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Israel & Palestine. You don’t need to be paranoid to live here but it helps!

23 rd April to 7 th May 2006

Leaving Egypt behind us, we crossed the 300m or so of “no man’s land” and pulled up at the heavy weight yellow steel barrier, baring our way, with one of those cheese shaped hydraulic barriers in the road below. This is one border that you couldn’t cross in a “James Bond in a hurry sort of a way!” We stopped! But instead of Israelis, we were approached by an out of breath member of the Egyptian tourist police who had just woken up to the fact that some tourists had just crossed the border without his assistance. I suppose it was his job to guide us through the chaos that passes for Egyptian border formalities and of course he had arrived too late. It also slipped my mind that we still had our Egyptian number plates.

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Egypt. Walking like Egyptians!

London to Cape Town - Cape Town to Cairo!

18 th March to 23rd April 2006

Well against all odds we had made it to Aswan, Egypt, it had never been part of our itinerary, but at the end of the day, we were here and survived the two nights on a barely sea worthy old cement barge. We have found that it never really pays to have too fixed a plan, just go where the wind and bureaucracy takes you! Anyway, once some other barges, boats and a ferry at the dock had been manoeuvred out of the way, we were able to disembark. I think there was a great deal of relief, within our group of intrepid sailors, to experience the feel of dry land once more beneath our feet and wheels. The job of getting the vehicles onto the dock was made easier by the slope of the quay and the fact that the crew were eager to start their time ashore, so the barge was positioned and then repositioned so that we could each drive off in turn and no inshallah “banana” ramps to contend with. We said farewell to the crew and gave them a small tip for sparing us from a watery grave!

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Sudan. Mark of Khartoum!

23rd February to 18th March 2006

After almost crossing the border in to Sudan prematurely, we had both missed the unmarked grass shack that was Ethiopian immigration, and it was only after a group of hustlers and money changers ran after us, stopping us on the bridge, that we realised our mistake.

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Ethiopia, YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU! Give me money!

9th January to 23th February 2006

Following the usual border formalities we crossed in to Ethiopia. I can’t explain what a relief it was to be back on asphalt once again. On arrival at customs, following the usual immigration procedure, we discovered that it had just that minute closed for a two-hour lunch break, apparently on Sundays they take three hours! This has to be the only country in Africa where the customs closes for lunch! We were livid but what can you do but sit and wait. Much to our relief even the guides and hustlers went home for lunch! So I moved Grommet to the shade, got out the chairs, following a couple of samosas and we were both having a quiet little snooze. After their two-hour lunch, the officials returned, ten minutes later we were free to go and at last on our way.

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Kenya, The tale of Two Turkeys.

21th December to 9th January 2006

After a five hours hard drive from Sipi falls in Uganda, we reached the small border at the Suam River. Small borders are great and usually offer the minimum of fuss and bother but getting there is usually hell and this had been no exception. I had even considered requesting a refund for the Uganda “Road Fund Tax!”  After some short formalities we were now on smooth well-graded murram road which eventually gave way to asphalt.

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Uganda, Pearl of Africa.

25th November to 21th December 2005

Following the small border near Kisoro, we were in Uganda. This was not my first time in Uganda, I had spent four years living in the capital, Kampala, with my parents as a child in the 60s, but for Blanca it would be her first time.

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Malawi, Rwanda,  Spaniard in the mist.

18th November to 25th November 2005

Rwanda, we were not sure quite what to expect, we had read up a bit about the country’s dark past that had eventually lead to the mass genocide were the Hutu slaughtered thousands of Tutsi’s, but that was over ten years ago. The war crimes tribunal is still underway in Arusha, Tanzania.

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Malawi, Tanzania Off on Safari.

19th October to 18th November 2005

Leaving Malawi had been simple enough but entering Tanzania was a different story. In between the two borders we changed our remaining Malawi Kwacha in to Tanzanian shillings at a small bureau de change at a much better rate than the black market which was quite a surprise. I then squeezed the Grommet through the forest of trucks loading and un-loading goods through to the Tanzania border. Blanca then joined the three French groups to go through the formalities. We already had our visa so it should have been a simple process of stamps and then off. There was a bit of discussion about a $25 import licence, the officials refused to accept that the carnet was the same thing. The French had no visas and no insurance, so hours of negotiation followed before we could leave and move on. The French then all went their separate ways and we continued on with the Doiteau family in the lead, in search of a volcanic crater lake and some water falls that were listed in their guide book. With Grommet full of fuel and provisions the poor boy was huffing and puffing trying to keep up with the French in their Nissan with steep hill after steep hill. I think when or if we get back, Grommet is going in for a heart transplant, maybe a 4.6L V8 will do the trick? Well it didn’t take long for us to realise why there aren’t any famous French explorers as they stopped an asked the way from each and every local they passed. I suppose it doesn’t help that only a few locals speak English and even fewer Fronglais!

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Malawi, Birthday by the lake

15th October to   20th October 2005

After a year travelling in Africa, we have reached the conclusion that small borders are better than the bigger ones and can be crossed with minimal hassle. The officials are usually pleased to receive us tourists as opposed to seeing us as a way of boosting their salaries! And Lusuntha was one such border, but we still had to find somewhere for the night.

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Zambia “Livingstone 4x4 Hire I Presume?”

12th September to 15th October 2005

With Portuguese speaking Mozambique now behind us we are in more familiar territory with English speaking Zambia. But as some people say here Zambia is a country where they read, write and speak English but don’t understand it! Hence drinking and driving is taken literally and we know of drivers being stopped by the police asked to get out of the vehicle and finish their beer before continuing…..!

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Mozambique Part 1

22 August to 12 September 2005

At last the promise of warmer weather, sandy beaches, friendly chilled out people and the chance to relax. I have to say Blanca and I were really looking forward to Mozambique and were expecting something like Angola but with slightly better roads as the war finished here ten years ago.

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South Africa and the end of part one + Lesotho and Swaziland

11th July 2005 to 22 August 2005

Luckily for us not all the South Africans had gone on holiday and a few remained long enough to let us cross the border. The crossing was very swift, no hassle, no presents, no searches, just straight forward and efficient as you would expect, they even had computers so none of the usual need to write all our details out in triplicate. We were now nearing the close of the first half of our trip.

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Namibia

14th June 2005 – 11th July 2005

We crossed the border at Oshikango and entered Namibia or should I say ‘nirvana’. The border town on the Namibian side had all the things that Angola unfortunately lacked, banks with ATM’s, petrol stations with petrol, shops full of things at realistic prices and how can I fail to mention fantastic roads. Oh, almost forgot, these roads come at a price and all foreign registered vehicles have to pay road fund tax, but when you offset that against wear and tear to both the vehicle and ones self it would be cheap at twice the price and since we didn’t need to pay for a visa it was money saved all round.  With a bit of luck and some time maybe Angola will be like this once the billions of dollars that disappear to line various peoples pockets gets redirected to improving the infrastructure i.e. roads, housing, water and sanitation. Improved roads leads to lower transportation costs which in turn leads to cheaper goods therefore raising the people’s standard of living.

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Angola, Watch out for the mines

26th April – 14th June 2005

We crossed the border at Luvo and were now in Angola proper with a country side full of mines and now with a bigger problem the “Marburg” disease, a form of Ebola that can be contracted through contact with an infected person. So we will have be careful with all the meeting and greeting, this can be difficult in particular at border crossings and police checks were the officials are keen to make contact with tourists.

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Congo-Brazaville, Cabinda, Congo-Kinshasha to Angola. In and out of the heart of darkness

2nd April – 26th April 2005

I’d borrowed the book “The Heart of Darkness” from Koen and Heidi and read it before we arrived here in the Congo. Conrad tells of a deep impenetrable forest stretching from the sea deep in to the interior of the continent. Unfortunately a lot has changed in the 100 or so years since the book was written, today all that is left is a vast ecological disaster and the total destruction of an entire ecosystem. The deforestation that started in Gabon now cuts deep in to the heart of the Congo and the sad thing it is continuing and appears to be unchecked. Fortunately the amount of bush meat available at the road side has reduced slightly, I guess there is nothing left to kill.

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Gabon

20th March-2nd April 2005

A quick question, why is a ski rack a very popular accessory for the Toyota Starlets and Corollas here in central Africa? May be we should have brought some snow chains. But I digress a little. We are now in country no 11 and it’s been 8 months since we left London and we are still on the move, we now have all the visas we need to get to South Africa including the visa for Angola. The visas have taken a very heavy toll on our budget but with any luck should be our last.

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Cameroon

22nd February 2005 to 20th March 2005

Borders crossings here in Africa are starting to take on a familiar shape. A group of very run down buildings and make shift barrier, if you are very lucky a sign proclaiming what country you are about to enter and always a long wait. The locals meanwhile come and go crossing back and forth between one country and another at will. The border to Cameroon at Ekang was just one of these. We left Nigeria and crossed a short rickety bridge and were in Cameroon. Immigration formalities over, we then had to wait for someone to fetch the customs official to stamp the carnet. It was quite late when we finally officially entered Cameroon so we had to find somewhere to sleep and fast. One of the areas many crater lakes, was quite close by so we decided to check it out. Lake Ejagham was a beautiful spot with hard standing for the vehicles above the forest lined lake, we were a bit concerned by the old colonial style building there, but on finding it deserted relaxed a little. It also helped that a local business an from a neighbouring village was there bathing with his sister and daughter and reassured us that it is a peaceful spot and no problem to camp. It is always a concern camping close to the border from a security point of view. As we were hot and sweaty Blanca and I decided to go for a dip in the lake and were surprised to find it very warm almost like a bath. Made a big change from the usual cold showers and provided a little relief from all the small biting flies that seem to inhabit these places. We had a very quiet night but were woken up at five by a group of nine guys who appeared to be just hanging around. Where these the robbers and bandits of our fears?

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Nigeria

7th February 2005 to 22nd February 2005

The crossing into Nigeria at Nikki was quick, smooth and efficient and not quite what we had been expecting. It was the first time our Yellow Fever card had been checked and Grommet was searched for illegal fruit and veg with the official making a small note that we were carrying a tin of mushrooms.

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Back to Bolgatanga and beyond 4-1-05

We left Cape Coast and headed off in convoy with Judith and Ralf for Accra. When you consider that the coast road is one of the main routes to the capital, it is in an appalling state and is more of a paved track through the bush. Some areas though are under construction and are akin to rough piste! Poor Grommet who had been cleaned and polished in Tamale by the night watchman, while we slept, was now filthy again. Lilli and Steffen had sent us a text with GPS coordinates of their location so, no in shala Spanish navigation. We arrived expecting horrendous traffic jams, for which Accra is famous, but fortunately it was Sunday and everybody was at one church or the other. About 20% of the population of Ghana are Muslim, 80% Christian and 100% believe in voodoo!

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GHANA, PART 1, TO ACCRA

We left the park early, but not before witnessing a large herd of elephant stroll through the camp and down to the lake to bathe, WOW! On route to the border we stopped for bread and some Ghana currency, 1€ =12,000cd, I only hope that the petrol is cheap! At this rate we will need at least 2,800,000cd`s to fill up Grommet, very scary!

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Burkina Faso

Following a very rough piste, we opted to stop early just before the border, but made the mistake of parking a little bit too close too the road and thus were soon joined by a large group of onlookers, which seem to upset the two Germans somewhat. Blanca and I, on the other hand, just got on with things and welcoming all the new arrivals. Blanca at one point deciding to throw all caution to the wind and took one of the many bicycles for a spin, which caused much concern for its owner and delight for us watching. As is often the case, our watchers left at sunset only to return the following morning just in time to see us pack up and move on. At Koro, we pass yet another simple and straightforward border crossing, only having to pay customs a little fee for working on Saturday.

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Mali

Leaving Mauritania was so swift and easy, we weren’t actually sure that we had left until at a police checkpoint, I noticed the uniforms had changed. We had to go to Nioro, the nearest big town to register with the Customs and Police.

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South Mauritania to Mali

Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, was an amazingly peaceful city. We went for a wonder around the Market Capital and apart from a little hassle from guys wanting to change euros for the local currency, there was no hassle.

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Mauritania

Camping Mousaffir, Dakhla. It’s raining! Yes we can’t believe it either, fortunately we managed to sort out the puncture, service Grommet, do the washing, et all on Monday, when it was almost to hot to move. Here we met a German couple Lilli and Steffen who are doing a similar route to ourselves except by motorcycle. Lilli has a KTM and Steffen a BMW.

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Leaving Morocco

We are growing accustomed to our new life on the road. Packing, unpacking Grommet, making and breaking camp as we move from place to place. Trying out our new toys as we go, the little generator, the Kelly kettle is great an even works with camel dung, the awning and sides survived our first sand storm!

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Africa bound - Morocco...

Despite the planned 'early start', we finally said goodbye to La Cala at 12 noon and headed for Algeciras and the ferry to Ceuta in Spanish Morocco.

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And we are off...

After a year of false starts, at last we were ready. I quit my job, there was definitely no turning back now.

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