

Kindly, Fanny’s aunt, Song Feng Mei who lives in Polokwane, north of Johannesburg, came to our rescue and went to a local motorcycle shop, the infamous “KR Motorcycle (Pte) Ltd; Straat 92, Petersberg 0700, South Africa” with the exact specifications and sizes for two sets of Continental TKC80s which are the ideal tyre for our bikes and recommended by KTM for the gravel, mud, rock and sand roads that lay ahead. My good buddy Dan Kaufman from Cape Town managed to call on some contacts that would be able to airfreight the tyres from Polokwane to Nairobi airport.

So, while we were waiting we decided to risk a trip to the Masai Mara on our balding tyres where, in late August, three to four million wildebeest were grazing as part of the greatest migration on the planet.

But first we would go to the baby elephant sanctuary and see some of the rescued elephants and rhinos that had been orphaned, some because the babies had got separated from their herds, fallen down drains, or got stuck, but mostly because they had been orphaned because some idiot Vietnamese and Chinese still have some ridiculous need for ivory trinkets and rhino horn and have killed their mothers. In fact, while we were on the expedition the West Africa Black Rhino became extinct. Dead as the proverbial dodo. never to grace the planet again.

I really hope the Asians (and let’s not beat about the bush .. they are Asian) who actually bought the very last West African Black Rhino horn meet the same fate as the dodo. I am quite sure that if things continue the way they are that I will see in my lifetime the complete extinction of the rhino species. Poaching levels of ivory and rhino horn are increasing exponentially and the solution is not an easy one. Its as if the rhino has 15 kilograms of gold stuck on the end of its nose and wanders around free in impoverished places with poor security, incompetent law enforcement and corrupt authorities. With the economic growth in China and more money to spend of traditional medicines the smuggling of endangered African animal parts is only going to increase. I fear, just like the war on drugs, that the battle to protect these animals will be lost.

Anyway, for now, at this sanctuary in Nairobi the keepers spend all the time with the elephants and try to replicate the socialization they would ordinarily get in a natural environment. They even sleep next to their baby elephants in hammocks. At this sanctuary the infants wean on elephant sized bottles of milk until such time they are big and healthy enough to go to the next stage, an intermediary location away from people before they are finally released into the wild.

The healthy baby elephants are shown to the public for one hour each day, for a small fee to help towards their up-keep and running the sanctuary, but some of the animals are injured and are cared for in the hospital while they recuperate and get well enough to be released back into the wild.

Elephant numbers have been actually rising due to successful conservation efforts, but the increase in both elephant and human populations has and will inevitably lead to conflict, a conflict in which the elephants will lose.  Elephants only have a few calves in their long life. The population of African humans, on the other hand, fueled by AID from the West and do-gooders like Bob Geldof are rising dramatically, with each family being artificially aided, regardless of resources and sustainability, to produce 7-9 off-spring, who in turn multiply again putting a strain on finite resources, space and food.

Tribalism continues to place loyalty to kith and kin before logic and efficiency. Tragically, Malthusian population checks such as war, disease and famine will continue to make life miserable and tough for Africans. And what of all the African animals and natural resources?  Traded with the Chinese for tarmac roads and concrete hotels in a seemingly inescapable new era of dependent colonialism.

You have to ask why Africa has to import everything from China. Why can’t they build bicycles and plastic bowls themselves?  The raw materials come from Africa and there are enough people idling about everywhere without jobs. But I may be wrong and Geldof and his rich hippy friends correct. Heart strings will be pulled and guilt manipulated by Sunday afternoon TV campaigns in the west to “spare a pound” to feed all the starving Ethiopian and Somalis babies so they can grow up to beg for money, throw rocks at motorcycles, kidnap hostages and extort money from shipping companies. Do I sound contemptuous?  Perhaps I am. TAB.

I am sure most people who read this couldn’t care less about my ramblings concerning environmental conservation and the evil secrets behind the Chinese R5 shops that have sprung up across South Africa. After all, “Here comes Honey Boo Boo” is about to start on the telly and the delivery man is due with a family sized KFC bucket of tikken and tips…ho ye!. Anyway, too much thinking and fretting, back to the big bike trip. We decided to set off to the beautiful Masai Mara for some happy thoughts and a chance to see something natural and special before its turned into “glorious peoples number one” Africa world adventure park with polluted grey/green lakes to peddle fiberglass swan boats on, live chickens for little Xiao Long to throw to the dog that looks like a lion, and a garish parade with loud canto pop and people dressed in cartoon rhino, dinosaur and dodo costumes. I told you, its the Larium wots to blame.

Jungle Jungle common room and dining room.

An assortment of vehicles and an eclectic mix of adventurers

While we were staying in Nairobi Fanny taught herself to cook. Prior to this I had never seen her cook. This was to come in very useful when we got to Europe. Not only could we have healthy Chinese food,  save costs, and clear a camping space with chili pepper fog.

KTM Nairobi …… I will concede… KTMs are not cheap to service, especially here.

Stella without her wheels

Stella without her wheels

The main man called Duncan was not at his workshop while we were in Nairobi and had gone off to compete in some Rallye races in Uganda

Baby elephants at rescue center in Nairobi

Nellie and Ellie

Nellie and Ellie

They move very quickly when its feeding time and drink out of elephant sized milk bottles. They have very coarse hair on their heads, but surprisingly their skin is much softer than it looks.

A sick rhino …

Milky time

Milky time

Riding along Masai herdsmen paths in the Masai Mara … enormous fun and very close to the animals that happen to make up the great migration between the Serengeti and Masai Mara, such as Wildebeest and Zebras. We were not allowed to ride in the game parks themselves, but it seemed the animals were free to go where they liked anyway and we saw a lot.

Waiting while the BMW guys who traveled with us tried to repair their bike. One hour later they gave up and I towed the stricken BMW F650GS over 35 kilometers to the nearest town. It was a challenge and not that good for my clutch given all the streams and banks we had to cross… but I feel a sense of achievement that we made it. KTM 1 – BMW 0

Fanny and I in Masai Mara

Swollen rivers and streams … the smaller ones we crossed

 

A twenty liter battery acid drum on the back of my KTM for more fuel. Just above the Akropovik exhausts that occasionally spit blue flames. Very healthy no safety.

Packed up and ready to go with an extra 20 liters of fuel in an old exide battery acid drum… Not the safest thing to do… but necessity and improvisation etc… A bigger fuel tank ?  Good idea.

Another KTM rider in the Masai Mara

Another KTM rider in the Masai Mara

.

The distance between our intended destination at Aruba Bush camp at the Masai Mara gate and Nairobi was only about 350 kilometers but the road conditions to get there were tough, and because of the heavy rains some of the routes were blocked because the river crossings were too deep.

We decided to ride there with reduced luggage which I would carry on my bike and together with a couple of Spaniards, Jose and Noa who arrived at Jungle Junction with their BMW F650GS on the back of a truck having broken down in southern Ethiopia. Jose and Noa had had a terrible journey to Nairobi in the back of a truck for four days and on one night been abandoned without food while the driver disappeared without explanation to nearby villages to rest.

This road from Moyale that straddles Ethiopia and Kenya, which we were to travel along later, is notoriously bad and renowned for having bandits and highway men who allegedly set up ambushes along the remote desert track. A story was circulating about a French couple who refused to hand over their goods at an ambush and the man was shot in the face as he tried to escape. Then again I have heard the same sort of things happens in places like London, Bristol, and indeed Burton on Trent on market day. There are bad people everywhere, but I will concede that Somali and north Kenya probably has more than its fair share of them.

With the Spaniards’ BMW now fixed by Chris at Jungle Junction we all set off out of the grime and decay of Nairobi towards the stunning Rift Valley escarpment and down a thousand or so meters into the Masai plains and villages that stretch out towards the unmarked boundaries of the game park.

For the first 150 kilometers we rode on decent tar roads and by midday we stopped in a small town for a spot of lunch at a local restaurant. In time honoured fashion we pointed at someone else’s food and said we’d have that… 2 kilograms of Chomba, (roasted goat meat on the bone) and chips…very delicious, but perhaps not for everyday unless one wants a Diane Abbot like bottom.

After our carnivorous lunch we went for a ride in the town to look for the petrol station less likely to serve up the usual kerosene/grit fuel mixture that ruins our engines.  As normal, while re-fueling we attracted a huge crowd who would ask the same questions about where we had come from, where we were going and how fast the bikes could go. Our answers of South Africa, China and 240kph were usually met with incredulity and disbelief.

After about 10 kilometers we turned off onto gravel tracks that got progressively more challenging as we headed further into the Masai Mara. Fanny had been improving her riding skills all the time and we considered this a training exercise in preparation for what was about to come. What we had not banked on was thick gooey mud and long stretches of deep puddles, and in one particularly bad section Fanny dropped her bike and got absolutely covered causing both her and her motorcycle to remain a reddy brown colour for the remainder of the trip. A suitable baptism to “off roading” I thought.

Often when the track was very bad we would ride up over the banks and onto the herdsmen tracks that would weave through villages, woods, bushes and grasslands. This was what adventure motorcycling is all about and it was enormous fun.

About 35 kilometers away from our destination the Spanish crew’s BMW stopped and never started again. Their fuel pump was apparently broken again and after a futile hour of trying to make a multi-meter out of bits of wire, a battery and a bulb they admitted defeat. I suggested I towed them to Aruba Bushcamp where at least we could camp before it got dark. It was apparent that the animals, including the many lions and hyenas did not recognize the man-made perimeters of the national game park and so it was definitely not a good idea to be out in the open after dark. This meant that I was now to use the tow rope which up until now had remained coiled and strapped to to crash bar, and also employ the towing skills I learned from Leon and Wayne at Country Trax in South Africa on my big bike sand course (highly recommended for anyone who is thinking of riding a BMW 1200GS, Ducati Multi Strada, Triumph Explorer, Yamaha Super Tenere, Kawasaki KLR or KTM 990/1190 Adventure on anything vaguely off road).

After a briefing to Jose about keeping the rope tight and securing the ends offside to nearside foot pegs on our respective bikes we edged forward, sliding and weaving in the gravel and mud. Occasionally we would have to descend into muddy streams and power up out again, keeping the speed constant and the rope taught. On one occasion we got it wrong and I catapulted Jose and 200kgs of BMW off the side of the road, through the air and into a ditch. Both bikes fell leaving Jose lying prostrate in a ditch. I inquired if he was OK and he just said that he’d like to lie there for a few minutes staring at the sky.  After what seemed like an age I inquired again and he said he was ready to go on, and so I hauled him and our bikes out of the ditch (not that easy in mud) and set off again, both of us getting better at the towing and being towed experience all the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNjyOyJVeWY&list=UUaD3A6IHJlyfTEuHqeZ_DLw&feature=share&index=11

At one location the road was too muddy and we rode off road in the middle of the plains alongside thousands of wildebeest and I managed to take some video whilst towing the BMW. It was very tiring and very technical, but I found some time to look around and reflect on what we were doing. I certainly wasn’t going to forget that it was a KTM towing a BMW and I was going to enjoy gloating over this for some time to come.

As we were getting in our stride and I was getting used to my bald front tyre being yanked sideways every now and again I noticed in my mirror that Fanny was no longer behind me. I had been keeping to a pretty steady 30 kph, with all of our luggage, a Spaniard and his BMW tugging on my LC8 engine and its clutch. The sun was going down and I was not entirely sure where we were as the GPS just showed our position in the middle of no where.  No indication of the road, or our destination. The GPS just showed a green background with a bike symbol in the middle.  Dilemma…do I carry on with Jose, or go back and find the others? In the end I discussed with Jose whether it was OK for me to leave him and his stricken bike in the middle of lion country as the sun was setting and he replied with a southern European shrug and said, ‘no worries’.

So I turned the bike around and rode rather anxiously—perhaps at reckless Dakar Rally pace of 120kph plus– along the mud and gravel tracks. After a few kilometers I saw Fanny’s orange headlight weaving in the fading light through the bush and when I came alongside her I could see she was head to toe in wet mud again. I was relieved she was OK and making progress, but I was my usual terse self and reminded her in no uncertain terms the situation we were in and the urgency with which we should get to camp before it gets dark. Fanny was a little annoyed with me and said she was doing her best. ‘Well make your best a little better’, I said rather too harshly.

TA MA DE’, she yelled back, quite rightly.

I theatrically skidded my bike around and tore off back to where I had left the Spanish Omelette stranded in the bush at dusk surrounded by one of the largest concentration of predators. Luckily I found him uneaten and wandering about taking sunset pictures of the Masai plains and wildebeest and so I finally relaxed a little. In fact, we were only three or so kilometers away from the relative safety of Aruba Bush camp and its human settlements which was just as well as within a few minutes it was pitch black and the air filled with the sound of various beasties and birdies howling, growling, squawking and squeaking.

When we arrived at Aruba Bushcamp we were warmly welcomed by the staff who had been expecting us and I felt a mild sense of cheng jiu gan (sense of accomplishment) and quite a bit of ru shi zhong fu (sense of relief) as Fanny reminded me, keeping up my Chinese lessons and practice. After our now extremely well practiced and fast pitch of our tent and tidy up of our kit and bikes we went to the very nice game lodge restaurant where we had a superb dinner alongside various people who were on their safari holiday and who had arrived with Gucci style suitcases and luggage, wearing kharki green and leopard skin pattern “Out of Africa” ensembles, and no doubt having had far less exciting journeys to Masai Mara on Virgin Atlantic or private charter flights. I reflected on this and on the fact that its true… money can’t buy you everything.

The food and cold beer was very welcome and we ate in exhausted silence until a very muddy Fanny suddenly piped up with, ‘I think I’ve mastered this off roading now’.  Indeed, she had done extremely well, but still had a lot to learn and she still kept dropping her bike unnecessarily and making me mad as I would have to keep repairing the damage and banging out the dents in her panniers. But really, she really had done very well and made a lot of progress and I was very proud of her. Not bad for six months riding experience and on top of a thousand cc best of breed adventure bike.

The next day we went off in search of a vehicle and driver who could take us for a game drive into the Masai Mara park. Motorcycles, as we learnt trying to get into the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania, are not allowed in game reserves. I have actually ridden my bike in a game reserve in South Luangwa in Zambia and I have to say on reflection it really isn’t a good idea. It does scare the animals. Elephants in particular hate motorcycles, and stating the obvious, it isn’t very safe.

After wandering about the local village and inadvertently running into a pitched and very noisy battle between a pack of village dogs and a troop of baboons we found a driver who was willing to accept a lower fee than that offered by the drivers in Aruba camp.  He showed us his Land Cruiser which looked perfectly up for the job and he asked, as it was just the two of us, whether he could bring his friend, a Masai herdsman who was a great game spotter. Perfect.

The safari was awesome and lived up to all our expectations and more. We drove with hundreds and thousands of wildebeest and zebras which could be seen as far as the eye could see. The plains were spectacular, surprisingly lush green in colour and teeming with life. It is real “Lion King” country and must have influenced the animators of the movie with the scenery and atmosphere. I really liked the Kudu and Eland antelopes which were in huge numbers and looked very shiny and healthy.

Stopping off for lunch in Kenya with other bikers from Jungle Junction

It was very muddy on some of the trails

We literally ran into this lioness that was sleeping under a bush

P1010991

What a strange creature.

My bike with an extra 20 liters of petrol in a battery acid drum I found in Nairobi. This provides about 280- 350 kilometers depending on how fast and in what conditions we are riding. I’ll admit, not the safest way and if I had the money I would have invested in the after market 45 liter tanks for both bikes. That said it worked.

Lots of mud and puddles. The great migration follows the rains and now these rains and the lush grasslands was in Kenya

Our camp site at the gate of the Masai Mara game reserve. Tea anyone?

Some of the Wildebeest that often stretched out as far as the eye could see. Definitely something to see on life’s bucket list.

Me

I believe this is now called a “selfie” … a horrible new word that sprang up while we were on the road.

Good fun on the dirt roads

A cheetah lolloping along …. one of my favourite animals and the fastest mammal on the planet.

Our campsite and a fire ready to be lit when the sun goes down

Fanny and our Masai guide in front of dozens of hippos in the river

Going for a game drive and crossing one of many water ditches left by the rains

Beautiful antelope

There were lots of very well fed lions … not surprising given the huge number of game everywhere

.

Fanny was really taken with the warthogs and how they ran along with their tails up like aerials with the babies following behind in single file.  We followed a mother warthog and her babies into the bush and were surprised when they suddenly doubled back towards us in alarm. We immediately saw why. They had literally run into a lioness and roused her from her sleep under a bush. She seemed a bit put out by this and was looking left and right in a confused manner as if dinner had just landed on her plate and then disappeared.

We looked at the lioness for a while and she looked back at us and then we reversed away and immediately got a puncture. Fanny and I looked at each other with amusement and with a little bit of apprehension, ‘Now what?’  We were a little surprised when our Masai guide jumped out the vehicle right next to the lioness, kicked the tyre, muttered something in Swahili, threw at rock at the lioness and then asked us (from our lookout on the roof of the Land Cruiser) to keep an eye out for her mates while they changed the wheel.

A bit of fun and drama added to the tour, after which we carried on, spotting cheetahs, buffalos, hippos, giraffes, eagles, vultures, jackals, and of course thousands and thousands of wildebeest and zebras.

There was a leopard up a tree across a river, but there had been a lot of rain and it was flooded and we couldn’t get across the swollen river to get a better look. The high waters also took a few human victims and on several occasions we rescued fellow tourists who were stranded in their two wheel game mini buses in the middle of rivers, their occupants looking anxiously and nervously out of the windows.

I think it was one of the best game drives I had been on. Our driver and guide were great fun and very knowledgeable, we were at the right place at the right time to see the great migration and the weather was kind to us. We got up early the next day, abandoned Jose and Moa to get their bike transported back to Jungle Junction, to get repaired yet again and we headed off along  Masai herdsmen trails and across the vast grasslands and bush back towards the human settlement and detritus of Nairobi.

Fanny was going from strength to strength and at one stage we rode off road together with thousands of running wildebeest twisting and turning like a large flock of birds. We decided to stay off the dreadful road as much as possible and followed trails inaccessible to cars and four wheeled vehicles through village after village and across lush mountain pastures, navigating through zebras, antelope and Masai domestic cattle and goats.

Fanny and I on a game drive in the park

The things you see. Fascinating.  Here a western hemisphere Homo Sapien family in a two wheel drive minibus getting stuck in a mud pool … also being watched by local Masai herdsmen and, for all we knew, some predators.

Two lionesses and about seven lion cubs “lion” in the sunshine

Buffalo … one of the most dangerous animals you can encounter in the Africa bush.

This cheetah tried to catch some prey and failed and so it has slumped down on the grass panting. It seemed unconcerned when we approach it

Its difficult to get a feel of the place from a picture, but we rode for hundreds of kilometers along mud/gravel roads like this in the bush

You have to keep your eye out. There are three cheetahs near this tree

Fanny getting to grips with riding the KTM on mud and across streams and ditches

Fanny in the Masai Mara among zebras and wildebeest

Fanny in the Masai Mara among zebras and wildebeest (background). Love this picture.

More meat …..

Fanny tucking into a kilo of chomba

.

We decided on a second helping of chomba for lunch when we got to the first town and then carried on through the Rift Valley plains that were churning with dust devils and mini tornadoes in the early afternoon heat. We had been lucky with the weather so far, but as we ascended the great escarpment the sky turned black, the heavens opened and we got truly soaked.

When we got back to Jungle Junction we learned that our passports, which we had to courier to Beijing for Fanny, and to London for me in order to get Ethiopian visas had not returned yet. Always a worry being in a foreign country without your passports. But no choice. The tyres, however, were en route and the next day I went to Nairobi International airport to get them.

I knew they were being held by customs and I was prepared for some hassle and delays and to part with some cash to release them and that is what I got. Five hours faffing about filling in forms, explaining to officials, pleading that the tyres were not being imported permanently, and negotiating with whom I should part with cash and how much. Eventually I was taken into a warehouse where two boxes were opened up. Like a parent who gets red headed baby, I nearly fell off my perch when they came out. Not only were the tyres not the Continentals we ordered and needed, they were the sort of tyres unsuited for anything but driving on tar roads and we had the worst roads just ahead of us.

DIS AHHHHHHH POINTED!

Extremely annoyed and frustrated, I paid the duties and custom fees for the unwanted tyres and returned through the crazy traffic of Nairobi city centre directly to KTM.  They said they were experts at fitting tyres and I was very much hoping I could exchange these tyres for anything remotely off road orientated.

Soon after I arrived at the KTM garage Fanny joined me, having ridden solo through the city, and we pleaded with the KTM Nairobi staff to part exchange the unwanted road tyres for anything with a tread.  They refused, and so I had no choice but to buy whatever tyres they had in stock that fitted our wheels. Despite going against Adam’s recommendation, I bought Pirelli MT/21s for the front and fitted the standard Pirelli Scorpions MT/90s to the rear. A wise choice as it happened and despite everything a bit of luck.

Sadly, in the process of fitting these new tyres, KTM did a Friday afternoon job (which it was) and scorched and scratched all our black wheel rims in the process. So much for the professional tyre fitting service KTM Nairobi promised. I would have done better myself with three kitchen spoons, a blind fold and a bowl of soapy water in the bush. Later I would become very accomplished at tyre fitting and puncture repairs in BFNW, but now I was just plain annoyed at their incompetence. As the adage goes… if you want a job done properly ….. !!

I remembered the Long Way Round series and the guys getting let down by KTM back in 2004 and it seemed they still haven’t learnt about increasing their market share of adventure motorcycling by supporting their customers. BMW have decent enough adventure motorcycles, not as good as KTM to my mind, but where BMW excel themselves is in after sales support. KTM? Could do better… says the school report.

The reality is following the “Long Way…” expeditions, that the BMW R1200GS is now the all time best selling bike – ever -, having sold half a million in the last few years. Ducati, Benelli, Aprilia, Yamaha and Triumph are also pushing hard in the growing adventure bike space and I really hope KTM will not only make 650, 800, 1000 and 1200cc adventure bike versions, but think carefully about their marketing, brand image and after sales service.  BMW definitely have a lead on KTM in this respect.  We intend to go to the KTM factory in Austria next year and I am wondering if there will be any interest in our feedback (post note from May 2013 Post note….the new KTM 1190 Adventure and R version are looking like awesome globe trotting machines, as for KTM marketing and after sales service we wait and hope.

Anyway, I lugged the unwanted tyres back to Jungle Junction teetering in a tower on the back of my bike, together with the old front tyres which still had a few thousand kilometers left and so they were salvaged for use by other adventurers whose 21 inch front tyres might be even worse. I told our sorry story to Chris Handschuh and he didn’t sound surprised.  He very kindly offered to buy the Dunlop road tyres sent erroneously from South Africa and we kindly accepted. Chris had earlier offered to fit the tyres for us and I wish we had had the BMW Nairobi guy do the job rather than KTM Nairobi. We contacted KR Motorcycle (Pte) Ltd in Polokwane who sold the wrong tyres to Fanny’s elderly aunt, but they were uninterested and unapologetic.  Like a lot of sales and business people I have encountered in South Africa they couldn’t really give a damn once they had relieved you of your cash. Or in this case Fanny’s aunt.  Mei banfa, you zhe yang zao gau de Nanfei shengyi ren.

We were still waiting for our passport to be sent back with Ethiopian visas via an agency (www.VisaHQ.co.uk). The reason why we had to take the risky option of sending our passports out of a foreign country back to the capital cities of our respective countries was that the Ethiopian High Commission in Nairobi refused to issue visas to anyone except Kenyan citizens and residents and our attempts at persuading them otherwise were unsuccessful. We attempted to get support from the British and Chinese Embassies in Nairobi, but they were both uninterested to help us.

The British officials were truly disappointing and unhelpful.  They wanted eighty pounds just to issue a standard verification letter … a letter you can print off the internet for free and which is actually of limited value.  “One should of got one’s visa in London, shouldn’t one?”, I was told with a sniff.  “Well one has ridden one’s motorcycle from South Africa hasn’t one”, I replied, but already Ponsenby-Smythe or whoever had turned on his heels and gawn. Clearly under achieving British diplomats were sentenced to Nairobi in much the same way as sheep thieves used to be sent to Australia.

The Chinese officials at the embassy in Nairobi were equally as unhelpful, in fact worse.  I find British officials are rarely corrupt….at their worst just they are just snooty and gormless. However, at the Chinese embassy we were dealt with (unusually I might add) a particularly corrupt, repulsive and nasty individual who made it clear we would have to part with a lot of cash to get him to do anything… that I would describe as “consular”.  Ta zhen shi yi ge shabi  – not a phrase I learnt at Tsinghua University I might add, but an accurate description of Mr. Fubai.  Luckily the letter we got from the very supportive and professional Chinese Consul General in Cape Town, the lovely Ms Li Li Bei, was very useful and this allowed Fanny, and strangely also myself, to successfully apply for our Sudanese visas there in Nairobi.

We later heard that some people found a stamp maker who made up Kenyan resident chops for their passports, with which they successfully applied for visas from Nairobi. Given my previous profession I am not a big fan of forgery, but nonetheless marveled at this ingenuity. Being long time adventure travelers, these (lets just call them resourceful travelers) advised me that one should always carry a date stamp and an old coin to make up official looking entry and carnet de passage stamps when traveling through third world countries with ridiculous red tape and unreasonable procedures. Necessity prevails I suppose.

Jose and Noa off again on their repaired BMW… Via con Dios

Fanny cooking our dinner on the fire

Fanny horse riding in foothills of Mount Kenya

Our camp in lush fields at Mountain Rock on the equator near Nanyuki

Our friends from South Africa camped up in their safari caravans

The famous “Wobbel” from Holland … been around the world

Fellow creatures who shared our camping filed...

Fellow creatures who shared our camping field…

A peaceful place to live right on the equator

A peaceful place to live right on the equator

.

While we were mooching about waiting,  Fanny had started doing something I had never seen her do before. Cook. In China, where we normally live and work, great food is found everywhere, is absolutely delicious and is cheap. There is no point cooking in a city like Shanghai, nor indeed Hong Kong or Beijing.  Fanny subjected not only me to her experiments, but also any other hungry lost souls at Jungle Junction. In fact she got very good and said she thoroughly enjoyed cooking, which was a good thing because we were going to have to do more of it later on.

Whilst on one of her shopping expeditions to “Nakumatt”, the ubiquitous supermarket chain found throughout Kenya, Fanny bumped into our friends from Cape Town, George and Alice.  We first met them in Malawi when they rescued us by giving us some fuel and then later in Tanzania. After catching up over coffee, they invited us for a barbeque with them at their nearby campsite, Karen Lodge and we braved the awful traffic in the dark and rode over. Riding at night is a big “No No” and I was repeatedly alarmed along the way at three abreast sets of headlights coming straight towards us. One vehicle in the lane it should be in, one in my lane and the other on the verge that I really needed to swerve off onto.  Having miraculously made it to the camp it was with great relief when George kindly paid for us to stay at the lodge overnight, which also meant we could have a few toots together and ride back in the daylight, soberish.

Thank you, George.

George and Alice having finally woken up at camp 2 on Mount Kenya. I had already climbed to the summit early that morning and was now on way back to camp site as I was cold and wet and not keen to hang around.

Mountain Rock … our camp. I seem to be mincing about … unintentionally of course.

Climbing Mount Kenya

.

The next day we bumped into several British guys who had been driving a German fire engine from Cape Town, but had given up on their intended destination in Germany because of worries about safety, visas, quality of roads, and how to cross from Egypt to Europe. The same challenges everyone has I thought. The fire truck had originally been driven down to Cape Town for the World Cup in 2010 by some young Germans and now five out of the six British guys, all in their sixties, had thrown in the towel… much too early in the view of George and myself. All that was needed was for two mechanically minded and adventurous Brits to fly down to Nairobi and join the remaining chap to carry on what would have been an awesome adventure. Takes all sorts I guess, but what a missed opportunity.

Fanny’s passport arrived back from China with a month long visa for Ethiopia that had already started on date of issue in Beijing, but mine was still missing. Fanny had got a Control Risk colleague of hers, Brenda (she was also an ex-colleague of mine from Downhill & Associates days) to help her in Beijing, but I had no one willing or able to help me in London, my family are useless, friends too idle etc.. and so I had to use a visa agency called Visa HQ.  However, because of weekends and UK public holidays I could not contact them until the following Tuesday and when my passport was eventually tracked down it had been found to have been placed in the safe at Jungle Junction the previous week, having been addressed to a female who once stayed at Jungle Junction a year ago and must have been on the Visa HQ database at the same address.

Anyway, we had the bikes serviced (sort of), had new tyres (sort of) and had our visas (eventually) and so we could not wait to get away as we had stayed in Nairobi far too long. Our plans to go to Lake Turkana and Omo Valley were scuppered by having the wrong tyres and by reports of heavy rains which had turned the trails into streams and mud. In fact, we had been advised against this route by several locals, including Chris who said we would also struggle with fuel. That said, in retrospect I wish we had taken this remote and interesting route and just “gone for it”.

We heard our Dutch friends, Paul and Marja aboard their Mercedes truck/mobile home, the “Wobbel” were going to head north to Moyale via Mount Kenya and they had offered to carry some of our kit for us to lighten our load and also carry some extra petrol in proper Jerry cans.  Paul and Marja and the “Wobbel” had been on the road for two and a half years and already driven through the Sahara and southwards through the west of Africa. Nothing seemed to faze them and they were in no hurry and so they seemed the perfect team to travel with.

I told George and Alice (www.macsinafrica.com) that I would consider climbing Mount Kenya with them provided I could find some suitable clothes, a pair of boots and that it was not too expensive. Fanny had absolutely no intention of getting wet and cold, nor paying good money for the privilege of doing so. She decided to relax and guard the camp.

I was delighted to be escaping from Nairobi and its grubbiness, dust and road diversions and we were soon climbing up into the foothills of Mount Kenya and back into lush African bush. In fact, we were in lush rain forest as we had now reached the Equator.

We decided to set up camp at a beautiful lodge, “Mountain Rock” near the town of Nanyuki where the British Army have a base and prepare for operations in Afghanistan and train the UK special forces in rock climbing and whatever else they do.

Nanyuki is also notable for two other reasons: firstly, the equator passes through it; and secondly, every sign or name of business has a religious connotation. Shops have weird names like the “Blood of Christ Auto Repair”, or the “The Lord is Merciful butchers” .  It seems if you want to make money in Africa you are either a mobile phone operator or a Christian church.

When we got to Mountain Rock, Paul, Marja and the “Wobbel” were already in residence on a green pasture next to the river. So too were the South African off road caravaning club: George and Alice from Cape Town; and Steve and Paula, the Brits from Durban. There did not appear to be anyone else, except for a troop of baboons, including an alpha male that had been spray painted blue and had a bell around its neck. This sentence was imposed upon him because he was repeatedly convicted of stealing and fighting and had lost on appeal.

There was also a large troop of black and white Colobus monkeys in the trees; an assortment of frogs that produced a cacophony of warbles, croaks, clicks and burps and often got blamed for repeated farting noises; a herd of cattle, the bulls of which would often ruck and jostle into our tent; a flock of sheep /goatie things, an eerie of eagles, a river full of brown trout and several termite mounds of ground sheet eating insects.

We put up our tent very wisely on a small mound as each afternoon it would rain very heavily and flood the pasture and leave a small island on which our tent was pitched. After the down pour the water would drain away quickly, the sun would come out and it would be very pleasant again. Occasionally the river looked like it was going to burst its banks and wash us away. It was evident that it had done so in the past, but we were assured by the lodge staff a lot more rain would be needed before we would float down river in our Vaude Mk II tent. Nevertheless, Steve and I set up marker sticks in the bank which we monitored like hawks.  I also made a large and impressive fire that lasted the whole six days we were camped up, often bringing it back to life after the heavy rain with a cup full of Kenyan petrol mix.

Nanyuki … equator

Our campsite was also home to sheep, goats, horses, cows, daft clumsy bulls, and thieving baboons and colobus monkeys… among others

.

Trout restaurant up a tree above trout pools and rivers in Nanyuki

.

Despite me being less than enthusiastic, George seemed very intent that I should join them on their climb up to the peak of Mount Kenya and had arranged with some local guides for a five day hike. I met the chief guide, Joseph, a former Kenyan Olympic boxer, at Nanyuki. My attempts to talk my way out of the ill fated expedition by claiming lack of kit were countered by being coerced to hire a very well worn pair of Hi-Tech size 12 boots and a Chinese made day backpack. George maintained that my motorcycle jacket would be more than adequate to keep me warm and so I was set up to climb a 5,000 meter mountain on the equator with snow on the summit. Mount Kenya is just a few meters shy of its more famous brother, Mount Kilimanjaro.

I couldn’t help remembering my last snowy hike early in the year with Andrea and Gary Corbett on Kinder Scout near their home in High Peak, Derbyshire and the very professional kit I borrowed from them that kept me warm, dry and cheerful. There is no bad weather, just bad clothing was their mantra. The same when I hiked Snowdonia the previous year with my old Metropolitan police colleague and good friend, Alan Jones.

Both the Corbetts and Alan Jones were ex-mountain rescue team members for their respective areas and kit freaks with the very best togs.  I also remember paragliding off the summit of Mont Blanc in Chamonix many years ago and being very ill from altitude sickness on the way up. I was decidedly unprepared and under equipped for this expedition and a little apprehensive, but as always up for doing something new and a challenge.

The beginning of day one did bode well. The mini bus taking us to the Mount Kenya park entrance got stuck in deep mud and after forty minutes of rocking the van to and fro it continued on its bone shaking and bumpy ride before dumping George, Alice, myself and several porters at the start of the hike. After 10 steps in my hired boots I realized that the seams were cutting into my heel and so I repaired them with the remainder of the duct tape that had not been used on Fanny’s bike.

I was also a little uneasy about the porter’s bags which were to carry all the provisions to various camps … plastic shopping bags!  Lack of professional kit aside, we started off and I remember from ‘O’ level geography that Mount Kenya is wet and has very different types of vegetation and climate as you ascend. At the base there was tropical rain forest and it rained. Half way up it was very boggy with large cabbage-like plants everywhere and it rained. The last bit to the peak was steep, icy and snow covered rock and bitterly cold.  Nevertheless, each stage was quite interesting. The rain forest section had huge deciduous hardwood trees and bamboo forests and was home to various animals such as elephant, buffalo, leopard and monkeys.

I found the going a bit slow and so I abandoned George and Alice and teamed up with a young racing snake porter called Stephen, a 6 foot 6 inch university student who was earning money portering during his holidays to pay for his college fees. Later I found out he was born and brought up on a small farm by his elderly grandmother at 3,600 meters. His tolerance to altitude and the fact he was 30 years younger than me kept me on my toes, but even so I was huffing and puffing like a fat chick at a cup cake sale.

The lower levels of Mount Kenya

Unloading the kit

Rain forest and jungle in foothills of Mount Kenya

Looking chirpy at 1st base camp

A bit bleak.. and very cold and damp. My clothes and boots were soaking wet the whole time

Camp 1... damp and cold and a bit bleak

Camp 1… Old Moses

.

The first camp, called Old Moses was at 3,300 meters and was bleak. There was no electricity, no heating or fire, basic bunk beds, and it was perpetually cold and damp.

The only place even more miserable was the next camp further up called Shipton camp. At 4,200 meters it was as bleak as Old Moses, just colder and even damper. As I raced there too quickly I had to hang about in freezing cold and wet clothes with nothing to do and no way to get warm. Fires were banned outside and the only wood from the big cabbage trees was toxic.. allegedly. One of the guides suggested I hang my wet clothes up and after 6 hours they were just as wet, only colder. I smelled pretty badly and had no choice other than to have an icy shower of the smelly parts and put on the only semi dry things I had left which made me look rather odd.

I decided I was too cold and miserable to acclimatize to the altitude and would move forward my plans, ascend the peak at 3 am the next morning and then leg it in my damp clothes 55 kilometers back to the gate…all in the same day.

At 2 am I woke up, had some coffee without milk (because milk makes you more nauseous at altitude), stuffed some biscuits in my face and some in my pocket and put on my uncomfortably damp clothes and got on with the ascent with Stephen. He was promoted from porter to guide as it would be me who carried the rucksack and it was Stephen who knew the way. It was pitch black and fortunately all I could see when I climbed was a circle of light from my Chinese made head torch which illuminated about 2 meters in diameter and nothing else.

I was going well but as we started to climb the rocky bits near the top I had to walk 10 steps and then stop for 10 seconds to catch my breath and then start again. I got to the peak well before anyone else in less than two hours and sat huddled in my motorcycle jacket with my sleeping bag liner as a scarf with frozen solid boots and numb nuts wishing the time away for the sun to rise.

I tried to take some pictures of the summit but my fingers would not operate the camera controls and I put them quickly back in my winter bike gloves where the feeling came back several hours later. As soon as there was a glimmer of light on the horizon I agreed with Stephen that as we were freezing we should go and so we hurtled off back down the peak passing people still ascending.  A few asked me, ‘Aren’t you waiting for the sunrise?’

‘No’, I chattered inaudibly with my sleeping bag liner wrapped around me like a scarf.

very interesting flora and fauna on the mountain side. I remember studying about how the vegetation and soils changed on Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya when studying geography... and now I was experiencing it for myself

very interesting flora and fauna on the mountain side. I remember studying about how the vegetation and soils changed on Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya when studying geography… and now I was experiencing it for myself

Believe it or not... this is the elephants closest relative

Believe it or not… this is the elephants closest relative

Camp 2 … improvising with whatever clothes I can find.

Strange large cabbage plants on the slopes of the mountain

A strange world up there

The summit .. at 4.30 am…. really really cold on the equator

Frosty and cold… using my sleeping bag liner as a scarf

Stephen…my racing snake guide to the summit…

Mount Kenya … on way down from the summit

Someone else’s boots … don’t quite fit, seen much better days and now soaking wet

Not a bad view though

 

Josef .. my chief guide and owner of safari company …If anyone is looking for a great guide in Kenya or Tanzania give Joseph a call. +254722853625 (www.josesafaris.com)

The summit of Mount Kenya ... first ones of the day (early morning) and I am bitterly cold.

The summit of Mount Kenya … first people of the day (early morning) and I am bitterly cold.

.

We got down very quickly, trotting down the paths like fell runners and I was back at Shipton camp before it was properly light. I did manage to get a few pictures coming down and was grateful I could not see the sheer cliff drops on the way up.

Back at camp George and Alice were still asleep in their maggots and so I decided to wake them and tell them of my revised plan to get off the mountain as quickly as possible as all my clothes were wet, I was freezing cold, nauseous from the altitude and generally miserable and grumpy.

George, clearly pleased that I had woken him, said, ‘What about the hotel on the other side?’

‘I’m afraid I’ll miss it…. you guys enjoy it’, I replied ‘I have to keep moving, see you back at the camp’

Joseph, the head guide said that I was a bull elephant, a compliment I think and congratulated me on my quick ascent and gave me some encouragement for the hike back, not that I needed much to get off that damned cold mountain.

I tried to eat some breakfast with the others but felt sick and so after a swig of something hot I motored solo back along the boggy paths, across the streams and lose rocks, up and down valleys and ridges, passing miserable Old Moses camp and back down through the rain forest to the park gate.

Having started the yomp at 2 am, ascended the peak of Mount Kenya and hoofed it all the way down I got back to Nanyuki town by mid afternoon. A real mountain marathon of about 55 kilometers.

I was still wet, but felt much warmer and after a coffee and a cake I returned the remains of my boots to Stephen, gave him as handsome a tip as I could afford and then discovered that nobody was at the camp. Never mind I thought, I will have a warm shower, but alas no, the fire under the boiler had not been lit yet.  Dooh!

When Fanny and the others returned to Mountain Rock an hour or so later they were surprised to see me as I was not expected for another 72 hours, or it might have been that I was completely naked. Either way there was a lot of commotion. I was very glad to be back and eventually did get a hot shower, a change into dry clothes, a warm by the fire, but still had a headache of note.

Fanny broke the bad news that while I was away the baboons had raided our tent and eaten all the Paracetamol, a tube of Germolene antiseptic cream, all my vitamins, including a packet of cod liver oil tablets and some of Fanny’s face cream.

If that’s not enough to turn your fur blue I don’t know what is.  The damp and cold of Mount Kenya had also helped give me a very bad chest infection and luckily our neighbour, Paula Thomas from Durban had some very good antibiotics that cleared it up in a few days. She also added that the tablets will clear up any venereal diseases I may have. So that was good.

The remainder of our time at Mountain Rock was spent preparing for the most difficult bit of our trip, the road to Moyale. Steve Thomas had been working hard making us a fuel filter out of a Milton disinfectant bottle, a washer made out of an inner tube and an old Lister petrol filter he found in town.

This piece of improvisation was to prove an extremely important aid to our expedition as I could now filter all the fuel before it went into the petrol tanks. The design of the KTM 990 Adventure does not allow for additional filters to be placed along the fuel line and my earlier attempts to make funnel filters out of stockings, gauze, socks and anything else were rather disappointing.  I also managed to source several bottles of octane booster and some bottles of injector cleaner. zhong zai yu fang.

Fanny Craddock, now an expert with a fire and pan was preparing our food and provisions for the next few weeks in the middle of nowhere. Noodles with veggies, noodles with meat, noodles with ginger nut biscuits, and noodles with noodles. We did take a break from Fanny’s mian tiao and went to a nearby restaurant called “Trout Tree Farm”.  So called because all they served was trout from their farm which you ate in the dining area up a huge tree with views of the surrounding trout lakes and the rain forest full of Colobus monkeys.

This would be the last larnie place we would enjoy for a long while and two days later Fanny and I set off towards north Kenya. For the first 280 kilometers the road was perfectly built Chinese tarmac, weaving through stunning mountain scenery not unlike remote parts of Namibia. The weather also got warmer as we descended from the foothills of Mount Kenya, the bikes were handling really well with the knobbly Pirelli MT21 Rallycross on the front whistling slightly on the tar. Then suddenly the road turned from perfect tarmac to dreadfully corrugated mud and stones as we entered a very African looking village with people wearing very colourful tribal clothes and jewelry . It was here where we saw the Wobbel again and were greeted by Paul and Marja.

While I am climbing, Fanny is looking after the camp

While I am climbing, Fanny is looking after the camp with Paul and Marja.

Hiking with my guide up to camp 2

Hiking with my guide up to camp 2.. these guys have a tough job

The Summit, which I had just descended and was now hiking back down to Nanyuki

The craggy summit, which I had just descended and was now hiking all the way back down to Nanyuki

Back down… I  jogged down mostly by myself. All in all about 14 hours solid hike to the summit and back down again to Nanyuki and our camp

you looking at me?

The making of the Steve Thomas petrol filter

The making of the invaluable petrol filter. Someone needs to manufacture a really good one for adventure travelers.  I would even invest myself if someone could make a 100% efficient filter that could take out water, grit, and dust

The making of the invaluable petrol filter. Someone needs to manufacture a really good one for adventure travelers. I would even invest myself if someone could make a 100% efficient filter that could take out water, grit, and dust

The "Steve Thomas" petrol filter ... it worked really well.

The “Steve Thomas” petrol filter … it worked really well.

Steve repairing our mud guards that had been been badly bashed on both our bikes… getting ready for rocky roads to Moyale at Ethiopia border

Paul and Marja and Fanny … last stop before venturing into the wilderness of north Kenya

Fanny and Marja

Fanny and Marja having a last tab before we set off…

Bikes just before we set off towards Moyale

Bikes and The Wobbel just before we set off towards Moyale

.

Paul and Marja had already gone ahead of us in the “Wobbel” with our extra fuel and water. They had bush camped the previous night while waiting for us and had got to know many of the people in the village already.

After we arrived we had some local food and prepared our bikes. One of the prudent measures was to reduce the weight of our bikes as much as possible and since we were camping each night with Paul and Marja we decided to take off our metal panniers and store them inside the Wobbel. The panniers and bags would have caused even more wear and tear on the bikes as they bounced and crashed along the corrugations and rocky road surface.

I guess we could have carried them but there was no need as for the next three days we would be traveling, or at least camping with our Dutch friends and could therefore take advantage of their assistance off-loading some of the weight. We then pointed north and tried to keep just ahead of the Wobbel (the globe trotting Mercedes bread van) and set off at the racing speed of 25-30 kph and sometimes were reduced to even slower as we tackled a surface that looked more like a dry river bed strewn with rocks and sand than a road.

Fanny was doing really well until she hit a bank of sand and went completely out of control, narrowly missing one of the few trees we saw for the next 500 kilometers. During the crash her windscreen and mirrors came off and we decided that from then on “Stella” should be ridden topless for the remainder of the Moyale road section as it would be cooler and safer and I couldn’t be bothered to put it back on again.

I had to admit that the riding was tough and I was nervous the violent shaking was dismantling the bikes to their component parts and perhaps even smaller. On my own I could perhaps ride very much faster along the corrugations and hit the sweet spot where you glide over them, but doing so presented a risk of seriously damaging the bike when eventually the front wheel would clang against a sharp rock sticking out of the road, possibly throwing me off, and possibly damaging the wheel rim and tyre walls. We had seen a KTM 990 Adventure ridden by an Australian who said he had done the whole section in a day at over 100 kphs, but despite his undoubted riding skills his bike was severely damaged due to several serious falls and his tyres? Well they were completely shredded and in all had lasted less than 2000 kilometers. Nope. Slow and steady was the name of the game and I had to get Fanny and her bike from one side to the other intact and look after our bikes until the next service in Egypt, and potentially another set of tyres in Europe.

Fanny had one more fall in deep sand and the bike went over the edge of an embankment and was incredibly difficult to get back up the sandy bank again. With a huge amount of effort the bike was manhandled back up the bank and righted. Those KTMs are tough bikes and so is Fanny. She dusted herself down, got back on the bike and we carried on.

Sometimes I would ride with earplugs in to drown out the racket of wind and other worrisome sounds caused by being thrown about on rocks. Rocks would constantly “dink” off the belly plate, wheel rims and frame.  Often hitting our footpegs and boots with clunks and pings.  Other times, I would listen to my Chinese lessons or music. Joy Division, New Order, UB 40 and Faithless would be common albums, sometimes the Tiesto podcasts and sometimes Vivaldi and Albinoni, although the latter classical music would often make me ride too fast and not concentrate as carefully as I should.

I reckon 99% of all motorcycle riders would really struggle on this road for so many days in the blistering heat and unrelenting dust. Not to mention shy away from riding through an area where there is a real risk of bandits shooting you.  Only a few days later when we reached Addis Ababa did we see the news on the TV that a British tourist had been shot dead and his wife kidnapped in north Kenya by Somali thugs, not too far from where we had been riding.

sandy gravel roads … not so bad

Marsabit

Up on the pegs all day …. I loved it. Tiring on the wrists though

Fanny … you have a very dirty face. Where have you been?

The Wobbel gets a puncture so I ride back to them to help them fix it… but Paul and Marja are experts and have spare on by time I get back

Meeting the locals

Shake, rattle and roll

Iconic picture of Fanny in the middle of nowhere… very gnarly road.. lots of rocks. Wonderful, actually.

video 3

KTM 990 Adventure in its element. Still taken from the wobbel of us on the go. We didn’t go fast and we never got a puncture… unlike everyone else.

video shot

Scooting along

Scooting along

sandy bit of road

Fanny and the Wobbel on a sandy bit of road

The bikes were superb … I could have ridden at 100 kph… How long I would have stayed at 100 kph is another matter. Lots of rocks to knock you off or clang the rims. So we took it steady at 40-60kph.

Me coming back to look for Paul and Marja who had had a puncture.  very barren and rocky stretch of road

Me coming back to look for Paul and Marja who had had a puncture. very barren and rocky stretch of road

We would pass or come across these trucks with livestock in the back and people perched up on top .  Sometimes we would see them repairing punctures somewhere along the 450 kilometers of rocks and sand and gravel. The roads were awful and most vehicles got at least one or two punctures along the way.

Eat my dust

.

.

When it got to about five O’clock each day and we still had an hour of daylight we started to look for a place to camp. As we had started late the first day we did not get as far as Marsabit as we originally intended and so as we entered a small village we decided to ask the local police if we could camp on their grounds and they agreed. Fanny and I were absolutely filthy but we dusted ourselves down as best we could, put up the tent, and then had a very welcome cold beer with Paul and Marja whose 15 second camping preparations extend only to putting their table and chairs outside so they can crack open a beer.

Marja cooked a delicious Indonesian style meal and Paul and I later took a bottle of whiskey over to the police station to express our gratitude and numb the aches and pains with our new neighbours.

The village was interesting in a “never seen it before” sort of way, but this particular village was blessed with more than one idiot. In fact it had three who would not leave us alone as we prepared our bikes and tents for the night and bounded about like the Michael Palin character in the movie, “Life of Brian”. They did this for hours and despite threatening to shoot them with my catapult, electrocute them with our zapper or pepper spray them they just carried on jumping about saying daft and annoying things until one of the police officers came up and threatened to shoot them. I could really do with a Kenyan police issue AK47.

The next day we packed up, had a look around the sprawling scruffy village for anything that looked like food, but there wasn’t any and so we had some of our supplies and got going again.  The unrelenting road continued from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm with half an hour break in the dusty and slightly threatening town of Marsabit. A sort of half way point. We had a very welcome lunch, refueled our bikes and got some water for the days ahead. The only hassle we had was from a “chancer” who tried to charge us for stopping in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have to tell him what to do, Paul and Marja did a good job of expressing what we all thought of his entrepreneurial parking fee business plan. We had originally intended to camp in Marsabit as there is actually a game farm and a good place to stay, but we had arrived there far too early given the previous days delays and so we carried on.

The scenery on the route, I expect, was absolutely stunning, but I could rarely take my eye off the road, such was the concentration needed where we had to fight every meter standing on the foot pegs absorbing none stop shaking and rattling and twisting. Occasionally we would power the bike through mounds of gravel and huge sand pits with the back wheel snaking about violently. Huge sharp rocks would often threaten to puncture our tyres and did so on two occasions to Paul and Marja’s Wobbel, in addition to a number of trucks and buses we saw changing wheels in the middle of nowhere. At one stage in a very remote and barren section of the road that looked like an alien planet the Wobbel went missing and I elected to ride back to find them. 

As I cruised back the way we had come about 5 or so kilometers I could see the stricken wobbel, starkly contrasting against the surrounding nothingness in a sea of fuzzy heat haze in the rocky desert. As I got nearer I could see Paul bent over the rear wheel mending a puncture and Marja videoing taping me riding back towards them. They didn’t actually need any help as they were experts at mending punctures, but the incident allowed us to get some rare video footage of me riding in this amazing bit of the planet.

http://youtu.be/IkGSkKAwtxQ

As they were perfectly alright and having a beer while the tyre inflated with a very slow and pump I decided I better ride back and make sure Fanny was OK and having ridden the same rocky stretch of the road to Moyale for the third time in the day I saw her and her KTM far up ahead in the heat haze, completely surrounded by a vast expanse of desert and looking every bit the quintessential round the world adventure motorcycle rider. Covered in dust and sitting by the side of the road having a tab she looked the part and I was very proud of her. She was doing fine. In fact, like me she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

This stretch of road was very isolated and we passed though a massive desert of strange and rather hostile looking volcanic black rocks embedded in sand. As we got further on we occasionally had to avoid trucks charging down the road with livestock in the back and human passengers on the roof. These trucks created huge plumbs of dust behind them that lingered in the windless conditions. Despite the harsh road and challenging riding I managed to take quite a bit of video and a fair few photographs. On the whole I was relishing the challenge and really enjoyed riding a superb motorcycle in a location very few people know about, let alone venture to.

Our hydration packs were a God send and we both had to make a concerted effort to take small sips the whole time. We were both getting in the rhythm and again Fanny was riding really well and riding at just the right speed, taking it in turns with me to lead. It was difficult to choose the correct track on the road as all options were equally bad. One could fight the thick sand at the sides of the road or bash on through the rock fields, troughs and ridges. Any good track we decided to navigate along quickly petered out and we would then have to ride up over a sand bank or gnarly rock to find another.

As it got near to our “find a place to camp” time we entered a small village called Torbi where the road passed over a small mountain range and again we asked at the local police post if we could camp up for the night. Again they agreed. Unlike the previous police camp this one was amazing and located on the hill side with panoramic views across huge expanses of desert. It was Fanny’s turn to cook for everyone and both of us managed to get some water from the police station well and fashion an outdoor shower to wash off some of the grime and smell before we climbed into our tent and collapsed. We were at the exact site, (incidentally shown in the Long Way Down TV program), where dozens and dozens of little school children were massacred by “brave” African men with machine guns and machetes.  TAB….That’s Africa Baby

In the morning I had a chat with the outpost commander and shared a few police stories and watched the police officers doing their morning drill. As a former Royal Hong Kong Police Drill & Musketry Instructor I recognized that all the commands and drill movements were the same as those in Hong Kong, the link being that both were former British colonies. They did seem surprised that I knew the drill commands, but I resisted the temptation to bark out, ‘As you were’. We are very grateful to the hospitality shown to us by the police in Kenya.

Day three of the road to Moyale was more of the same, except that there were loads of camels everywhere and very remote African tribal people going about their business in the middle of seemingly nowhere wearing beaded collars with ornate piercings and colourful face paint. It was like something from the Discovery channel. I guess due to the remoteness and harsh conditions that things had not changed for centuries.

Again Fanny and I ploughed on, with the Wobbel following up behind us.  Another long day on the foot pegs and the webbing between my forefingers and thumbs were beginning to throb and ache quite badly. Fanny had been riding superbly and it proved the wise advise given by Leon from Country Trax that extreme off road riding is a mind game. My confidence in the ability of the KTMs was vindicated and despite the aches I was loving it.

By early afternoon we started climbing up into the mountains that separate Kenya from Ethiopia and we knew that our destination, Moyale was not too far away and indeed within an hour we started riding through the outskirts of a noticeably Islamic town.

When we got to the very busy centre of Moyale we seemed to be the only foreigners around. We didn’t want to draw attraction to ourselves while we waited for Paul and Marja to arrive at the border town, but being in the state we were in and on two dust covered huge motorcycles we could not anything but. Not that we cared much. We had made it and we both had a strong sense of cheng jiu gan and relief.

We had some local street food to eat and some fruit juice and then sat by the side of the road until we were reunited with the Wobbel as it wobbled up the road. Moyale spans the border and after some failed attempts to find a suitable and safe place to camp up, we decided to suffer the hassles of a late border crossing while fatigued and ride into Ethiopia.

Getting ready to camp in a small village

I take Fanny to all the best places… look at her happy face.

Marsabit … a bit of a wild west town

We saw lots of very interesting people and each tribe had ornate necklaces, or earrings, or discs in the lower lips…

Umm….

Scenery becoming a bit more sandy and mountainous

You can see Fanny’s tyre track meandering across the road to find the best route through the rocks and sand

Its like a moonscape … not that I’ve ever been to the moon. Lots of dust devils and whirly winds in the heat of the day. No vegetation at all for long stretches.

We camped at a Kenyan police post. Very kind and friendly officers

The police did drill in the morning … exactly the same orders and drill movements as the Royal Hong Kong Police in the day. British colonial legacy I suppose.

I prefer the traditional look … or perhaps a Chelsea beanie

Lots of camels as we got further north

“Hey Fanny… can you believe where we are??”

” You OK?” .. “Good, let’s gooooo”

Last camp with the Wobbel …. not far to Ethiopia now

My wonderful KTM

My wonderful KTM in north Kenya

We all made it….. a real sense of achievement

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Next chapter………..ETHIOPIA ….

.Stone throwing kids, rock hewn churches, Wims Holland Guesthouse, excitable aggressive people, Ethiopian New Year, coffee ceremonies, the biggest turd hole  in world (Addis Ababa), stunning mountain vistas, lush valleys, twisty mountain passes, bowls of  Tibis, Man U vs. Chelsea in a boisterous cinema, ticks & fleas, ‘ YOU YOU YOU, the catapult comes out the bag and is used in retaliation….