Saturday, May 30, 2009


Before we reached the Ethiopian border with Sudan we could feel the final evidence of the Middle East slipping away, minarets towering over flat-roofed towns and camels wandering the streets petered out, to be replaced with villages of round African mud huts and herds of cattle and goats surrounding waterholes.

We almost got stuck at the Ethiopian border town of Metema, until we convinced a bus driver we did want to go to Shihedi. From there we found a bus to Gonder, a slow going ride as we weaved up and down the various mountain passes. This bus however stopped at a village just 60km before Gonder and everyone was given a refund of the difference. From here we finally managed to persuade a truck driver to let us ride in the back, relaxing on his cargo of rice. By now it was already dark and as we bounced over yet more mountains and lay gazing up to the clear night sky I realised this is the reason why we travel, for moments like those. Suddenly however the truck stopped and cut it lights. We looked towards the road and when the driver put the lights back on they illuminated a line of guys standing across the road, carrying AK-47’s. Thinking they were bandits we lay flat on the rice, wondering what would happen next. Luckily they were just farmers and wanted a lift to the next village. We soon got used to the idea of people carrying guns around everywhere in Ethiopia, like a sign of wealth or something.

For most people in the West the only images they know of Ethiopia are those from Live Aid and other charity events organised by rich rock stars looking for a bit of free publicity, i.e. Bob Geldof and Bono, images of drought and famine. The reality is somewhat different, the highland plateau of Ethiopia is one of the most fertile in Africa and much of the land is taken up by farming. The more arid, desert areas of Ethiopia are very sparsely populated and, in the event of another drought the people would be able to reach more hospitable land easily. In fact the only effects of the aid organisations I have witnessed are severely negative ones, money simply being thrown at the people, removing from them the ambition to work, robbing them of their independence and diluting their culture. Well done lads, but stick to the radio-friendly rock next time.

Talking of music, Ethiopian music is probably some of the best in Africa. The range of styles leads to comparisons with jazz, reggae and even Cambodian pop. Monika and I are huge fans of Mulatu Astatke and I urge you all to get hold of some of his music, in particular 'Ethiopiques Vol. 4'.

Soon the town of Gonder appeared across the valley. We asked a local guy to point us out a hotel and soon we were being followed by a tribe of hangers-on, something you must get used to quickly in Ethiopia, young guys who would rather follow tourists around in the hope of scrounging a few birr rather than get a job. Nevermind. We went out to experience our first tastes of Ethiopian food and drink. Virtually every meal here revolves around injera, a massive, slightly sour, grey pancake which acts as a plate, cutlery and the staple food all at once. On top of this is poured a stew or gravy, usually with chicken or goat meat and always spicy. It may look like a used tea towel but it is delicious, I have had it every day. Ethiopia is also a good place to have a beer, especially if you have just come from Sudan! Draft beer is widely available and although it is only lager it is not so sweet as the English piss, more like a Pilsner. So, by night injera and beer, by day coffee and cream cakes. Being the original home of coffee, and more infamously being occupied by Italy during WWII, it should come as no surprise that coffee is the national morning pick-me-up. It is mostly drunk macchiato, which means an espresso with steamed milk, very tasty and cheap too, a cup with a piece of cake costs less than a dollar even in the shiny plush cafes whilst in the street vendors sell tasty lentil samosas and greasy donuts.

Gonder was the former home of the Emporer Fasilas and his castle overlooks the town today. It’s like a step back in time to wander through these ruins. Also in Gonder is the Debre Birhan Selassie church, with its amazing painted ceilings, the many faces of the messiah look down with the smile of the Mona Lisa, an amazing example of the vibrant, albeit garish Ethiopian version of Christianity . I also saw a chained off car park where aspiring motorists were being taught to ride motorcycles? This might not sound unusual but bear in mind that in most countries in Africa, and indeed Asia, kids as young as 7 or 8 years old generally scoot around town on a moped. What made Ethiopians adhere to road traffic regulations?

In Gonder we loaded up with supplies and headed to the town of Debark in the Simien mountains. From here we undertook a four day trek to the viewpoint of Imet Gogo (3926m asl) and back. At the park office we had to arrange our mandatory ‘scout’ carrying an ancient rifle with which to protect us. He had to point it at two angry dogs but apart from that I think it is a deterrent against the young children ho have learnt to put their hand out and say “Givememoneypenssweets” ad nauseum which means that some demented tourist has already turned these kids into beggars by doing so, simply to make themselves feel good. Our route took us along an escarpment with amazing views over the mountain range as well as through several groups of baboons. There are also many small villages along the way where you can sometimes buy eggs, or perhaps a chicken or goat to skin and roast. At the small campsites there is running water and showers. It is ironic that they have constant running water here and yet in any town or city, including Addis Ababa, running water is often dependent on the electricity. No electricity, no power to pump the water through! Here in the mountains I watched a young girl wash her shoes for about 15 minutes, letting the water drain away.

After walking up to 32km each day we stumbled into Debark tired and aching. After getting a refund for the two packets of rock-hard Dairylea triangles (they cost about $2.50 each!) we spent the evening eating and drinking in the hotel.

Things take time in Ethiopia, the roads are fairly bad and the buses are slow and prone to breakdowns. Where there is a half-decent road there is normally only one, meaning circuits are not really possible and one must be continually backtracking. For these reasons we culled some stops from our original plan, realising we would spend most of the time on buses. We decided not to visit Aksum, 12 hours by bus north of Debark, the home of one of Ethiopia’s ancient civilisations who erected some tall stelae and also the alleged home of the Ark of the Covenant, in the St Mary of Zion cathedral. However, as anyone who views the Ark supposedly bursts into flames, I didn’t think it was worth the risk! Similarly we decided against visiting the walled city of Harar, 10 hours east of Addis Ababa (and back again). Apart from the wall the other highlight is that hyenas come to town at night to scavenge from the bins. Lonely Planet describes Harar as ‘a bit like Zanzibar’. As Harar is a dusty town in a landlocked country I presume this is their idea of a joke! We also planned to visit the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia, but decided against it for different reasons. This is the home of many of the tribes that you would have seen in coffee table books, the National Geographic and ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ such as the lip-plated Mursi, the hair-braded Hamer or the white painted Konso. We could have detoured here enroute to Kenya but decided against it due to the many stories we have heard of how much damage tourism has caused, with tribesmen now demanding several dollars per photo and giving drivers bad directions and then demanding hundreds of dollars to help pull them out of the swamps. They then spend all the money on homebrewed alcohol. Meanwhile the kids pelt visitors with stones if they refuse to give them pens, money or sweets. Unfortunately it is not the first time we have seen the negative effects of uncontrolled tourism, especially alcohol addiction which the government seems to encourage. So in order to protect both us and the tribes we have decided to give it a miss.

So, from the mountains we headed south to Bahir Dar, on the shores of Lake Tana. We found a hotel that looked right over the lake, the perfect place to ease our tired muscles. We took a boat trip across the lake to islands and a peninsular to visit some of the colourful monasteries hidden within. Each one has a variety of the brightly coloured murals, looking more Hindu than Christian, something like a comic book of Bible stories! If only all Christianity was like this, instead of the dour gothic art of European churches. The lake is also home to hundreds of pelicans and hours can be passed sitting on a lakeside restaurant watching them skim the lake like German bombers or just hang out on the rocky islands just offshore.

Ethiopians pride themselves on their history, culture and language and the fact that they were the only African country never to have succumbed to colonisation. In addition they are also proud of their unique calendar and clock. They refer to 6am as 12 o’clock, 7am is 1 o’clock etc. International businesses generally use the universal time but most Ethiopians use this method. When asking the time, or asking when a bus leaves you must also check whether the answer is ‘Ethiopian or foreign time?’ The calendar is also different, based on the Coptic calendar. We are currently in the year 2001 and will be until they celebrate New Year on September 11th. Luckily my passport was stamped 2009!

The influence of China is also apparent in Ethiopia. Groups of Chinese developers are building all the roads and bridges here, including the road from Bahir Dar to Lalibella and on to Dessie. They bring their own foremen and some workers with them. Many Ethiopians aspire to work on a ‘Chinese project’. My question is, what are they getting in return? We know that in Sudan they trade guns and military equipment for oil what is Ethiopia giving them? We know they are not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts!

The rock hewn churches of Lalibela are one the ‘highlights’ of Ethiopia and it is possible to visit them between Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa by taking the scenic route. This means one full day to cover the 160km to Lalibela and two days to cover the 560km on to Addis. The churches have been referred to as ‘Africa’s Petra’ although the only similarity I could see was in the ridiculous entrance fee. The churches have been ‘sheltered’ under some ugly constructions. I first thought we were in the wrong place. There are metal pillars and electric wires everywhere. It must be a Chinese project as no-one else in the world could disregard aesthetics so terribly. The one saving grace was that the St George church, in the shape of a cross, had been left uncovered. The scrappy nearby market drew as much attention from us as the churches. It was nice, but was it worth the three days of bus rides?

The reason I ask is because Ethiopian bus rides are really an experience in themselves. They all leave at 5:30am, or 11:30 their time. I am not sure of the reason why but perhaps in case of breakdown along the way? Just before 5am a crowd gathers outside the gates of the bus station and as soon as the gates open everyone rushes to get a good seat. Once the bags have been loaded on the roofs and the last few seats have been filled the bus sets off. The first hour or so is OK, until people start calling for plastic bags, which each bus supplies in abundance. Soon the sour stench of vomit swirls around the bus. Those that miss the bag will incur the wrath of the conductor as he throws dust from the road over the pile to dry it up. Although the percentage of travelsick-afflicted is lower than, say, India, Laos or Indonesia, there is one factor that makes it worse. No windows are allowed to be opened whilst the bus is in transit. Why? Answers range from ‘to stop ghosts getting in’ to ‘for health’. Whatever the reason it means that by midday the pungent mix of puke and perspiration is preferred to a breath of fresh air. So, not only can no air get in, but no-one can be sick out of the window. Personally I think this is the reason. The drivers are too protective. Once, when I replied indifferently as to whether I would rather my bag went up on top or ‘in the hold’ I was told it is better on top, as inside there are ‘dust particles present’. It wasn’t ‘dirty’, or ‘dusty’, no, there were dust particles present. The journey from Lalibela to Addis Ababa was no different, the first bus died just 60km from Dessie, where we would make our night halt. The driver jumped in a passing truck, one of the conductors in a minibus (supposedly to go for parts) and left one guy to sort out a bus load of angry passengers. After a sleepless night in a hotel in Dessie (it was very clean but there were mice everywhere and they kept running about under the bed!), we were delayed leaving because everyone protested about a price rise. We were worried as we had less than $10 to get to Addis. In the end we relied on the kindness of strangers to get there, and introduced a taxi driver to the wonders of an ATM, newly installed in Addis Ababa! Along the way a vehicle flagged us down. We were leaking from behind. Someone had brought a bag of 25kg of butter and put it in the back. An argument ensued as to who would clear the mess up. Eventually the owner of the - now liquid – butter agreed to do it and the mess was fed to a stray dog!

Addis Ababa is a typical African city, sprawling, crowded and dusty, and prone to ugly development. But they are a good place to get organised, eat some good food and do chores such as visiting the barbers. The central Piazza is quite ugly and full of annoying touts following tourists around. The national museum is a highlight, the home of the oldest early ‘human’ Lucy. There are a couple of nice churches, including the home of the ‘King of Kings’ Haile Selassie, not to be confused with Ethiopias other favourite son, the very much still ‘up and running’ Haile Gabreselassie. Unfortunately we did not visit his tomb as they wanted an entrance fee. Not a large one but I refused to pay. There are donation boxes in every corner of every church, we always leave something, and on every bus ride there is a collection for some church or another, again we always contribute. So why should we have to pay a set fee here? Is it only Christianity that charges admission?

So, from Addis Ababa we will head south to the Kenyan border. Apparently the road is quite good, the best in Ethiopia. Unfortunately the road on the other side is touted as the ‘worst in Africa’ and it is a bone-crunching 17 hours until Isiolo and reunite ourselves with tarmac once again. This road is also infamous for bandits and tribal warfare, however it seems to have calmed down in the past couple of years and we have met many people coming the other way with no problems.

My last observation on Ethiopia is the wholehearted way in which they have embraced President Obama. Everywhere are buses, cafes, restaurants and hotels named in his honour and people walk the streets in Obama t-shirts with ‘Change!’ and ‘Yes We Can’ translated into Amheric. I wonder if this trend will continue in Kenya. Although it is the home of part of Obamas family it has traditionally been a place where it would be more likely to see an ‘Osama’ t-shirt than an Obama one. Now that there are already tours of his grandparents village I wonder if things have changed? We shall see.


Tak nevim kde zacit Etiopii, vim ze opravdova Afrika pro nas zacala uz cestou jiznim Sudanem, kde se hlineny domky s rovnyma strechama zacaly menit ve slameny chatrcky, okoli se zacalo zelenat. Atmosfera arabskeho sveta s ranni modlitbou z mesit se zmenila v krize a kostely. Vzduch se ochladil a z rozpalenyho Sudanu jsme zacali stoupat do hor severni Etiopie. Hranice vubec nebyl hezkej zazitek, mestecko Metema, prasna cesta lemovana bordely a bary s levnym pivem, I kdyz jsme meli neuveritelnou zizen a o pive jsme basnili poslednich pare mesicu, v Meteme jsme na nej chut nemeli. Ne jenom, ze jsme tam zahadnym zpusobem prisli o 20$ pri vymnene sudanskych liber na etiopske biry, vzdycky si davame pozor a I jsme to prepocitali, bylo tam hodne mladochu a vsichni se toho chteli ucastnit a tak to byl asi hodne dobrej trik. Druha vec, ktera nas taky nepotesila, ze vsechny autobusy v Etiopii odjizdi pred 6 ranni a vetsinou jezdi jen jeden a to bylo kolem obeda. Jeden tam prece byl, I kdyz jel jen do vesnice Shihedi, pak uz jsme se pomalu presouvali, az jsme skoncili 60km pred cilem, coz bylo mesto Gonder, jeste nebylo tak pozde a jeste 2 mistni se opravdu za kazdou cenu chteli dostat do Gonderu ten den. Nakonec nas nabral nakladak s ryzi a na pytlich ryze bylo mnohem pohodlneji nez v autobuse, uz byla tma a tak jsme lezeli nahore a koukali na hvezdy a uzivali chladnyho vetru, najednou jsme zastavili a zasla svetla, zvedli jsme hlavy a kdyz zpatky rosvitil svetla, pres silnici stalo asi 7 chlapku s kalasnikovama, tak jsem si rikala, ze jsme se moc daleko nedostali a byla jsem si jista, ze jsou to banditi, ale chteli jen svezt do dalsi vesnice, na to uz si zvykame, ze kazdej nosi pusku a nebo alespon peknej klacek pres rameno.
V Gonderu zrovna nebyla elektrika, jako vsude minimalne 3 krat tydne, dokonce I v hlavnim meste Addis Ababa se stridaji o elekriku urcite casti mesta. Prvni tyden jsme meli fakt smulu a vsude kam jsme prijeli tam nebyl zrovna proud.
Ale jeste ten vecer jsme stacili pri svickach ochutnat etiopskou klasiku a to INJERA- unikatni slano- nakysla palacinka obrich rozmeru s masovou pikantni omackou ruznych chuti a druhu. Za 14dni jsme jeste nestacili ochutnat vsechny.
Mistni koreni BEBERE je hlavni prisadou a pekelne pali!!

Dalsi specialitou Etiopie je kava, na kazdym rohu maji ohromny espressovace a vsichni popijeji vynikajici macchiato,ale bohuzel kdyz neni elektrika, neni ani kava!!
A mistni pivo je levny a kdyz je vychlazeny je I moc dobry, za 15kc pul litr tocenyho piva, po 3 mesicnim cestovani muslimskymi zememi se ho nemuzeme nabazit.

Etiopie nikdy nebyla kolonizovana, a taky je na to hrda, akorat byla 4 roky okupovana Italama behem 2.svetove valky.

Etiopie ma svuj cas, pri vychodu slunce je 12 a pri zapadu slunce je 12 a tak je troche matouci, kolik vlastne je!!!a rok, ten ma taky jinej, podle jejich kalendare je rok 2001, minuly rok 11.zari slavili millennium!!

Bohuzel jedna z ne tak pozitivnich zprav je, ze hodne lidi zebra a z toho 80% deti, a samozrejme kdyz vidi FARANJI cizince, tak zebraji mnohem dele a vice usilovneji. Etiopie je zvykla dostavat, je tu neuveritelne mnozstvi organizaci, ktere nejakym zpusobem pomahaji, vsichni jezdi v nobl dzipech a maji hodne dobre platy, tak ne uplne vsechny ty penize jsou pro chudou Afriku. Samozrejme je dobre pomahat Africe, ale myslim, ze by se vic melo resit jakym zpusobem pomahat, ne jenom davat. Na to se dobre zvyka!!!
A tak se lidi ptali, dej mi penize, tak reknes ne nedam ti penize, tak mi dej boty, nebo kalhoty, proste mi neco dej a kdyz to ani nefunguje, tak reknou ja jsem student, dej mi penize, ja jsem student!! Ti, co umi lepe anglicky nato jdou troche obklikou a nejdriv zacnou odkud jses a jak se vede a chvili te pronasledujou a pak reknou, tak ja jsem tvuj pruvodce a zaplat mi neco, ze jsem sel s tebou, kdyz odmitnes, taka z pak zacnou ze jsou student. Studium to prej plati na cizince, nam jednou rekl jeden mladoch. Ale musim rict, ze jsme byli pripraveni na horsi, sice to byl tak trochu sok po Sudanu, kde nam o penize nikdo nikdy nerekl, ale vsichni cestovatele, ktere jsme potkali a jeli z Etiopie nas pripravovali na nejhorsi.
Z Gonderu jsme vyrazili do Debarku, kde jsme si zorganizovali vstup a Scouta (chlapek s puskou, ktery je nutnosti vstupu do narodniho parku) a zacali 4 denni trek do Simien Mountains, tahli jsme vsechno na zadech a tak ten prvni den stoupani byl hodne narocnej, taky to bylo 28km do kopce. Kempy po ceste byly na krasnych mistech a s pramenem vody a prirodni sprchou. I kdyz nebylo nasi povinosti naseho Scauta jmenem Delasi krmit, tak nam ho bylo lito, jak byl malinkej a mel jenom jednu deku a v noci lezel venku pri 6 stupnich a k jidlu mel pytlik prazenyho jecmene a kousek chleba. A tak jsme se snim delili o vsechno a ty ostatni scauti mu jenom zavideli. Byl to krasnej trek, vydrapali jsme se na vrchol Imet Gogo 3926m. Po ceste bylo hodne Baboonu ( chlupatejch opic s cervenyma pupkama) a videli jsme divokou kocku, bohuzel jsme nevideli vlka.
Zvladli jsme se presunout za jeden den do Bahir Daru k jezeru Tana, cesta narocna!!odjezd autobusu opet pred 6 ranni a jeden prestup v Gonderu, I kdyz jen 150 km zabralo to cely den. Bahir Dar bylo opravdove misto k odpocinku, ubytovali jsme na brehu jezera a z okna pozorovali pelikany jak pristavaji na hladine jezera. Ztravili jsme tam dele nez jsme planovali, nacerpali novych sil. Ochutnali dalsi varianty Injery a jako desert jsme stridali mango, papaju a avokado. Nejlepsi sezona!!!!
Dalsi brzky presun byl do Lalibely, odjezd byl v 5 rano a 5minut po pate byl autobus k prasknuti plny, cesta byla neuveritelne dlouha a bolestiva, pres hory a doly, serpentiny a bohuzel jen takovej hrubsi sterk, po par hodinach pulka autobusu zvracela a tak to resili tak, ze ty zvratky jen zasypaly sterkem nebo piskem. Jeli jsme minimalne 10 hodin s jednim prestupem, co me celou dobu vrtalo hlavou, proc nekdo po ceste neprodava neco k jidlu???jako v Asii, kdyz autobus zastavi, tak se cela vesnice sebehne a prodava neco na zub, treba muzou uvarit vajicka, nebo vsude maji prazenej jecmen nebo hrach, ale jim to jedno. A nakonec jsme nasli prazenej hrach a to jsme jedli celej den.

Lalibela je znama svymi skalnimi chramy, je tam krasne okoli, a byly to prijemne stravene 2 dny, hlavne diky mistni restauraci, kde jsme objevili vegetarianskou Injeru s ruznymi hromadkami varene palive zeleniny, bohuzel uz jsme takovou nenasli, pani nas I pustila do kuchyne a naucila nas delt Injeru.

Dalsi presun byl opet pred patou ranni, uz jsme z toho vztavani ve 4 rano docela vycerpani a to do Dessie, asi jeden z nejhorsich autobusu, samozrejme byla cesta neuveritelne dlouha, ale za to krasna priroda a tak pri 30km v hodine ma clovek cas vychutnavat krasu okoli. Dalsich 12 hodin jak na horsky draze, omlaceny kolena, ale bohuzel tenhle autobus se rozbil pred cilem a tak jsme museli pokracovat po svych az nas nabral nejaky minibus, nastesti se to stalo jen 30km pred Dessie. Dessie byla jen zastavka na prespani, v 5 rano jsme pokracovali smer Addis Ababa. Po ceste v mistni doprave clovek pozna opravdove etiopiany, ne ze jsou hodne vybusni a radi se hadaji, jsou k sobe navzajem hodne ohleduplni a podeli se o to, co maji. Protoze jsme nepotkali bankomat uz od Egypta, tak nam dochazeli penize akorat pred hlavnim mestem. Ten den se jeste zdrazil autobus o 15 birru a tak tech 30 birru nam cely den chybelo, meli jsme necely 1$ na cely den. Nastesti se s nami lidi podelili a meli jsme penize na jeden chleba a flasku vody. Kdyz jsme prijeli do Addis nase 2 posledni 2birry jsme museli zaplatit chlapkum za sundani batohu, i kdyz se jim to moc nelibilo (normalne se plati 2 birry za batoh) a pak jsme museli najit takovyho taxikare, ktery pochopi, ze nemame penize a ze mu zaplatime, jen kdyz najde fungujici bankomat. A meli jsme stesti!!!i kdyz taxikar nevedel co to bankomat je, tak jsme jeden fungujici potkali po ceste do hotelu Wanza.

Addis Ababa znamena v mistnim jazyce (Amharic) nova kvetina a je to hlavni mesto Etiopie. Navstivili jsme Narodni Muzeum, kde jsou kosterni pozustatky zeny (pojmenovanou Lucy). Etiopie je jednou z nejstarsich osidlenych zemi na svete, zde byly nalezeny fosilie nejstarsiho hominida asi 3a pul milionu let stare. A pak si tu uzivame takovych vymozenosti jako je internet a kazdodenni macchiato, I kdyz velmi pomaly, nevim jestli se mi podari vas potesit fotkami.
Nase plany se trochu zmenili, planovali jsme mnohem vic v Etiopii, ale to by clovek potreboval tak 2mesice, chteli jsme ject na jih do narodniho Parku Omo Valley, navstivit kmen Mursi, ale hodne lidi bylo zklamano z navstevy, I kdyz bych hrozne rada mela nejakou fotku Mursi lidi, tak si asi koupim knizku a necham je tam na pokoji.
Tak budem pokracovat do Keni, z Moyale nas ceka jedna z nejhorsich Africkych cest , 17ti hodinove peklo a jeste tam jsou banditi, tak doufam, ze se nam nic nestane a priste se ozvem z Keni.
Zdarvi monika a allan

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Grand Nubian

"Welcome to the Sudanese edition of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' your first question is… Which country in the world has the best communications network? Is it

A. USA, B. France, C. India or D. Sudan."

This question actually appeared on a recent edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? here in Sudan. The contestant used his 50-50 which left him with USA and Sudan. He plumped for USA. Wrong. I am not sure whether this was an example of the most subtle of government propagandas or whether it is actually true. What I can say is that the communications systems here are amazing, considering the state and location of the country. A couple of nights ago in an isolated village in the north of Sudan I was lectured to by a Sudani guy for about an hour, trying to convince me to buy a Sudani mobile phone. As I don't even own a UK mobile phone I was not so enthusiastic but the key factor is that the phone and broadband networks stretch far across this country, and if we still can't get a good signal in Hainford but every village here has at least 3 bars, well maybe the question was not propaganda after all?

Regardless of whether it is true or not the point is there is a lot of conflicting and misguiding information concerning Sudan in the western media. Take the recent ICC arrest warrant issued in the name of President Bashir. I agree with Bashirs response, if they want to arrest him for war crimes then he will submit himself once they arrest the recent leaders of countries such as the US, Israel and even the UK who many people consider to be guilty of far worse crimes. I would not like to say he is innocent of any wrongdoing in the Darfur situation, however, there cannot be one rule for one leader, one rule for another. On the other hand his expulsion of all western aid groups and his suggestion that they channel their funds through his government was a despicable, barely veiled attempt at kleptocracy and just one example of the way he attempts to get up the nose of anyone he comes into contact with, be it friend or foe. Of course the main point is that the people of a country do not reflect the actions and views of its leader. The Sudanese people recognise this fact and have given us a warm welcome, in return all we could do is also recognize this fact and travel through their country with an open mind.

We boarded the ferry at Aswan at around 10am in the morning, which gave us front row seats for the spectacle that was about to begin. Sudanese families in the droves crowded onto the ship, dragging with them piles upon piles of luggage, bringing all manner of Chinese crap back from Egypt. Everyone jostled for seats and tried to squeeze their various packages into any available space. Golden Fountain 7-in-1 food blenders were very popular, almost every family had at least one. Some richer women lay across a bench designed for five people, as a line of small children sat on the floor staring boggle-eyed in wonder. Heated arguments raged between passengers and porters and signs of strain and stress showed on everybody's faces. Porters winced under the strain of giant air-conditioning units and women waved their new floor-standing fans around as if they were light sabres. According to Mr Mutaba, the chief engineer, the boat is virtually empty on the trip to Aswan, the same amount of passengers but they hardly take anything with them, apart from the few guys who are smuggling Sudani mobile phones into Egypt to sell! If a porter finished his work he had to move on to loading a truck with about 170 tonnes of cement that had come in on the ferry from Sudan. The others kept on loading bags and boxes onto the ferry. Many families were left with no room to sit or sleep as they had taken up all their space with their new purchases. Every passenger was given a meal ticket, which could be redeemed for a tasty meal of rice, bread, meat, salad and fruit, most passengers had used their ticket before we were ready to leave Aswan. At 6pm (the designated departure time) the engines started up and we shunted forward, but only so that the last 6 fridge-freezers and 3 gas cookers could be bundled on the deck at the back of the boat. We then close-moored and sat in the port from leaving by strong winds blowing across Lake Nassar. Actually I was quite relieved despite the delay, secure in the knowledge that there were adequate safety measures in place!

At some point during the night, around 2:30am, we left Aswan. We had lain of mats on the deck close to the bridge and at some point I looked over the rails and saw we were moving. The weather by now was very calm and only the odd shudder or roll reminded us that we had set out. We woke to more clouds and haze, which made spending time on the deck slightly more comfortable. The size of Lake Nassar was quite astounding, especially as it is entirely man-made, the feeling that you are sailing over ancient Egyptian sites and old Nubian villages was quite eerie. Some of the ancient sites had been relocated brick by brick before the lake was filled and during the afternoon we made a close pass of Abu Simbel, the advantage of making friends with the captain and his crew! Soon after we passed the 22 parallel, which marks the border between Egypt and Sudan, a small boat came to relieve the Egyptian military escort we had been carrying and delivered a couple of Sudanese soldiers in his place. And at 10pm, a full 36 hours after boarding the ship we arrived at Wadi Halfa. Perhaps the most dangerous part of the whole trip was fighting through the crowds of people, most of whom had just come to a halt on the jetty waiting for someone to pass them their blender.

Wadi Halfa is a small and dusty but pleasant town and we received a warm welcome to Sudan. Many of you may remember the episode of Michael Palins 'Pole to Pole' (I think it was) when he passed through Sudan. The town does not look much different now, although there has been a road building frenzy and most of the route south is now paved. Whilst waiting for our registration to be completed we had tea with the local army sergeant and soon after we found a space on a pick-up going south. An Egyptian guy had chartered the pick-up, filled it with his farm labourers and offered us the front seats. This was the first of many journeys we made coming from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum, stopping in the villages of Abri, Kerma and Dongola. Each day we would get up, find a boksi (converted pick-up with a roof rack) heading to the next village, throw our bags on and go for a jebbana (coffee spiced with cardamom and ginger) whilst we waited for the vehicle to fill up with passengers. The journeys from Wadi Halfa to Abri and Abri to Kerma were long, about 7 hours each. The second journey was very cramped, about 15 people in the back and one small boy vomiting in the corner. Once we arrived we would find a bed at the local lokanda (inn) where we would either pitch our tent in the yard or take a whole room, whilst the locals would just sleep on charpoys out in the yard. We would have preferred this, due to the heat, but females are usually not accepted in the lokandas at all so we were glad with any shelter we could get. The weather was not so bad as we expected. The week before we arrived it was pushing 50 degrees every day and the people could do nothing, however starting from the day we left Aswan a dust cloud formed over Sudan, keeping temperatures down, albeit at the cost of breathing easily! In all of these towns we were given a warm welcome and we met a lot of friendly people. Incredibly social, I loved watching the guys greet each other with special handshakes and welcomes as if they had not seen each other for weeks. We would sit in the restaurant (usually the only one in the village) eating fuul (mashed beans) and falafel and watching the towns come to life. The delicacy as you follow the Nile is of course fish and in every town it is fried in batter, accompanied with a dangerously spicy chilli sauce, perfect for breakfast! In the evening everything slows down as the sun sets, generators chug into life and the donkeys respond to the call to prayer with their rasping eye-ore.

We arrived in Dongola on a Friday morning and, after a big plate of fish we went to rest for a while. When we returned to the streets just a short while later in search of water they were totally deserted. Of course we are used to Fridays being very quite in the Middle East, it’s the Islamic day of rest, but this was deathly quiet. In the end we had to resort to waking a guy up and asking him to make us tea before we returned to our room and used our stove to make more tea. I can now confidently state that all English mothers are wrong, tea most definitely does not 'cool you down from the inside'!

The manager at the Lord Hotel proudly informed us that there are now luxury air-con coaches, "with refreshment services", almost hourly from Dongola to Khartoum. Of course when we arrived at the 'bus station' all we found was a crowd of people, milling between piles of luggage. Enquiries at the four 'offices' prompted gruff responses, the first unfriendly experience we had in Sudan. In the end we paid 30SP each (about $22USD) to ride in the back of an open pick-up for the 440km, 6 hour journey. The driver and the other passengers were friendly and took care of us though, they bought us tea and bottled water and offered us their lunch to share.

The dust and haze had become worse and worse and by the time we arrived in Khartoum a massive dust storm was in full flow. We pitched our tent at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, which is nowhere near as posh as it sounds, where we met Lee, a British guy who had been on the ferry with us. There were four westerners on the ferry, Monika and I, Lee and a Japanese guy called Shinichi. Apparently this is the average week-on-week. Anyway, we went out for dinner with Lee, burgers seem to be the only food anyone eats in Khartoum, usually accompanied by a fried egg and some tangy sauce. During the night the storm reached dangerous levels, as we were huddled in our tent, wondering if we would be blown away we could hear the sirens of ambulances wailing from all corners of Khartoum.

We would be in Ethiopia already but their embassy in Khartoum has been closed for several days, with all the staff at an 'important meeting' in the Eastern Sudanese town of Kassala, maybe they will return tomorrow. Passing the time in Khartoum is not very easy as there is nothing to see or do here, it’s a typically ugly, dusty African city. We went to the Al-Mogran Family Park yesterday, a ramshackle collection of decrepit amusement rides on the confluence of the White and Blue Nile rivers. We stopped for a burger, a quick photo and returned to town. Two of my favourite moments in Sudan happened within five minutes of each other in Khartoum however. The first was when a guy tried to sell his glasses to Monika. Regardless of the fact she does not wear glasses he handed them to her and started telling her how great they magnified everything. Handing them back we walked into a shop selling electrical goods. We have been looking for a small radio/alarm clock for weeks now and we saw one here. When we asked the guy about it he soon got sidetracked onto a monologue about the differences between African and European cultures and how they welcome foreigners here and all about the plus points of each of his wives, who was the best cook, who had the best voice etc. We finally got to ask him the price of the radio, he told us $120 US (!!) for a radio I could pick up on Norwich market for less than a fiver. He didn't want to sell us the radio at all, he just wanted someone to talk at!

Perhaps the most interesting facet of travel in Sudan is watching the culture change from Middle Eastern to African. The language is still Arabic and the food is reminiscent of the cuisines of their Arabic cousins but there are many features of Africa, for instance many of the women are bigger, louder and dressed in bright colours and everyone is more relaxed here.

We did meet an interesting guy yesterday, John Yobo, who works for the St Vincent DePaul NGO close to the Ethiopian embassy. They help street kids in Sudan, mostly a product of the 21 years of civil war in the south (but now more of the kids are coming from Darfur). They house, feed and educate them, and when they leave their care at 17 they help them to find a job. We spent a bit of time at the centre, observing the various actions of the organization, but just as we had to eave a call came through that one of their chief drivers, who operates the mobile clinic, had died in a bus crash during the storm along with 17 other passengers. Which put our embassy frustration into perspective.

Cesta Sudanem

Na lod z Aswanu jsme nasedli uz kolem 11 dopoledne s dalsimi dvema turisty, anglicanem Lee a japoncem Shinshi v domeni, ze ve 12 odplouvame. Ale lod byla jeste skoro prazdna, vsichni prevazeli neuveritelny mnozstvi veci, hlavne lednicky, pracky a mixery a cekali na procleni, kolem paty odpoledne uz byla lod plna k prasknuti a vypadalo to, ze se bude v 6 odplouvat. Paluba byla tak rozpalena, ze se tam nedalo vydrzet a dole sice byla klimatizace, ale bylo tam hrozne zaparino a jak clovek odesel, tak se nekdo natahnul na jeho misto. Uz jsme se seznamili s celou posadkou a kdyz uz vsechno vypadalo, ze se da odplout, zacal foukat silny vitr a my museli cekat, az vitr prestane foukat. Nastesti to bylo jeste tu noc a vypluli jsme ve 3 rano. To uz jsme meli pekny misto na spani na palube vedle kapitanovi kajuty. Docela foukalo a byly velke vlny, kdyz jsme preplouvali jezero Nasser. Zazitkem dne bylo, kdyz jsme odpoledne projizdeli kolem chramu Abu Simbel.

Do Wadi Halfy jsme pripluli kolem 9 vecer a hlavy jsme slozili v mistni lokande (mistni ubytovny, vetsinou urcene jen pro muze). Hlavni sudanskou stravou je fuul (rozvazene fazole s trochou oleje), to jsme jedli po zbytek naseho pobytu, prvni den jsme si objednali taky talir masa, ale to byla chyba, zaprve to bylo hrozne zvykavy a zadruhe to bylo maso velbloudi!!!!a tak jsme zustali pri fazolich.
Ale byla to tak bajecne prijemna zmena po Egyptu, nikdo nam nic nechtel prodat a lidi byli neuveritelne pratelsti a pohostinni. Sudanci se radi zdravi a podavaji si ruce a jsou radi kdyz vidi turisty, dela jim dobre, ze se o ne nekdo zajima (moc turistu tu neni, prumer 5 tydne a z toho 2 s vlastni dopravou). Prvni rano jsme se museli zaregistrovat na policii a tak jsme hned dostali caj a vsechny jsme hrozne zajimali, i kdyz nas registrace stala dalsich 50$!!!!
Wadi Halfa je vesnicka, ktera zije jen 2dny v tydnu a to kdyz lod priplouva a odplouva. Autobusy, nakladaky a vsechno ostatni odjizdi jen jednou tydne a to ve stredu.

Nasli jsme nakonec bokasi (miztni druh dopravy, toyota pick up s korbou) do Abri, pronajal si ho nejaky egyptan pro svy delniky a tak jsme mohli sedet v kabine, coz bylo prijemny, i kdyz okenko nefungovala a vsechen pisek na nas stejne foukal. Do Abri jsme dojeli na vecer, sli jsme se projit k Nilu a po vesnici, ale vsude bylo uplne mrtvo, v mistni lokande nas nechali kempovat na zahrade. Protoze to tam vypadalo tak mrtve, tak jsme rano zacali brzy, kdyby nahodou neco jelo brzy a pak uz by treba nic nejelo. Byli jsme prvni pasanzeri jedineho bokasi, nalozili nam batohy a my jsme byli pozvani na mistni specialitu a tou je Jebbana (korenena kava zazvorem a kardamonem) a pomalu zacinal trh v Abri, bylo to asi jedno z nejprijemnejsich cekani, vsichni se s nami prisli pozdravit a bylo to opravdu fajn par hodinove cekani nez se naplnil bokasi a my vyrazili do Kermy.

Cesta byla narocna, normalne se vejde tak 10 lidi na korbu a 3 do kabiny, tentokrat nas na korbe bylo asi 20 a na strese asi dalsich 10 lidi, bylo to asi 200km, ale projizdeli jsme kazdou vesnickou a nabirali dalsi a dalsi lidi, a kdyz ridic rikal, ze uz jsme plny, mistni zensky zacali brecet a kricet, ze je musi vzit, nedalo se moc pohnout a tak jsme sdeli v jedny poloze celou cestu, vsechny deti byli namackany pod nohama, kdyz jeden chlapecek zacal zvracet, nedalo se nic delat, vsichni si jen cvachtali v paskacich a vetrem to oschlo.
V Kerme jsme prespali v jediny a to opravdu spinavy lokande a rano pri cekani na bokasi do Dongoly jsme opet klabosili pri ranni kave s mistnima chlapama a po par hodinach nas bylo dost a tak si pro nas ridic prijel.
Dongola byla uz o neco vetsi mesto, ale byl patek a tak vsechno bylo zavreny, ubytovali jsme se v lokande Lord, kde venku akorat smazili cerstvy ryby z Nilu a tak jsme si pripomeli cesky Vanoce, ryba chutnala jak cesky kapr.

Par hodin jsme premysleli, ze asi budem muset zacit pit vodu z Nilu, kterou pijou vsichni mistni, balenou vodu prodavaji jen po pul litrovejch lahvich a taky neni vsude dostupna, zrovna tech par hodin pri patecni odpoledni modlitbe bylo vsechno zavreny a tak jsme si uvarili na nasi bombe caj. Kdyz jsme potkali japonce Shinshi, tak ten uz to vzdal a veceri zapijel vodou z Nilu, ale rikal, ze uz ma velky strevni potize. My jsme se zatim jeste neodvazili, kapky na cisteni vody nam praskly a vytekly do batohu a filtr nemame.
Dostat se z Dongoly melo byt ohromne jednoduchy, protoze asfaltova silnice je celou cestu do Khartoumu a mely by jezdit klimatizovany autobusy kazdou hodinu. Ale na autobusaku nam rekli, ze autobusy jsou plny a prej az zitra, na konec nas vzali na korbu dzipu, hodne nepohodlnych 6 hodin jizdy, pekne jsme se spalili a uplne vsechno nas bolelo. V Khartoumu jsme se ubytovali v mistnim jachtarskem klubu u Nilu, kde jsme si postavili stan na zahrade, potkali jsme se tam s anglanem Lee a spolecne sli na veceri. V Khatroumu moc velky vyber jidla neni a zda se, ze maji akorat hamburgery. Cely den hrozne foukalo, ale vecer prisla nejaka pisecna nebo prasna boure a kdyz jsme se vecer vraceli do kempu, ani jsme si nevideli na nohy. Noc byla priserna, vsechno nafoukalo do stanu a rano jsme meli centimetrovou vrstvu prachu uplne vsude a jeste dnes smrkame prach.
Premysleli jsme kam jeste pojedem, ale do vetsiny mist je treba povoleni a i kdyz se nam tu hrozne libi, diky mistnim lidem, nechce se nam platit dalsi dolary za ruzny povoleni. Jenom viza nas staly 100$, registrace 50$, dopis z ambasady 50$ a tak nas plan je pokracovat na jih uz do Etiopie. Viza jsme si mohli zaridit uz v Kahire, ale rikali jsme si, ze to nechame do Khartoumu, to byla vsak velka chyba. Na ambasade jsme uz byli 2 krat a nekdo, kdo je schopny dat vizum tam proste neni, uz 4.den, tak pry zitra rano (mozna), nejsme sami kdo ceka na viza, vcera nas tam bylo minimalne 10 lidi. Tak cekame uz 3. den v Khartoumu, nic moc tady toho neni, vcera jsme se zasli podivat, kde se steka Modry a Bily Nil.
A tak se na chvili loucime, snad zitra, pokud dostaneme vizum, uz se posuneme na hranice s Etiopii.
zdravi monika a Allan
a vice na nasem blogu a nove fotky na picasa web album

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The cost of visiting Jordan

Our final sector of Levantine wanderings was a week or so in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Infamous on the travel circuit as being expensive, we did not find it to be much more expensive than Syria, apart from the entrance fee at Petra and the cost of the ferry ticket from Aqaba to Nuweiba in Egypt. These two items together made up about half the total cost of travelling in Jordan!

Visa, available at the border - 10JD
Venicia Hotel, Amman - 3JD dorm bed per night (very dirty)
Cliff Hotel, Amman - 8JD dbl room (very clean, helpful and super informative staff)
Felafel Sandwich in Amman - 0.25JD (small)
Shwarma - 1.5JD
Bus to Jerash and v.v. - 0.75JD
Entrance to Jerash - 8JD (we didnt pay)
Bus to Dead Sea - 0.75JD (easy to hitch on from bus stop to beach and back to Amman)
Public beach at Dead Sea - free (private resorts charge around 8JD for day entry)
Bus from Amman to Wadi Musa (Petra) - 3JD
Valentine Inn, Petra - 3JD dorm per night in large dorm
Dinner buffet at Valentine Inn - 4JD, excellent value
Entrance to Petra - 21JD one day (they offer 26JD/31JD 2/3-tickets)
Bus from Petra to Wadi Rum - 5JD, I suspect this was a tourist only service, a public bus should be maximum 3JD
Entrance to Wadi rum area - 2JD (seemingly unlimited stay)
Camping at Wadi Rum Rest House - 2JD per person (3JD p.p. in their tents)
Self-catering in supermarket at Wadi Rum - very reasonable prices, cheaper than Petra
Bus from Wadi Rum to Aqaba - 3JD
Big tasty felafel sandwich - 0.3JD
Taxi from Aqaba town to port - 5JD
Ferry to Nuweiba (Egypt) - 50JD (!!)
Departure tax - 5JD

So, the average per day was around 10JD excluding the Petra entrance and the ferry ticket, 20JD per day including those costs. The easiest thing is to remembe that many things cost 3JD! Also, each JD is divided into 3 decimal places, not 2 as Euros, Dollars or Pounds, therefore 1JD is sometimes written 1.000JD and 0.3JD is written 0.300JD and is stated as "three hundred".

Exchange rate - approx US$1=0.7JD, GBP1=1.1JD

Shwarma and Felafel League

So, now we have travelled from Turkey to Sudan we can categorically state we are experts at identifying what makes good felafel and shwarma sandwiches. Here is the league table by nationality, of the best and worst on offer!

Shwarma (doner) kebab - usually chicken or lamb but in Turkey (and sometimes elsewhere) almost always beef.Served in a sandwich (bread, pitta or wrap) with chips, salads and sauces inside.

1. Syria - tasty wraps stuffed with meat and some salad, exceptional due to the added garlic mayo and the toasting of the shwarma AFTER it has been wrapped!
2. Sudan - bread roll instead of wrap which is not so good but nicely spiced meat and good mix of salad and sauces, and ketchup to add according to taste.
3. Lebanon - nice wrap and good amount of meat with fries and salad but unexceptional taste.
4. Jordan - standard amount of meat, salad and sauce, usually in a bread roll.
5. Turkey - good choice of bread, pitta or wrap but lack of salad and sauce, a bit too dry.
6. Egypt - small pitta, small amount of meat, dry and not much salad, hummus the only positive point.

Felafel - the deep-fried balls of mashed chick peas (broad beans in Egypt and Sudan) and spices. Normally in a sandwich with salads, sauces and chips.

1. Syria - No.1 again! Stuffed sanwiches with felafel, salad and sauce, often garlic mayo and or hummus/tahini. Outside there will be chili and mint leaves to add according to taste.
2. Lebanon - large sandwichs with a variety of extras including grilled cauliflower as well as the normal aubergine and chips. A lot more filling than, say, Jordan or Egypt.
3. Jordan - generally small with aubergine and chips but the big one in Aqaba was amazing, full of different salads and sauce as well as tasty felafel.
4. Sudan - nice crispy felafel but served by itself with pitta bread beside, the chili sauce in a bowl accompanying it is painfully hot!
5. Egypt - small sandwich, dry tasteless felafel, maybe some aubergine if you are lucky.
6. Turkey - No felafel

An extra note should be made in the case of the Lebanon where many other sandwiches are also offered including steak, liver, various meats in sauces, vegetable sandwiches (A mix of grilled cauliflower, chips, tomatoes and aubergine). Therefore what they lack in definitive felafel and Shwarma they gain in a variety of other sandwiches!

Lebanon - Costs and tips

A brief side trip from Syria, our few days in Lebanon revealed one of the more expensive Middle Eastern countries:

Entrance to Baalbek - LL12000
Minibus from Baalbek to Beirut - LL5000
Pension Al-Nazih, Beirut - LL15000 dorm bed per night
Beer - 2500 big bottle
Sandwich (steak, liver etc) - LL2000-2500
Coffee on the promenade - LL1500
Bus from Beirut to Saida and v.v. - 1500
Entrance to soap museum in Saida - free
Bus from Beirut to Byblos - LL1500-2000
Bus from Byblos to Tripoli - LL2000
Pension Haddad, Tripoli - LL12000 dorm bed per night
Massive chip butty in Tripoli - LL1500
Fresh orange juice in Tripoli - LL250
Bus from Tripoli to Bcharre and v.v. - LL4000
Entrance to Gibran museum, Bcharre - LL5000 (or was it 6000? whatever it was worth it!)
Bus direct from Tripoli to Beirut - LL2500
Service taxi from Beirut to Damascus - LL15000

Ave. daily spend - LL25000
Exchange rate US$1=LL1500, GBP1=LL2200

Gas Man

They go around the streets of Egypts cities, towns and villages selling gas canisters and removing the empty ones for refilling. The usual mode of transport is on a trailer being pulled by a small donkey. They announce their presence by banging loudly on one of the canisters with a big wrench, one of the empty ones we hope. This prompts the vendors in neighbouring streets to do the same, as they try to outwit each other to get the most customers. This results in a cacophony that waves around the town. They all bang the same rhythm which sounds uncannily like the old theme tune to Test Match Special!

Syria - Tips and costs

After travelling through Turkey and arriving in Aleppo we spent 13 days in Syria, here is what we learnt:

Springflower Hostel, Aleppo - SP250 dorm, SP550 double per night
Felafel at Al-Fanah - SP20 (priceless)
Train from Aleppo to Latakkia - SP50

Latakkia Hotel - SP350 double with TV
Spit roast chicken with sides - SP350
Fresh juice - SP30
Bus from Latakkia to Ugarit and v.v. - SP15 each way
Entrance to Ugarit - SP150 (not really worth it)
Bus to Qalat Salah-ad-din and v.v - SP20 each way
Entrance to Qalat Salah-ad-din - SP150 (but we didnt go in)
Bus from Latakkia to Hama - SP100-150

Cairo Hotel, Hama - SP600 dbl w/TV (very good value, friendly and good info)
Bus from Hama to Palmyra and v.v. - SP165 each way
Entrance to Palmyra - free (but must pay for the Ampitheatre and temple, SP75 each)
Chicken Shwarma in Hama - SP75-100 very good with garlic mayo
Bus from Hama to Crac de Chevaliers (via Homs) - SP35+50
Bus from Crac de Chevalier to Hama (via Homs) - SP100+35!
Entrance to Crac de Chevalier - SP150
Taxi from Hama to Beehive villages and Qalat Ibn-Wardan and return - SP1000 per car
Entrance to Qalat Ibn-Wardan - SP75
Service taxi from Hama to Baalbek (Lebanon) - SP600 per person

As Saada Hotel, Damascus - SP400 dorm bed per night
Entrance to Ummayad Mosque - SP75
Ice cream in souq - SP20
Internet in Damascus - SP60 per hour
Bus from Damascus to Amman (Jordan) - SP600

Average daily budget - SP750 (US$15)
Exchange rate at time of visit - US$1=SP47, GBP1=SP71

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Black-eyed angels swam with me

From the port of Aqaba in Jordan you can see the Israeli port of Eilat and the Egyptian port of Taba, and if you just turn your gave slightly to the south a small Saudi town also comes into view, all clustered at the end of the cul-de-sac that is the Gulf of Aqaba. The ferry across this 15km gap and down the Egyptian gulf coast to the port of Nuweiba costs a whopping $70, as most travellers passing through have no alternative, the problems caused by 'soiling' your passport with Israeli stamps (or even unaccompanied Jordanian exit stamps) too numerous to mention.

Along with our Belgian friends Marc and Nadia we took pride in being the first four people off of the ferry and through the maze of immigration procedures. Half an hour later we were lazing on the beach at Tarabin, just a few kilometres north of the port. It is a very small, secluded village with a fine, white-sand beach. We stayed in a resort with simple beach huts and a good restaurant. Other new arrivals gasped "it's just like India" and, in fact, it was. We snorkelled a bit and kept looking out for the 6ft turtle that kept coming to swim with us but for the most part we just lazed around, slow-roasting in the sun. It was our first proper beach since we left the Philippines in 2007 and during the year we spent in Iceland we often dreamed of this moment.

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and head south to the more developed backpacker resort of Dahab. If Tarabin reminded of India then Dahabs claim to be 'the Koh Samui of the Middle East' is also acceptable, even down to the fact that both have outgrown their backpacker beginnings and moved upmarket, as testified by the legions of rich Russians at Dahab. There is no real beach as the coral reef comes right into the shore but this means the snorkelling is great and the reefs are inhabited by schools and schools of fish. Throughout our stay in Tarabin and Dahab there was an underlying sense of unease at the fact that whilst the legions of sun-worshippers sit scantily clad they are gazing out across the gulf to the coast of Saudi Arabia, not 20 miles away but worlds apart in terms of culture and behaviour.

We had to wait around in Dahab to be joined by our friend Stepan who was flying on for a week from Dubai, where he lives and works for Emirates Airlines. As soon as he arrived we picked up the pace a bit, took a final couple of snorkelling trips, to the famous Eel Garden and Blue Hole sites and headed inland to Mt Sinai. For those who don't know, this is the mountain where Moses supposedly received the Ten Commandments from God. For some reason the only way to get there is to go at midnight and climb through the night to be on the summit for sunrise. There were hundreds of people taking part, groups of Greek tourists in high heels with duty free bags, some rich Indians on camels, tour groups of all ages and nationalities from the resorts of Sharm-el-Sheik, recognising each other by their matching caps. On the top for sunrise Stepan fell asleep, everyone jostled for position, wanting the best photograph, a group of Koreans held an impromptu mass and the pious monks from the monastery below prayed on the edge of a precipice, as they probably do every morning. The monastery of St Katherine lies at the base of the mountain. Everyone had descended by 7:30am but the monastery inexplicably didn't open until 9am. By this time everyone had queued outside so Monika, Stepan and I slunk off for coffee instead.

It was a difficult journey to get from Mt Sinai to the Suez canal, made more difficult by the discovery that my backpack had split at the seams whilst waiting for me in the bus at the monastery. We got there eventually passing under the Suez Canal tunnel. It is remarkably similar to the Dartford tunnel inside, the only difference is at the entrance and exit to the tunnel, the M25 being replaced by sandy embankments guarded by heavy machine guns, all pointed at our bus as it passed through! The town of Suez, which sits on the southern mouth of the canal is quiet and peaceful and belays a faded colonial charm. We sat in a cafe munching cream buns and chocolate eclairs as we waited for the supertankers to float by, appearing out of the desert as if a mirage. Sadly we did not see any huge ships, at least not up close, we had seen them float by from our hotel window, several streets away. We were defeated by a secret timetable and the global effects of the credit crunch.

So we left for Cairo. A fantastic city, the old cliche 'a mix of old and new' but here it is really true. The colonial era buildings crumble between the glass skyscrapers, the warren of Khan al-Khalili winds it way through the 'Islamic' part of ton until it peters out and merges into downtown, and 10km to the south the scrappy suburb of Giza heaves and bulges until it comes to a shuddering stop, a stones throw from the Sphinx and the Pyramids. The people reflect these juxtapositions too. Wizened old women outwit the young market traders and fashion conscious young Cairenes share sheesha pipes with toothless old men in the tea houses and cafes. We headed for the Nile at sunset, anticipating a scene of great beauty, we found a flotilla of boats plying up and down, extremely loud music booming out and drapes of neon lights flashing so violently as if to set off an outbreak of epileptic fits. These boats were packed with Egyptians, seemingly immune to the lights and noise pollution, dancing the night away. They say the Nile is the source of life and on this evidence it's probably true.

Of course the Pyramids are impressive, they are the last remaining of the 'Seven Wonders of the World'. However the sun beating down overcomes any feeling of spiritual awakening and the constant whine of the touts selling camel and donkey rides ensure you quickly snap out of any transcendental experience. From the Pyramids we headed for Coptic Cairo, the home of the old Christian community, the missing link between the Pharoahs and the coming of Islam. And to Islamic Cairo, the trading heart of the city. The Khan al-Khalili and the surrounding souqs pack the streets, the smell of mint and cumin, halal butchers and donkey shit, and on every corner a fine example of perfect Islamic architecture.

Our only negative experience in Cairo was the application for Sudanese visas, and the only negative aspect of that was the despicable behaviour of the pompous Czech consul. Unfortunately we dragged Stepan around these embassies with us as we made our application.

After Stepan had returned to Dubai we had one day left to explore the Egyptian Museum, which is probably the most famous museum in the world. Opened in 1902 it is a like an exhibit in itself, with antique display cases and yellowing name tags. The museum holds over 120,000 pieces although not all are on display at the same time. Apparently if you spent one minute at each exhibit on display it would take you more than nine months to see all the exhibits! According to the Lonely Planet it is impossible to see it all in one go, it requires at least two days. We spent about three hours there and visited every room and paid extra to see the Mummies. It is incredible, like the worlds biggest and most valuable junk shop, everything crammed on top of each other - massive statues, intricately designed sarcophagi and tombs, the jewels of Tutankhamun and then the chilling sight of the mummies. their faces frozen for thousands of years, flaps of skin and clumps of hair still cling on to the shrivelled corpse, it made me feel a little bit nauseous. The trouble with the whole museum it is just too overwhelming. I could not get past the question 'How?'. How did they build structures as the Pyramids or the Temple of Karnak so exactly and perfectly without the aid of any technology? How did they excavate the caves of the Valley of the Kings, which they used for the royal tombs? How did they create all these statues, sculptures and paintings, using perspectives that in the 18th century artists were still struggling with? Before I could start to distinguish between Amunhoteb and Nefertiti or Tutankhamun and Tuthmosis I was stuck. The lack of any proper information did not help and made the whole experience feel like wandering around some fantasy gallery rather than an important historical museum. I left feeling quite stupid.

I must admit, from our experience in Egypt from Tarabin to Cairo it grew on me at such a pace as to become somewhere I would love to return to again and again. In fact it has had a similar effect on me as the Indian subcontinent has had. We did not get a chance to really explore Cairo fully and we never made it to Alexandria and the Mediterranean coast. The only aspect that was not as impressive as other countries is the food. Whilst felafel and shwarma are available they are much inferior to those in neighbouring countries. A nice Egyptian breakfast is shakshouka, poached eggs cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and green peppers. Egypts favourite dish seems to be Koshary, their version of bubble-and-squeak, a mix of rice, noodles, pasta, lentils, fried onion and chickpeas, topped with garlic vinegar and chili sauce. Whilst nice, any meal that resembles yesterdays left-overs should not be the national dish!

Egypt is football mad and FIFA regards the Egyptian leagues as one of the 20 most competitive in the world. I have spent the last couple of weeks watching crunch matches from the Egyptian league as well as matches from the African version of the Champions League, the Egyptian league champions up against their Nigerian counterparts. They were 2-0 down last night but battled back to 2-2, it was almost worth them changing the channel from the match in which Barcelona beat Real Madrid 6-2. It seems fitting that I am writing this on the day that Norwich City have been relegated to the third tier of the English football league for the first time in over 5 years.

We took an overnight bus down to Luxor to explore more ancient Pharonic sights. The driver insisted on driving without lights for almost the whole duration of the 700km journey, only flashing them on when overtaking some slower vehicle. This is a crazy trait of Egyptian drivers, none of them use their headlights, ever, at night crossing the road becomes perilous as you cannot see the cars hurtling towards you!

In Luxor we started to experience the hassle we anticipated in Cairo. Luxor is a dirty shithole of a town which everyone would give a wide berth were it not for the location of the Temples of Karnak and Luxor and the sights on the West Bank including the Valley of the Kings, Valle of the Queens and the several funery temples. The problem is it is just so bloody hot. Half the time spent at Karnak is spent looking for some shade rather than at the ruins.

The Valley of the Kings is indistinguishable from the outside, only once you venture inside some of the tombs do they reveal their beauty. The expensive entrance ticket allows each guest to visit three tombs from a choice of 63. The choice is made simpler by the fact that most of the tombs are closed and that the tombs of Tutankhamun and Ramses VI require an extra ticket, and bearing in mind that the contents of Tutankhamuns tomb are on display in the museum in Cairo it wouldn't be a good choice anyway. We used the scientific method of selection known as 'eenie-meeny-miney-mo' and came up with Ramses IX, Siptah and Tuthmosis III. Actually thats a lie, Monika wanted Ramses IX because someone recommended it, and it turned out to be no more than a broom cupboard with some pretty hieroglyphs. I wanted Amunhoteb II but it was closed so in the end the three we picked were all spaced out so to give us regular breaks from the sun. Tuthmosis II was the most impressive, colourful paintings and hieroglyphs lined all the walls in the deep tomb, several staircases deep into the rocks.

In the midday heat we climbed out of the Valley of the Kings and down to the temple of Hatshepsut. With a design like that of an alien spaceship it seemed to answer my question of 'How?' but apart from that was unimpressive. Our taxi river took us to the temples of Ramses II (the Ramesseum) and Seti I. I had wanted to see both of these but our taxi driver said they were not worth it, and on arrival we realised he was right, and were glad we hadn't bought tickets in advance. There is one central ticket office on the West bank which sells most of the tickets for the sites. One temple that was worth visiting however was the Habu Temple of Ramses III, with more impressive statues, carvings and hieroglyphs.

On the rooftop terrace of our hotel we sat at night, chatting with the other guests. Soon enough the discussion turned to ancient Egypt and everyone started to give their opinions on the different Pharoahs, their actions during their lives and their respective temples and tombs. I couldn't help wondering if everyone really understood what they had seen or were they all just bluffing, like me?

We had been put off spending too much time in Aswan by several reports from travellers in Luxor, telling us the hassle from touts selling felucca trips on the Nile and horse-drawn caleche rides around town was much worse even than Luxor. We stayed an extra day in Luxor, relaxing by the pool of an overlanders camp before heading down to Aswan, just two days before the ferry leaves for Sudan. Both ourselves and the young British couple we came down with from Luxor found Aswan to be much more relaxed and more friendly and welcoming than Luxor. Aswan felt to us just as nice as the rest of Egypt, apart from the heat, which is becoming dangerous. By now we were pretty jaded by ancient Egypt so we shunned the opportunity to visit Philae temple or the famous Abu Simbel, instead choosing to wander about on the small Elephantine island, sitting in the Nile opposite Aswan. Home to several Nubian villages it felt like our first interaction with Africa. We were given a friendly welcome and license to wander around at our leisure, the lush green farms and forests feeling more like a tropical island in the Philippines than Lower Egypt.

Aswan does feel like the gateway to Africa. I know that geographically Egypt is part of Africa but culturally it is much more a part of the Middle East. Suddenly in Aswan the presence of so many Nubian people signalled the change and the first sign of what lies south. Many of these Nubian villagers are working as felucca captains and we have stumbled across a good way of shaking off even the most persitant of them. As soon as we tell them we are going to Sudan, where many of them were born or have family or friends, they forget about the felucca and shriek 'Sudan? You are going to Sudan? Where?' after which they repeat each town we mention in a hushed tone, with a wide smile and a glint in their eye.

Tomorrow we take the ferry down the Nile from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, Conrad would have described the journey as sailing into the heart of darkness. Our experience so far suggests it will be anything but.



tentokrat uz z posledni zastavky v Egypte a to Aswanu, odkud zitra odplouvame po Nilu do Sudanu.
V Egypte se nam libilo, zacali jsme odpocinkem na plazich poloostrova Sinai, prvnich par dni v ospale vesnicce Tarabin v bambusove chtace na plazi, krome kremu po opalovani nam tam nic nechybelo.

Presunuli jsme se do turisticke vesnice Dahab, i kdyz tam bylo trochu ziveji nez jsme ocekavali, byla tam prijemna atmosfera a libilo se nam tam. Koralovy utes podel celeho pobrezi, nadherne snorchlovani, velky vyber poulicnich jidelen a cerstve ovoce, pomerne levne pivo a sisa. Presne tohle jsme potrebovali, vymenili jsme knizky a cekali, az za nami dorazi kamarad Stepan.

Potrebovali jsme trochu rozhybat kosti a tak jsme si dali 2 a pul hodinovy nocni vystup na biblickou horu Sinai (2285 m), neboli Mojzisova hora, kde vzniklo Desatero bozich prikazani. Na horu denne chodi nekolik stovek poutniku. My jsme byli jedni z mala, kteri na horu sli jen kvuli vyhledu. Az na to, ze kazdych 10 metru nabizeji jizdu na velbloudovi a nebo zajezd ruskych zen v podpadkasch zaterasi cestu, to stalo za to. Pod horou je Klaster sv. Kateriny ze 4. stoleti.

Chteli jsme se dostat do Suezu, ale nebylo to jednoduchy, vsichni tam byli bud na zajezdu, nedo jeli zpet do Dahabu a jedinej autobus jel v 6 rano. Museli jsme si vzit taxika na krizovatku asi 100km, odkud uz jsme mohli stopnout normalni autobus do Kahiry.
A jeste to odpoledne jsme dorazili do Suezu, na vyber byl jen jeden hotel v pristavu. Tesili jsme na pozorovani velkych nakladnich lodi projizdejicich Suzskym pruplavem. Suezsky pruplav je 163km dlouhy pruplav spojujici Stredozemni a Rude more. Je hranici mezi Sinajem (Asie) a Afrikou. Pry pruplavem propluje az 25 000 lodi. Jeste ten vecer jsme tam posedavali a zadny lode nepluly, vsichni nam rikali, ze az zitra. Tak jsme tam prisli dalsi den a po par hodinach cekani zase nic, ty ranni jsme prosvihli, jednu jsme zahlidli z balkonu a pak az odpoledne. No a tak jsme nemeli stesti a nevideli jsme zadnou lod!!

Odpoledne jsme zabalili a skocili na autobus do Kahiry. Meli jsme bajecnej tip na ubytovani v Kahire, levny hostel Sultan za 3$ za postel na peknym miste, v ovocnym trzisti a nedaleko od metra. Po zbytek vecera jsme jenom ochutnavali speciality z okolnich ulic. V hostelu s nami bydleli hlavne japonci, kteri se tam vsichni zasekli misto tydne na par mesicu.
Samozrejme jsme si nenechali ujit jednu z nejznamejsich pamatek na svete a to pyramidy, je to jeste cast Kahiry, ctvrt Giza a jsou na hrane velkomesta, takze nejsou v osamele pousti jak jsem si je predstavovala. A hlavni vec o cem jsem premyslela, je, jak nekdo mohl neco takoveho postavit pred 5000 lety a jeste k tomu na kopci!!!!!

Zarizovani sudanskych viz, jak uz jsem psala na nasem blogu, nam nejvice zkomplikoval cesky konzulat, kam jsem prisla s prosbou o dopis s razitkem, ktery sudanska ambasada vyzaduje. Pan zakomplexovany konzul mi, rekl ze ne a neminil se se mnou bavit.
Allan to mel mnohem jednodussi, i kdyz mu jeho ambasada dopis bez problemu vydala, stalo tam, ze dopisy nedava a uctujou si za to 30 liber. Sudanske viza jsme nakonec dostali, staly 100$ a meli jsme je do druheho dne.
Zbytek posledniho Stepanova dne jsme stravili v islamske ctvrti Kahiry, krasne uzke ulicky, mesity na kazdem rohu, trziste a bazary.

Bohuzel dalsi den, v pondeli jsme se museli rozloucit a Stepan letel zpet do Dubaje a my jsme si vyzvedli viza a navstivili neuveritelne Egyptske muzeum, asi nejznamejsim exponatem jsou predmety nalezene v Tutanchamonove hrobce.
Vymenili jsme hodne penez na dolary, protoze v Sudanu a Etiopii nebudem mit moznost vybrat penize z bankomatu a tak nosime kazdej 600$ v kapse. Koupili jsme listek na autobus do Luxoru ( i kdyz bysme radsi vlakem, tak turisti nemuzou pouzivat druhou tridu a tak by prvni trida stala jak oba autobusem) a jeste jsme museli sehnat listky na lod z Aswanu do Wadi Halfa v Sudanu, trajekt jezdi jen jednou tydne a to v pondeli a tak nezbyvalo, nez koupit na pondeli dalsi. V utery vecer jsme nocnimn autobusem odjeli 700km do Luxoru.

Luxor je jednim z nejznamejsich a nejnavstevovanejsim mistem v Egypte, na vychodnim brehu Nilu jsou zname chramy , Luxor a Karnak a na zapadnim brehu Udoli kralu a Udoli kraloven a nekolik dalsich chramu. Bylo to jak psychicky a tak fyzicky narocny, neustale se nekdo nabizi jako pruvodce, nebo taxikar, nebo neco chteji prodat nebo chteji jen tak baksis, v kazdym krame a restauraci clovek musi smlouvat a je to unavny, kdyz clovek odmitne projizdku na oslovi, nebo na koni, tak jsou az agresivni a do toho je strasny vedro, ze se neda ani dychat. Nastesti jsme meli prijemny ubytovani, sice nam neustale nabizely organizovany vylety a porad to opakovali dokola, ale kdyz clovek rekl 10krat ne, tak jim to doslo. Navstivili jsme zapadni a i vychodni breh Nilu a vetsinu pamatek, ale pesky to bylo vice nez narocny. Posledni den jsme meli uz prechramovano a zasli jsme do kempu pouzit za par dolaru jejich bazen, kde jsme stravili cely den. V nasem hostelu meli dobrej trik a o 7 pri zadapu slunce se podaval hostum caj na terase zadarmo a tak se tam vsichni sesli a po caji presli na studeny pivo, posledni vecer jsme potkali zajimavy par, kteri akorat prijeli po zemi z Kapskeho mesta vlastnim autem a rikali, ze Sudan je bajecnej a dali nam hodne rad.

Do Aswanu jsme prijeli vcera vlakem, je to tu o dost prijemnejsi nez Luxor, i kdyz nam neustale nekdo neco nabizi, hlavne projizdku na lodi po Nilu, tak kdyz clovek 3krat odmitne, tak prestanou.
Zitra rano uz odplouvame do Sudanu, a tak dame vedet az budem v Chartumu.