150 km, 12306 km from Cape Town
Only a short distance to complete our safari and it was done swiftly on an empty three lane highway that sweeps you toward Cairo and before you know it the city outline is there and the highway becomes an elevated freeway that slices through the heart of the city. Towering apartment blocks on either side whip past as you spped along trying to match thje traffic pace which is the only way to survive the Cairo traffic – and then as we descended from the feeeway and twisted zand turned a bit there they were – the Pyramids.
341 km, 12156 km from Cape Town
We had a glorius swim in the Red Sea. A curious experience for us that are used to cold water and big waves. The water is amazingly warm and of course clear and waveless.
Then we headed up the coast again with the desert on one side and the wonderful red Sea on the other. Eventually the Red Sea mountain chain touches the coast and the road twists alomg the shore not unlike the cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard – only the developements are more massive.
We find a resort that offered us a decent rate and took all it offered.
The Red Sea heading for Ain Sokhna
324 km, 11815 km from Cape Town
THE RED SEA
I am afraid the vibration I wa feeling for the last few days riding is the rear sprocket bearing and on inspection this morning we decided to replace it.
Our friend’s brother Ahmedi, with whom ne shares the family taxi, came to our aid and we raced around the sleepy Luxor, as it was still early looking for a replacement baering and then some Egyptian ingenuity to remove the old one and squeeze in the new.
All achieved in two hours and the bike together again we headed north along the Nile again and then struck east on a smooth fast new highway through the desert down to the Red Sea.
We were all thrilled to see the sea again and were amazed as we rode toward Hurgarda at the amount of hotel and resort developement. Tens of thousands of apartment blocks, hotels, resort and beach clubs are being built all with the anticipated boom time that is surely to come.
Stunning road to Hurghada through the red sea hills
11491 km from from Cape Town
We rested through the morning and in the late afternoon we went to Karnak – the great temple which is essentially in the middle of the city.
It is a spectacular ruin and famed for its massive and majestic columns over one nundred and thirty four of them.
Returning to the hotel with our new friend Mamout we retired.
Temple of Karnak
217 km, 11491 km from Cape Town
Leaving Aswan we journeyd up the Nile, which is a slow affair because there are so many check points and villages and traffic along the way, but the scenery is lovely and we got to Luxor in the late afternoon
Luxor is a nice little town and we found an empty five star establishment that gave us a good rate and has a spectacular pool and lawn running down to the Nile.
Still feeling grim both Sierra and I are bed-ridden in an attempt to shake it.
On route to Luxor
11274 km from from Cape Town
Our friend Kamal picked us up and we went through to the customs and stated the old slow process of the carnets. An added Egyptian layer to the beurocracy is that you have to buy Egyptian License plates and afix these over the originals.
All this of course was done by Kamal and it just took time but finally he announced we could get our bikes and go. We were indeed lucky as there are examples of the whole people-on-ferry, bikes-on-barge story taking up to a week! Too late for riding anywhere we are staying another night and I have started feeling pretty grim and am joining Sierra in the sick bay.
Tired but happy to be back in civilization
360 km (Ferry), 11274 km from Cape Town
Dawn revealed a lovely view of the jagged shore of this end tf Lake Nasser, which is called the Aswan dam and it promised to be another scorcher.
At midday with the sun directly overhead and shade a premium we got to Aswan and the ferry nosed to the key just lone enough to get the immigration officer on board and then it reversed out and stood idle off shore.
It took two hours before everybody had had their passports checked and the passengers down in the tiers of upright seats in third class were getting impatient – but we finally returned to the key and tied up.
Our fixer, Kamal recognised us and helped us hump our gear to the quay and organized a couple of long-suffering porters and haggled the price down till he was satisfied and we joined the throng of passengers heading into the clearing hall.
The usual mad shouting crush was in full swing and everybody had to get their luggage through the scanner. A small push me – push you between two overheated porters turned into a free for all, that had porters dropping luggage and flying in, fists flailing. A lot of old scores were being settled!
We used thevacuum all this offered and got our gear through the scanners and circumventing the poor old lady whose trunk-size carton of rusks had snagged on the conveyer, torn and exploded, spewing Sudanese dry bread everywhere!
We were through and Kamal took us into Aswan some ten kilometers away where we booked into a tourist hotel on the Nile.
It was after six but still sweltering and we decided to go for a swim in the pool hotel. Across the Nile could be seen a tall cloud of dust and sand but still distant. We watched for a bit and realised that this was a desert sand storm and watched as it ten miutes, covered the buildings on the western shore and swept across the broad river and was upon us. We jumped into the pool and stayed there for a long while as branches snapped from trees and light fittings came crashing down. We stayed in the pool for as long as our eyes held out and then scuttled off to our rooms.
Sandstorm in Aswan – we jumped into the pool
10914 km from from Cape Town
Mazar came for us and we got a taxi to the harbour. The embarkation shed was jam packed with people – families and all their bulging suitcases. There is no real system of queing in Arabia more sort of a general crush and lots of shouting – Arabic is a language that really lends itself to shouting and so everybody manages to sort themselves out. Mazar did our shouting for us and we were soon squeezing through the last doors with our twelve pieces of bulky luggage and down to the jetty we trudged.
The ferry is an old three decked german-made vessel and we humped ourselves and gear on and onto the upper deck. No cabins were available but a little backshish to the captain allowed us to squat on the open deck in front of the wheelhouse.
There was a fracas at the gang-plank just before cast off. A set-to in Arabia between two men – hoovers in thirty opinionated and voluble by-standers and all will shout loudly for thirty minutes or soand then suddenly it is all over and all walk away. Such was this one which delayed the already delayed start and we only set sail past six.
Heading into open water the wind picked up and so did the bow spray which gave us one drenching and we sought shelter in the first class dining area, which was one deck below and air-conditioned.
We stayed there for the duration of our complimentary meal – black beans and bread – but the loud arabic music and smokey conditions forced us top-side again, where the wind had dropped so we settled into our sleeping bags under the lovely northern sky and passed a gentle and restful night.
Hauling our luggage down to the ferry
380 km, 10914 km from Cape Town
Waking early we intended getting as much of the distance as we could done in the cool of morning. We were all cheerful and bubbly as we struck camp, admiring the stars of the northern skies and making coffee.
Again though, it took longer to get going than we hoped but we were riding at seven.
Desert mornings are beautiful, but beguiling and the temperaure rises slowly for the first two hours and then suddenly starts to spike. It was 22 degrees when we started out and 30 at about nine, then it rose, incredibly a degree every five minutes or so..!.and was soon 43 degrees just like every other day and we were sweltering. It was a good surface, but we passed only one village, where we could get cool water and nowhere we could find fuel and knowing the limits of our tanks at the speed we were doing we were forced to throttle back, which meant a longer time in the heat. We all had to switch to reserve before we got to town and limped in at lunch time.
Wadi Halfa….a sprawling mud hutted affair at the southern tip of the vast Lake Nasser, which is proudly called Lake Nubia at this end.
We met up with our friendly and efficient fixer Mazar and he told us that we were in kuck as there was a barge leaving in the afternoon. We had expected some delays here.
Shane was starting to feel a bit grim so we found the hotel that we were booked into settled him in and took the off-loaded bikes to the harbour.
Mazar told us to wait in the shade of a packing shed and went off to do the paperwork. We sat in the shimmering heat for the three hours that that process took and watched the loaders and foremen and agents come and go.
Eventually he emerged clutching the stamped and signed carnets and we pushed the bikes onto the barge and the crew strapped them down.
Returning by ancient Series One Land Rover taxi we collapsed in our rooms that had state of the art 1950’s aircons that noisily pump fetid air into the rooms..but a lot cooler that outside in the sun..!
Wadi Halfi at last
510 km, 10534 km from Cape Town
We had decided toleave early but the bike packing allways takes longer than intended, so we were away at round seven, although we had planned an hour earlier.
There is a new road that strikes west through the Bayuda Desert to Merowe that is slightly longer than the older northern route that follows the Nile and we elected this good surfaced and faster road.
The first few hours of the morning were very pleasant riding and we made good time of the 385 kms stretch but by eleven o clock the temperature had reached 44 degrees and there is a hot wind that comes off the searing sands. Each rider has developed ways to access water while riding and we carry enough, but it always gets hot quickly and is difficuilt to drink. The idea is to stop at every village and buy more. So our modus is to cast around as we enter a village to try and spot a fridge. Then attempt to stop in some shade, buy the very cheap 500ml plastic bottles and get going again drinking as much as possible before it becomes unpallatable. Water sparayed onto the front of the shirt and arms is a wonderful cooling trick and gives a minute or two of relief before the fabric simply dries up. However there are no village or any habitation at all in this unforgiving desert and so our we were relieved to get to Merowe (not much of a town) about midday and replenish and re-fuel. We had further to go, so we wasted little time, stopping only briefly to view the ancient clump of pyramids at Ghazali. These small structures can be seen from the road luckily as the desert heat was in full swing. Setting a good pace we tackled this second part of the new road through a region called An Nuba.
Again this road is completely devoid of life and the flat featureless desert simply stetches from hazy horizon to hazy horizon.
We all busied ourselves with tricks and rewards of cooling and hydration as the kilometres ticked by and we finally reached the town of Dongola at about three o clock. A very hard days riding and personally I was taking strain. Nausea, dizziness and unquenchable thirst – quite a distessing feeling and we promised ourselves the finest accommodation the town had to offer. Yes we wre told the best hotel would be the airport hotel – so we followed the GPS to the airport to find a deserted bunch of ramshackle, goat-infested buildings that used to be the airport and hotel…no self-respecting airplane had landed here in years..!..ok..we discussed..let’s go one notch down and find the next best hotel…the Lord Hotel..back through the littered and dusty steets we rode as per the GPS and at the indicated spot was a grand looking villa which we took to be our place. We parked in the shade and Shane went to investigate…of course the Lord Hotel turned out to be grand in name only and was certainly not the building we had stopped at…and so on it went, until we had seen all the listed places and we decided to skip town and camp. We stopped to bulk stock water and some chicken and rice and as we were about to set off, a car pulled up and three men in photo-journalist waistcoats got out and smiling, aproached us. It turned out they were journalists, Reuters said the one and had been covering, or were about to cover, a lot gets lost in translation here, a story about a tragedy in Libya – obviously we were a bigger scoop because we were detained for a happy half hour telling our story while the cameras clicked from all angles millemetres from our faces. They even called their office on a mobile and we had to tell it to them.!
It was a reflective moment in all the heat and discomfort – one gets absorbed by the daily business of survival doing what we have been doing and can easily forget how unusual four white men, on fancy motor bikes, weighed down with gear, bristling with equipment must be to the residents of this very inhospitable and therefore not-much visited place.
We explained to the journalists that we could find no hotel and they immediately promised to help and seconded a local and we had to follow them through the same dusty steets passed the same bemused shop-keepers that had watched us ride back and forth all afternoon. Stopping outside the same miserable places we had rejected before, we finally said our goodbyes and left town, heading north. On either side of the Nile there is agriculture and and this road to Egypt follows the river but after 30 kms or so we found a low dune with some distance away from any farming and we pulled off the road and made camp.
Drained by the heat of the ride, camp took a while to set up, and we were soon on our matresses in our tents and asleep.
Bayuda Desert road
326 km, 10024 km from Cape Town
Having our passports back meant we didn’t have to delay in Khartoum and could continue with the journey. We spent a couple of hours changing some dollars to the local currency (there are no ATMs and no cell phone reception in Sudan), and then rode around this large busy city looking for the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, the start of the great river that we’re set to follow for the rest of our journey. Eventually we left Khartoum at about 12, heading for Atbara, and soon discovered that North of Khartoum, it is all desert and heat! Luckily on this stretch of the road there were quite a few little villiages, and we became experts at the little shops that have a fridge, and the electricity to drive it! All along the road there are large earthenware vats of water for the weary travellers, but our feeble tourist stomachs were no match for the tepid fetid water they hold. At Atbara we stayed at the Blue Nile hotel, which is neither blue nor on the nile. The rooms also don’t have windows proper ablutions or aircon, but again the local staff were so eager to help that it made up for the dismal accomodation. Dinner was again at a local street eatery, chicken again.
Loaded up but jackets abandoned in the heat
410 km, 9698 km from Cape Town
Left Gedaref early and rode through the increasing heat of the day which got up to 48 degrees, until we reached Khartoum. The city itself wasn’t particularly inspiring, and we were all cooking in the heat, so it was a delight to come across the german guesthouse where we were staying, a little oasis in the middle of the crowded hot city, especially as it’s central feature was a huge swimming pool, where we spent the rest of the afternoon cooling off. Being a Thursday meant two things, firstly the next day, friday, is the start of the weekend so getting our alien registration would be a problem. Luckily, the german owner had a plan, and we did our usual leap of faith by handing over our precious passports and wads of dollars to a stoney faced nubian who then vanished into the night, to re-appear past midnight with the passports in hand all properly stamped. Secondly, Thursday night is the ex-pat braai night at the guesthouse, which was a tasty affair accompanied by an slighty surreal thumping ibeza soundtrack until the early hours of the morning, just loud enough to drown out the mezzuins call to the faithful.
Sudanese woman in the 45 degree heat
352 km, 9288 km from Cape Town
THE START OF THE HEAT
Today was our last day in Ethiopia, and leaving Gondor you could sense the change in landscape as we descended from the foothils of the Simian mountains of Ethiopia down to the flat desert plains of Sudan. The previous day we had had a smattering of rain on the road to Gondor, today the temperature started to rise, and we eventually took off our jackets, not realising that we would not be putting them back on for the next two weeks! We approached the border crossing with some trepidation as we’d heard lots of horror stories, however, despite it taking a coupld of hours to get through both sides, we had no issues at all, and in fact we were invited to partake in some tea with the immigration officials on the Sudanese side. The official was also polite enough to point out to Sierra that his ethiopian scarf was being worn on the wrong side (not sure the significance of getting it wrong, but we took a few guesses). The town of Gederef and the hotel there set the standard for both Sudanese hotels (terrible) and hospitality and food (delightful). We were wandering around looking like our usual lost selves, when a friendly local offered to drop us at the best eating place in town, which turned out to be a street cafe with superb cheap food. There we were welcomed by the curious locals who then insisted on taking us for coffees at a coffee house and refused to let us pay.
358 km, 8936 km from Cape Town
We left Lalibela the following day, a Tuesday which is clearly market day in Ethipoia. All along the winding mountain passes we would pass a constant stream of villagers walking miles to the next town, taking their chickens (live and dead), goats, back breaking loads of timber, skins and cattle to market. The road itself is spectacular, it’s a rough dirt road that winds it’s way up and down valleys, descending down to a tributary of the nile, then winding it’s way back up 1000m up to the highlands, where it becomes a winding tar road through one mountain vista after another, until it eventually descends to lake Tana and Gondor.
8578 km from from Cape Town
ROCK HEWN CHURCHES
Woke up to the most amazing view today, looking over the valleys far below Lalibela, so high that you can watch the hawks and eagles soaring beneath you, and everywhere in the village you are surrounded by breathtaking mountain panoramas reminiscent of the drakensberg.
With only one day at hand to view the churches, we opted for a guide to show us the best sites. We set off through the village by foot, trailed by the usual street kids, and soon arrived at the historical site. We’d heard so much about the churches, but despite the buildup we were unprepared for the sheer scale of the buildings, and standing inside the quiet chambers of Biete Maryam (House of Mary), it’s almost impossible to get your head around the enormity of work required to carve them out. We sat there imagining the ringing out of thousands of chisels chipping away at the hard stone. Our guide for the day was excellent, a humble and devout man who spends most days walking around those reflective places, and when we asked him whether they carved out the insides by starting at the doors at the base, or through the tiny windows at the top, he replied that he often sits inside the churches and ponders the same problem but confesses in his humble way that the question just becomes too much for him. We were particularly impressed by Biete Giyorgis, one of the finest preserved churches.
Inside the rock hewn churches
311 km, 8578 km from Cape Town
Leaving Bahir Dar, we crossed the Blue Nile via bridge. Several hippos were spotted by
296 km, 8012 km from Cape Town
A steep hilly climb out of Addis brought us into eucalyptus plantations interspersed by villages. Donkey carts were common along the way. Buses, taxis, cars and bikers give them full right of way. We always felt sorry for the donkeys, overburdened and clearly pushed beyond donkey limits by humans. Without vehicles, donkeys are the burden carriers of Ethiopia. Tough little critters and fully deserving of our biker respect. Our bikes are pretty loaded and we call them ‘mules’ so we could empathise fully with the donkeys. There were a lot of donkey foals which, though very endearing, were very skittish and easily prone to scaring by 650cc engines, causing them to spronk into the road without warning. I guess time and overburden makes donkeys wise and breaks their spirit as they plod, plod, plod to market or wherever. There were hadidas and vultures. Any sign of something dead brought the scavengers circling. No one has to remove animal carcases, the vultures clean up and the dogs get rid of the bones. A perfect solution to the problem. The vultures were huge and sat by their latest finds at the side of the road ignored by the humans.
A slight diversion from animals. Ethiopian villagers seem unknowingly energy efficient, using dried cow pats for fuel, which they stack in beehive-shaped heaps to dry, and eucalyptus for charcoal burning cookers. Totally self sustaining and renewable resources. We debated the eucalyptus planting and concluded it was a bad thing for the native flora, being an introduced alien invader. However, the Ethiopians seem to have embraced the problem by using the wood, bark and leaves. The wood is used for fires and charcoal, the fresh leafy twigs for fencing livestock. We were amazed at how multistorey buildings were constructed using eucalyptus pole scaffolding. So, although it appears to be here to stay, Ethiopians are at least finding a use for it and keeping it in check to some extent at the same time.
Ethiopians also seem to like their honey. Beehives consisted of long shaped reed baskets suspended in the trees by ropes. Bees attacked the sugary cinnamon on the rims of our tea cups at one welcome village stop. They look different to SA bees. Slightly smaller abdomen and paler in colour. We wondered if they sting as badly but didn’t test this out. We also heard that the monks make meade or honey wine and this may have been what locals were selling in bottles on the side of the road but we did not stop to check. The cattle are fed from huge drying haystacks of either corn or wheat stalks left over from the harvest. The stacks are munched all around the middle at cow head height, leaving them looking like giant mushrooms.
At a breathtaking stop on the incredible Blue Nile gorge, enterprising young hustlers brought out handfuls of fossil shells to bargain. Mostly consisting of clam and small spiral shell fossils, they bore evidence of sea life that must have existed prehistorically in the silt and mud layers of the area long before the Blue Nile carved its way down through the layers.
From the bridge spanning the gorge, we heard and saw baboons, barking and coughing at us from the rocks. We crawled our way down the rocky path to the bottom disturbing their otherwise idyllic baboon games and business.Two cream and brown marked geese viewed our Nile mudlarking nervously, leaving their tracks across the virgin mud and slime. We debated whether there were any crocodiles but decided there didn’t appear to be based on the lack of traces in the mud and sand.
The Blue Nile selfie
7716 km from from Cape Town
We set out today with a mission and found a taxi and secured it for the day.
First was the experience of coffee at Tobocca – a famous coffee house and we enjoyed a cup of the strong stuff, then we were driven to a pleasant market where we all bought some local goods for those back home. Our obliging driver then took us across town to the National museum – a rundown affair but it does house Lucy and so we enjoyed that. Back across town and we went to more modern museum ‘The Red Terror Museum’ which was a very interesting if sometimes a little harrowing account of the terrible rein of the military Derg that overthrew Emporer Haille Selassie in the early seventies and ruled brutally for three decades.
A little disturbed by the exhibits we took off once again across town to collect our passports from the friendly Sudanese embassy people
Famous Tomoca coffee house in Addis Ababa
7716 km from from Cape Town
Our reason for riding so hard to get to Addis was that the Sudanese Embasy only does visa applications on certain days of the week. Today being such a day. So we left the guesthouse and found a taxi. All the taxis here are painted dark blue and white and are 80’s vintage Ladas, Fiats or Toyotas in rattle trap-condition, but they are numerous and cheap enough. Our driver named his price and we set off across town.
Addis is a city of four million souls and plenty of traffic. It has a twisted spaghetti-like road system and a real problem in that they are constructing an overhead rail transport system – and the massive pillars march across the city with excavation and cranes and rubble and water more or less everywhere but the traffic moves along and the most drivers are slick but curteous and it all works with a minimum of hooting.
Locating the Sudanese embassy we filed in and filled out the forms and paid the money and as expected were advised to come back to fetch our passports tomorrow afternoon. That left the rest of the day open and I decided to look for a camera. The one I bought just brfore leaving Cape Town, curiously failed after a few days and it has been frustrating without one. Our driver took us to a street with every shop and stall selling cell phones, TV’s fridges etc. I found a camers but at twice the price back home, so have thought to look further. The route to the street took us past a shanty town area where the street has been excavated for the overhead rail system, leaving the residents precariously perched on the edge but carrying on regardless with their daily lives.
Addis is a nice city, very friendly people, urbanised and on the move and we were all impressed.
Day one in the city saw goats on ropes being dragged through the dust and traffic madness. Again, the large brown raptors, black kites, circling slowly in spirals above the city, higher and higher, riding city thermals then swooping suddenly to snatch street morsels left by humans whilst still in flight. Despite the rubbish, not a single rat, roach or bedbug in sight. Where were these creatures of city slum dwelling? An unsolved mystery indeed. At the Sudanese embassy a black kite gave several sharp chirrup noises in the eucalyptus branches above the waiting visa queue. Oblivious to our presence and completely in context, since the Sudanese emblem has a phoenix, almost hawk like emblem as a symbol. A good omen for us waiting expectantly to be let in. Down the narrow alleys in the street trading parts of town, dogs and pied crows battle to scratch out an existence.
It was only on leaving Addis that the donkeys, cattle and goats became the norm. In the city, only their flayed carcases, hung on vicious meat hooks on the walls of tiny shops, existed. Food for the human machine and daily nyama appetites of Africans and perhaps the odd hungry biker.
Addis Ababa, local taxis
466 km, 7716 km from Cape Town
Setting off early, we thought we could make the capital in good time despite the mileage but one thing we have discovered is that you cannot travel swiftly in Ethiopia
The scrub changed to lush green sub-tropical vegetation just north of Yabello and so the population density inrceased – ultmately it is like riding through a two hundred kilometer long village – 90 odd million people in Ethiopia and I think we passed at leatst 89 million of them today!
The roadside teems with donkey carts, goats, cattle, dogs, horses and people – walking, standing, sitting and the road belongs to everybody, so speed is impossible.
The fertile lusness gave way rather suddenly to a hot and windswept plain as we apraoched the capital and the population thinned a little, but the truck traffic increased and we took a long time to negotiate the last thirty or so kilometers into the city, arriving in ethe dark again.
Descending from winding hills to the flat scrub plains of Ethiopia, hornbills swooped across the road into acacias. Purple starling chattered to each other at one stopping point, shining brightly in he sun, beady eyed. When a small, pouch like nest was spotted in a low acacia bush, I peeked inside. Unexpectedly, two small cream brown flecked eggs neatly laid and softly cocooned. A small treasure from what small bird I couldn’t identify in such harsh, dry, dusty conditions. Everything survives by some miracle or lives off something else in Africa’s perfect cycles. In the words of poet/songwriter Syd Kitchen, ‘Africa’s not for sissies’. Leaving Ager Maryam, we saw large baboons with huge manes on the verge, right in the middle of town. Scavengers off the town pickings and looking uncomfortably humanoid and swaggering. No one seemed to mind them and life carried on as if this is how it is supposed to be. We were warned, and for once it proved to be right. Beware of the livestock and humans crossing the road. No road sensibility existed and we constantly had to be on our guard to dodge these hazards or pay the penalty.
Biking Ethiopian style
302 km, 7250 km from Cape Town
We headed back to the border for the formalaties which, although we were the only border crossers does take a long time, but with the usual cheer that immigration officials seem to reserve for curteous and friendly travellers we headed back into Moyale. I mention the immigration situation because in our reseach for this trip we read countless ride and drive reports of others who have been this way and so many of them had problems at borders – it is our experience, thus far mind, that immigration and customs officers are friendly, curteous, sometimes talkative and usually interested in our mission – and this has made them as much fun as any other part of the whole experience.
So into Moyale we rode and into the first petrol station. Fuel was being pumped into vehicles but quite suddenly we were informed that there was no more. A bit unnerved, we tried another garage but they shook their heads too – so our introduction to the chronically short of fuel Ethiopia. A man beckoned us and waved a plastic two liter bottle at us and we rode over and stopped in the dusty edge of the road while two hundred people crowded around us – all talking at once, all waving cans of black market fuel. So the system is; the tanker arrives at the garage and fills the tanks – all available vehicles descend and fill up – mostly bakkies and tuk-tuks and then vendors come and squat down and fill countless yellow, plastic 20 liter drums, which they pay Birr 20 per liter for. Then they go and fill countless 2 liter bottles and hawk these in little stalls at the roadside at Birr 30 per liter -supply and demand. We bought 4 liters for each bike and turned north along a tarred but pitted road through scrubby and poor villages in much the same brush as northern Kenya to the town of Yebello. Stopping for a bite after finding the petrol station empty of fuel, we enquired if anybody knew of any about. None was the reply untill further north but the proprietor of the motel where we were eating said he had some and would share it with us. Off we we went into the back streets of the town and he duly shared some of his stash with us at Birr 50 a liter – supply and demand! We took what he could spare and headed north, getting to the town of Agar Maryam just as it started to rain and get dark at the same time.
With the priority of fuel we finally found a garage with supply and filled up and then only sought out and found a reasonable travellers hotel and settled in with clothing drying everywhere.
After an early morning call to prayers mosque greeting, fine riding weather through lush countryside. Small villages in such profusion that they blurred into one long winding village. An interesting wildlife phenomenon. Unidentified raptors were prolific around every village, circling lazily and swooping low, which at close opportunity had light brown marking and large vicious curved beaks and talons. Symbiotic or opportunistic existence with humans, picking through easy accessible village garbage dumps was the theory. Probably also keeping the rodent populations in check or preying on other small species of furry mammal. Elegant forest birds flew out from the trees front of us and through the bananas. Donkey carts, cattle, sheep and goats were staples. In order of sensible road sense, worst to best were goats, sheep, cattle and donkeys. Two silver-white horses, wearied by village life, were skirted by the bikes without even flinching. Standing nose-to-nose in the centre line of the village road, we agreed they were discussing their day and the madness of the village life humans swirling around them day to day.
Southern Ethiopia, you’re never alone in the densly populated country
244 km, 6948 km from Cape Town
JOU MA SE MARSABIT
The second half of this great road, started in an extraordinary dry mist which dissapeared after we descended from the plateau of Marsabit and we spent the day on this rough and rocky road with long muddy sections which sap speed and we only got to Moyale late in the afternoon. It was a great ride though and mud spalattered we all are.
We crossed over the Kenyan border and when we got to the Ethiopian side were told that the immigration guys had gone home for the day and we should sleep in Moyale and return in the morning.
We met a money changer and he guided us to the best place in town – a town that is a sea of traders, goats, donkeys, mud and functional mayhem
Another tough section of road lay ahead across the Dida Galgalu Desert. Sandy, rocky, muddy in parts, long and harsh. Yet beautiful, despite the barrenness. We saw all kinds of birds, small blue swallows with brown caps and solitary raptors gliding effortlessly in the desert winds. Lilac breasted rollers flipped and rolled after insect like missiles. Plovers, travelling at 70km/h performed aerobatics alongside the bikes. At watery spots we spotted sacred ibis, like porcelain with black markings and beautiful curved beaks silent, elegant and watchful. This was their centuries old African home. We were the privileged visitors. As Garth neared the end of one particular diversion, he saw a huge black ground hopping bird which didn’t fly off in panic. ‘Ground hornbill’ was the guess, which became the standing joke when Kyle smartly commented, ‘You guys think every unidentified bird is a ground hornbill’. Wild camels in a man made bare dusty hollow by the road looked like a posed photo opportunity. What were they doing there? Probably keeping out of the winds and rain which had recently fallen. A little respite. There were sparse villages at long intervals, eaking out a bare living by scratching in the sand and base rock. Goats and cattle were everywhere at every village. Free range and fence free. It had to happen sometime. In fact we had been warned by other bikers, beware of the goats and other animals straying on the road. Leaving one village a small goat balked, danced, tiptoed, trotted and dashed in front of Shane’s bike. There was barely time to react. Avoiding the goat put bike and rider on the slippery slope off the road into the sloping verge. Grass, bush, tree stump, rocks and Trevor shouting nervously
315 km, 6704 km from Cape Town
THE GREAT ROAD
Leaving Meru, plump with fuel and with fine weather we started on the great Marsabit Road which runs essentially rom Isiolo to Moyale on the Ethiopian border and is pretty much the last of the natural untarred great north road. Although the chinese have been busy for a long time with upgrading this and other roads all over Africa, there are still long sections which remain as they have always been.
The road cuts through the Kaisut desert and pans of northern kenya which is home to remote and unique tribes, who we were told have chased off the road-builders on occasion. A great broad highway through the region would change their pastoral ways for ever and so it is understandable.
Riding conditions were pretty tough as the original road is corrugated, rocky and sandy untill it started to rain, when it became just muddy!
Before the rain though, we had to deal with two rear wheel punctures with camels as audience.
We crept into Marsabit quite late and found our guest house.
Riding conditions being fairly hectic it was relatively difficult to spot wildlife. Nonetheless we surprised, and were surprised by, animals and birds as we crawled like ants across the face of one of Africa’s fine natural roads. Strange longnecked guinea fowl trotted away in front of the wheels with a lot of very skittish small dik dik-like buck bolting in terror both sides. What were those, we wondered! At one stage we were stopped dead by a huge troop of baboons, babies, females and arrogant, swaggering males which crossed the road. There must have been at least 50 or 60. The bush had changed since the slopes and was now thorn and scrub. Pin tailed wydahs, blueand plum coloured starling, unidentified robin like birds and raptors were spotted. In between there were small groups of camels in the acacias, each wearing the wooden bell given them early in life to signal their presence in the bush…clonk, clonk, clonk. What strangely benign creatures so adapted to Africa and looking just right in bush or desert conditions. I confess they have become a personal favourite on this African journey. Garth noticed an interesting thing about them, they appear quite thin viewed head on, probably some sort of adaptation to Africas conditions. They ruminate away quietly and are undisturbed by bikes and humans. Termite mounds were large in the surrounding bush, evidence of vast nests which had been building for years undisturbed.
Our first camel sighting, northern Kenya
238 km, 6389 km from Cape Town
We packed up and said our goodbyes to our housemates and left in a light drizzle which soon stopped and we had lovely cool travelling weather for the rest of the day.
Our route north took us firts right into the heart of Nairobi but as it was Good Friday today, the traffic was so light that it did not hassle us at all and we were able to gawp at this immense city and surrounds.
We passed through the small town of Thika which appeared quite affluent and amid quite thick easter weekend traffic chose the easterly B6 route that is a wonder of neat tropical agriculture and skirts the great Mount Kenya to the west. Unfortunately it was again too cloudy for mountain spotting but was a truly great ride which ended in the town of Meru.
A busy vibey place is Meru and we found a downtown hotel with basement parking for the bikes.
Out of the surrounds of Nairobi and riding back through the lush countryside wildlife was a bit sparse. The road is very populated with villages dotting the way. In addition, the slopes of Mt Kenya are tea and coffee, bananas, cane and polenta/sorghum with rice in large paddy fields on the plain below. So it was back to the staples of African daily domestic life, donkeys for transport, cattle, goats and chickens for food and the ubiquitous thin ribbed yellow dogs for company. Bird life consisted of irridescent starlings, various unidentified small raptors and robins. A common bird everywhere was the pied crow which was found scavenging off humans. An incredibly diverse and successful bird.
The Equator! We almost missed this sign!
6151 km from from Cape Town
Unfortunately both Kilo and I have succumbed to a stomach bug and that does leave one flat and uncomfortable. Luckily the amenities are good – there are worse places to have the shits!
We went down to the local KTM bike shop, which carried an impressive inventory of their expensive gear but needed to get certain things and so paid up for them.
Some further shopping being done, we returned along a route where they are doing some impressive new road work developement work. All aimed at getting easier access to the shiny new malls that are springing up.
We bought a second hand tyre from the stock pile that our host has built up and exchanged Kilo’s rear tyre for it, as it had worn too much for our liking, though we will bring it along as a spare.
Lots of domestic herds, humped back cattle, goats and donkeys with the dark crosses across their shoulders all under cloudy skies. We saw a large martial eagle perched in acacia tree by the side of the road. Stopping for a break under a thorn umbrella we could see busy robin like birds with huge communal nests. Then outside Nairobi, one of us spotted a small impala herd by the road. Pin tailed wydahs swooped in looping flight and lilac breasted rollers twisted in flight after insect life.
Everywhere we saw the domestic food of Africa, chickens of all varieties. Chickens tied up, chickens penned, chickens being carted on bicycles, chickens in and on buses and cars. There were free roaming chickens in dusty villages. On motorcycles there were chickens, being carted along sometimes in twos or threes. It seemed Africa’s taste runs on village chicken and Nyama choma or meat with whatever local vegetable delicacy of the day is prepared. As we approached the Ngong Hills area, we saw a huge hammerkop stalking through the green grass and low acacia of Kenya. At some ungodly hour of the morning, whilst camping on the lawn, the local dogs from the surrounding villages began their ancestral howling in unison, a weird and motley pack call which reached a crescendo then it was back to individual dog discussions and challenges across the busy night of Nairobi.
Bikes lined up at Jungle Junction
374 km, 6151 km from Cape Town
Leaving our lodge we travelled back to Arusha and found the clock tower in the heart of the city which is the symbolic half-way point on the journey from Cape Town to Cairo. Curious locals crowd around the bikes when we stop and we always enjoy telling our story.
Heading north once agin on the A104 we zipped along, a little sad to be leaving Tanzania, a country that has delighted and impressed us .
Namanga, the border crossing was quiet on the Tanzanian side and we found our fixer quickly and were through in under an hour. On the Kenyan side we found the friendliest of immigration officers who beamed their welcomes and after we got our precious carnets stamped and had dodged the persistent Masaai lady curio sellers, we were off.
A new country!
The Kenyan countryside is very similar to the Tanzanian and we stayed on the great north road for awhile and then took a side road that would bring us into the south west of Nairobi. This road turned out to be a welcome and unexpected gravel treat and we were in high spirits by the time we got to the outskirts of the city.
Following the GPS route along a busy and crowded city road we were guided through a lush and affluent area, which we discovered is called Karen after Karen Blixen, as the suburb is on the original coffee farm.
JJ’s is the name on the board at the tall steel gate where we finally found ourselves – Jungle Junction – probably the most well known back-packers in Africa – is an essential place to stop over.
We swiftly pitched our tents on the lawn and accepted the tasty supper on offer and afterwards settled down around the table and shared a few beers with the other bike overlanders, mostly Europeans, who had stopped here on their generally unhurried way south.
The clock tower in Arusha, half way from Cape to Cairo
5777 km from from Cape Town
Our organised guide arrived early in a stretch Land Cruiser and we set off for the onamatipoeacally named Ngorongoro crater. Popular narrative has it, that the place is so named for the sound the rattles make that the Masaai attach to the fore-legs of their beloved cattle.
The journey takes awhile and is scenic and steep as you climb up the edge of part of the Great Rift and now for the first time we encountered tourists, all heading in the same direction because this road leads to Ngorongoro and also on to the great Serengeti.
The twisted and muddy road is thickly surrounded by lush green forest and eventually we got to the the modern and organised park entrance, the car park of which was full of land cruisers like ours packed with chattering Europeans all dressed in designer safari khaki and clutching expensive cameras with half-meter lenses.
Feeling a little subdued by so many people after not having to share much of our journey with anyone but friendly locals we hung around our vehicle while our guide got the paperwork sorted out.
We got going again and ground our way up the edge of this extraordinary piece of geography till we were at the rim and stopped at alookout point. It was misty unfortunately but the promise of the view was evident as the mist swirled revealing the sight below.
The crater is about 20 kms across and 600 m deep and is dotted with small lakes and from that height appeared treeless with tiny dots of animal herds.
Easing down the very steep entrance road which is thickly wooded it was eveident that the crater floor is virtually treeless and the herds seen from above turned out to be Masaai cattle herds which co-exist with herds of wildebeest and zebra.
Once we reached the crater floor proper, the strangeness of this environment is evident. The crater sides are too steep and jungled for the animals to leave and so they all graze peacefully and seemingly oblivous to the tourist vehicles that criss-cross the area.
Without scrub to hide in all the animals are easy to spot.
On the main road to the lake we saw one humped camels. This was a reminder that the Arab influence had been in Tanzania and seemed anachronistic. At the accommodation a small red waxbill was seen, building it’s nest in the palm thatch roof, unafraid of humans. An iridescent blue kingfisher greeted us on arrival under the perfect African sun. Strange sonar like sounds were heard at dinner which proved to be bats in the rafters. Garth’s comment,
120 km, 5777 km from Cape Town
We spent the morning in the town of Arusha which is a very busy place, getting hardware that we had run short of and finding accommadation near Lake Manyara.
Leaving the city and heading west in fine weather, we passed a cyclist, travelling in the same direction who got very excited at the sight of our flags as we passed him and we stopped and chatted.
A lone South African Cairo to Cape Town cyclist – he had been on the road for 52 days and had made very impresive distance, we thought. He was quite emotional at the meeting of fellow countrymen and adventurers.
Getting to our lodge a short distance from Karatu we settled in, again the only guests and planned our sight-seeing for the next day.
A happy meeting with fellow South African Shayne Rookhuyzen on his charity cycle from Cairo to Cape Town
6 km, 5657 km from Cape Town
It rained fiercely all night but dawned fine and warm. Today was a non-riding day and we got to the stuff of laundry and bike and gear maintenance. We needed to go down to the village to get supplies and this three km journey took twenty minutes of sliding and bouncing over the ruined road and the then the steep, muddy return.
It was our intention to try and go see Mount Kilimanjaro which is about 80 kms distant but we were advised that the persistent rain and mist would make it invisible, so we decided to go back to Lake Manyara, which is on the plains and thus likely to be drier.
The slopes of Arusha’s accommodation were full of bird life. Kingfisher, barbets and shrikes were spotted in the overgrown bush. The lush tree life attracts Tanzania’s birds in profusion.
Braai night in Arusha