Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where are we now...

To all visitors, although there is still a wealth of bountiful knowledge on this blog(!) we are now running a new blog for our latest trip. You can keep up with us here:

Two of us riding nowhere. Two of us sending postcards. Two of us wearing raincoats. You and me sharing memories.
On The Road Again

If you have any questions or queries about any of the places we have been feel free to drop us a line, either by posting a comment or sending an email (addresses on the right hand column) and we will be happy to try to help you out.

Happy Travels!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Final Analysis

Between leaving Prague on March 2nd 2009 and flying out of Cape Town on 30th November 2009 we travelled 20,642 miles (according to GoogleMaps) over 274 days. We passed through 21 countries (not including Czech Republic and Slovakia which were but a snowy blur from our train window) took 6 trains and 10 boats, rode on the back of 3 trucks and 3 motorbikes, squeezed into 13 or so shared taxis, hired 3 cars for a total of 33 days and boarded at least 88 buses. We spent time, money and oodles of patience.

The bottom line is that we spent £12,221.25GBP between us in total (plus a further £219.19GBP in ATM cash withdrawal fees) over 279 days (the previously mentioned 274 plus our stopover in Dubai) at £21.90GBP per person per day, or around $35USD. This included any visas, permits or registration fees applicable for any of the countries, which amounted to a combined total of $1159USD, or just over £700GBP at todays rates, mostly payable in USD only! Monikas visas totalled $672USD, Allans came to $487USD. This also included two safaris (a 3-day safari in Kenya and a 4-day safari in Tanzania) which totalled $1800 (£1100) spent over 7 days at $129 per person per day.

Obviously the average daily budget for each country varied widely both from the trip average and the other countries, therefore a country-by-country breakdown gives a more accurate record (Daily averages generally include all costs except visa/registration costs unless otherwise stated):

From Prague To Istanbul
4 days, £228.45GBP @ £28.55 per person per day.
Prague - Budapest - Novi Sad - Belgrade - Sofia - Plovdiv - Istanbul
Mostly travelling by train, staying in hostels and self-catering.
For a full cost breakdown click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

12 days, £458.97GBP @ £19 per person per day. Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: most nationalities enter free, some nationalities require a visa issued at the border/airport, costs vary but for British passports the fee is $20USD.
Istanbul - Cannakale (Gallipoli, Troy) - Ephesus - Cappadocia
Travelling by bus, staying in hostels, self-catering with one cheap meal, read 'kebab' out most days.
For a full cost breakdown click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

13 days, £228.54 @ £8.79 per person per day. Estimated budget £10 per day.
Visa: Can be difficult to obtain and should be applied for in country of nationality. Costs vary wildly but for British passport holders in London the cost is £50 for a 3 month multiple-entry visa. For Czech nationals in Prague the same visa cost around £40.
Aleppo - Lattakia (plus Ugarit and Qalat Saladdin) - Hama (plus Palmyra, Crac de Chevaliers, Sarouj and Qalat Ib-Wardan) - side trip to Lebanon - Damascus
Travelling by train and bus, staying in hotels and guesthouses, eating delicious street food such as falafel and more kebabs.
For a full cost breakdown click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

5 days, £151.69 @ £15.16 per person per day. Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: most nationalities can enter visa-free for up to 28 days.
Baalbak - Beirut - Sidon - Byblos - Tripoli - Qadisha Valley
Travelling by bus, staying in cheap guesthouses, self-catering and enjoying more delicious Middle Eastern street food.
For a full cost breakdown click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

7 days, £176.73 @ £12.62 per person per day. This figure does not include the extortionate cost of the ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba which at £50 per person for a 1.5 hour trip would increase the daily spend up to £20! We regarded the cost of this international ferry as outside of either Jordan or Egypt! Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: Cost 10JD (approx £10) each and are granted on arrival. A further 5JD (£5) is levied as a departure tax at all exit points.
Amman (Dead Sea and Jerash) - Petra - Wadi Rum - Aqaba
Travelling by bus and sometimes hitch-hiking, staying in cheap guesthouses, self-catering and enjoying more delicious Middle Eastern street food.
For a full cost breakdown click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech


23 days, £784.50 @ £17 per person per day. Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: $15USD granted on arrival to almost all nationalities, but check beforehand.
Nuweiba - Tarabin - Dahab - Mt.Sinai - Suez - Cairo - Luxor - Aswan
Travelling by bus and train, staying in beach huts, guesthouses and cheap hotels, yet more delicious Middle Eastern street food, including Egypts unique Kushari, we visited most of the major sites at a rate of at least one every two days including the Blue Hole, Mt. Sinai, Suez Canal, Egyptian museum, the Pyramids, Karnak temple, and the Valley of the Kings.
For a full cost breakdown click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

9 days, £211.87 @ £11.77 per person per day. Estimated budget £10 per day.
Visa: $100USD must be issued before arrival. Can be problematic but Cairo is one of the easier places to apply, takes 24 hours and requires a letter of introduction from the applicants embassy. The British embassy will issue a letter on the spot for around £30, the Czech embassy is far less helpful and refuse to issue letters, sadly this ambassador is a rude and pathetic embarrassment to his country, furthermore a letter of complaint to the Czech Foreign Office resulted in this issue being dismissed. There is a loophole however and to read more on Sudanese visa applications click here.
Wadi Halfa - Abri - Kerma - Dongola - Khartoum - Gedaref
We travelled by pick-up except the trip from Khartoum to Gedaref, stayed in Lokandas and camped at Blue Nile in Khartoum. Ate mostly street food although in Khartoum all that seemed to be available were burgers!
For a full breakdown of how to travel in Sudan click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

17 days, £359.12 @ £10.56 per person per day. Estimated budget £10 per day.
Visa: MUST be issued beforehand, DO NOT arrive at the border without a visa. We heard of one person who made the horror trip up from Nairobi to Moyale without a visa! Cost $20 in Khartoum ($30 in Cairo), issued within 24 hours for up to a one month stay.
Gonder - Debark (Simien Mountains) - Bahir Dar - Lalibela - Dessie - Addis Ababa - Dila
Staying in good value hotels, eating delicious plates of injera and travelling by bus everywhere. We also trekked for 4 days in the Simien mountains.
For details of the Simien mountains trekking click here, for a full cost breakdown of travelling in Ethiopia click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

21 days, £815.12 @ £19.40 per person per day (this included a $300 per person 3-day safari). Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: available on the border for most nationalities costs $25 and is valid for 3 months. Part of the EAC agreement between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is that with single-entry visas for all three countries it is permitted to travel between those three countries as often as needed within the validity of the visas. Once you leave these three countries however the visas are void and new visas will be required. It can be a very useful system.
Moyale - Isiolo - Nanyuki - Mt. Kenya - Nairobi - Mombasa - Lamu - Nairobi - Masai Mara NR - Lake Nakuru NP - Lake Naivasha - Hells Gate NP - Nairobi
Camping or staying in guesthouses, self-catering or eating cheap meals of pilau, githeri or chapati, travelling by bus or on the back of a truck, undertaking one organised safari and entering 3 national parks. We did not climb Mt. Kenya because of the ridiculous price increases. Well done KWS.
For full costs and tips click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech


30 days, £1617.65 @ £26.96 per person per day (including a 4-day safari). Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: costs $50 for most nationalities (Irish pay $100) and are available for most nationalities at most borders but inevitably there are exceptions. See above for details of the EAC visa agreement.
Arusha - Tarangire NP - Serengeti NP - Ngorongoro NCA - Moshi - trip to Uganda via Nairobi - Bukoba - Mwanza - Dar Es Salaam - Zanzibar (Stone Town and Jambiani) - Mbeya
Staying in hotels or camping, travelling by bus and boat, eating cheap meals in canteens or from street stalls. Includes an excellent 4-day safari organised by Forsters Tours.
For full costs and tips click here
For trip reports on Northern Tanzania click here for English, here for Czech
For trip reports on the rest of Tanzania click here for English, here for Czech


15 days, £337.35 @ £11.24 per person per day. Estimated budget £10 per day.
Visa: Costs $50 available at the border for most nationalities. Student visas used to be half-priced on presentation of ISIC card but this no longer seems to apply.
Mbale - Sipi Falls - Jinja - Kampala - Fort Portal - Lake Nkuruba - Rwenzori mountains - Masaka - Ssese islands
Staying in hotels or camping,eating street food or the excellent food served by community campsites Lake Nkruba and Ruboni and travelling by bus, on the back of boda-bodas (motorbike taxis) and in shared taxis.
For full costs and tips click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

22 days, £604.22 @ £13.73 per person per day. Estimated budget £10 per day.
Visa: free for most nationalities, those that doe require visas should apply before. The embassy in Dar Es Salaam charges $100 and takes 4 days. If you are lucky they may let you pass the border and apply for a visa once in Malawi, and may charge you only $70 for taking this risk and flaunting the rules.
Nkhata Bay - Viphya Plateau - Nkhata Bay - Chizimulu island - Likoma island - Blantyre - Mt Mulanje - Lilongwe
Camping every day apart from those spent on the Ilala ferry, self-catering often and travelling by bus/boat (except for one indulgent taxi ride!). One main expense was beer, here they only sell smaller bottles and the costs is the same or more than for a bigger bottle in Tanzania, Uganda or Kenya.
For full hints and tips click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

12 days, £542.41 @ £22.60 per person per day. Estimated budget £12 per day.
Visa: $50 available at borders (but not when travelling by train from Tanzania) or from embassies.
Chipata - South Luangwa NP - Lusaka - Livingstone (Victoria Falls)
Camping except in Lusaka where we took dorm beds, self-catering almost exclusively and travelling by bus.
For full tips and costs click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

Why we didn't go

9 days, £450.81 @ £25.04 per person per day. Estimated budget £18 per day.
Visa: most countries can visit visa-free but for those that require visas, which includes most of Eastern Europe (inc Czech Republic but not Poland) and Israel, the process can be expensive, very time consuming and ultimately fruitless. Hotel bookings and onward tickets may be required plus a detailed planned itinerary, the process could take from one week to two months and once the application has been made the fee is non-refundable, regardless of its success or lack thereof.
Kasane (Chobe NP) - Nata - Gweta (Planet Baobab) - Maun - Okavango Delta
Public transport is scarce so hitch-hiking is a very useful option, food in restaurants is expensive so self-catering or eating from supermarket deli counters is the only viable option, camping is available in most touristic areas.
For full hints and tips click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

12 days, £668.96 @ £27.87 per person per day. Estimated budget £18 per day.
Visa: free for most nationalities. For those that require visas (inc. Czech Republic) they are available at Namibian embassies at a cost of $50, taking around 3 days to issue.
Windhoek - Swakopmund - Walvis Bay - Namib-Nauklauft NP (Kuiseb, Nauklauft mountains, Sossusvlei) - Marienthal - Keetmanshop - Fish River Canyon
Public transport is non existent so the only option is to hitch (if you have the time) or hire a car (if you have the money), camping wild is an option as the country is deserted.
For full hints and tips click here
For a trip report click here for English, here for Czech

South Africa
40 days, 2571.80 @ £32.14 per person per day. This included 26 days car hire (25+1) and all of our souvenir shopping. Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: Free 3-month temporary residency permits issued at border to most nationalities.
Cape Town - Cape Peninsular - Hermanus - Cape Agulhas - Mossel Bay - Buffels Bay - Knysna - Plettenburg Bay - Tsitsikamma NP - Jeffreys Bay - PE - Addo NP - Port Alfred - East London - Chintsa - Coffee Bay - Mthatha - Durban - Drakensburg Mountains (Monks Cowl and Royal Natal) - St Lucia (and Hluhluwe) - side trip to Swaziland - Nelspuit - Blyde River Canyon - Kruger NP - side trip to Mozambique - Johannesburg - Bloemfontein - side trip to Lesotho - Cape Town
We camped and self-catered almost all the time and also received a WildCard as a gift, meaning we had hardly any park entry fee's to pay, Hiring a car was the most cost-effective way to see as much as possible.
For a full costs breakdown click here
For trip reports English click here, here or here, in Czech click here, here or here

3 days, £80 plus R200 road permit and 3 days car hire at 187ZAR per day so £140.88 @ £23.48 per person per day. Without the car hire the cost of travelling in Swaziland would be similar to that of Lesotho (see below). Estimated budget £10 per day.
Visa: free for all nationalities that do not require a visa to enter South Africa.
Manzini - Ezulwini and Malkerns Valley - Mbabane
camping at Sondzela Backpackers in Mliliwane Nature Sanctuary, self-catering and travelling in our hire car.
For full costs and tips click here
For a trip report in English click here, in Czech click here

16 days, £568.21 @ £17.75 per person per day. Estimated budget £12.50 per day.
Visa: costs vary wildly, the current best place to apply is in Swaziland where a visa costs $12 and is issued in the same day, visas at the border cost around $25 whilst from embassies in South Africa the cost in around $100.
Maputo - Vilankulos (Bazaruto Archipelago) - Inhambane and Tofo - Maputo
A mixture of beach huts and camping, treating ourselves to excellent seafood as well as self-catering, travelling by bus. Also includes two trips - one to the Bazaruto archipelago and one 'Ocean safari' in Tofo (with a discounted second trip).
For full hints and tips click here
For a trip report in English click here, in Czech click here

4 days, £100 @ £12.50 per person per day. Estimated budget £10 per day.
Visa: Free for most nationalities, for others it maybe worth trying just turning up as the cost of acquiring a visa beforehand can be rather high.
Maseru - Semonkong - Malealea - Maseru
Camping, with one night in a dorm, enjoing lots of street snacks and one nice dinner but otherwise self-catering, travelling by bus.
For full hints and tips click here
For a trip report in English click here, in Czech click here


6 days, £260.56 @ £21.71 per person per day. Estimated budget £15 per day.
Visa: free for many nationalities, others may receive a 96 hour visa upon arrival or will have to find a sponsor (UAE resident or hotel/travel agent) within Dubai to apply on behalf, the cost is around £120 including mandatory health insurance.
Dubai - Abu Dhabi - Siwa Oasis - Al-Ain - Ras-Al-Khaimah - Sharjah - Dubai
Staying as guests of a friend, shared car hire for three days between four people, most attractions are free entry. Enjoying a welcome return to Middle Eastern cuisine.
For a trip report in English click here

So, as you can see, our actual costs far exceeded our estimated forecast, it came as shock (even after having travelled for over 3 months in West Africa in 2007) just how expensive Africa is as a continent to travel in. Not only expensive but incredibly poor value for money. We camped a few times up until Tanzania but then about 99% of the time after that spending more on camping than we would pay for a luxury double room with hot shower, air-con and TV in most parts of Asia!!!

Finally, if you are still interested, see our exhaustive list of Top 5's here

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

High Five!

In a true example of post-modern, Generation X Hornbyism we have compiled pages of lists, top fives for every conceivable aspect of our journey. Our claim of justification is that it might help someone or provide inspiration...


1. Safari in Tarangire, Serengeti and Ngorongoro in Tanzania
2. Swahili culture along coastal Kenya and Tanzania (specifically Mombasa, Lamu and Zanzibar)
3. Likoma and Chizimulu islands, Malawi
4. People of Sudan
5. Seafood in Mozambique



1. Malawi
2. Ethiopia
3. Namibia
4. Uganda
5. Tanzania

This is a difficult list, no country on this trip had a perfect mix of people, food, sights, wildlife, value for money and the other mitigating factors. Malawi came out number one principally because of the people. Ethiopia came second despite some of the people but due to the stunning scenery and the fact that everything there is completely alien! In Namibia it was the landscape, in Uganda a similar combination to Malawi but ruined by our experiences in South-West Uganda. Tanzania made the list because it was the location for two of our best experiences (Serengeti/Ngorongoro and Zanzibar) and that other places including Dar Es-Salaam and Mwanza were also very pleasant.

Boy in Malawi


1. Cairo
2. Cape Town
3. Istanbul
4. Damascus
5. Dar Es-Salaam
= Maputo

Interesting that 3 of the 5 are Middle Eastern, highlights that Africa is not good at doing cities. The one exception is Cape Town, known as the Mother City, which could keep a visitor enthralled for weeks on end. Dar Es-Salaam and Maputo vy for fifth place on a list that would be better of as a 'top 4'!



1. Cappadocia, Turkey
2. Wadi Rum, Jordan
3. Sinai Peninsular, Egypt
4. Petra, Jordan
5. Qadisha Valley, Lebanon


Wadi Rum


1. Likoma and Chizimulu islands, Malawi
2. Zanzibar, Tanzania
3. Simien mountains, Ethiopia
4. Lamu island, Kenya
5. Namib-Nauklauft National Park, Namibia (inc. Sossusvlei, Kuiseb canyon and the Nauklauft mountains

Jambiani beach, Zanzibar


1. Moyale, Kenya
2. Mbeya, Tanzania
3. Masaka, Uganda
4. Marienthal, Namibia
5. Mthatha, South Africa

Why? Moyale is the border town between Ethiopia and Kenya and sits at one end of the most infamous road on the 'Cairo to Cape Town' grapevine. It is also right in the middle of a big qat (the slightly narcotic plant) chewing region, which means all the hotels are filthy and the staff are lying around totally whacked out with a giant bunch of qat leaves stuffed in their mouths. Mbeya in Tanzania, close to the Zambian and Malawian borders was populated by people with more standard addictions - alcohol and marijuana - who seemed to be roaming the streets and hanging about in hoodies on every corner (Sound familiar?), not good when arriving at 11pm to find all the cheap hotels full. Masaka in Uganda was simply the epicentre of some of the most primitive and unfriendly group of people in Africa, all of a sudden Ugandans went from being friendly, cheerful and welcoming to uncivilised, nefarious rude and obnxious, which was a shame. Marienthal in Namibia was just one of those places which you pass through and a shiver goes down your spine - small-town, everyone looking like the result of some inter-breeding program, a lot of knocked-out teeth and groups of old women hitch-hiking at midnight. Inevitably we found ourselves passing through, and stopping at the petrol station, three times! Mthatha was not so bad but was the place where we were stuck without a spare tyre because of South Africa's archaic Sunday trading laws, it seemed down-trodden and slightly dodgy but in the end was not so bad and the people were helpful on Monday! It only got on the list because there really were no other places that were bad (pretty good for a nine month trip!) and it begins with M, just like the rest of the list, which is strange!


1. Imet Gogo in Simien mountains, Ethiopia
2. Fish River Canyon, Namibia
3. Wadi Rum, Jordan
4. Lake Nakuru, Kenya
5. Sipi Falls, Uganda

Lake Nakuru, Kenya


1. Namibia
2. Jordan
3. Ethiopia
4. South Africa
5. Lesotho

Sossusvlei, Namibia


1. Chobe National Park, Botswana
2. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
3. Cannakale, Turkey
4. Chizimulu, Malawi
5. Hornbill camp, Ssese islands, Uganda

Chobe National Park, Botswana


1. Sudanese
2. Syrian
3. Zambian
4. Malawian
5. Swazi

Sudanese Girl


1. On safari in Tarangire, Serengeti and Ngorongoro, Tanzania
2. Snorkelling with whale sharks at Tofo, Mozambique
= Simien mountains trekking, Ethiopia
3. Taking the Ilala ferry, Malawi
4. Taking the ferry from Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa, Sudan
5. Self-drive safari in Kruger National park


1. Ghion Hotel, Bahir Dar (Ethiopia)
2. Bahari Hotel, Lamu (Kenya)
3. Oasis Hotel, Luxor (Egypt)
4. Cairo Hotel, Hama (Syria)
5. A+A Hill Street Accommodation, Moshi (Tanzania)

To clarify I should add that from Malawi onwards we almost exclusively camped in either 'backpackers' or municipal campsites, which is why none of these are from Southern Africa. This also does not include either of the posh places we stayed, Kempinski in Dar Es-Salaam and Pezula in Knysna, as the comparisons would not be fair. Budget here means up to $15 per night.


1. Planet Baobab, near Gweta (Botswana) (see here)
2. Croc Valley, Mfuwe, South Luangwa (Zambia)
3. Mabuya Lodge, Lilongwe (Malawi)
4. The Old Bridge, Maun (Botswana)
5. Chameleon Backpackers, Windhoek (Namibia)


1. Buccaneers, Cintsa (South Africa)
2. Sondzela Backpackers, Mliliwane Nature Sanctuary (Swaziland)
3. BiBs, St. Lucia (South Africa)
4. Semonkong Lodge, Semonkong (Lesotho)
5. Naval Hill Backpackers, Bloemfontein (South Africa)

Sondzela Backpackers


1. Casa De Comer, Tofo (Mozambique). Delicious seafood presented exquisitely in a luxurious location.
2. Deli Chez, Moshi (Tanzania). A curry house to rival the best on Brick Lane!
3. Olympic Restaurant, Lamu (Kenya). Fantastic fresh fish accompanied by a veritable feast of side dishes.
4. Lookout Restaurant, Plettenberg Bay (South Africa). Tasty food with good portions eaten whilst admiring the views from the terrace.
5. Moyo, Johannesburg (South Africa). Nice food but the real highlight is the setting and the free tribal face painting!
= Dros, Stellenbosch (South Africa). a 500gr steak (for Monika), 'nuff said.

Again this was a list where the top 4 stood out, the last spot was probably between the only two other reasonably decent places we ate on the whole trip (unless you count Nandos?!).


1. Black and White, Tofo (Mozambique). Fish, squid, prawns or chicken served with rice or chips. Friendly service of cheap, tasty and very filling meals.
2. Unique Restaurant, Lalibela (Ethiopia). The food more than makes up for the location, especially their 'fasting food' vegetable injera. The offer to watch the cooking of injera in the kitchen was a highlight.
3. New Peoples Hotel, Mombasa (Kenya). Big trays of pilau, spaghetti or 'half-and half' were the staple, the giant curried fish with chips was a special treat!
4. Demera Cultural Restaurant, Gonder (Ethiopia). A nice introduction to the weird and wonderful injera.
5. Ruboni Community Campsite, Rwenzori mountains (Uganda). Piles of tasty matoke (mashed plantains), rice and beans washed down with good beer at dirt cheap prices.

Black and White, Tofo (Mozambique)


1. Night market, Stone Town (Zanzibar). Stalls offering divine snacks such as lobster, prawn, squid or fish kebabs and the ubiquitous 'Zanzibar pizza' (something like an Indonesian 'murtabak').
2. Felafel, Middle East. The best were in Aleppo (Syria), Sidon (Lebanon) and Aqaba (Jordan)
3. Fish or Chicken Tikka, Mwanza (Tanzania).
4. Lentil samosas (Ethiopia). Often the only option for a midday snack!
5. Boerwors hot dog, across Namibia and South Africa but the best was in Windhoek.

Night market, Stone Town (Zanzibar)


1. Nile Special (Uganda)
2. Tusker (Kenya)
3. Castle (South Africa)
4. Mosi (Zambia)
5. Maluti (Lesotho)

In terms of countries Uganda and South Africa had the best range of beers, Mozambique had some options but they all tasted similar. Tanzania had a really good range but the brands often tasted totally different from one place to the next, Serengeti beer drunk in Arusha would probably have made this list but the same beer bought in Dar Es-Salaam was terrible, vice versa for Kilimajaro beer!


1. Masaka to Kalangala, Uganda
2. Looking for Dwesa, South Africa
3. Dar Es-Salaam to Mbeya, Tanzania
4. Mfuwe to Chipata, Zambia
5. Moyale to Isiolo, Kenya

The first was the worst due to a combination of terrible roads, dilapidated vehicle (this one really on the verge of collapse), primitive behaviour by the driver and conductor which the passengers did nothing to try to prevent, awful weather and long delays waiting for the minibus to fill up! Our search for Dwesa was conducted in our hire car but involved getting lost, driving on really bad 'gravel' roads in treacherous weather conditions and bursting a tyre in the middle of nowhere just before sunset. The journey from Dar to Mbeya included our change being 'dropped', almost being left behind at the lunch stop and arriving after dark in a total shithole of a town where all the hotels were full. Mfuwe to Chipata was memorable not only for the poor road and battered bus but because it departed at 3am and our lodge would only allow pick-ups until 9pm meaning we had to spend the evening in the pubs and clubs of Mfuwe (not many) watching our driver sink several beers before getting an hours sleep and tackling this terrible road in the dark. Finally, the Moyale to Isiolo road is so infamous on this route that it could not be omitted. An 18-hour 1000km journey where there are no roads at all, almost like driving in a ditch, on the back of a truck full of sacks of beans with about 100 other people all holding on for dear life! At least we didn't have any problems with the authorities or other passengers, unlike the 16 Ethiopian guys on board who felt the full force of some totally primitive, xenophobic behaviour. Just when we thought the bad journeys were behind us Africa had one last laugh on the journey from Maseru to Semonkong in Lesotho. Just 130km this journey managed to jolt our memories of all the rest of the combinations of crap roads, shit buses, and demon drivers!


1. Lalibela in Ethiopia. Vastly over-rated.
2. Not climbing Mt. Kenya due to ridiculous fees levied by KWS.
3. Okavango Delta. If you cant get to the Inner Delta the Eastern Delta is not really much of a substitute.
4. Weather in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.
5. Coupled with our expensive, high quality tent suddenly losing its ability to be pitched in conditions resembling a white-water river!


- Tulip Guesthouse, Istanbul (Turkey)
- Emres Hostel, Capadoccia (Turkey)
- Spit-roast chicken in Lattakia (Syria)
- Bicycle safari at Hells Gate NP (Kenya)
- Community campsites in Uganda
- taking the ferry across Lake Victoria
- trekking Mt. Mulanje (Malawi)
- meeting up with my relatives Ken and Marie and their family and friends in South Africa
- watching cricket at the Wanderers and at Newlands!

and finally....



1. I Am The Walrus (from the Magical Mystery Tour EP, 1967)
2. Come Together (from Abbey Road, 1969)
3. A Day In The Life (from Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band, 1967)
4. Day Tripper (single, 1965)
5. Dear Prudence (from The White Album, 1968)
6. Two Of Us (from Let It Be, 1970)
7. Sexy Sadie (from The White Album, 1968)
8. Paperback Writer (single, 1966)


1. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars (1972)
2. Heathen (2002)
3. Hunky Dory (1971)
4. Reality (2004)
5. Lodger (1979)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

All that glitters...

The worn cliché about the clash of old traditions and modern lifestyles really does apply to Dubai. The high rise skyscrapers, sprawling shopping malls and luxury hotels are surrounded by old souqs, ramshackle buildings housing tailors, laundrettes and Indian cafes. Somehow the whole aura of Dubai reminds of Singapore, or even Hong Kong. Ruled since 1833 by the Al Maktoum dynasty, the current emir Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is also prime minister and vice-president of the UAE, the country made up of the seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Ras Al-Khaimah and Fujairah – which celebrated its 38th birthday this week, prompting the entire population to decorate their cars in the colours of the flag (or even adorn them with photos of the various emirs.

We have been lucky enough this week to be guests of our friend Stepan (who has already made appearances on this trip in both Egypt and Tanzania), although he had just flown in from Dusseldorf when we arrived and forgot to change the time on his watch, meaning we had two hours waiting at the airport trying to adjust to being in the northern hemisphere again and in a more conservative culture where perhaps swimming shorts and bare feet are not as usual as in the Western Cape. Stepans brother was also visiting this week so we have been moving around in a small tour group!

Up until just twenty years ago Dubai remained a quiet town but in the past two decades uncontrolled development has totally altered the shape of the city, and its skyline silhouette. Buildings such as the famous Burj Al-Arab hotel on Jumeirah beach, whose design was based on that of a traditional sailing dhow, and the new Burj Dubai which once open will be regarded as the worlds tallest building at 808m are very tangible evidence of the effect a massive influx of wealth and capital can have on a city! The extravagance doesn’t stop at the view from outside – within the Mall of the Emirates is the indoor ski resort Ski Dubai which features an 85-meter high indoor mountain with 5 slopes including the world's first indoor black run and a 90-meter-long quarter pipe for snowboarders. Ski lifts carry skiers and snowboarders up the mountain. Adjoining the slopes is a 3,000-square-meter Snow Park play area comprising sled and toboggan runs, an icy body slide, a snowball shooting gallery and snowman making area, an ice cave, and a theatre! Luckily for the shivering sheiks in their dishdashas winter clothing and skiing equipment are included in the price of admission!

The largest of the Emirates with 87% of the countries land area is Abu Dhabi but somehow it always seems to be playing catch-up to Dubai. Where some Emiratis complain that Dubai has ‘sold its soul’ Abu Dhabi by contrast has managed to combine development with retaining its traditions. Indeed, the highlight of Abu Dhabi is definitely a visit to the Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed mosque, which is a modern development of the most traditional style, a beautiful mosque that really emphasises the spirit of Islam. A drive along the Corniche of Abu Dhabi prompts comparisons not with Dubai but with other, less glitzy Arabian cities, Muscat for instance. Trading on these traditions Abu Dhabi has been promoting cultural tourism in a big way, and at any museum, fort or palace you visit within the borders of Abu Dhabi you can be sure of an extremely friendly welcome, offers of Arabic coffee and fresh dates and a very proud and knowledgeable guide, often a women.

200km south of Abu Dhabi close to the Saudi border lies the Siwa Oasis, one of the last stops before entering the ‘Empty Quarter’ where you could probably walk (or take a camel) for 1000km and not bump into anyone else until you reach the Yemen! The whole area is surrounded by giant sand dunes, glowing in the sun in every shade from white to red, appearing as if they have been sculptured by a giant spatula.

Another oasis within Abu Dhabi is Al-Ain, 130km east of Dubai close to the Omani border. Leaving the city behind and passing long caravans of camels along the way before the city rises out of the desert. One of Wilfred Thesiger’s main stops during his Arabian explorations nowadays the oasis, fort and palace are surrounded by a fair sized modern town. The oasis is certainly not the stuff of fairytales, it is very much a working oasis with hundreds of date plantations squeezed together, but is still a very peaceful place to escape the heat and wander under the palms.

North of Dubai in the Ras Al-Khaimah emirate lies the historic site of Shamal, which historians claim was one of the many homes of the Queen of Sheba. Nowadays it is in a terrible state of neglect and hardly receives as much as a mention in the tourism brochures, however the views of the surrounding mountains from the ruins perched up on hill are worth the visit alone.

Closer to Dubai are the small emirates of Ajman and Sharjah. Although we only passed through Ajman we did stop in Sharjah. A stones throw form Dubai and yet worlds apart Sharjah is perhaps the most conservative of the emirates. It is populated by many of the lower income immigrant communities from the Indian Subcontinent giving a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps it is just the shock arriving from Africa (where days could go past without receiving a smile let alone a greeting) but here everyone seems so happy and friendly, laughing and joking in the streets. It was definitely a shock to be wandering around the streets here long after sunset without even a thought as to personal safety and it also took a while to get used to being able to leave the car anywhere without a care in the world. Even the Bangladeshi guys trying to sell all kinds of dodgy stuff made me happy, it was so good to see some enthusiasm for life after months of trying to encourage shop-keepers to get up and serve me! This feeling continued as we wandered around the gold souqs of old Dubai, the fervent whispers of ‘copy watches, special price, cheap and best’ were music to my ears! The souqs in the heart of Dubai reminded me of all the best parts of the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and beyond. The Middle East really is the centre of all things, influences from Europe, Asia and Africa all get chewed up here before being spat out again in all different directions.

We have enjoyed a busy week here but we did find time to relax by our rooftop pool, sunbathing under the Dubai airport flight-path and watching the constant stream of Emirates jets fly off into the sun. Tomorrow we will be on one of them, the behemoth A380 in fact, but something tells it won’t be into the sun that we will be heading!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to travel in South Africa

Visas - free 3 month multiple entry 'temporary residency permits' are given to most nationalities on the border.

SAN Wild Card - costs around 1600R for a non-South African card valid for two people. This gives unlimited access to almost all national parks in South Africa as well as some in Swaziland. It is probably not worthwhile for a short visit but for longer stays it can prove to be more economical. It is especially worthwhile if you receive it as a gift!

Camping at Ashanti Lodge, Cape Town - 70R p.p.p.n. Nice place with clean kitchen, pool and travel centre. The upstairs bar has fantastic views of Table Mountain and big-screen sports but can be very noisy in the evening, and the music is piped through the hostel all day. Situated in the lovely Gardens suburb just 10 mins from Long St.
Bottle of drinkable South African wine in a supermarket - from 30R. Particular favourites include Nederburg and Drosty-Hof.
Boerwors hot dog from street stall - 9R.
Internet on Long Street - from 15R per hour. Fast connections, often with headset for Skype.
Entry to V+A Waterfront, Cape Town - FREE
25 days car hire from AroundAboutCars - 5308R - 177R per day plus 10R per day zero excess cover (optional), 33R contract fee, 200R cross-border permit for Swaziland and a 400R one-way drop-off fee. Amazing price.
Petrol - around 7.5R per litre.
Camping at Millers Point, Cape Peninsular - 130R per site.
Entrance to Cape Of Good Hope National Park - 75R p.p. (WildCard valid).
Entrance to TMNP Penguin Colony at Boulders - 30R p.p. (WildCard valid). Over-touristed and not worthwhile.
Camping at Olrus river, near Hermanus - 120R per site. Good facilities including bath tub (like most South African camp sites).
Whale watching from cliffs at Hermanus - FREE
Visiting Cape Agulhas NP (southernmost point of Africa) - FREE
Full tank of petrol in a VW Chico - around 360R which lasts around 600km.
Camping at Mossel Bay campsite - 130R per site.
Staying at luxury Pezula Hotel and Spa, Knysna - Free if guests of family, if not who knows? It is listed in the Worlds Greatest Spas!
Meal deal at King Pie (fast food chain) - 15R for a pie and chips.
Tasty meal such as Haloumi salad or tuna steak at The Lookout, Plettenburg Bay - around 50-100R. Excellent food, good portions, nice location, great views.
Mitchells draft beer in the Western Cape - 15R per pint.
Self-catering groceries for 25 days - around 1200R
Coffee and cake at Ile de pain cafe, Knysna - around 40R
Entry to Tsitsikamma NP - 88R (WildCard valid)
Camping at Island Vibe, Jeffreys Bay - 55R p.p.p.n. On the beach at a world famous surfing spot. Friendly and good facilities, camping is unprotected from the wind.
Entry to Red Location, Port Elizabeth - 12R p.p. Incredible moving apartheid museum, well presented, located in the New Brighton township.
Entry to Addo NP - 130R p.p. (WildCard valid)
Camping at Kowie Backpackers, Port Alfred - 60R p.p.p.n. set in the gardens of a small suburban bungalow.
Camping at Buccaneers, Cintsa - 55R p.p.p.n Nice place, secluded setting, many activities, including volleyball with wine.
King Steer burger with chips at Steers (South African fast food chain) - 40R
Double room at Bomvu backpackers, Coffee Bay - 200R per room. Nice place but Coffee Bay overrated in my opinion.
Double room at Blues Ally, Mthatha - 350R per room
2 large pizzas from Debonairs (pizza chain) - 185R
Dorm bed at Nomad Backpackers, Durban - 100R p.p.p.n
Bunny Chow (bread and curry) from Victoria St market, Durban - 25R
Visit to the Alayam Hindu temple, Durban - FREE
Pair of new flip-flops from Bata - 29R
Entrance to Monks Cowl Nature Reserve, Drakensburg Mountains - 30R p.p.
Camping at Inkosana Lodge, Monks Cowl - 75R p.p.p.n. Well run place, slightly expensive but with great views.
Camping and entry fee to Royal Natal NR, Drakensburg - 60R p.p.p.n (70R on weekends) including camping in the beautiful Mahai campsite.
Hot dog from road side stall - 13R
Double room at BiBs, St. Lucia - 220R. As they were full we were offered an ensuite room at the price of a room w/o bath. Relaxed place, nice kitchen and bar. Trips on offer.
Entry fee for St. Lucia Wetlands NP - 25R p.p. plus 30R per car. Scenic route through to Cape Vidal beach, with game viewing en route. Especially good for rhino spotting.
Entry fee to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi NP - 90R p.p. (WildCard valid). Big 5 in resident but can be difficult to spot, again rhinos in abundance however.
Map for Hluhluwe-Imfolozi NP - 30R. Well worth it.
Camping at Hluhluwe Backpackers (Daves Place) - 60R p.p.p.n. inc. decent breakfast, slightly weird place though.


Double room/Dorm bed at Nelspruit Backpackers, Nelspruit - 130R/120R p.p.p.n (maybe 80R for the dorm if you are lucky). Camp site there is not really functional. Friendly staff but a little bit run-down, there is a pool table, fussball, free breakfast, kitchen, pool, braii and bar.
Good quality biltong and droewors from proper biltong shops - around 170R per kg, although 200gr is more than enough!
Entry to Bourkes Luck potholes at Blyde River Canyon - 25R. OK as there is no entry fee at the other Blyde River Canyon sites.
Camping at Forever Resorts, Blyde River Canyon - 60R p.p.p.n. Great value as this is a proper holiday resort with restaurants, pool area, lots of walks and other activities.
Entry to Kruger National Park - 160R p.p. (WildCard valid)
Map of Kruger National Park - 25R.
Camping at any of the Kruger National Park sites - 75R p.p.p.n. Must book in advance. Two recommended sites are Sakara and Lower Sabie as they are in areas of high concentration of game.
Meat for proper South African braii (BBQ) - around 70R per kg for beef, 50R per kg for chicken and 40R per kg for sausages.
City2City bus from Nelspruit to Maputo - 130R. Cramped and stuffy but cheap, more expensive yet more comfortable carriers such as Translux charge from 160R.


Tickets for Twenty20 International between England and South Africa at The Wanderers, Johannesburg - 200R
Entry to Apartheid Museum, Jo'burg - 40R. Almost compulsory!
Delicious pizzas at Col'Cacchio, Bryanston (Jo'burg) - from 60-100R, very creative menu.
Dinner at Moyo restaurant, near Johannesburg Zoo - dishes from 50-210R including complimentary face painting.
Translux bus from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein - 190R, 5 hours
Camping at Naval Hill Backpackers, Bloemfontein - 60R p.p.p.n. Unique place set in an old water pump house, cool interiors. Friendly and relaxed staff. No bar but self-catering kitchen.
Taxi from Naval Hill to Central Bloemfontein - 40R
BigSky Bus from Bloemfontein to Maseru Bridge (Lesotho) - 50R, 140km, 3 hours. Service is on a 'city style' bus.


Entry to Naval Hill Nature Reserve, Bloemfontein - FREE
Entry to Olwienhus art gallery, Bloemfontein - FREE
Intercape Sleepliner bus from Bloemfontein to Cape Town - 330R, 13 hours, 1000km.
Internet at Chinese places around The Strand, Cape Town - from 5R per hour.
Pint of Bobs Brew Beer at Bobs Bistro, Long Street - 12R
Ticket for Labia cinema on Kloof Street - 25R. Only two screens at this intimate venue.
Entry to District 6 museum, Cape Town - 20R. Slightly disappointing after Red Location and the Apartheid museum, the exhibits were not really clear.
Guided tour to Robben island - 180R p.p. inc. boat transfer from V+A Waterfront, 45 minute guided coach trip around the island and tour of the former prison guided by a former inmate.
One day 'Cape Special' car hire from AroundAboutCars - 280R including 10R zero excess fee and 40R contract fee.
Wine tasting at Fairview, near Paarl - 25R p.p. including cheese tasting. A warm welcome to a beautiful vineyard in stunning settings. Highly recommended.
Wine tasting at Tokara, between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch - FREE, but the staff were quite snooty and made no effort to make guests feel welcome, we did not even stay for the free olive tasting.
500gr sirloin steak with pepper sauce served with chips at Dros, Stellenbosch - 105R. Incredibly tasty giant steak. Other menu items such as burgers start from 40R.
Admission for Laurie Levine concert at DorpStreet Theatre, Stellenbosch - 60R, but as it was a restaurant concert guests were required to order food also or pay an extra 30R cover charge. After the steak we could only manage a dessert, which cost 35R. This is the common practice at the DorpStreet. It is a nice place worth visiting if there is a good show on but be warned, don’t eat before!
Suburban train from Central Cape Town to Newlands - 5.5R
Ticket in North Stand at Newlands for ODI between England and South Africa - 220R. North Stand is best for the views of Table Mountain behind the stadium. All sorts of food, drinks and souvenirs available at the ground.
Climbing Table Mountain - FREE, but it is a tough, steep climb taking between 2-2.5 hours. Cable car tickets for the lazy people - 160R return. Entry to this part of Table Mountain national park is free.
Shuttle bus from Ashanti Lodge to Cape Town airport - 70R p.p. approx 30mins depending on traffic.
1l bottle of Amarula in duty free - 95R.

Approx costs - 220R per person per day, including 26 days car hire (25 days + 1 day)

Exchange rate - 7.5R=$1USD, 12.5R=GBP1