Chapter 15 – He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.

So… did we do Turkey for Christmas?  Alas No.

Syria and Libya were descending into civil war and chaos, all the ferries from Egypt had been cancelled, and Fanny was not allowed to ride or drive a vehicle in Saudi Arabia (not for being Chinese, but because she’s a woman!). 

Also, the prospects of motorcycling in Europe during the freezing cold winter were not particularly appealing to either of us and so we decided to stay in Dahab, a small and beautiful town in the Sinai on the west coast of the Gulf of Aqaba….at least until the end of February when, one way or the other, we would have to get our KTMs and ourselves across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe.

After a moderate amount of hassle and a few long detours to various government offices in El Tur, Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh and Nuweiba we extended both our Egyptian visas and our bike permits for a few more months.  This included Fanny, because she is a Chinese citizen, having to be interviewed by the head of the Sinai’s “Security Police”  which involved Fanny not being interviewed at all, and the Chief and I swapping police stories over tea in his office for several hours.

The force is strong, young globetrotter.

Whilst we were in “form filling” mood Fanny also managed to extend her British visa in Cairo and so Dahab with its sunny weather, reasonably cheap accommodation and Red Sea activity is where we slummed out Christmas, Chinese New Year and the worst of the northern hemisphere winter.

We also managed to extend our stay at our apartment at a fraction of what similar accommodation would have cost anywhere else in the world. We chose a German owned apartment as opposed to any Egyptian run place because Fanny is allergic to sewage coming out the shower head and being electrocuted by all the appliances. She’s fussy like that.

We also got our bikes serviced at the very impressive KTM service centre down in Sharm El Sheikh and they did an excellent job, although the bike service parts and oil are hard to come by in Egypt because of high import taxes and a loused up economy and so it was not cheap.

More details on all the technical stuff of our bikes and kit in the “Bikes and Equipment” page of this diary.

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Look Fanny ... mini pyramids

Look Fanny … mini pyramids

Fanny making friends as usual

Fanny making friends as usual

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right  next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our garden

Our garden

Riding around in the Sinai on our motorcycles

The Sinai desert is absolutely stunning, but locations near its human occupants are often dirty, scruffy and littered with human detritus, such as this abandoned tank… or is it an armored personnel carrier?

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Our home for the winter… Dahab… a narrow band of human development between the beautiful Red Sea and the bone dry red mountains of the Sinai

Attack of the goats

Christmas in Dahab.

Sunsets and sunrises were always spectacular times of the day

Fanny learning to windsurf

The KTM garage (background) and enduro race track in Sharm El Sheikh

The super staff at the KTM Centre in Sharm El Sheikh where we serviced our motorcycles.

Learning to dive with my very patient instructor,  Laura from H2O Divers

Laura and I preparing to dive – PADI Open water and Advanced Open water courses with H2O in Dahab. I was not particularly good at scuba diving as I suffer slightly from claustrophobia and thrash about too much and consume too much air. Later after many failed attempts to teach me to conserve air the dive masters gave up trying and decided to give me huge yellow air tanks… far larger than anyone else’s.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

http://www.h2odiversdahab.com/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-tJRZueVSU

So what have we been up to?  Well serious idling of course. When there was nothing on Fox Movies (the only English TV channel) and nothing to do to the bikes, we mooched about town chatting to people and wandering around.

Fanny became immersed in local life and community and was greeted with “ni hao?” where ever she went and occasionally “konnichiwa,” which she wasn’t so keen about. Through her Chinese websites she had become “our woman in Egypt” and was an unpaid ambassador and fixer for the increasing number of visiting Chinese to the Sinai peninsular.

 

I kept myself reasonably occupied and did manage to get my PADI Open water, and indeed Advanced Open water diving qualifications. Swimming with the marine life in the Red Sea is fascinating, unworldly even, but the real joy of diving is that you don’t have to listen to or talk with anyone for 50 minutes while you bob about underwater looking at seaslugs, coral and your depth gauge.

Fanny persevered and mastered windsurfing, but I abandoned learning to kite surf.

Whilst I am pretty good at handling and controlling kites and parafoils–through many years of paragliding I suppose–no amount of time was going to keep me upright on a wake board on top of the sea and I got fed up being dragged through the water inhaling plankton …and so I  jacked it in. A man’s gotta know his limits. My other activity was annoying the local police on my KTM as I cruised about in my standard Sinai biking configuration of flip flops and shorts, refusing to stop and refusing to pay bribes.

The incompetence of the local old bill was only matched by their colleagues in the ubiquitous Egyptian military.  How they must miss their despot dictator, but at least Mubarek told them which end of a falafel to start eating and stopped their incessant bickering.  Now they wander around like lost souls with only calls to prayer and loading their AK 47 rifle magazines to occupy them. Pointy ends forward, chaps.

As well as practicing my sand riding and off road motorcycling, I decided to get back into serious running mode, get fit and so found some amazing runs in the desert mountains that surround Dahab. The only fly in the ointment was that I became aware of a creature called the Burton’s Carpet Viper that makes its home in south Sinai.

Damn those Wikipedia people — I was quite happy in blissful ignorance.  Apparently, this evil viper is a monster of legend and is lurking in every nook and cranny and under every stone in the desert, poised to give anyone who crosses its path an agonising death.

If I am to believe the numerous emails from my friends and former colleagues in the Big 4 forensic accounting practices and consultancies around the planet this might be preferable to going back to work, but even so, evil vipers that one doesn’t share children with? It doesn’t bare thinking about.

Serious idling

Fanny windsurfing in the lagoon.

Back in Dahab

The view from our apartment in Dahab

Dogs and cats run amok in Dahab.. it’s a bit like Mui Wo on Lantau Island.

Moggy and I writing up this blog in our apartment in Dahab. How do you spell “kat”?

Look “Health and Safety” Brits… no green hi viz jacket and no safety goggles either.

A truly daft pose in the desert mountains (pic by Gary Corbett)

Lion fish … no touching

Going for an evening ride in the mountains …. and another wonderful evening sky in Dahab. The KTM 990 Adventure R is such a superb bike. They have taken us across Africa without any problems at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the interest of my continuing pursuit of Mandarin fluency, I continued to work on my Chinese everyday and wrote some rather basic articles for various magazines and websites which seemed to be appreciated by my three followers. Fanny was also very busy with articles for various publications and continued in her attempt to secure sponsorship to cover the pricey entry fees for both of us and our KTM bikes to enter into China, but times are tough and I suspect that the funding will never materialise. I am inclined to miss out riding into China and finish our trip in Europe unless Fanny achieves the impossible.  She is very determined though, has a following of more than three million people and has some influential people and Chinese PR companies on the case so you never know. (Note: we did ride 13,000 kilometers across China in the end .. but on CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles which were excellent)

Video links to China and Africa below-

http://youtu.be/XjPi7XJ9xdc

It seemed I was not the only Englishman to find refuge in Dahab during the winter months and we became close pals with two others.  One a retired and rather smashed up former 22 Regiment Special Air Service non-commissioned officer in his 70s from Merseyside and the other a chap about the same age as myself from East London who was studying for an Anthropology degree at Oxford University and in the distant past would have been a Metropolitan Police C11 (flying squad) target.

So…  an ex special forces soldier cum dive master, a London blagger cum academic, a Chinese intelligence specialist cum biker chick and a Hong Kong cop cum forensic accountant … what an eclectic bunch to hang out together drinking Bedouin tea and putting the world to rights.

Occasionally when the internet was running I would chat with friends around the world on Skype, including my friend, Nick Dobson and his Dad, Chris, a former Daily Telegraph war correspondent, war historian and author.  On one call Chris Senior reminisced back to the late 60s and early 70s when he rode on the back of an Israeli tank through many of the places we had ridden our bikes in the Sinai.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/3710300916/ref=cm_cr_rev_prod_title

Amazing tales.  So, friendly and chaotic Egyptians running Sinai, or grumpy and efficient Israelis?  Seems you can’t have everything in life… but perhaps the Egyptians have it. We like friendly.

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name ...

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name … “not” an internet search term!

Our buddie, Tony

Andrew Durant and I exploring  Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

Our respective landships parked up in Dahab

Andrew and I go for ride through the Sinai desert to St Catherine’s monastery

Diver Rupert & Windsurfer Fanny

The H2O team doing a clean up dive of bay (Tony, Andrew Durant and myself included)

 

I also spent time with an old colleague from my Arthur Andersen days who has now become a serious motorcycle fan, with five very nice bikes in his garage in Kent, UK and an assortment of off-road and track courses under his belt. Apparently arriving to work in Surrey Street, London on my Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa one day sparked off his interest in bikes.  And quite right too… awesome bike.

Andrew came out to Dahab for a few days vacation, mainly to scuba dive, but we took the KTMs out for a spin to Saint Catherine’s monastery– which lies just below Mount Sinai where the Old Testament says Moses received the ten commandments.

Although it was very a bright and sunny day in the desert, it was uncomfortably cold on the motorcycles in the morning shadows and I should have worn many more layers of clothes. However beautiful the surroundings, it really is miserable being cold on a motorcycle.

We toured around the fascinating monastery buildings and then on the way back to the coast I had a big wobble on a bend in the middle of the desert.

I initially thought I had veered into one of the large cracks that the desert diurnal temperature difference makes in the road surface through continual expansion and contraction. But after wobbling to a stop I discovered that I had in fact picked up a six inch nail in my back Pirelli tyre.

To exacerbate my misfortune I had left all the tyre levers, the air pump and puncture repair kit back in the panniers back at the apartment in Dahab and so we managed to flag down a Bedouin pick-up “bakkie” and load my bike onto the back and return 100kms + to Dahab.  It required manoeuvring the bike from a small sand embankment onto a flat back truck and then pushing the bike off the flat back onto the back of the pick up and securing it with my tow rope.

Off roading

Off roading in the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Six inch nail embedded in my back tyre in middle of Sinai desert… annoying!

Fanny, myself and friends from China in Dahab

We had to take ferry up Lake Nasser (dammed upstream) of the Nile from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt. I would have loved to have ridden this part of north Egypt, but the human inhabitants have some scam going on so that you cannot actually ride across the border. In Egypt we would run into literally hundreds of police and military road blocks across the entire country.  we would

 

Like my home in the small village of Arniston on the southern tip of Africa, each day in Dahab was like an episode of  BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers”, but without all the British mealie mouthed political correctness and popularized deviance.

Always some minor drama that got all the locals excited and yet in the big scale of things, irrelevant and unimportant. The real troubles in Cairo seemed a long way away.

I am not sure how long one has to stay somewhere before a place becomes “I lived in” rather than “I stayed at”.  Perhaps being given the  local “German Bakery” coffee shop discount card was a defining  moment in permanent residency.

Fanny got heavily involved with helping visiting Chinese find accommodation, transport and general assistance in return for them bringing in supplies from China.  Such supplies included a new Canon camera to replace the one I dropped, a helmet video camera to replace the GoPro that was stolen outside the Mosque, and an intercom set kindly donated by a Chinese OEM manufacturer. We also got very welcome supplies like Chinese spices, chili sauce, green tea, food ingredients and daft but useful things like flip-flops.

I checked out a few more dive sites in the Red Sea and got into the swing of scuba diving, free diving and snorkeling, but was getting itchy feet to go exploring again and so I decided that since we were unable to travel through Syria on the bikes that I would hike through Jordan and Israel and to the Syrian border to do a recce and generally do the tourist thing.

Fanny was not really interested in backpacking and sleeping rough in ditches (no idea why), and had friends coming over for Chinese New Year and so she decided to relax and hold the fort in Dahab. I packed a very small rucksack lent to me by our lovely landlady, Beatte (from Germany) and took an early local bus to Nuweiba where I hoped to catch the ferry to Aqaba in Jordan, which is just north of the border with Saudi Arabia.

I very much wanted to ride my bike but the temporary import duties and custom fees for Jordan and Israel were far too expensive, especially the fees to get back into Egypt and so I decided to travel light and use public transport instead. When I got to Nuweiba it was full of Syrian trucks queuing up to take the ferry to Jordan.

I wandered through the port and up to the ferry which was moored up and chatted with various drivers who all seemed very friendly and told me all about their woes in Syria.  I was very disappointed we could not travel through Syria and as each day passed the situation seemed to get worse and worse.

Two hours after the ferry should have set sail we were invited to board and my passport was checked and I was sent back to immigration as somehow or another I had managed to navigate myself around every single security, customs and immigration check point in the port during my walkabout.

Passport now stamped with an exit chop I boarded the ferry and after settling down I realized I was the only non-Arab passenger on the ship.

As we cross the Gulf of Aqaba we sailed close to the deserted coast of Saudi Arabia, a country that looked, at least from the sea,  pretty much like other parts of the Sinai.  However, because of the restrictions imposed by Saudi’s ultra extremist inhabitants could have been the far side of the moon.

As I scanned the deserted coast I pondered that the diving must be absolutely glorious because Saudis just hang about in air-conditioned shopping malls and rarely venture away from creature comforts.  It seemed strange that it is a land that Fanny is not allowed to ride her bike in. Indeed I don’t think women are allowed to do very much at all except hide in the shadows and make new little Saudis.

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Fanny of St Catherines

Fanny of St Catherines

Another road block

Another road block

Fanny and I loaded up and parked up for another great Egyptian lunch

On the ferry from Egypt to Jordan

The Saudi coast.. looking very barren. Everyone is in the city shopping malls buying Victoria Secret’s knickers.

Huge Jordanian flag flying above Aqaba. Could see it for miles

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

On arrival at Aqaba port I was given a free visa, but I had to wait for an hour as the immigration officer had left his post and gone AWL.  As the only foreigner, and indeed only person left in the terminal I paced around looking at the numerous pictures of King Abdullah II Al Hussein that adorned the walls of the arrival hall.  In fact his portrait is all over Jordan and he always looked cheerful and well dressed in western suits, Arab finery, or more often than not in various types of military uniform with a chest full of medals that he had actually earned through military service as a young man.

The King is a well-educated chap and has been recognised for promoting progressive policies, economic growth and social reform since he came to the throne. Rare qualities in a leader and a stark contrast with Jordan’s neighbours.

As I exited the port I was descended upon by a huge number of touts and taxi drivers and to their surprise I sprinted away into the darkness of the desert. My escape and evasion was successful, but a few minutes later I realized my mistake as Aqaba town was actually about 8 kilometers away from the port and so I orientated myself, programmed my GPS and started my hike along a well made but deserted motorway into the town.

Actually I had walked only a few kilometers when a friendly bus driver picked me up and dropped me off in town by the biggest flag pole I had ever seen with a tennis court sized flag billowing in the wind… a flag I would later see from miles away on the Israel side of the border.

I wandered around town and found a restaurant that served excellent sheesh kebabs and barbecued chicken, after which I wandered around a bit more looking for a place to rough camp in my sleeping bag.

The town was very modern and had lots of bars and clubs and fast food outlets, but there was something strange about Aqaba that I could not immediately fathom and then it dawned on me. There were no women. I suppose there were woman, but definitely not on the streets after sunset.

I inquired about staying in a hotel and found out another interesting fact… it is bloody expensive in Jordan and so I found a quiet bit of beach, unpacked my sleeping bag and went to sleep. One of the joys and freedoms of traveling alone.

I woke many times in the night as you do when you are roughing it on an uneven surface and was quite pleased when I saw the red glow of dawn and got up and headed to where I had been told the mini buses go to Petra.  I found one, but it was not moving until it was full and the only occupant so far was a Chinese guy from Canada called Yee.

We decided we would upgrade and share a taxi and entered into negotiations with a local driver. Eventually we agreed on a trip to Wadi Rum, where we would stay for half a day to look around and then continue on to Petra. I found out that Yee also lived in Shanghai and worked for Disney Education.

Whilst Yee could also speak Mandarin he seemed more comfortable in English, although he spoke with exactly the same accent as Agent Smith in the movie “The Matrix”. When we were chatting about previous work and things he said ‘Oh, yes, the famous OORTHOOR ANDERRRSEN’, which made me snigger out loud, and so I had to tell him.

 

IMG_0163

A desert dog running with us in Wadi Rum in Jordan

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Amazing colours….

Petra in winter

Riding aboard a Bedouin 4×4 in Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

Wadi Rum is an absolutely stunning bit of Planet Earth. Beautiful.

On reflection even better than Petra which is pretty damned amazing in itself. We hired a Bedouin guide and a rather ropey 4×4 “thing” and toured the famous landmarks, including a Spring named after Lawrence of Arabia who camped there, allegedly. Our guide pointed in the direction of a gloriously picturesque open valley that disappeared into infinity and told us that Aqaba was three days camel ride away. Now that would have been an adventure and in retrospect I wish I had been impulsive and just done it, camping each night Bedouin style by a fire with the camels under the stars.  It would be damned good fun on a KTM 450 EXE as well.

I was wishing Fanny was with me and could see the desert. If she had been we would have probably have been impulsive and done the desert hike.

It was a crisp day, dry as a bone, the sun was blazing in an otherwise azure blue sky with just a few whiffs of cloud here and there. The desert colours were truly breathtaking and so we hiked around a bit taking in the amazing scenery. We were shown a small mountain with high sand dunes and our guide said he would meet us on the other side, no doubt so he could save fuel and whittle away some client time as we climbed the rocky hill.

Yee was not a Bear Gryls type of person, in fact far from it and he struggled a bit in his totally unsuitable shoes but eventually we made it to the peak and slid down the dune to the other side and carried on with our hike.

I was regretting not being in the more flexible position to change my mind and spend the whole day hiking about and then camp up at night in the desert by a Bedouin fire, but I had a taxi driver waiting and a companion who was keen to get on to Petra.

Another time.

After getting back in the taxi we had another 100 kilometers to drive to Petra and slowly climbed up into the mountains to an altitude of about 2000 meters. As we drove along deserted roads high up on the plateau I had to double take at the surrounding hill tops outside.

The pink landscape was dusted with white snow and ice!

I hadn’t seen snow since the summit of Mount Kenya but a bracing stop to take pictures brought it all flooding back. Bloody hell it was cold.  Freezing my nuts off on the equator in Africa and now re-freezing them in the middle of the desert in Jordan.

It’s not what you expect.

Hiking in Petra. The rock colours were amazing and some had distinct layers of colours  that looked like Licorice Allsorts and so I added some good specimens to my world tour rock collection that I keep in Arniston.

Icy Petra… I was not expecting snow in Jordan

 

As we got nearer to Petra I could see the deep valleys that the famous pink rock-hewn churches and monasteries were cut into.  I could also see hundreds, if not thousands of caves where the ancient troglodytes had lived, and some Bedouin tribes still do. A bit drafty, I thought.

Both Fanny and Yee had researched and recommended the same backpackers to stay in called, for some unknown reason,  The Valentine Inn  and that is where we decided to go.

http://www.valentine-inn.com/

When the taxi arrived I saw that the Valentine Inn was decorated with lots of red hearts like a garish brothel in Kowloon Tong. Oh Lord. But as it turned out it was actually a pretty decent hostel, warm, with very reasonably priced dorm rooms, and with an excellent and very reasonably priced evening meal and breakfast.

On arrival Yee applied all his attention to a young Korean lady from New Zealand who lived in Hong Kong teaching music, and I was left on my own, as indeed middle-aged sole travelers usually are in such places. Glad I had a book.

The next day I escaped from the prowling guides and touts and blagged my way into the grounds of Petra for free using the remains of someone else’s three day ticket thus saving a staggering 70 UK pounds!

It was also the first day of the Year of the Dragon and so there were hundreds of Chinese on holiday to annoy and impress with my cunning linguistic skills. As I was wandering about I bumped into a Hong Kong movie star wearing an Indiana Jones hat… de rigour attire for all the well-heeled tourists in Petra.

I tried out my Cantonese on Mo Lan-yung, or whatever he was called, and he asked me, how come, since I was a former Royal Hong Kong Police officer, my Cantonese was so rubbish.  A bit blunt I thought.

I was quick to retort and he seemed a little taken aback when I suggested Cantonese in this day and age was as much use as Welsh or Afrikaans and was therefore a language destined for extinction and thus pointless making any effort to learn or remember.  I waffled on about how I thought the only languages worth learning were Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and English.

He was no more impressed or convinced by my argument than my Boer or Welsh friends.

Petra is quite an amazing place, especially the rock formations and colours. It was bigger and more dramatic than I expected, but unlike my fellow tourists I refused to ride a donkey up the 800 steps to the famous monastery at the top of the mountain and so I yomped up.

There were many sheer cliff walls with long drops and of course no western style “health and safety” fences to prevent people inadvertently cliff diving off the edge.  At the top on a precipice was a small hut with a breathtaking view over the valley and deserts that stretched out towards the horizon.

caves

Of course, that famous shot in Petra .. Indiana Jones style

 

There was a Bedouin man warming himself by a small fire inside the hut and I asked him if there was an alternative route back rather than hiking along the well trodden tourist path. He said there was,  but I would need to employ a guide. There was no way I was going to employ anyone, but it did mean it was possible. ‘How long would it take?’ ‘About three to four hours’, he replied.

Of course, that meant it would take two hours. Everyone always exaggerates, I thought, and so I disappeared quickly before his sales pitch could start and I scrambled down a cliff path into a dry wadi that suddenly fell away to a sheer drop of about 4-500 meters.

‘kin ‘ell. I looked back up at the Bedouin guy and he looked down at me and we both contemplated the situation and then he disappeared and I escaped before he could appear and say he told me so.

Through trial and error I tried every path I could see and could not for the life of me find the alternative route down to the valley. And then I saw it. A goat path zigzagging along steep slopes above more sheer cliffs. I nearly gave up, but then I thought bugger it, don’t look down and take it steady.

And so started my rock climbing challenge for idiots without proper kit. It seemed I was steadily climbing higher and higher rather than going down into the desired direction of the valley ….and then it happened.

The path momentarily disappeared and started again a few meters away. Between was a crevice of only a meter or so, but a seemingly infinite way down.  Nothing I thought. Pretend its just a short stepping stone and jump.

But I hesitated.

I was suddenly flushed with a severe bout of acrophobia. What if I fell?  That would be it.. game over. Worse… what if I fell and got stuck 127 hours style?

And then I just did it. I jumped and felt elated for a nano second until I realized my surroundings and discovered I had in fact jumped onto the top of a Wile E Coyote cartoon type column of rock.

For crying out loud.

Breathe deeply, gently turn 180 degrees, focus on a  landing spot on the other side of the chasm and leap.

Except I was still completely frozen on the spot …on all fours.  Petrified in Petra.

I reflected on my predicament for what seemed like an age. No one knew where I was. I had no phone.  No ID. And I had someone else’s three-day ticket–with their name on it. 

And then I thought through the indignity of being rescued … probably by some  “I told you so”  Bedouins on mountain camels that would tip toe along the narrow and precarious mountain ledges.

Before I could think too much more I was back across the void and scrambling away the way I came. Thank fuck for that was my only thought.

When I got back to the wadi the Bedouin fellow was waiting for me and I flinched and cowered in embarrassment as he said,  ‘Not that way- it’s very dangerous’….. ‘That way’, and he pointed to a glaringly obvious well trodden path that had somehow been invisible before. ‘Oh yes’,  ‘just looking around’, I lied, ‘ Thank you…’ and waved as confidently as I could and started along the “correct” route which took pretty much four hours of hiking, exactly as he told me it would.

While I was hiking back I managed to see some amazing temple ruins and caves that were off the tourist trail and also passed through the local village known as  “Little Petra” that appeared very run down and very poor.

I smiled at some small grubby children who were playing in the road and they looked up at me in astonishment, burst into tears and started howling and so I quickened my pace and checked frequently over my shoulder to see if an angry mob with burning torches was in pursuit.

As the sun was setting I entered the common room of the Valentine Inn and could see my traveling partner, Yee still trying his luck with the Korean girl, but clearly getting nowhere. He was waffling on about reading palms and deciphering human auras and the girl was doing a really bad job pretending that she was interested.

I wondered whether I should intervene and help him out, but I decided chatting up girls is something he is going to have to work out by himself and so I left him to it and set about planning my route to Jerusalem.

The next day Yee, two Japanese guys and I shared a minibus to the Jordanian Capital, Amman from where we intended to get another bus to the King Hussein border and into Israel.

When we arrived at the Jordanian side of the border the crossing was thankfully very quick and we took a bus for another 5 kilometers across no-man’s land to the Israeli border which is called Allenby.

There were many rather striking Israeli female soldiers in combat uniforms with M4 machine guns and punk haircuts manning the checkpoints and public areas.  As expected the security was tight, but the immigration and customs process was pleasingly efficient and quick.

Lunch at bus station in Israel

 

 

I had heard you could get an Israeli immigration stamp put on a piece of paper as a stamp in my passport would prevent me from entry into Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and perhaps Iran and Pakistan.

They interviewed me politely and were very interested in our adventure, especially our trip through Sudan.  I waxed lyrical about how amazing the country was and what wonderful people the Sudanese were, and did they know Sudan also had pyramids like Egypt? Blah Blah!

What I had realized throughout the trip was the quickest way to get through immigration and customs was to bore the officials to death so that they would quickly process the papers.

They did ask me if I wanted a piece of paper stamped, but I said ‘No’,  I didn’t see why I had to pander to childish and petty political nonsense. However, I had an ulterior motive as this would give me justification to apply for a second passport from London.

I had tried unsuccessfully to get a second passport from the British Consulate in Hong Kong and now I had a plan.

In any case, I have been to Sudan already, Fanny is not allowed to ride in Saudi Arabia, my connections at the border with Syria told me it was about to descend into civil war, and at the time Iran and Pakistan were at risk of being nuked by Israel and the US.

I managed to lose my Japanese fellow travelers somewhere near Syria and Yee had stayed in Amman, and so I got a cheap  mini bus back down and through towards Jerusalem which I was thoroughly looking forward to.

Israel already looked the most advanced country I had been to since South Africa. Trees everywhere, smart shops, well-built cream coloured stone houses and offices, and generally a feel of being well organised.

The most striking initial impression was that there were military personnel everywhere, mostly young teenagers armed to the teeth.

The second was that it is a smorgasbord of races and religions.  The most obvious are the Haredi or ultra orthodox Jews who scurry about in their black uniforms, eccentric hats and religious paraphernalia. They were not very friendly, I guess because they make a serious effort to isolate themselves from everyone and look disapprovingly on anyone else’s lifestyle.

There were also a lot of Palestinian, many more than I expected to see and many were quite aggressive looking and again, unfriendly. Adding to the mix of cultures and beliefs were lots of orthodox Christians and pilgrims from Greece, Turkey, Russia and Armenia.

With such a mixed and eclectic population, and with such a long and violent history you would expect Jerusalem to be a tinder box, and I think it is. It felt edgy and hostile, but the police and security forces looked professional and well able to deal with it.

With all due respect to the Israelis, I think it is fair to say it is not a particularly friendly place, in fact many of the people I met were rude and overly aggressive.

There were also a lot of tourists milling about, especially Americans who were noticeably absent in most parts of Africa and the Middle East that we had traveled through thus far.

Some of the tourists I met were open-minded, moderate and interested in visiting the epicenter of the Holy Lands;  others were clearly barking mad religious extremists who were engaging in some kind of spiritual orgy.

Still, each to their own. So long as they don’t make it compulsory is my attitude to religion.

Where the crucifixion is said by many to have been… Jerusalem

An Orthodox Jewish chap bustling along the streets of Jerusalem

Tourist tack being sold next to the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified.

 

I stayed at a very well run and clean backpackers in the middle of the city called Abraham Hostel

 

http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/

 

It offered a very good breakfast, cheap dorms, good facilities and a travel center that could arrange all sorts of tours, including the free Old City tour that I went on the next morning. A bit of an evangelical happy clappy youth missionary feel about it, but then Israel is what it is, the 51st State of America and so I suppose it was to be expected.

Whilst the tour was ostensibly free, Naomi, our four foot tall and four foot wide tour guide reminded everyone on the quarter of the hour, every quarter of an hour that she survived on our tips and our generosity-just like those irritating waiters we Brits have to suffer every time we try to eat something in America.

My name is like Chuck and I’ll like toadally be your like toadally tax dodgin” wayda and like interrupt you like toadally like through your toadally like entire meal …like”….. “Have a toadally like nice day like”.

 

Anyway, despite being in the middle of winter, it was a sunny and stunningly beautiful day and we were shown around the maze of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish quarters of the ancient city.

We were also  given an introduction to the incredibly rich and complex history of Jerusalem, much of which was new to me and I have to say absolutely fascinating. I actually spent quite a bit of time researching and reading up about places I visited, although getting a secular or independent version of events was not that easy. Most people are already indoctrinated and convinced of their own point of view that little they see or experience is going to change their mind.

For me my visit to Jerusalem has strengthened my view that all the religions are manifestations of superstitions that play to the frailties of human beings and have been used very effectively by the powerful to control other human beings, and for the powerless to tolerate being controlled by other human beings.

Whether there is in fact a God or Soul of the Universe I still don’t know …but the reality is neither does anyone else. I feel there is, but such beliefs are private matters and not to be inflicted upon others.

Amen.

People  who know me will be astounded that many years ago as a small boy I was actually an Alter-boy and I used to serve at Mass at Saint Joseph’s Church in Burton Upon Trent in Staffordshire.

On occasions, usually Good Friday, we used to perform a Benediction Mass and “Stations of the Cross”, a service that requires a meditation at each of the 14 stations that feature around the inside walls of all Catholic Churches.  Now in Jerusalem I was able to follow the real thing up to the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

At the 11th Station there was a small stall renting out wooden crosses to pilgrims and even some shops selling crowns of thorns and little baby Jesus dolls.  I knew Filipinos were prone to mixing up their Catholicism and Austronesian superstitions and were particularly fond of  a good torture re-enactment when the supply of Virgin Mary-like tree stumps and mud fish was running low, but I was surprised such superstitious devotions occurred in Jerusalem.

Of course I had to try one out and immediately thought of the Monty Python film, “Life of Brian”  with all those great sketches and stir it up blasphemies.  The crosses were all half scale sized, either for crucifying dwarfs or because the Israeli department of health and safety was worried about tourists putting their backs out.

As Naomi was telling us about a recent punch up between Greek and Armenian Christian monks outside the site Jesus was allegedly crucified, I was caught singing and whistling,  “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” with the cross on my shoulder and was immediately admonished and left in no doubt I was in disgrace by everyone around me.

No sense of humour some people.

He’s not the Messiah .. he’s a very naughty boy.

Wailing Wall

 

So what else was there to see?

Well no trip to Jerusalem is complete without a visit to see the West Wall which in itself is just an old wall, but the wailing and head nodding by the faithful was mildly interesting, if not rather bizarre.

I had to buy a Jewish skull-cap to go in and look at the wall myself, so I bought one from a stall that was selling an assortment in different colours and patterns. Some had Rastafarian colours with five leaved plants on them (?), some with pictures of Homer Simpson (??). All very at odds with what I thought the point of the bodily adornment was for in the first place. Anyway, I found the perfect skull cap….  embroidered with the Chelsea Football Club badge. It looked great and I thought might come in useful one day if I am ever granted an audience with Comrade Abramovich.

I also saw the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount.

We were told we would not be allowed bring in any Bibles or engage in any praying at the Temple Mount and this prompted a huge Texan in our group to ask if he could bring in his iPhone as it had a Bible App?  This caused a bit of a debate as I think the Romans, the Knesset, Mohammed, King David, Angel Gabriel, Herod and the whole bunch of humans who make up these rules had overlooked the possibility of this technological advancement.

The foundation stone in the Temple Mount is believed by some, including many in our tour group, to be the first ever rock from which the world was created and so arguably the most religious site in Jerusalem, if not the World.

I was reliably informed by my Jewish guide, and this was confirmed by a lady from the fundamental autonomous region of South Carolina that it is the oldest thing on the planet… and therefore about 5,000 years old.

Huh?, I thought.  My mother’s pug dog in Abbots Bromley is older than that!

But there was no point arguing the toss. It seems that Jerusalem has been argued over, conquered, knocked down and re-built over and over again throughout its 3,000 year old history. It’s difficult to keep track of which religious group or sect owns which bit.  According to Wikipedia Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Enough religious stuff, it was now time for a bit of shopping, not that I could afford much.  I wanted some Israeli Defence Force T-shirts for Fanny and as presents for friends. An Israeli flag to stick on my panniers to match my Israeli stamp in my passport.  I also wanted to replace my punctured inner tube as the bastard Sinai 6 inch nail had done a bloody thorough job making several large holes. I had in fact patched up the inner tube but I had nagging doubts about the quality of my handiwork.

The T-shirts were easy to find from one of the many army surplus shops in the city.  I got the inner tube from KTM Jerusalem, which didn’t have many KTM bikes or parts because imports are taxed sky-high in Israel,  but they did have a 150/70 -18 ultra heavy-duty tube and so I took it.  My efforts to find an Israeli flag sticker were not so successful so I bought a Palestine Liberation Organisation one instead. No one will know the difference.

For me, two days in Jerusalem was enough. I am glad I went, but wont be disappointed if I don’t go again. It’s like being a kid and living in a household with parents who fight all day. Tense, miserable and damaging to the soul.

I wanted to leave Israel by the Eilat/Taba border back into Egypt, but also wanted to stop off by the Dead Sea for a swim. The buses took a bit of juggling but I eventually found one and was thrown off at a place called Ein Gamph, right next to the salt encrusted shores of the Dead Sea where the water is ten times more saline than normal sea water.

Israeli emergency response police with a BMW GS 800 they use for patrolling.

Rupert having a swim at Dead Sea

I wasted no time and I stripped off down to my underpants which really needed a wash anyway after five days hiking and jumped into the water which turned out to be warmer than I expected and had a sort of slimy feel to it– I think due to the salt rather than my underpants.

Of course, the oddest thing is the incredible buoyancy and you float on top of the water rather than in it.  No Dead Sea swim is complete without getting some water into your eyes which is excruciatingly painful. It also burns your tongue if you stick it into the water, which of course curiosity dictates we all have to do.

After a dip in the water and a wallow in the medicinal mud, which is supposedly good for one’s health and skin, I got out feeling good, but no different to how I normally do and went to the bus stop and waited optimistically for the No.444 bus to Eilat which eventually came 2 hours later and swished by me without showing any inclination whatsoever to stop.

It was the last one and so when my jaw lifted and my mouth finally closed I accepted that I might be staying a bit longer in Mein Kampf. In fact another 14 hours until the next No.444 came by at 8.00 am the next day.

I thought how lucky we were to have our “go anywhere” bikes on this trip and really missed my KTM which would have been great fun in Israel and wouldn’t have left me stranded.

Anyway, there was no point blubbing by a lonely bus stop and so I wandered around for a while, found some crisps to eat for dinner and watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on my laptop whilst wrapped up in my sleeping bag by the shores on the Dead Sea…. as one does.

I had a good night’s sleep under the stars at 480 meters below sea level and despite a very rare rainstorm during the night I stayed warm and dry in my sleeping bag. As the sun was rising I had a dawn dip in the Dead Sea and later found a fast food kiosk that opened up early, made me coffee and some toast for breakfast and had an interesting yarn with the ever so slightly insane owner.

I then went to the bus stop and boarded the bus which arrived at exactly 8.00am and then I got dropped off at 11.30am in the sunny and very touristy southern Israeli town of Eilat. It was from here I could see the huge Jordanian flag in Aqaba on the other side of the gulf.

I arrived at a completely deserted border crossing as all the officials had either gone off to prayer or to have a midday snooze and when they arrived back I breezed through the Egyptian border town of Taba.  Again as far as I could tell I was the only tourist at the border crossing and I was the only person to board a mini bus that took me down the beautiful Sinai coastline, and by 3.00pm I was back in Dahab.

After telling Fanny about my adventures over tea and falafels I spent an afternoon wrestling my tyre off the rim of the rear wheel and fitted the new inner tube I bought in Jerusalem. I thoroughly cleaned both bikes, re-greased and oiled whatever parts required and pretty much got the KTMs looking like new, although I had to admit both could really do with new tyres.

After 23,000 kilometers both sprockets and chains looked in great order. That proved we had the bikes perfectly set up and our campaign of reasonably limited hooliganism had been successful.

Meeting one of a very few fellow adventure riders in Dahab. This German RTW rider had a beautiful BMW, one I would far rather ride than a modern GS1200.

Biking meet diving – Dahab

Andrea, Gary (The Corbetts) and Rupert preparing to dive at Canyon, Dahab. A deep dive into a volcanic fissure

John (dive instructor) and Gary and Andrea Corbett, Canyons, Dahab

Camels and KTMs at Blue Hole, Dahab

 

We also had some more visitors to Dahab– Andrea and Gary Corbett from Derbyshire in England. I went to school with Andrea in Staffordshire back in the day and she is a Ducati Monster rider. Her husband, Gary, comes from Scotland and is a fairly recent convert to motorcycling and rides a Yamaha XJ 900.

They are both big climbers and ex mountain rescue team members in the Derbyshire Peaks and they had come out to Dahab to join us in some diving, snorkeling, biking, running and of course idling about.

As luck would have it, their visit coincided with Dahab’s once a year storm and so they endured not only the less than perfect weather but my constant reminders that the weather wasn’t normally like this and that it was very sunny before they arrived.

The politest way I can describe Andrea is that she is vertically challenged and this clearly annoys her because her feet cannot touch the ground on 95% of all motorcycles. This meant that Gary, with much less motorcycling experience than Andrea would have to ride Fanny’s KTM with Andrea on the back as pillion.  She was not happy about this at all.

As we went for a ride we used Fanny’s new Chinese helmet video camera and managed to record Andrea looking absolutely terrified perched up on the back of the pillion seat. She was especially displeased when we decided to do a bit of off roading and racing about, particularly when Gary decided to steeply lean the bike around corners despite me warning him that the tyres really were on their last legs.

We left Dahab at the end of February with mixed feelings. It’s a beautiful place, and we enjoyed the laid back life by the sea, but we had both started to get itchy feet again and wanted to move on. Fanny had been told that China Shipping had a Ro Ro (Roll On Roll Off) leaving Alexandria on the 28th and we aimed to put our bikes on it and take a flight to Istanbul and then take a bus to Mersin on the south coast of Turkey to meet the ship a week later.

China Shipping promised to pay all the fees at the Egyptian side, a promised they later reneged on and in the end we had to cough up. Not sure what went wrong, but for other potential explorers coming through Egypt please note that everything to do with customs, immigration and import and export of vehicles in Egypt is hideously expensive, risky and uncertain, and will take considerably longer than anyone tells you it will.  Copious amounts of patience, good humour and good luck is needed.

Like any good plan, always have fall back options and contingencies. Since we had seven days to ride to Alexandria we decided to spend a few days on the most southerly tip of the Sinai, called Ras Mohammed. A diving paradise and a beautiful place to camp and relax. After we left Dahab we got there fairly quickly and had a chance to dust off the gear and do some snorkeling in some of the best coral reefs on the planet.

While we were camped on the deserted sandy beach I actually decided to sleep outside the tent under the stars and give Fanny a break from my feet.  There was no one around, we were on the isolated southern tip of the Sinai peninsula and because of the dry air and lack of pollution the northern hemisphere constellations were crystal clear and an amazing finale to our unintended five months stay in Egypt.

Ras Mohammed, south tip of Sinai

Camping at Ras Mohammed, Sinai. Fanny reading a copy of “Ride” magazine, not that she needed to because we were having the ride of our life.

Sand riding at Ras Mohammed, Sinai

Its a beautiful world if you make the effort to see it

Our boots on the KTM mirrors look like creatures against the setting sun

 

The next day was gloriously sunny and I decided to go snorkeling right in front of our tent and bikes. The water was a degree or so warmer than Dahab and that made all the difference. Once inside the water there were initially only sand beds but in the distance I could see an underwater coral island teeming with every fish in the Red Sea “Marine Life” book.

I knew it would be my last chance for a while, if indeed ever again, and spent a good part of the day free diving down to join by far the best life in Egypt. We spent another glorious day at Ras Mohammed and then we then decided to join up with John and Jan, fellow KTM 990 Adventure riders from Sharm El Sheikh and take a few pictures and join them at the local English pub for a very well attended boule competition.

Given the number of evenings I have played this game with my cheating friends in Arniston on the cliffs above the bay with a glass of cheeky I breezed through to the semi finals, but ultimately it was not to be my day and I was beaten by determined local talent.

Jan very kindly put us up at his villa on the cliffs above the harbour with his five dogs. A beautiful house from the days when style was en vogue and dustmen were in employment in Egypt. On the way to Jan’s house we had to ride the bikes precariously close to the edge of the crumbly cliff. As I had been drinking in the T2 pub and Fanny had not I decided to ride the bikes. Naturally.

Bright and early the next day we set off north to Port Said on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the port closest to the mouth of the Suez Canal. Although we had about 600 kilometers to ride we were in no real rush and I savoured probably my last ever view of the Sinai, the Red Sea and the desert mountains. It really is a barren, but beautiful bit of Planet Earth, spoiled only by us, its human inhabitants and our debris, pollution and trash.

We stopped off for lunch at the best falafel restaurant we had been to in the whole of Africa, at a place called Ras Sedr just south of the Suez tunnel.  Falafels, bread, salad, tahina and bedouin tea with mint… the whole lot for a quid. Very very delicious and made a very slight credit to our “being ripped off on the trip” account. Huge debits are to come later on in Alexandria. Oh well, one should enjoy the little victories when one can.

T2 English pub in Sharm El Sheikh with four KTM 990 Adventures in the car park.

These bikes are the real deal and between the four of them have seen some real adventures.

Port Said… continuing troubles that plague the whole of Egypt. Having chatted with many Egyptians and Sinai/Sahara Beduoins I predict even more trouble.. sadly.

I love this picture. This one image describes what our adventure was all about. The bikes in full adventure mode, a new and exciting location, meeting the locals, eating and drinking the real deal, relaxing, and being with Fanny

Cruising along good roads towards Suez. The same stretch of road we experienced a huge sand storm a month or so early.

We had a bit of a refueling crisis after lunch as Egypt, which sits on huge oil and gas reserves and has oil refineries polluting the environment up and down the Red Sea, often has no petrol at its own fuel stations.

My particular theory is that this fuel shortage is due to the urgent demand for oil to make gel and hair products for Egyptian men. Anyway, this particular town had not only run out of 95 octane which our bikes like, but had no petrol whatsoever.

After a frantic double back along the road we had just ridden we found 90 octane at a grubby station and so I thought it wise to add the remainder of our octane booster additive as I really hoped that would be the last that we would need it, going to Europe and all.

That said we kissed goodbye to 15-20 pence a liter fuel and braced ourselves for the most expensive fuel in the world…Europe, and in particular, Turkey.

As we approached the Suez the military presence got heavier and heavier with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and armed soldiers at every junction. They never gave us any problems and always waved cheerily at us, and if we did get stopped went through their usual practice of asking pointless questions and giving our bikes a cursory “look up and down”.

Not once did they ever check what was in our panniers or perform a proper check. If I was their commander there would have been some well delivered lectures and quite a few “bollockings”. But it’s not my problem and never will be. We are just guests in a country going through a very turbulent and often violent transformation. The best one can do is keep the good-humoured smile going, despite one’s mind thinking otherwise.

Inside the Chinese Consulate and Ambassadors home in Port Said.

Fanny and our bikes outside the Chinese Consulate in Port Said. A big thank you for their help.

While we were in Port Said we went to visit and say thanks to Mr. Xu (徐先生), the Chinese Ambassador in Alexandria and Port Said who also happened to be the head of the Chinese state-owned firm, COSCO in Egypt. He had been kind enough to help us with various things and had got to know Fanny very well.

He lived and worked out of probably the nicest house is Port Said, an art deco palace of sorts that used to be an Italian residence in better times.

After drinking tea in the Ambassadors office we waved our goodbyes and headed off along the International Coastal Highway to Alexandria which was about 250 kilometers from Port Said.  The coast was not that pretty and the towns were chaotic and run down.

When we got to Alexandria I was a tad disappointed.  Its glorious Greek, Hellenic, Roman, Ottoman, and British history, architecture and monuments had been obliterated over the years and what we found was a crumbling version of Bognor Regis surrounded by a sea of rubbish and environmentally hostile factories and grubby warehouses.

What a karsi.

All that is left are the ruins of a small Roman theater, the new and forgettable  Bibliotheca Alexandrina (!) and  Pompey’s Pillar (!!).  Alexander the Great might well be a tad disappointed as well.

The Bay in Alexandria

Whilst in Alexandria we stayed at the Union Hotel, which was not bad and had great views over the harbour, but it had no car park or secure parking and so we had to park our bikes outside the front door on the pavement and pay a watchman,  who subsequently disappeared, and so Fanny and I maintained a vigil on a bench in our sleeping bags throughout most of the night.

Despite our efforts we found in the morning that both bikes had been subjected to minor acts of vandalism such as pulling off indicators, bending mirrors and peeling off country flag stickers from the panniers. Some people, huh?

Later in the day we were met by one of Fanny’s Facebook motorcycle buddies, called Omar, who had ridden a Honda Africa Twin across Africa in 2009.  We were later to accept his kind hospitality and stayed at his house on the outskirts of the city where, importantly, we could safely park our bikes and have peace of mind.

Whilst riding with him through the city I quickly discovered that I had got a puncture in my rear tyre.  It was very soon after we set off and so I do not think it was an accident, but rather another act of mindless vandalism as a small nail had clearly been pressed into the rubber tread and I suspect while it was parked overnight outside in the street.

So, I set about repairing the puncture near a busy road junction and I quickly got the tyre off and found that the inner tube I had bought in Israel was seriously perished and had a huge tear where the small nail went in. This inner tube must have been on the shelf in Jerusalem since Pontius Pilate was a boy.

It was too big a hole to patch up and so I threw it away and replaced it with a normal gauge (thin) inner tube that we carried along with other spares in my panniers and which is better suited to riding on the tar roads ahead anyway. AND SO….  was to begin our day(s) from hell in Alexandria.

After wrestling the beading of the rear tyre back into place with water, washing up liquid, blowing it up to 3 bars and bouncing it about I put the wheel back on and I discovered that I had lost my sunglasses. Not only that, one of the legs of my only trousers had finally given up the ghost and literally fallen off, but worst of all I found that the rear WP shock absorber of my 9 month old 2011 KTM 990 Adventure R had failed.

Luckily, unlike a BMW rear shock that will collapse, the WP shock on a KTM will support the weight of the bike, just, but there is no rebound and so it will bounce about and bottom out very easily. It is just about ride-able on very flat and smooth surfaces and very slowly, which of course is nigh on impossible in Egypt.

The suspension was now extremely spongy and research through KTM forums on the internet suggested that the gaskets had failed and the nitrogen and oil had probably escaped. Clucking Bell. What else could go wrong? Clearly a lot– there were still a few more hours left in that day for fate to ruin the day even more.

Omar supervising, while I repair the puncture to my rear tyre on the side of the road in the city center of Alexandria

The gasket seal has ruptured and the nitrogen gas and oil has leaked out of the WP rear shock . Luckily the KTM WP suspension allows the weight of the bike (and me) to be supported by the orange spring..just!. Its not ideal but allows you to ride slowly to a location to get it repaired. The strong point about WP suspension is that it can be rebuilt and made as good as new. However, this is not something you can do yourself and it needs to be sent away to an expert with the correct tools and of course re-build kit. This is an advantage over the BMW which is not as robust as the KTM for true off roading and RTW adventure.

I’m looking for the right word to describe my state of the art WP rear suspension… ???

I contacted  KTM in Cape Town, from where I bought the bikes and from where over the years I had spent in excess of half a million Rand, and they said the shock absorber was not covered by the warranty and further added its to be expected on a trip like ours and best that we ride to an authorised dealer to get it repaired. Wonderful advise, thank you so much.

So to all Cape To Cairo potential explorers make sure you are always near an authorised dealer, and carry a clean handkerchief and don’t talk to strangers. Deep breathes and relax… aaahhhh!

That said one must note that the Long Way Down team on their BMWs had several suspension failures and so it happens to all the best adventure bikes I suppose. Still, the reason why I chose KTM was that this should not happen. It’s a hassle of note, and a very expensive one which will make a huge dent in the expedition budget.

We were also very excited to find out through various forums and from Omar that a new ferry service was being introduced between Alexandria and Mersin and that the first would depart Alexandria on the 28th. Of course we were very keen to get on as it would be quicker, cheaper and easier than the RoRo cargo ship from China Shipping… but sadly like so much good news in Egypt that wasn’t going to happen… not for now anyway.  Oh well, 没办法。 http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/middle-east/trying-reach-turkey-egypt-any-62770#post368714

The next day whilst enduring yet another day of bureaucratic purgatory and being shunted from one squalid “government” waiting area to another I was to find out that the offer of free shipping for our bikes by Mr. Mohamed Roshdy of China Shipping Line wasn’t free after all either.  In fact, we had to pay everything at both the Egyptian and Turkish sides.

Certainly, if I had been on my own, I would have risked riding through Syria at that moment. In fact, all in all I regret that we did not make a run for it. It was still in the early days of the civil war and we could have made it over the Jordanian border and skirted the trouble zones up to the border with Turkey.

Or we could have got shot or captured by Syrian rebels or Government forces. Either way we would not have had the chance to actually enjoy Syria or see Damascus which was on our list of things to see.

Decisions decisions.

Fanny (center) and the Chinese Ambassador  徐先生 (right)

 

The whole idea of riding to Alexandria rather than going through Jordan and Syria was predicated on the fact that Syria was risky and China Shipping Line had promised Fanny they would help us cross the Mediterranean for free.

Of course, I was annoyed about the extra expense and paying ten Egyptians to a do a job that doesn’t even need doing by one person, but what upset me the most was that Fanny was extremely upset and hurt by the whole incident and had lost face.  A very bad thing for Chinese people.

As far as bureaucratic red tape goes, the whole Egyptian leg had been seriously time-consuming and ten times more expensive than all the other African countries we had been through put together. It is very fair to say that Egypt is a complete rip off and in all honesty I cannot recommend that anyone brings in their foreign registered vehicle, unless they have serious money to burn and have some sort of perverse masochistic streak.

I was reminded of the German expedition we met just south of the Sudanese border who were fuming about how they were treated in Egypt and now I knew how they felt. Scuba divers and sun-seekers on a package holiday to Sharm El Sheikh may not know what really goes on under the surface of Egypt and they don’t really need to.

They breeze in on Easy Jet, get picked up by a charming hotel driver from the airport and are deposited on their beach deck chairs and then a week later they go home with pictures of Bedouin fires and stripy fish, whilst clutching a stuffed camel.

Any foreigner living in Egypt for any length of time will know all too well what all the negatives, dangers, and inefficiencies are already, and for those that don’t live there they will not stay long enough to worry.

But I will say that for a country that sits on oil and gas reserves, generates huge revenues from the Suez canal and is blessed with both natural and historical wonders you would think Egypt has it made. However the reality is that it is quite the opposite.

Five thousand years of civilization …  in reverse.

Some of the receipts and invoices we incurred in Egypt totally over US$1000 for absolutely nothing…

Our wonderful bikes left in a very dusty Egyptian Customs Department warehouse in Alexandria… I felt like a parent that had left the children to be looked after by Jimmy Savile.

Anyway, suffice to say after 5 months a move was well overdue and we were very exited that we were moving on to Turkey and Europe.

Predictably, I suppose, the ship never arrived on the expected date and so we had no choice but to leave our bikes in a customs warehouse in Alexandria in the hope that three days of excruciatingly painful and expensive paperwork will see them eventually loaded onto the cargo ship, the MV Grand Napoli on the 1st or 2nd of March.

This cargo ship, once it actually sets sail from Alexandria, was scheduled to arrive ten days later in Mersin on the southern coast of Turkey from where we planned to collect our motorcycles from the port. We were to take the short cut and fly to Istanbul and after a few days take a bus across Turkey to the south coast. 

I am pleased to say that we eventually managed to get both motorcycles’ carnet de passages (trip ticks as the locals call them) signed off by the authorities and we were both very relieved to get our passports returned to us.  

Assuming both bikes actually arrive, as there is always a risk, my KTM 990 Adventure R will go into the KTM garage in Mersin where the mechanics will attempt to re-build the shock and then we will ride along the southern coast in early spring, an area of Turkey that is supposed to be amazingly beautiful.

(Post Note : KTM Turkey did an awesome job and rebuilt the WP like new and shipped it to Mersin where it was expertly fitted by the local KTM garage… job done) 永不放弃   or perhaps  愚公移山                                  

The MV Grande Napoli .. taking our bikes from Alexandria in Egypt to Mersin in Turkey…or so we hope!

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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Next Egypt….