Stoke Mandeville: 7th Nov 2005
2 Land Rovers
Team of six
Cape Town: 17th April 2006
9th November, We're Off!
Hello there and welcome to the first installment of our expedition diary - after over a year of preparation and a hectic last few weeks we are finally off on our big adventure!
After a weekend of goodbyes and thank you's, especially to everyone in Hereford who has supported us, we set off to Stoke Mandeville on Monday morning for the expedition launch. Not sure what to expect when we got there, we arrived to about 100 people, 3 TV crews, and a local radio station broadcasting live to cover our departure! In between last minute bits of packing and re-shuffling we were all interviewed and filmed....fame at last!! It was brilliant to see everyone at the launch - including Molten Rock showing the off-road wheelchair that has been built for us, and Avanade with the laptop, which we have been assured will survive the journey. Derek and Col made speeches, as did Dr Tom Meagher and Prof. David Croisdale-Appleby from Stoke Mandeville, then we were waved off on the next leg of our journey - to Portsmouth and a much needed nights sleep.
Tues morning we got up early and onto the ferry to Jersey - nothing in Africa could be as bad as this!!! 10 hours of very rough sea and 4 beds between 6 of us which we took it in turns to lie down in and tried very hard not to be sick. We were very happy indeed to arrive in Jersey and get our feet firmly on dry land.
We will be spending 2 days in Jersey hosted by Ashburton, one of our main supporters and Col will be speaking in front of 300 people at their conference tomorrow night. In the meantime we have visits to 2 schools, a hotel for disabled visitors to Jersey, a cocktail party......and more PR.....Jersey TV have also sent out a crew to see us, as have the local paper and radio station. We also need to do some more last minute packing...on the ferry we decided that we already have far too much gear so a big throw out is currently taking place - no more luxury items!
We leave Jersey for France on Friday (fortunately only 50 mins on the ferry this time!), however Chris is heading home for a week to take a medical exam and will be joining us next week in Tunis. In the meantime we will be in France and Italy brushing up on our language skills and hoping that it is a bit warmer than it is today!
Please log in on the 18th to hear all about our adventures in Europe.....
15th November. Italy: winding roads
Author : Colin Javens
Distance Travelled: 1165 miles
We left our wooded car park at 10.30am again after a night of rain, thunder and the occasional hoot of an owl. After a short stint on the other side of the road I was reminded over the CB that I should be driving on the other side of the road! We descended down the final hilly valley with the clouds and rain lifting and glimpsed the Mediterranean in the distance. We reached Cannes at 12pm. Chrissy, Kiko and Woody headed off to get a charger for our laptop and send some emails, while Ben and I stayed with the cars. 1.30 hrs later we set off again on a mission to cross into Italy.
As we reached Nice we had to climb and descend every headland as we made our way to Monaco and Monte Carlo. The nearer we got to Monte Carlo the buildings started changing from high-rise flats to very neat and wealthy buildings. Driving?through Monte Carlo was something I really wanted to do and the ocean views and cliff roads didn't disappoint.
Shortly afterwards we passed through an abandoned border post and into Italy. Only having done just less than 100 miles we were keen to push on and find a campsite. With no luck the sun had gone down and the light from a full moon reflecting off the sea helped to guide us along the coast road. As we are currently out of the holiday season it meant that all of the campsites are all closed for the season and as we hadn't had a shower for over a week we made a decision that we would hire a room for a night in a local hotel and all bed down and have a shower.
We were all really impressed by our bi-lingual Australian team-mate Chrissy. The Italian she had picked up during a period of travelling and a two week course in Italy a couple of years ago had us organised with a pizza and hotel in no time at all and had Mama Albergo, the very friendly elderly lady hotel manager (I named her after the name of the hotel because I thought it was her name but in actual fact it meant hotel) eating out of her hands.
16th November. Italy:
Author: Colin Javens
Distance Travelled, 1473 miles.
After a night in Mama Albergo's we hit the road smelling and feeling a lot better. It was our plan for the day to really get some miles under our belt and headed for the toll road that skirted along the south coast towards Genoa. Getting onto the road is a feat in itself. The slip road onto the two lane road is much shorter than the British ones and once you've darted between two speeding Lorries or an oblivious Italian driver it felt like you are on a speeding rollercoaster that you can't get off. Either side of the road is blockaded in by concrete walls and it felt like we were on a scalectrix course that was precariously laid from one steep valley wall to another, which was interconnected to the other coastland valley by a dimly lit tunnel. When Beryl began struggling up the hills my co-pilot Woody worked out how to get a bit more speed up. When I shouted, "Give her Beans', Woody would reach down and tighten the accelerator cable in his hands resulting in Beryl dropping down a gear and lurching into life and pulling away from the line of trucks backed up behind us. When I had a chance to look I could see that the steep valleys were crammed with hundreds of greenhouses, which we presumed housed tomatoes on the vine. On several occasions an Italian driver would shoot out of a slipway and as I couldn't hit the horn Ben would do it for me. Eventually the land began to flatten.
After a short lunch prepared in another service station we continued south again with the alpine foothills dying away behind us. We really managed to pick up speed and do some miles. The country side is turning into rolling hills occupied by rectangular shaped villas. We are now currently parked in a public car park next to the beach in a place called Civitavecchia on the Bay of Naples where we intend on spending the night. Half an hour after we had set up camp the Police turned up looking like they were about to move us on and again Chrissy stepped in with her Italian. I don't what she said but whatever it was it did the trick. We are now ending the day with Woody on the guitar, Chrissy on the drums, Kiko on vocals and Ben dancing. Who needs a TV.
17th November. Italy:
Author: Chrissy Prydun
For the first time ever we woke up to find that the sun was gleaming through our tents. The sunshine was much appreciated after another night of rain.
A musical chair shuffle saw Kiko as chief navigator in the Discovery with Colin, while I tagged in the back of Brenda with the other boys and my mandatory backseat bowl of breakfast cereal.
Poor Kiko had a rough time navigating with bad Italian maps but we didn't mind continuously whizzing into and out of toll booths as it gave Ben and I (the snap-happy Librans) more artsy angles to work with in our efforts to photograph Mt Vesuvius.
After a stop at the service station for cappuccinos and panini, we yet again took our chances with the crazy Italians in our efforts to drive through the outskirts of Napoli. Here, our inconspicuous Landys sparked conversations in hushed tones along the seedy backstreets. Luckily we emerged unscathed, i.e. without managing to run over any of the random Italian kids suddenly cutting us off on mopeds.
After a session of hugging a nauseatingly windy, yet picturesque coastal cliff top road, we arrived in Sorrento with grumbling tummy's in tow (once again we forgot about siesta supermarket trading hours). It was difficult to find a place to wild camp along the steep cliffs, so here we set up camp in a camping ground, which as a bonus was equipped with hot showers! Our plan would be for Col to do his bathroom routine during the afternoon leaving us with tomorrow to leisurely make our way along the famed Amalfi Coast to Salerno - from where we would then catch our ferry to Tunisia. However, Col had an accident that afternoon with a cup of spilt hot tea which reminded us of how easily plans could change and alerted us to the challenges we would face en route in our efforts to get to Cape Town on time. Luckily the burns on his legs weren't to severe and repeatedly dousing the wounds with cold water resulted in a romantic dinner in the Men's toilets, however the following days plans were changed as a result.
16th November. Italy: An Introduction To African Time
We awoke to another torrential downpour which resulted in our camping spot transforming into a muddy pool. The day proved a useful opportunity to get all the preparatory things done that were essential prior to our arrival in Africa. Col's burns were better, but we agreed it would be better for him to spend the day in bed in order to minimise the chances of the blisters popping from moving around to much. Meanwhile, our sightseeing plans were substituted with errands such as hiding an emergency stash of money in different parts of the car; cleaning and reorganising the packing of the vehicles; and figuring out how to use the all important satellite phones. I forgave Woody for wiping the entire photo collection from my camera! What he doesn't realise is that I now have the upper hand in our ongoing car music war!
By the afternoon we were all ready for Africa. The vehicles were kitted up and after a boring day in his blow-up bed Col was eagerly back behind the driver's seat ready for 2 hours around the narrow bends of the Amalfi Coast. Col and Ben remained calm and cool in spite of Italian drivers aggressively behind them. Col even had the courtesy to patiently wait for oncoming traffic to pass on the narrowest of stretches.
We arrived in Salerno at 7.00pm with two hours to kill before we needed to board our 9.00pm ferry a full three hours ahead of our midnight departure to Tunisia: time for a take-away pizza run and last-minute supermarket shop. I.e. time to stock up on gourmet Italian ingredients (although Ben's 16 euro salami purchase seemed a bit excessive in both prospect and retrospect).
Despite our remarkable organisational skills, rocking up at the port at 9.00pm seemed pretty pointless as apparently our 11.59pm ferry wouldn't arrive until 11.00pm or 1.00am or 3.00am depending on which nonchalant official you talked to. They remained genuinely irritated that I had even asked them where the ferry was, because it meant they had to find out because they didn't have a clue. Either way they didn't seem too worried whether we made our ferry or not casually pointing us in the vague direction of 'over there'. It wasn't until we noticed all the traffic heading in a different direction that we realised that maybe hanging around the shipping containers wasn't going to get us to Tunisia. After delays at both the check-in counter and with the macho passport control officials, we made it aboard the ferry and finally bedded down in our surprisingly luxurious cabins at 4am. A last bit of luxury!
By the way a big good-luck from the expedition team to all of you who will be running in the Jersey marathon this weekend.
19th November. Italy: On the Sea
A day at sea was the perfect opportunity for Col to rest and recover, keeping pressure off his burns and to make use of the boat's great disabled toileting and shower facilities for his routine. We also called a meeting to plan our Tunisian stint. What the cultural do's and don'ts were; what our proposed route would be; and time to perfect our story for the customs officials at the border e.g. would we declare everything or hide it in the car for fear of it being confiscated by corrupt officials.
Disturbed by the smells emanating from a bag of dirty washing I also planned to use the day to do a hard day's work at the sink: Scrubbing dirty washing for myself and Col. Speaking to the bar man (on one of my cappuccino runs) I practiced my Italian in order to enquire about the possibility of laundry facilities on deck. There weren't any, but like in one of those gangster flicks, the guy leaned in and in a whispered murmur let me in on a little secret: there weren't any laundry facilities on deck but he could arrange for us to have our laundry done. I was to speak to no-one about our laundry deal but him.
The sun had set and the boat was running late. Excitement was building as we approached the African coastline, smelling of roses with our clean clothes and with the satisfaction that we had pulled off a successful laundry powder heist! Now it would be time to meet Chris at the Tunisian port and negotiate our way through border control.
20th November. Tunisia: Are You Sitting Comfortably?
Author: Colin Javens
Location: La Pinede Camping, Borj Cediria
GPS: N33°49.552, E010°10.822
As I lifted the duvet and opened my eyes this morning it was hard to comprehend where I actually was. Gradually my eyes and mind began to focus on my surroundings. The interior walls of our shelter for the night gave off a white flaky appearance and along with the dome shaped walls gave me the feeling that I had spent my first night on Africa soil in a very large egg. Very surreal.
It had been an incredibly eventful evening. We had arrived in the darkness at 9.00 in Tunisia following the ferry crossing from Salerno in Italy. Only hours before I could really feel the excitement beginning to boil in the pit of my stomach as we began to get nearer to Africa. Over the past week of trucking through France and Italy it hasn't really sunk in what a fantastic challenge lies ahead of us. It's not just me either. As Woody put it, 'It feels like a bit of a road trip with your friends around Europe when eventually you will run out of time and have to return home to the UK. I won't believe it until we hit Africa!' After just under 24 hours of sailing we had arrived in Tunis, loaded up and drove off the boat and headed for passport control and customs.
As a team we had all prepared all of our documents; hidden all of our valuables; worked out what to say and who would do the talking. I think in the back of our minds were all quite anxious how it would all go. Well it was a great test for us. Firstly, it became clear that although as a British citizen you don't need a visa to enter Tunisia you do if you are Australian, which meant that Chrissy in the other vehicle needed one. At the same time Ben and I in our vehicle had cleared passport control and where being beckoned by a very official looking and uptight uniformed officer who began to direct us through to customs control and as we weren't keen to be separated from the other vehicle we drove as slowly as possible much to the annoyance of the uniformed officer. Ahead of us and to either side where vehicles that had their merchandise strewn all over road being checked over by an official.
As we entered our lane we where being beckoned over by a short Tunisian man in his forty's with a bushy moustache with an over exaggerated arm movements providing us with were exactly he wanted me to park. As he approached us Ben leaned out of the window and very confidently said -with I finger pointing skyward - 'Uno momento!' And then leaned back and said to me 'You see Javens. Don't worry, I can get by! Its all in the body language!' Unfortunately and although it was a very valant effort the words Ben had picked up in Italy had flown straight over the French and Arabic speaking mans head. From there on it was definitely up to some very good body language to try to explain that we were waiting for, 'Mon Amiez'. We quickly realised it wouldn't matter if we carried on with our paperwork with out Woody, Kiko and Chrissy in the other vehicle - who in the meantime had managed to get a visa and a few minutes latter had parked up behind us. This is when the 'Border Bean Bag Race' began. Ben was lead to one office to stamp our papers and back to our vehicle to check over our papers and to fill in a declaration form. Those papers were then taken to another office to get stamped. This process also began with the other vehicle and Woody was lead from one office to another. During this time I sat in the vehicle. Everyone working at the department would walk past and casually get a good look at my hand controls. For me it was a bit frustrating not to be able to help out in anyway and just sitting there as the commotion all took place around me but I'm sure this is something I am just going to have to get use to. Finally after 3 hours of to-ing and fro-ing we eventually drove through the gates at 12.30am.
Chris had been waiting outside from 8pm with Neji, a Tunisian contact we made in Hereford via a friend of ours called Stan. Chris had left us behind in Jersey because he had to take a final exam a week later which meant would be officially classed as a surgeon. Neji had picked Chris (our newly classified surgeon) up from the airport an hour earlier and then he was going to guide us to the only open camping site in Tunis. It was an incredible surprise when we drove out of the customs gate to stop not just to spot Chris (with an incredibly large grin) and Neji but beside them, hidden behind an operating camcorder I spotted a face I recognised! It was Stan! He had flown out especially to meet us and after the surprise I felt very chuffed that he had made such an effort to come meet us on the first leg of our African experience. Stan had first met Neji in 1987 and had remained good friends ever since. After our very warm welcome we set off in convoy following Neji in his classic faded red Mercedes car (that had done over a million kilometres) at 25 mph to our campsite 20 kilometres away. When arrived at 2am the gates where well and truly shut. After a blast on the horn and 10 minutes later the gates where opened and under the trees in the sand we spotted the bright white egg shaped bungalows (that looked like something out of Star Wars) that we would spend the night in.
The day only came to an end at 3am. We had met another Land Rover at customs and it was driven by a six-foot eight, ball headed Norwegian called Tom and was accompanied by a French girl and Slovakian guy. Tom had a charisma that was as large as he was tall. He had only recently been diagnosed with MS and had taken some time out to travel and to get to grips with the MS.
It was a great introduction to Africa- a dodgy border crossing that the team dealt with so well - to meeting old friends and finally chatting into the cool of an African night with new friends.
Back to reality! 20th November - Through the streets of Tunis.
Stan and Neji met us at our half sunken egg shaped bungalows at 11am that we had spent another night in. It gave us a great opportunity to say thank you very much to our Tunis night guides. However we should have waited because their generosity still wasn't over. We all loaded up just before posing for photos and saying goodbye to our new found friend Tom.
We headed North, through the now busy streets back to Tunis. The streetlights on either side of the street all acted as flag poles for bright red Tunisian flags and each major road junction stood two uniformed police officers pulling over local traffic (apparently they tend to leave tourist traffic alone). As we dodged small motorbikes on our way into the city centre we would pass several large pictures of the president Ben Ali. He is the second president since Tunis gained independence from France in 1956 and whether he has effected the population I'm not sure but I wasn't expecting everyone to dress in such western clothing, especially the women.
Neji directed us to a secluded back street in Tunis to unload and pay an attendant to watch our vehicles for the day. Between Stan and Neji they gave us a personal guide through the streets of Tunis. We started with a walk down the main street which had been recently re-developed because they had just hosted the Mediterranean games and ended up in a small Tunisian restaurant for lunch. It was a great treat that we probably wouldn't have allocated ourselves the time to do so. The meal started with lots of small dishes of chill, aubergines and other ingredients that we would dip French bread into. That was followed by several other dishes of couscous with rabbit, lamb and stuffed intestines. Following the hearty lunch we headed for market central, a narrow cobbled street which Woody pushed had to push me up. Either side had small stalls that the non-pushy owners would invite you in to look at his merchandise of rugs, silver, plates, leather drums and other souvenirs. We declined their gestures and headed uphill to a mosque called El Satuna (which means of the olive tree) and was the earliest university in Tunisia and holds the one of the best libraries in the Arab world. Unfortunately as Chris and Woody lifted me up the steep steps we were stopped and informed that people were praying inside.
I was incredibly impressed by the Tunisian people. Often when I'm at home and wheeling around a busy street people hardly ever look me directly in the eye and often I feel a little bit ignored. The same I am very happy to say is not true in Tunisia. People really look me straight in the eye and always return my smile and greeting. It has definitely prompted the desire to return.
Unable to find a different route back, we descended down the same cobbled market street and headed towards the vehicles to wish Neji a fond farewell. After we watched Neji's Mercedes bounce off in a cloud of smoke and once we had recovered from the fumes, we headed towards a Tunisian coffee shop. As the sun began to descend we finished our last drink with Stan and stepped out into the main street. Above and all around the sky was full with hundreds of starlings flying in synchrony as they made the most of the fading evening sun. It was an excellent whistle-stop tour of Tunis and it was very good of Stan to take the time to show us the culture we would have otherwise missed. Stan directed us to the city edge and as we dropped him off I could see him waving in my rear view mirror as we headed to our bungalows. What a great day!
21st November. Tunisia: Gabes
Author: Chris Parsons
Location: Beach just south of Gabes
GPS: N33°37.293, E011°03.067,
The team was up before the larks and the sun this morning. We were on a mission to do some serious 'trucking' today. Having said our fond farewells to our amazingly generous Tunisian guide Neji and his equally awesome partner in crime Stan last evening we were really doing Africa solo for the first time today. Not even being dragged out of our too cosy sleeping bags could dampen our spirits and the desire to get on the road finally getting the African leg of this 'Drive Home' underway.
In accordance with the carefully laid plan from the night before we were on the road by 7.30 - our first miracle! We waved a tear soaked hand kerchief out the near side window as La Pinede camping site - our home for the last two nights - disappeared beyond our view. We successfully negotiated the unmanned, unmarked, unnerving railroad crossing at the end of the street - our second miracle - and we had just 400km's between ourselves and our intended destination, Gabes. What this mammoth tract of prime Tunisian highway would bring only the rest of the day would reveal.
We doubled half way back to Tunis to pick up the auto route, Highway 1, and so attain the best road to our first major waypoint, Sfax. What followed was 150km of pristine, virtually traffic free tarmac through some of the most fertile parts of this almost Mediterranean feeling country. We passed through mile upon mile of olive groves with the ever attendant pickers laying out their blankets under the weightiest boughs before 2 ascended their A frame ladders and proceeded to harvest the fruit.. by beating the branches mercilessly with huge sticks. In between such fascinating displays we were treated to glimpses of the Med. We hoped our campsite tonight might be within a short distance of this familiar landmark (now being viewed from the other side) to allow us the opportunity to dip our toes in it's water and officially set the challenge of repeating this process in Cape Town in 5 months time.
Despite it soon being midday and the collectives stomachs beginning to announce the imminent arrival of lunch time it was decided to push on a wee while further. Not even the sight of innumerable, often nondescript, carcasses hanging from every porch dissuaded us from stopping soon after to buy some lunch. Admittedly we opted for the vegetarian option on this occasion much to Col's disgust. Our short pit stop generated significant interest in the one camel town we opted to stop in. Ben, especially, seemed to have caught the eye(s) of a number of the local young female population who diligently followed him on his impromptu shopping trip. Happily for Kiko they numbered barely 30 years between them so posed little real threat..??!
Soon, with the clocks showing little change left from the morning, we were storming through the outskirts of Sfax and feeling rather good about it all. Col eyed his fuel gauge and quickly ascertained it would be wise to make the most of the upcoming Shell garage on our left. Accordingly he indicated this to those of us following in the time honoured way. This is already a way we've learnt to ignore. 'Don't do anything til you see him actually move in some way' was Woody's advice several hrs later as I switched my indicator off for the 3rd time in eight min's of driving. It seems the elbow pad is particularly sensitive. However, on this occasion he did, indeed, lurch across the road into the aforementioned garage. Slightly caught out by this sudden move we less than smoothly followed suit. Both vehicles were, as you might expect in such a setting, quickly filled with diesel by, it must be noted, a very amiable chap. Our new found friendship, however, nearly fell like a house of cards in a hurricane when we realised we were 10 Dina's short on the fuel! The most recent addition to the Colin Javens fan club was quickly joined by 5 or 6 close friends who appeared mysteriously from a café next door, all seemed keen to be involved in helping resolve this mildly embarrassing situation. Happily a solution was quickly found and another seemingly very obvious lesson learnt with no harm done. We had taken the opportunity to feed ourselves whilst this mini drama unfolded and so where quickly back on the road once it was resolved amicably.
By now the roads had slimmed to a significantly less generous size being, nominally at least, one lane going each way, we think. Given the gay abandon with which traffic going in both directions utilised both lanes equally freely we've yet to finally clarify this. With the exception of a stone kicked up from an overtaking juggernaut starring Brenda's windscreen the journey continued without much of note. The scenery had become significantly less arable and more desert like in appearance with seemingly nomad herds of goats and/or sheep being ushered along the roadside by highly colourful, rustic looking ladies or youths, the occasional well aimed stone dissuading the beasts from straying under the oncoming (or going) vehicles suspension.
After several hours, and a further 100kms or so, we found ourselves easing back amongst the more familiar olive groves. Presently, we spied the Med again and figured ourselves nearing our journeys end. A further quick pit stop in H to replenish our depleted funds and we set about finding ourselves somewhere to lay our weary heads for the night. Col was also hoping to complete his routine today and all was looking good. There were at least a couple of hours of daylight remaining and, having had only the briefest threat of an appearance thus far today, the sun broke with tradition and burst forth in it's full resplendent glory. All was good with the world.
We had been reliably informed by the exceptionally enthusiastic night watchman back in La Pinede there was another campsite of near identical ilk just the far side of Gabas and it was here we had intended to stay. Sadly despite the best efforts of not only ourselves but, also, several heavily contradictory locals, including representatives of the Tunisian Armed Forces, we were unable to locate this much longed for idle. As is so often the way on trips such as ours this perceived nuisance proved anything but. After several round trips searching in vain for the campsite we found ourselves right on a beautiful, white sandy beach that stretched flat as billiard table as far as the eye could see. Having come all this way and equipped ourselves quite as well as we have it seemed crazy to prolong the hunt. Here we were on an awesome beach with barely a soul in sight, where better to round off such a successful day. We consulted the only other person in sight, an old fisherman mending his nets before his tomorrow's toils. He was quite certain there'd be no problem us pitching there for the night, so we did and there wasn't
Col got his routine in whilst Ben cooked vegetable curry and the rest of the team set about striking camp and getting a fire going. Having then eaten our respective fills and warmed ourselves reflecting on a great days 'trucking' we retired to our respective tents to be lulled to sleep by the lapping of the Med just a few short feet away.
22nd November. Tunisia: Penultimate Date in Tunisia
Author: Chris Parsons
It has been brought to our attention that there have been some difficulties in getting the diary entries out to the website. We would like to start this entry with a sincere apology. We have been experiencing some technical hitches related to initial confusions over appropriate power sources and, more recently, technical difficulties with mobile coverage. We are aware that ongoing silence from our end my well erode your support and enthusiasm for our expedition and are, subsequently, doing all we can to keep you all as up to date as possible. We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank you for you on going support. We trust the mammoth update recently, in some small part, compensates for the fact of communication to date.
Tuesday 22nd November.
Having drifted gently to sleep with the sound of the Med breaking on it's southern shore in our ears last night, our awakening this morning could not have been a more distant experience if it had tried for a hundred years. The wind had got up some over night and our tents, from their elevated positions, where now making noises we had only previously experienced when watching helicopters "going down"; in war films. Sadly, however, our "birds" never hit the deck they just continued assaulting our every sense with the incessant, irregular thwack, thwack..thwack. That, as they say, was the end of our lie in!
A quick check of camp revealed Col's shower tent was within a whisker of making it's own slightly wetter bid to return home, half the pegs where out the ground and it was looking more representative of a sail than a shelter. Some quick work from the boys rescued the situation and a unanimous decision was taken to get off the beach as soon as possible and get back on the road. We did take a moment to take in the amazing spectacle of the local fisherman hauling in their 5 km long nets. With teams of 9 men on each end leaning back to 45' and shuffling impressively up the beach they edged these awesome nets in over the course of several hours. We were privileged to catch the culminating hour or so of this combined Herculean effort but, not surprisingly, couldn't persuade them to part with any of their hard gotten gains.
Our mission today was to edge ourselves down the coast towards the Libyan border in preparation for our crossing tomorrow. Given our experiences thus far of cruising casually past shopping facilities and then not seeing any more for many an hour, we checked our supplies and felt a short back track to the local Promogro was ? appropriate. This may have the ring of a garden centre about it but was, we were reliably and, as it turned out, accurately informed an especially swanky supermarket! We were also getting text messages informing us we had several important e mails that needed to be picked up. As luck would have it we'd spied the first internet cafe of our short stay just the day before up the road from Promogro. Having restocked Mrs Hubbard's cupbard, we made a beeline for this place. Whilst Woody and Kiko picked up the messages the rest of us enjoyed the fruits of out earlier supermarket extravaganza by the road side. Appropriately satiated and informed of our ongoing comms issues we got the Driving Home cutter under sail for the day.
We intended just a short tack down the coast to a headland just North of Zarazis. This is an area of near mystical sublime ambience that has been heralded by such great authorities as the Lonely Planet and some old contacts at Camel Trophy. The journey itself was a mere 4 1/2 hr drive with the scenery near identical to the olive groved coast line that started and finished our epic trek of yesterday. The highlight was the spotting of our first camel on the outskirts of Zarzis. Admittedly this specimen was merely a distant cousin of the desert striding andromeda we are hoping to encounter down the road, being as it was barely the size of a small ass and tethered to the garden gate. None the less it was the talk of the camp over Thai red curry several hours later. Whilst traversing the town we were privileged to see another amazing sight.... a 6 year old on a clapped out rickety bicycle proving that no matter what your race, creed, colour or heritage cycling with no hands is cool!
Our waterside Nirvana, as is so tragically inevitably the case these days, was all villas, hotels, new builds and cement. We moped about as best one can in two conspicuous, heavily ladened, decal festooned Land Rovers until we eventually found a tiny corner unobserved from any point of the compass and decided to call it home for the night. The aforementioned food was rustled up expertly by Chrissy before our esteemed leader called a pow wow. Col took us through his thought on our inaugural near fortnight on the road and invited comments from the floor. After constructive contributions from one and all we formulated some rules of engagement for our forthcoming encounter with border officials on the morrow. Much had been learnt on the handling of these delicate situations both theoretically in training and now practically at the port in Tunis and we wanted to be even slicker this time around.
By now the Sun was well and truly bedded down for the night so it was time for us to head to ours. We have now got the routine of getting Col ensconced in his heat saving haven down to a fine art. Fully clothed and buried under two enormous duvets with his two favourite pets, his Hippo and Sheep hot water bottles, the cold is not really an issue these days. Those long cold nights of our training weekends seem to be pa?ing off. We again drifted into the land of nod with the Med providing the soothing back music our thoughts very much with the amazing folk still carrying the torch for Col's causes back home. To all those of you who ran in, or sponsored those running in the Jersey half marathon, a heartfelt thanks from us all, most especially Col.
22nd November. Libya: Challenges
Author: Kiko Matthews
Miles covered 2355
GPS of Camping is N32°48.021 E012°29.347.
Early risers club for us all at 6.00. Even though Ben, Woody, Chris and I probably don't need to be up at the same time as Col and Chrissy, we decided that it was only fair if we all were and that in actual fact, there was always something to do around the camp. Breakfast, is still a chocolate croissant (but the quality of them is deteriorating!) and a cuppa's. Eventually, at 8.00 we head off away from our nice but slightly littered camp spot.
We head towards the border Ras Ajidr along a road strewn with men waving Libyan Dina's at us, colourful petrol containers stacked high and the occasional animal hanging dead outside a shop. Goats, sheep and heads of cows hang, with or without their skin, ready to be cut and barbequed in these small cafes.
The exit from Tunisia was very easy, passport stamp and a waving off to an area which we later realised was the Libyan customs. The Tunisian people all seem very friendly. The whole of the team have been very impressed with how friendly everyone here is. We asked about changing our left over money (Tunisian Dina - £1 = 2.3) because once it is out of the country, it is worthless, and a Tunisian border guy took me off to the bank where we were told that they wouldn't change to Libyian Dinas. Then I was taken off to the 'black market' guy by a policeman and the deal was done. I felt like part of the mafia, handing money through bars to a guy who was blatantly ripping me off (and who I found out later had blatantly ripped me of!).
Meanwhile, back at the Land Rovers and the customs, we were just about to be emptied! It all started off when our confiscated CB radio's and sat phone were unclipped (the locking mechanism was mad - a tiny bit of wire keeping two zips together on Ben's canvas hold-all!!) by the Tunisian border guys, and then handed over to the Libyans. Everything was very relaxed, we showed them our letter (kindly translated by Dr Jamous, Col's consultant, into Arabic) which explained what we doing. There is some form of satisfaction when three customs officers strip your vehicle and don't find anything.
Anyway, 11.50am and all was packed back into the vehicles and we were ready for passport control. We were meeting our Libyan guide somewhere at the Tunisian/Libyan border at 12 which could really have been anywhere. It was amazing how well our timing was because when we passed the 1st control point at 11.59 and there was our guide! Considering we hadn't really planned timings for the morning other than we wanted to leave the campsite at 7.30 and that we were meeting the guide at 12, somewhere at the border, it was amazing that it all ran so smoothly and even with a bit of a search, we still managed to meet Tequila (the guide) at 12.
You could say that things went a bit wrong from there but I wouldn't say it was wrong, just not as intended. All these little mishaps we have are experiences and possibly preparing us for something a bit more serious that hopefully won't happen!
Firstly, the guide had bought his security 'police' mate with him to take us through Libya. We had organised the guide from the UK and hadn't been told that we would also need a policeman. As well as the additional cost they were trying to charge us, we only have one spare seat in the Discovery, so don't have room to carry to extra passengers. Tequila suggested calling the office and hiring a car for $100 a day - we wondered whether this was one of those scams that you hear about but somehow it all felt legitimate.
Then the next thing. Our quoted ?140/vehicle for insurance (legally required) Libyan number plates and registration certificates, suddenly became ?240/vehicle ...something, somewhere wasn't right. Was it a mistake from our end or were we again being scammed? The situation was eventually resolved ? it turned out wew did need the policeman after all, but as it was the tour company?s mistake they kindly covered the cost for us. It was a good lesson however that things will not go according to plan and that we will have to have our wits about us at all times.
The evening took a similar course to most others. Assessing the place we were staying to see if it was suitable for Colin's needs then set up camp which in this case wasn't necessary because we were all staying inside the complex. The electrician was woken up to fix the hot water shower for Colin which even though did eventually work, was a mere trickle and he would have probably got colder hanging around for the next drip than just having a cold shower. Chrissy arranged for a washing bowl of warm water and a Hoselock garden sprayer to overcome the shower issue.
I have realised that there has been no update on Colin's medical situation. If you heard about the incident with Colin burning his legs and then them blistering, well here's the update. We managed to overcome the issue of getting him into his land rover without irritating them, by changing the position of his harness. As with anyone who has a burn or blisters, Chrissy has been very good at keeping them clean and dry but Colin is luck enough to have an amazing piece of technology called a Bioptron, a Swiss product. This accelerates the cell growth so helping Col's body to heal quicker. This is usually used to help with pressure sores but we could luckily use it for this situation as well. Chris (the doc), has checked on them and the reports back are fine and Col is doing great.
22nd November. Libya: Hanging out in car parks
Author: Chrissy Prydun
Location of Hotel - Beach front, Leptus Magna, Libya
GPS N32°38.021 E014°16.678
Mileage = 100 miles.
As you know Star Wars was filmed in Tunisia, but in the area they filmed we noticed from our cars that houses resembled those on the set and every now and then you would catch a glimpse of what you thought was an ewok or jedi knight but really just some local walking around in the trademark brown robes. Now for our second day in Libya!
In his enthusiasm to get up early to do some filming, Col and I were both woken to the bellow of the Doc's (Chris) eager voice booming through the divider walls that made up our room (or roofless cupboard posing as a room). He and Woody were sharing a room next door to Col and I, while Kikes and Ben guarded the tents outside.
We had decided to stay in Sabratha at the refuge/hostel like quarters overnight as it would cost no extra than spending the night in the tents in the hostel's carpark and we had been advised to stay there by our compulsory Libyan guides: Tequila (the gift of the gab tourist guide) and Mr Negi (his super-chilled, silent security sidekick). We all agreed that the indoor beds paled in comparison to the cosiness of our tents. As manky as our tents have become in the continual downpour (in our two and a half weeks on the road we have only managed three dry days), we are all secretly addicted to hopping into our sleeping bags at the end of a day. Nonetheless, staying in the occasional hotel is a good idea as it often provides the ideal place for Col to have a decent hot shower and of course we're not partial to a bit of luxury from time to time! In saying this, unfortunately last night's measly luke-warm trickle didn't suffice.
It was just as well the Doc had woken us earlier than intended, because after meeting Mr Negi we realised we were an hour late. We had planned to meet him at 9.30am but had forgotten to account for the time-zone change after having driven east into Libya). Oops! Col called a quick meeting for an alternative plan of attack. We would ditch the sightseeing of nearby roman architecture and push on to the capital Tripoli. Oh well, Mr Negi seemed amused. He doesn't say much as he doesn't speak much English but tends to laugh and shake his head at us a lot. He also looks like he eats alot! I just hope we have enough food in our kit to feed him. I imagine that if say two bandits came and attempted to rob us that he would quite easily knock them both out by a simple double wrist extension. It's really cool having our own personal bodyguard at our disposal to rescue us in risky situations!
Chris jumped in the driver seat convinced that Woody (who has never sat in a backseat) ought to sit in the backseat of the Landy, however Kikes and I had assumed prime position on either side of the fridge in the defender, such that Woody had no option but to take passenger seat in the Discovery.
An hour or so later of driving in the on/off showers and we had arrived in Tripoli. In comparison to the scenic Tunisian drives, the main Libyan coastal highway seemed rather dull and the people a lot more conservatively dressed. Mr Negi had hitched a ride with us and we were to meet Tequila there. After all of yesterday's guide dilemma?s were sorted, the plan would be to visit some of Tripoli's mosques, gardens and museums, before driving on to Leptis Magna where we would kip for the night. However, yesterday's postponed dilemmas had not been resolved.
Despite the phonecalls Woody had made back to the girls in the UK (our project managers) and the phonecalls they had in turn made to the London office (who had arranged for our Libyan guide via their branch in Libya), an animated Tequila claimed that it was still legally essential for us to have two guides; that we needed to make arrangements for the transportation of the other guide (Mr Negi); and that we still owned him the remaining ?240 needed per vehicle to cover third party insurance/Libyan number plates etc.
The second lot of sightseeing was ditched and what ensued was six hours of hanging out in a Tripolian car-park in the rain, waiting for return phonecalls while a busy Woody and stressed Tequila ran around making phonecalls back and forth. On the one hand there was still a discrepancy in the price, and we were reluctant to pay the remainder of the fee for fear of being ripped off, especially seeing as Tequila still had our passports. On the other hand our project managers were insisting that they had been informed by the London office that we ought to ditch one guide refusing to pay more than the ?140. Everyone had a different story to tell and it looked like we were going nowhere anytime soon.
Nothing was opened so we couldn't make use of internet facilities, nor post-office, nor supermarket for our all important food shopping. With all the building tension, it seemed there was not much we could do but wait and make the most of our time in the car park, munching on rations of peanuts and special k dipped in nutella as a substitute lunch. Woody gave me some driving lessons around the car-park's ideal bends and traffic free turns, while a chilled Col (a natural optimist) sat back to reflect and admire the dreary carpark scenery. Kikes decided to use the car-parks atmosphere as inspiration for her diary entries while Ben, Chris and I decided to introduce our Libyan guides to the skilled art of car-park Frisbee. In retrospect my poorly aimed Frisbee throws weren't probably ideal for Mr Negi who later needed something to curb his plummeting blood sugar level, from all the running about I made him do.
Eventually, everything was resolved, or as resolved as it could be for us to make a move. Even though we remained perplexed as to why both our 'essential' security guides had decided to abandon us in their all important pursuit of coffee, it seemed two guides were in fact mandatory for the safety of a party of our size.
Although we never got to see anything of Tripoli outside of the car-park, it was essential to catch up on driving, making up for the time lost. So we pushed on in the hammering rain. In the other car, another problem occurred: Col was having trouble braking and so passenger Woody had to help him brake on the slippery roads. After a brief opportunity to taste hot chilli peppers and stock up on dinner ingredients at a colourful fruit and veg market en route, we were relieved to arrive in Leptis Magna in the miserable cold and dark, quite keen to not have to set up tents in the torrential downpour.
When our guides presented us with the opportunity to spend the night in discounted beachside bungalows and offered to cook us a delecious Italian dinner we naturally accepted.
Col decided to get into bed early to take pressure off his burns which had been weeping more than usual today. After smothering him in duvets to fend off the cold chill in the air and propping him up in bed, we decided to all sit around and join him. With Woody's suspicion that something was probably wrong with Col's brakes a relaxed evening of chatting, laughing and playing guitar with friends, was the perfect remedy to a slightly stressful day. Although I haven't spent that much time with the team, I feel like I've known them a lifetime. A delicious meal courtesy of Tequila followed.
25th November. Libya:
Author: Chris Parsons
Location - Beach hotel, in Leptus Magna, Libya
GPS N32°38.021 E014°16.678
Mileage = 0miles!!!
Last night Woody said, 'Chris I might need your help in the morning. Beryl's brakes started playing up just towards the end of the trip yesterday so want to look at them before we get going tomorrow. Is it OK if i wake you early for a hand?'. Not surprisingly I have absolutely no recollection of my response but needless to say I found myself up a good hour before the guys, having been coaxed gently from slumber with a firm shake of the shoulder and gruff 'Need you now'; from Woody - definately not one of life's morning people.
Bleary eyed, wrapped up against the cold and generally not that content with the world I implemented the orders barked at me with slothful precision but little heart. In due course a more animated and significantly oilier Woody emerged clutching several orthopaedic like instruments and a black cylindrical thing - called a brake vacuum pump, apparently. Whatever we were going to call it was immaterial: the painful, stark truth of the matter that this particular example of it's species was dead.
If there's one thing the last 48 hours have shown us it's this, when important phonecalls need making we have our very own top secret weapon - the satellitle phone.In the many plaaces with no mobile phoje reception, the sat phone has got us out of trouble on numerous occasions already.
Whilst Woody set bout of sort the vacuum pump, we decided to do the sensible thing and make a brew! However it seemd that every millilitre of water we possessed now had a distinctly salty tang to it. It being Friday, Libya's day of rest, all retail outlets were closed and so little could be done to address the water or, subsequent, brew crisis. So we grabbed cameras, shorts and sunglasess and headed for the nearest tourist attraction, the aptly named Leptis Magna. Col, being made of more steady African stock, rather bemusingly dealt with the situation in a much more practical manner and took the opportunity to complete his 'routine' as well as get some drinking water.
Thus it was that Kiko, myself and Ben found ourselves paying 3 dinah each, but, bizarrely, 5d per camera (!), to tour what we all subequently agreed was one of the more remarkable attractions we'd ever seen. We spend a miserably short 2 hours rushing around a stunningly preserved Roman city complete with baths, forum, communal lavatories, market town, harbour and theatre. Given the minor hiccups of the last 36 hrs a couple of hours distracting ourselves from the present situation(s) did us all the world of good.
On our return we were thrilled to hear that contrary to initially dire reports of the vacuum pump being extint in Libya, this was not the case. Woody, as we all knew he would, had, eventually, chatted to the 'right' person. In this case he was a ste?ling fellow from Conrico, who was delighted to report several recent sightings in Tripoli. Amazingly not only were they sightings of 'Land Rover' vacuum pumps but, infinately more importantly, they were the 300tdi subspecies. Now you can imagine the difficulty Woody was having in containing his excitement at this revelation. I was still all a little at sea with all the technical jargon but it was quickly translated and i too was pretty exillerated. Despite the fact it was effectively the weekend and everything was closed 'our man in Tripoli' the wonderfully named Mr Wycombe (Graham Greene eat your heart out) was certain he had one in stock and made the necessary arrangements to dispatch one to us with his mechanic. Obviously this hadn't been our first choice of solutions, rather unimaginatively we initially thought we'd drive the 120km back to Tripoli and pick the thing up ourselves. However, in our niavity we had overlooked the vagueries of Libyan tourist transit visas. To achieve the near impossible feat ot turning around and heading back the way we came would, apparently, have taken several long, stuffy, airless days in various police/official establishments and even then there was no gaurantee of anthing at all. No we were very definately commited to a one way ticket
Still water, and therefore tea, -less, we loitered, with absolutely no intent at all, on the deserted, private, white sandy beach behind our 'campsite'. Given the addition of white topped warm Med waves crashing onto it we really were feeling very sorry for ourselves and had to be content with kicking our heals in this glorious location just as the sun came out in it's full glory. Washing was also done and dried by the time two delightful Libyan mechanics finally arrived. Unbeknowst to us, who still had intentions of getting back on the road tonight, they had taken an interesting unilateral decision. Having visited the appropriate site of vacuum pump sightings they were disappointed to find only the much more common 200tdi in attendance. Undeterred they still made the 120km trip out to see us - on their day off - just to check we were, indeed, looking for a 300tdi vacuum pump and not some other, entirely different species altogether. Having satisfied themselves, in about 30seconds flat, this was the required animal after all they merrily hoped in their truck for the return trek to Tripoi. As the disappeared at barely walking pace over the brow of the car park, they assured us over their shoulders that they did have the rarer species back in Tripoli but couldn't now get to one until tomorrow am.
26th November. Libya:
Author: Chris Parsons
What would the day bring? Whilst Ike had waited impatiently on a favourable break in the weather we were waiting, equally impatiently, on favourable news from Tripoli in the case of the black cylindrical thing - or Operation 'vacuum pump' as Woody insited, rather bizarrely, on calling it. Joyously our news came soon and was reasonably favourable. Yes, in deed, the 300tdi vacuum pump was spied early this morning in Tripoli and could be acquired but only at vaste expense, import duties being what they are on such goods here. After not inconsiderable weighing of the options and toing and froing - quite literally in Tequila's case (he was 25km's back when the final decision made) - the conscensus opinion was to acquire this most exotic of specimens. We had discussed the possibility of limping to Cairo either with one of us driving or assisting Col driving by braking for him. Ultimately we all felt that safety had to come first and the Disco really couldn't do a convincing emergency stop even having tightened the brakes considerably. We were all strongly of the opinion that commiting Col to the passenger seat for such a considerable stage was also unacceptable and would totally undermine everything everyone has worked so hard and for so long to achieve. In retrospect doesn't seem to have been much of a decision after all !!
Bouyed by the confirmation that we were finally going to be back under way imminently we set about tracking down something akin to an internet cafe and so address the ongoing, crippling comm's problems that have beset us from the very out set. Kiko had down loaded all our previous diary entries (filed deligently in turn on a daily basis ever since departure) onto a USB memory stick with some accompanying pictures to send back to HQ for appropriate circulation. Seems simple enough but the dual barriers of language and technological misdirection nearly thwarted us. Fortunately a solution was eventualy found and we sincerely hope you are now all relatively up to date with our travels and adventures. We all greatly enjoyed the brief touching of base with home this short spell of connectivity afforded us. Sorry we couldn't repay you all individually with longer, personal correspondance but we had a couple of Land Rovers heading East to catch and time was short.
Our legendary duo of guides, surely the tweedle dum and tweedle dee of the Libyan guiding world, had by now become honourary, temporary members of the Driving Home 'en tour' fraternity and seemed as eager to get back on the road as we were. Having finally conveyed to them the importance of every second day being a short driving day - to allow Col time for his routine - and persuaded them that h? really wasn't just being awkward and genuinely couldn't drive at more than 100kmph they seemed to settle more into our pace of trip but remained keen to 'do a big one' today. By goodness did we, fortunately the roads remained as good as we've seen and there was very little traffic in the way. These two facts and a single monded determination to make up for recent reletive inactivity allowed us to complete a monster leg of nearly 700km keeping within the stipulated safety rules and regs, arriving just as we lost the sun for the night! I doubt it will be possible to repeat this feat at any point later in the trip, but it trully made up for the frustrations of the previous few days. Col was back flashing the Ivories as we loaded him into Beryl and there was still more than a strong suggestion of a grin melted into his face as we loaded him out the other end.
Under normal circumstances, after a "truck" of any reasonable proportion, I would hope to be in a position to regale you all with some fascinating details of the places we passed through and interesting wee titbits or tales from the road itself. However, this was very definately not normal circumstances. As we got to mounting up this morning Ben told me I'd been requested to join Tequila and Naji in their car. Seeing this as something of a small honour and further opportunity to add further scribblings to my journal, of interest probably only to myself admittedly, regarding the country that is Libya I jumped at the chance. I had also figured that with an extra vehicle I could persuade them to mix up the order of the convoy, so allowing me to take some good actual driving footage. What i had forgotten in my excitement to get back on the road was that Ben had completed the final leg from Tripoli with them some two nights ago. My suspiscion, still uncomformed, is now very srongly that this was no small honour but a stitch up. The next I don't know how many hours of my life passed in something of a near psychodelic daze. I've never tried mind altering substances in the conventional sense of the word but this experience certainly came close to my understanding of their impact. All potential emergency exits for myself (or any air) in the station wagon were firmly secured. The solitary Libyan folk music CD was put on permanent repeat and the volume cranked up to maximum. The guys then proceeded to take it in turns to light and smoke endless cigarettes of decidedly Russian smelling extraction til I could barely see them from the seat behind and even my practised lungs were crying out for respite. At regular intervals I was passed back through the smog reflux inducingly strong coffee and/or chilli paste and something sandwiches. It didn't really matter, it could have been anything, all i could taste was the chilli. On the rare occasion I did catch glimpses of them there always seem to be at least 4 arms flailing around the front compartment, more often than not joined in their Cobra like gesticulations by the odd foot or ? two. I was never that certain of anything other than the fact very little time was spent with anything animate in contact with the steering wheel to aid it do it's job ie steer. At one point, obviously sensing my growing concern a gravelly groan more than a voice emminated from the drivers seat 'Very clever my car! Why? Because she remembers the way herself!'; Now I've never been one to spend too many moments worrying about the finer points of healthy living for my own sake but after some 5 or so hours of quite such oppressive stimulation I knew three things for absolutely certainty. Firstly my blood shot, nay, near bleeding, eyes would never bounce around in their sockets nor would my teeth rattle so in their jaws to this extent ever again without actually losing their respective bony contacts, succumb to gravity and just fall out onto the floor. Secondly, there is very good reason why people such as my new found friends aren't permitted alcohol and, finally, I was never getting back in that car again!!
Seemingly more by luck than judgement I survived, as one usually does such experiences, but had to go virtally straight to bed, even missing my supper, so exhausted was I by the whole experience! Quite a memorable day had by all.
27th November. Libya:
Author: Kiko Matthews
Location - Beach, Bardiyih, 40 km from border Libya/Egypt
GPS N31°45.166 E025°05.269
Mileage = 550 km
Blue skies and sunshine (at last!) to wake us after our first night in the desert. Having parked up next to a police checkpoint, it wasn't our most scenic of campsites but to be honest, as long as we can sleep (and safely) I don't think it's not of huge importance.
Anyway, supposedly we have a short day today because we are wanting to stop trucking around 4.00pm for Colin's routine (this happens every other day in the late afternoon). This short day and 300km actually was more like 9 hrs and 550 km!! I don't think Mr. Tequila and Mr. Neji have a concept of actual time and distance. Everything is always 45 mins and 'some kilometers' more!
To be honest, today was not hugely exciting but it was enjoyable. Long straight roads, sun shining, camels all over the place including the roads, and best of all a taster of Chrissy's driving.
Our guides are funny. They are quite hectic (well, Mr. Tequila is) but they are very g?nerous and kind. Now, day 5 with them we have come to realise that when they raise their voices and frantically start waving their hands and getting all stressed, it's not actually anything to worry about because they talk to their mates like this as well. Someone could have told us this earlier when we in the car park a few days ago negotiating with them over prices!
Mr. Tequila and Mr. Neji are always stopping in little villages and buying stuff, bread, coffees, stamping passports, and everone is so friendly to wards them and us. Really nice people but it's just a shame that the whole country is one big rubbish tip! When I asked Mr. Tequila about the rubbish, he said it was the foreign people who come to Libya and throw it on the roadside. Evidently not because I felt like I was constantly running after them picking it up their for them! When I asked where to put our rubbish, they pointed over to a pile on the side of the road and that was it - the bin!
Eventually at about 18.00, Mr. T had found us a much better site down on a beach by a military port. Nice and secluded from people but not the wind!! We had Mr. N trying to light a fire and making his Green tea, while Mr. T spent the whole evening bossing me around (Kiko is now Cookie or Cuckoo) doing this, doing that, get me this get me that, no there, here - you name it I was told to do. May I just point out there was plenty of more important things to do than run around after Mr.T doing his chores! He just has a way of getting you to do things when you don't really want to - a good salesman!
He cooked us some BBQ chicken with spices on and a rather bland lamb dish with pasta and then it was clean up time. Somehow, Mr.Tequila managed to create a mountain of washing up every time he cooked for us so the next half an hour was spent cleaning up after him!!
Bed time was delayed because once again Mr. T was demanding something of us ? to move the bonfire or put it out. Eventually, at 10.30 it was bed. I love bed (so does everyone else actually. There never seem to be enough hours in a night.
28th November. Egypt:
Author: Colin Javens
Location of camping - service station 40 miles from Egyptian border,
GPS N31°35.83, E025°53.63
Distance Travelled: 75miles
We woke at 7am on a beach at Bardiyah, 35 miles from the Egyptian border. As usual Chrissy came down the ladder into my tent with a very chirpy smile on her face to help me up this morning. Its generally takes us 45 minutes to get me into my chair and a further 45 minutes before the vehicles are packed away and I'm loaded into the vehicle. The first 45 minutes gives the team time to clean the vehicles, check the maps and begin packing away the two roof tents. We then just have time to have a quick cup of tea and a piece of fruit before we hit the road.
We left our cove that we had found the night before that was situated between two sandy headlands. As we wound our way out of the cove we left the Doc filming our departure. It was the last morning with our dynamic duo guides Mr Tequila and Mr Neja so we followed the dancing Peugeot with cigarette smoke blazing out of the windows to fill up with some very cheap diesel and some water. We made the border within the hour (just after Mr Tequila pulled over to acquire us a Libyian flag) and began the process of getting through the Libyan border.
It seems Ben had been adopted by Mr Tequila as he was whisked away again to some black marketeer to change some money while the rest of us awaited their return while listening to THE Libyan CD. In the meantime we watched the heavily laden ladies that hung heavy bags from straps from their heads as they slowly walked, head bowed, through the border. In true African style we were informed that the ladies had two passports, one for Libya and one for Egypt (or Egy-bit as our guides pronounced) to make their way through the border without a problem. Ben and Mr T returned just after one hour and we were then able to carry on. The Libyian border turned out to be not a problem. Mr T's scurrying around all the offices and customs department meant we were through within three quarters of an hour. If only the Egyptian side was that easy.
Again it was down to Woody and Ben to get us through (we were advised it wasn't a good idea for the girls to do any of the negotiation) As Woody described it - "We spent roughly five hours toing and froing from office to office, fighting through crowds of impatient people who where occasionally beaten back by stick wheelding uniformed officers to eventually end up with the carnet de passage and passports stamped along with six other pieces of paper written in Arabic (per vehicle) that I have absolutely no idea what they are for!" During this time it down to the rest of us to stay with the vehicles and ensure nothing was stolen. Chris and Woody even got so bored that they took up my challenge from last night to arm wrestle the muscled Mr Naji.........I don't think I've seen so many neck veins on the verge of popping in my life before.
Having spent the day at a border post it was our priority to find somewhere to camp before the sun had set. We spent the last minutes of daylight frantically searching before we came across an ultra modern service station in Sidi Barrini where the proprietor kindly agreed to us staying the night in their backyard where we are currently preparing for a well earned nights sleep before an early start back on the road to Cairo.
29th November. Egypt: El Alamein
Author: Chrissy Prydun
Location - Outside the military museum, Al Alamayn
GPS N30"176;50.45' E028"176;56.58'
Total mileage to date - 3474 miles.
Forget the boys! They are great for lifting heavy items and fixing broken things, but when it comes to security they are rubbish! With the exception of Col and his exceptional hearing - as an exceptionally vigilant nightwatchman, Kiko and I have decided that we are the superior security guards on board the team, our prescence essential to protect our men!
So it started at 11.00pm last night. After having bedded down, tummies filled with Chris' maiden cooking effort (a delicious pesto pasta that he had amazingly prepared with a leaking sieve), Kiko and I were awoken to the sound of beeping CB radios and deep arabic tones. Meanwhile the boys (Chris, Woody and Ben) kept sleeping.
The night was a hot one, the hottest night to date and so we had conveniently left our window down. On closer inspection we located the source of the commotion, a few guys hanging around our tents, poking Col in his bottom tent on the head through the canvas with their abrupt "HALLO"- hello's. Meanwhile the boys kept sleeping.
Kiko and I pressed our heads against the fly screen diverting their attention waving and bravely putting our lives on the line with our loud 'over here's'. How were we to know they weren't dangerous! Meanwhile the boys kept sleeping.
No offense to Col, but the three local men with big grins on their face seemed please to have been called over by two girls. It's a shame, the same couldn't be said about the communication. From the look of one of them with his military like uniform, it seemed obvious he was a policeman and as Kiko rightly put, "coming to check up on the mysterious Landy's parked out the back of a service station". Immediately the other two started enthusiastically pointing at his hat crying "police, police". Meanwhile the boys kept sleeping.
Col yelled out "Hey guys...get one of the boys"!! Meanwhile the boys kept sleeping.
"Police" was the only english word they spoke and Kiko and I with our limited arabic could only repeat "shookrun" (thankyou, although I'm not sure if that's the correct spelling). Gestures, pointing at the ground and many "police" and "shookrun's" later and it seemed obvious that they were there to track our movements, but intended no harm. Meanwhile the boys kept sleeping.
In this instance, if we had understood each other, things may have become a lot more complicated. They may have requested paperwork, which would have required us girls to have had to go downstairs. With the difficulties in communicating the poli?emen seemed to give up, waved us goodnight and went to sit down. I am sure they had this image in their heads that the other tent was also filled with women and that they were being very stoic protecting us all through the night. Kiko and I laughed about our heroic feat's. We sarcastically yelled out the window into the boys tent window right accross from us, "yeah, no worries guys. We took care of things. That's ok, we will protect you". Meanwhile the boys kept sleeping.
The following morning after Kiko and I boasted about our excellent security skills, Ben and Woody admitted having slept through the whole thing while Chris piped up with his defensive, "oh,yeah, yeah I heard the voices last night, but since you seemed to have everything under control". Thanks doc! The police re-emerged, perhaps dissapointed to spot the other boys. Ben accompanied them to find the lady who spoke English and had given us permission to set up camp out the back of the service station. Apparently she was still in bed, but Ben with his exceptional 'communicating with foreigners'; skills and his trusty map in hand, managed to convince them that we were heading towards Cairo and not back to Libya, which eased their suspicions.
After the usual rif raf, we were back on the road. Col had suggested cleverly putting down the extra seat in the discovery so that the cops wouldn't try and hitch a ride with us and he and Ben went off in the lead. In the other car, Kiko and I (yet again guarding both sides of the fridge) had a game of magnetic chess, whilst munching on juicy tangerines. The citrus fruit tastes amazing in these parts. Meanwhile Chris and Woody squabbled like a married couple in the front seats.
Our seemingly growing appetites soon dictated it was time for lunch and so we turned off into a little village called El Daba. Great! I love it when we take a turn off and drive more slowly because it gives me the opportunity to take lots of stealth photos from the backseat. As soon as we turn up anywhere with our flashy albeit dusty Landy's we begin to feel like celebrities and the Doc in particular loves the attention and always leaves behind a fan club of shouting, waving locals wherever we go. As soon as we pulled up, the usual crowd began to gather. Col, Kikes, Woody and I stayed behind to smile and make limited small talk with the crowd of locals - mostly kids - which began to grow.
Meanwhile Ben (or Bin as the locals like to say it) and Chris had hunted down a bread-shop where the local vendors, so impressed by the novelty of their special customers, locked them in, for fear of them escaping. Here the breadmakers enthusiastically showed off their breadmaking talents with beaming grins. One local would stick the bread in a heating machine, where it would move through a conveyor belt until it came out the other end ready to eat. The guy at the end of the chain would then sell them to the public through a cage. As such Chris emerged with ? his tilly hat full of piping hot chapati's which we tried to discretely yet hungrily munch in our cars amidst a now very large crowd of locals.
Col had been the first one to be mobbed, what with his impressive hand controls. Next was the Doc, who sent the kids hyperactive as soon as they laid wide eyes on his baby (his whopping big camcorder). However word let loose that there was an Australian in the other car and as I tried to explain where we were going on an African map, soon began the questioning. "What's your name", "how old are you etc". They weren't really interested in the answer, but rather wanted to make fun of the accent and so each question was repeated and repeated and followed by hysterical giggling. It was at this point we realised a usually smart-arse Woody -who was sitting in front - had become very silent and tense. He answered the kids a couple of times, but now the kids were going wild and jumping up and down and so we had to do a mad dash to get out of there, pausing up ahead when we realised one of the kids had jumped on the back of the disco.
As we drove out of the town, Woody yelled out an "Aaaaargh...I hate kids!!". Kiko, Chris and I laughed. Well woody, you're in for a real treat, because by African standards those kids were tame! We soon stopped outside a service station where Ben began to load the cars up with fuel, I tried my luck at finding a toilet , Kiko went shopping for Chocolate and Col and Woody stayed guarding the cars. After the traumatic experience before, Woody seemed very somber , perhaps with glimpses of the next four months of screaming African kids beginning to haunt him. Still hungry, I sifted through the ther fruit and veg Ben had picked up on route.
As we all jumped into the cars for another session of trucking, Woody's ears pricked up with my squeal of 'chilli's'!!, delighted to see that Ben - another fan of spices - had picked some up after the chapatti purchase. Typically adverse to my hot curry's, for some reason having survived the ravages of the kids, Woody was feeling quite brave and much to my surprise asked me to pass him one. I couldn't believe what I was hearing when after nearly half choking on my own chilli, Woody turned around and called me a pussy. "That's not hot". I was astonished, how could this be. I love chilli's and am not partial to voluntarily eating them from time to time. I passed him my leftover chilli with tears streaming down my face. Big mistake. It seems that Ben had purchased an assortment of chilli's. Some mild and others hot. The first chilli I had passed Woody was akin to a pepper, the second chilli I had picked up was the Ben Hur of Chilli's. That was the last peep I heard out of Woody. His face turned bright red and his expression contourted an hour later he was still recovering, horrified that I had tried to kill him. Meanwhile the endorphins had kicked in and Kiko and I were fee?ing the effects of the chilli's, laughing hysterically when Kiko managed to rub chilli in her eye which was left on her fingers.
Chilli'd out we arrived in El Alamein. The eastern most point that the German occupation advanced in, before Monty resisted their forces with a big battle. Chris cleverly pointed out that if we headed to the El Amamein museum, that the staff there would most probably speak English and would help us find somewhere to set up camp for the evening. As a bonus it gave him a chance to check out the museum he eagerly awaited to visit, the historical buff that he is.
It ended up perfectly. After Col and Ben with their 'getting by' skills, easily befriended the guards at the museum wth their limited Arabic and I explained in my broken Italian to the Italian speaking guard that, "we stay not in hotel, because little money, because money make for science of fixing broken back to make one day..." followed by enacting the motion of someone walking with my two fingers. Somehow they took a liking to our group and once they got permission from the head honcho at the museum, we were allowed to camp out the back of the museum and were guarded all night by the soldiers that typically guarded the museum. As Kiko rightly put it, "can you imagine two strange landrovers rocking up outside the British SAS quarters in Hereford and the guys there offering to guard the vehicles over night"?
It was then, as we unpacked our vehicles and set up camp infront of a bunch of museum staff bystanders, that a couple of things dawned on me.
The first thing, that I may have been a little hasty in conferring my opinion of Egyptians. The last time I was in Egypt, (in March earlier this year) what struck me about the people was the fact that they were extremely helpful but the majority only did it if they got something out of it. I.e. doing something for money or backsheesh, rather than from the genuine desire to help others. After one to many experiences with yelling taxi-drivers and hotel owners, my opinion was furthermore reduced. However, this time, after the last couple of days in Egypt my perspective has completely shifted. Having met many locals on the way from the border to El Alamein we have visited less touristy parts and on the contrary the people have been amazingly warm and kind to us. I think my earlier perspective might have been biased from visiting the more touristy places like Cairo, Hurghada and Luxor where pure generosity has been a little tainted or corrupted by money. Hopefully I will continue to be pleasantly surprised, even when we do head down these more touristy parts in the coming weeks.
Secondly it reminded me of the Doc's words of wisdom the other day. The Doc had pointed out that although parts of Col's routine are so familiar and monotnous to Col that he doesn't think about it, on the contrary from an outsider's perspective, particularly in these parts, it is fascinat?ng to watch. Thus from something as simple as hoisting Col into and out of the car, the people we will meet on this trip have the potential to learn so much.
Another warm and balmy evening to end another good day with good laughs and chats. Col was whisked away to his cosy boudoir side tent for his routine, Woody cooked us a scrumptious indian curry, which to our astonishment was packed with punch. (He claims that his taste buds never recovered from the chilli and I was to blame for scarring him for life). The Doc went on his historical tour of El Alamein and later built us a fire. Kiko worked on writing emails to the project managers (finally our laptop is working, albeit temperamentaly) and Ben ran around the camp doing all the other bits and bobs. We had the luxurious museum toilet at our disposal even though the lights didn't work, praticed some guitar and Col called a little pow wow, to discuss our plan of attack for Cairo. i.e. where and how we need to pick up our Sudanese visas and other issues that needed raising in our week or so of travelling, including the issue of night security and what to do and not to do in future if people were to approach our tents in the middle of the night.
We all decided to have an early night to help us get rested in time for the madness we expect in Cairo. p.s. By the way, Col's burns are looking much better and the doc is pleased with the way they are healing. Col is going to take opportunity to rest them furthermore in Cairo, as we anticipate that getting our sudanese visas will take a while!
29th November. Egypt: Mayhem in Cairo
Author: Chris Parsons
Location - Cairo, President Hotel, Zamalec Island
Thursday's job was going to be Sudanese visas and we had heard these could be hard to come by. With this in mind we decided to stay in Cairo proper tonight and wanted to give ourselves as long as possible to find somewhere appropiate. So it was another early call, quick cuppa with Danish, fond farewells to our hosts (the Egyptian army) and baby sitters (tourism police) and we were back on the road.
The journey saw us amongst the first greenery since leaving Europe and made a refreshing change from the dessert we've spent the last wee while passing through. The road was good all the way through to Cairo with breaks only to pay tolls and have some lunch.
Happily one of our contacts foun? us a reasonable deal in a good part of town with protected parking. Getting there proved something of a challenge but Ben came good and with the help of a few friendly locals brought us through the chaotic traffic to the front door. It seems the Eygptians come close to the Italians for interesting driving skills.
Chrissy had spotted a previous favourite restaurant around the corner on the way in and so we headed there for supper, pasta, as if we've not seen enough lately. It transpired this was especially good, as promised, so we all headed for an early bed with full bellies, slightly trepidatious of what tomorrow may bring on the visa front.