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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Off to Sweltering Sudan...

   " I have been very lucky to be involved with the Earthchild Project which helped me to realise my potential and to believe in myself. I now know that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to and reach out for the stars. I know that it takes a lot of work to become a doctor but I am very hard working and I know I can achieve it. If I get this scholarship opportunity I will work so hard to make sure I succeed and I will be really happy to show other people in my community that they can do it too."

-                   - Sonwabise Sifo, Grade 8

     Please don't forget about our fundraising effort around this trip...

     The above statement was taken from a child who the Earthchild Project has been working with in one of their schools in Khayelitsha and illustrates from a child's perspective what wonderful work this inspiring NGO is doing to uplift and empower children in our community.
    
     All donations are most welcome… big or small and will help you play a part in helping children like Sonwabise get the positive mentorship that our children in South Africa need.                         
    

Just a quick update from our side, we loaded our bikes on the barge yesterday, which is on its way to Wadi Halfa in Sudan. Obviously this required another lengthy day dealing with bureaucracy but we are thrilled that all is going well and our trip will not be delayed any longer than what Cairo’s episode has already cost us. 
'Interesting' looking barge...

It was no easy fare taking the bikes up this slippery ramp!

Help from our Dutch traveling buddies and our very friendly Sudanese fixer-Mahmood!

Precarious... does that look safe to you? Hmmm... no choice! This is the only open border between Egypt and Sudan!

In more thrilling news… we got our Sudanese visas today! Whoop Whoop! Excited beyond belief to finally have those in hand as we were beginning to get a bit concerned that we were being overly optimistic in the face of an almost overwhelming consensus from everyone we have met and everything we had read that it was impossible to do with an Israeli stamp in your passport. So having those visas really feels like a massive victory! Our Sudanese fixers Mahmood and Kamel were very helpful and pulled quite a few strings I think to make our dreams of venturing into 55 degrees plus Sudanese desert during the droughts of Ramadan come true- haha ;) Hmm… but despite that this is not the ideal season to visit Sudan we are both really excited to explore this mysterious land.
Celebrating our passage to Sudan over dinner in Aswan!


Speak soon… when connectivity allows!
 

Friday, 29 July 2011

Cairo to Luxor, Luxor to Aswan and everything in between…


Dad in front of the pyramids ;)


‘Everything in between’ seems to really be what adventure motor biking is all about or over-landing in general. There is no other mode of travel that provides you with such freedom to really explore the ‘everything in between’ like over-landing does. So I think for both of us these last two days of riding have really reinforced why we are doing this trip like this! I think especially on a motorbike your senses and indeed your wits need to be about you 100% of the time, there is no dozing off like public transport would allow. This is a great opportunity to make sure you take in everything all the time… your trip becomes about the whole journey rather than being defined as the sum of its destinations.   

We planned our first ride on Wednesday from Cairo to Luxor. It is only supposed to be around 600km’s! So we naively thought that “inshallah, god-willing” it would not take longer than 8hrs… accounting for all unanticipated interruptions. Little did we know we had a full 14hr adventure ahead of us! Just getting out of Cairo took two and a half hours. Cairo is a severely complex maze! Our GPS ‘Africa-Trax’ does not cover cities, only the main roads along the Cairo to Cape Town route and asking someone in Cairo for directions, is quite a challenging pursuit. But after two and a half hours we finally managed to get onto the road without much GPS help, local help or any kind of English sign directing you to Luxor… we were thrilled beyond belief to finally be on the open road!
Dad, stopped for a rest in the desert.

Let’s address the drawback first…driving in Egypt is quite a hazard and certainly not for the faint at heart. Most of the time there are no lane-markings however it probably wouldn’t make a difference because people think nothing of driving on the opposite side of the road into oncoming traffic. We had quite a few close calls! Oncoming traffic seems to pose no threat to drivers who take-over whether or not you are coming towards them at 120kms… you just better move out of their way… off the road if necessary. We were also quite puzzled as to why everyone we passed was flashing their lights at us. Later we worked out that we were the only bikes with lights and this is obviously seriously offensive to Egyptian drivers, who don’t even care to turn their lights on in the dark. Only thing is… there is no way of turning our lights off, so we had to incur the wrath of angry drivers all the way down to Aswan.
Me, Dakar and load ;)

Despite this absolutely insane driving protocol or rather complete contempt for protocol… there is some beautiful driving through Egypt. The road from Cairo to Luxor rides mostly through this stark and barren desert plain… which is really quite beautiful. After the massive noise and bustle of Cairo, the silence of the desert was just what the doctor ordered! At one point, unsure of whether to turn left or right with no sign to reassure us we opted for right… which lead us down a road we would discover would come to an abrupt end. However driving down this road, which had not one crazy-car in sight, was quite a treat. We only needed to do a bit of off-road to get back on to the ‘finished road’ which was thankfully running more or less adjacent to our road of peaceful retreat. Our off-road training has already saved us quite a few times, despite the apparent tarred roads- thank you Rony and Jorg.
Thrilled to have made it to the petrol station...

A few hours down the road and after stopping at three different petrol stations, which only had Diesel, we worked out we had done at least 400kms since we had filled up last. We were beginning to get a bit concerned… of course moments later my petrol light came on which would give me around another 50kms. Our GPS signaled that the nearest petrol station was 90kms away. Now, it is more or less expected that these will be the kind of challenges you will face over-landing… being stuck on the side of road without petrol… all a part of the adventure. But I can tell you that after riding in 50 degrees heat through a sand storm and having no more then a few sips of water in your Camelbak… it isn’t the kind of adventure you wish too hard for! But I am very happy to say that after a few mantras and promising my bike that if it ‘just gets me to the petrol station, I promise to try my hardest not to drop her,’ WE MADE IT to a station 80kms away! Very impressed by my Dakar’s performance! I have never in my life been so happy to see petrol and a cold bottle of water.

As we ‘thought’ we were approaching Luxor, (little did we know 100km’s would take us three hours,) we started driving through the most beautiful mountain pass. After an hour we were still swerving through the pass and it was becoming dark… we made the decision to push on, thinking we couldn’t be far. We will definitely try our best not to drive in the dark again as it really just is too risky on the bikes. We finally started heading closer to lights, which just suddenly popped out of the nothingness we had been driving through… for what seemed forever. On the outskirts of Luxor, the Nile is lined by a very picturesque rural setting of green plantations and little houses snuggled close to the river, which is the only life-source in this otherwise largely uninhabitable terrain. Whilst being preoccupied by this wonderful setting, we all of a sudden hit quite a sandy match and the bikes went sliding all over the road. We were quite relieved to survive this encounter intact and impressed by our sand-riding skills! 

Eventually after being directed into Luxor by some very friendly local ladies we stopped at the first place we could find. We were surprised when they allowed us into their establishment looking utterly filthy, covered in sand with my helmet hair drawn up in ends after being drenched in sweat from the sweltering 50 degrees heat. We were exhausted… and very happy to have somewhere to rest our weary bones, especially in such a serene setting!
Children cooling off in the Nile... one or two on the watch out for Nile crocodiles!

On our way out of Luxor!

The road from Luxor to Aswan is 270km’s but the next day we were under no illusions that this would relate to a reasonable time at all. The drive out of Luxor was really a treat. It seems like life in these small and quaint, rural areas has changed little over the years. Life is mostly occupied with cultivation of the fertile banks around the Nile and scenes of donkey carts carrying agricultural loads with children in tow, is standard affair. All of this activity makes for precarious driving… hitting a donkey cart, children or unpredictable pedestrians is not a part of the plan. So the journey takes a long time… add to the above speed-humps that jump up from the pavement out of no-where and the several roadblocks every few kilometers, and doing this journey in six hours becomes ambitious.
Stopped for a coke in a small little town. Lovely encounter with some friendly children.

These two men were very keen to have their photo taken! Friendly faces :)

We eventually got to Aswan but again driving in the 50 degree heat can really take it out of you. Especially since we are all kitted out in our bikers gear, something the Egyptians think is quite ludicrous as they wear nothing but sandals… forget even a helmet, don’t be ridiculous!

Aswan provides a striking setting on the Nile with beautiful feluccas sailing up and down its shores. We headed to Hathor Hotel, which was recommended by Africa-Trax and a very good spot because it seems to be very popular with over-landers! We spent our first night here with three other over-landers from the Netherlands who have driven here from the Netherlands and plan to end their journey in Zambia. We spent the evening together exchanging travel stories and advice over some well deserved beers at a restaurant on the Nile. Today another group of over-landers arrived from Cape Town, so we have been lucky to extract some of their wealth of traveling knowledge. It has been wonderful to share the excitement of this adventure with fellow travelers.
View over Aswan from the roof of our hotel.

View over the Nile at sunset

Next challenge is getting our Sudanese visa. We have decided to take on a ‘Sudanese Fixer,’ because we cannot take the risk of being denied a Visa especially since I have several Israeli stamps in my passport. Our Bikes need to be loaded on a barge tomorrow and before this we need to head to the traffic court to go through a whole new series of bureaucracy… hopefully it will not be as epic as our previous encounters. Our Ferry then leaves on Monday… which gives us a day to get our visa BUT we will succeed! We have heard from the over-landers we met that the ferry is quite awful… but it is the only way to get to Sudan.

I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Sudan and about the Sudanese people so we are really looking forward to exploring this underappreciated and misunderstood corner of the continent and to try to look through the poor reputation it has gained by virtue of a very unfortunate political record.    

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Finally Success... Bikes!!!

Tuesday 26 July
Dad... finally after 6 full days of struggle, with his well deserved Egyptian number plates!

Skip forward two days... two days spent at the customs and traffic department here in Cairo... two days which I do not care to go into and I am sure those of you reading this are sick of hearing us moaning about how corrupt the bureaucracy is here! It really is just too hard to explain anyway... since you couldn't possibly imagine the extent of the anarchy and day light robbery going on in these government offices! So I shall keep this one short since I am also very tired and we are planning a 4am wake up call to miss Cairo's insane traffic and even crazier drivers! 
Me with my bike and number plates! So thankful... you cannot believe!!!

What I will share with you is a short tale of my joy and faith in humanity being so kindly restored by a stranger, who lent his helping hand when we were beginning to feel like we would never succeed in ending this bureaucratic nightmare. 

It was such a refreshing encounter amongst this utter criminality and brutality we have been subject to by so many of the people we have come into contact with during our six day episode with the 'dark side of Egypt.' We were very thankful to meet Abid, who we met today in the traffic department. He really went out of his way, in trying his best to put an end to the procrastination of this epic process which is all a part of the ploy to squeeze as much money out of you as possible. We are quite sure that it was largely due to his efforts that we are two happy bikers with our bikes in hand this evening! Abid, a foreigner to Egypt himself, was a wonderful reminder of how a small measure of kindness can be such a momentous gift. It was so reenergizing to have an interaction like this with a stranger who went out of his way to help us out… and it really does scream out, after dealing with people in such an isolating manner, that this is how we should aspire to treat those around us. Thank you Abid for your kindness.

So to cut a very long story short… We have our bikes! We are very happy that we can finally hit the road and start traveling! We hope to have some more exciting tales for you soon… 

In the spirit of kindness and ‘helping a perfect stranger’… please don’t forget about our cause and help us support the Earthchild Project and the beautiful children they are working with in South Africa.

Donations can be made via the secure site at:

http://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/riding-cape-to-cairo-for-the-earthchild-project-

Walking Like an Egyptian


Sunday 24 July

By now I should have started my transformation from working class career oriented radio salesman to adventure motor cycler and full time travel blogger. But alas without a motorcycle, I will have to put this ambition on hold.

So our other big plan for today was to visit the Egyptian Museum. We decided to spend the bulk of the day at the Museum and then because Tahrir Square is in the same neighborhood, spend the rest of the day investigating the epicenter of the 2011 Revolution.
Tahrir Square

The museum matched every expectation. The collection is vast and mind-blowing, but it looks as if it was put together by an eccentric old man who assembled it just as his Alzheimer’s started to set in. Most exhibits are not labeled and what labels exist are on scraps of paper, typed up in the 19th century using very poor English and pots of Tippex. The labels usually explain something completely different from what’s in front of you. Thankfully, most of what you’re looking at is impressive even when you have no idea what it is – especially the Tutankhamen artifacts which are incredible. The Mummies also leave an indelible mark, perhaps because these people died five thousand years ago but their bodies are still here fully preserved for us to stare at. It’s hard not to imagine their ghosts wandering around the room resenting the staring and wishing we would just leave them alone.

From there we walked the streets where the revolution took place.  From first-hand experience, we can report that calm has returned and we got some great pictures of the camp out on the square and managed to chat with some of the protestors. Those on the square and the couple of taxi drivers we have chatted with all know what they want: an end to Mubarak, and end to the emergency laws that have strangled political expression in Egypt, a civil government with a new constitution guaranteeing elections and the limitation of political power and trials for those involved in the massacres of the protesters.
Tahrir Square

Walking the streets of Cairo, there is hardly a superlative too extreme to capture the epic scale of this city of 20 million people that sprawls in all directions. It is crowded, over stimulating, and amazing and the traffic, the people, the chaotic rhythm of Cairo all reinforce this impression.

We wrapped up our days walk along the bank of the Nile. This legendary river lives up to the hype.  To think of the historical events that took place on its banks is overwhelming. With a Felucca drifting past and a little imagination, you can easily picture what life was like thousands of years ago.

But the day had made it very clear that Cairo is no longer just a peeping hole into the past, a place to contemplate history and the ancient pharos. Today, Cairo’s history is in the making. After having suffered in the hands of Mubarak for thirty years, the Egyptians have had enough. They want change!

Us too. Tomorrow we hope to be able to hit the road on our bikes and head south to Luxor and then Aswan. Keep your fingers crossed!

 Rivak

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cairo: INSHALLAH- “why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?”

Vespas are quite the craze in Cairo!
Pensive biker...


Hmm… how to describe Cairo? Exhilarating for sure… full of history and full of 20 million people who are all competing desperately for a piece of a rather depleted economic pie! A city of massive contrasts! It is the ‘Paris of the Nile’ to the wealthy bourgeois classes that fill the trendy cafes of Zamelek but it is also a place where life is waged as a constant battle for the poverty stricken who pull carts laden with goods in the Khan al-Khali Market. Cairo is a place that will both enchant and drive you absolutely insane… ready to pull your hair out! It is a place where anarchy abounds… especially on the roads where there are no lanes, a safe following-distance does not exist and where everyone is screeching all over the road, competing for an open gap to ensure there is a constant block of bumper-to-bumper traffic! It must be the constant 40 degree + heat which knocks everyone into an anarchic coma where sense, reason and indeed propriety have no place.
Dad exploring the maze that is Cairo...

I am well aware that it is a pity to start this first account of our journey off with such a negative tone but… there is no faking it, no dressing Cairo’s bureaucracy up in pretty clothing… Cairo is a bureaucratic nightmare unlike any other place in the world! We arrived on Thursday and have still not managed to get our bikes- three days later! Never mind even attempting to tackle the god-forsaken registration process, we have heard such nightmarish tales about- EISH! Right from the very moment we landed we have been taken for a ride by Egyptians and their absolutely psychotic bureaucracy, which they have created to torture themselves and the crazy travellers that dare subject themselves to it. After landing we naively assumed we would be able to leave the airport with our bikes, which we paid a small fortune to get over here- after putting in a good 3 hour attempt (which I do not care to get into,) it was not to be so, we retired to our hotel in Cairo to rest our very tired bones.
Pickled head or intestine?

The next day, Friday, is a holiday in Egypt so there was no chance of retrieving our bikes from Cargo and so we resolved to explore the city a bit. We headed to “Islamic Cairo” which is a historic sector of the city comprised of a labyrinth of streets lined with markets, mosques, coffee shops filled with shisha smokers, madrassas (Muslim schools,) and caravanserais (merchant’s inns.) It is a feast for people watching and we reveled in just wondering around observing life around us. We wondered through the Sabil of Egypt’s infamous leader Muhamed Ali Pasha, through fresh food markets where I had a live fish thrown at me... past stalls selling anything from live pigeons to cow intestines and where the alleyways were so infused with the smell of roasting cumin that it makes your eyes water… although it is a welcome relief from the pungent smell of onion that seems to permeate through most of the city. Because it was Friday there was a constant chorus of pray and preaching coming from the hundreds of mosques that seems to be a very firm focus of life in this city. The adventure was a great change from the regular tourist areas where you are constantly hassled by taxis and quack-guides who try without rest to drag you to the pyramids!
Fresh produce market in "Islamic Cairo."

The straw that broke the Camels back!
We set off this morning extremely excited about the prospects of getting our bikes and finally being able to set out on the open road and oh so ready to trade in our air-conditioned room in Cairo for a tent perched under the stars! The “Cargo Village” which would be more aptly names “Torture Ville” is where our bikes have been held hostage for the last few days. Here we were truly exposed to the extreme nature of the bureaucratic beast of Egypt. It has come to light over the last three days that Egypt Air pays no sanctity to business contracts. It has allowed a system to ensue which allows rogue agents to take their customers for a torturous ride through thousands of layers of bureaucratic red tape to just be able to retrieve your goods… only we are yet to see our bikes! I

As soon as we entered Torture Ville one of the above mentioned rogue agents preyed upon us and thus began our laborious 5 hour ride. It became evident to us throughout the course of the morning that these ‘agents’ are in cahoots with the several hundred bureaucratic officials from the airline companies and customs which together form a ruthless gang whose aim it is to bully you into submission and push you to the point where you become so desperate you are willing to hand over ALL of your money in baksheesh (bribe) to get the hell out of there! There is absolutely no guidance as to how you are supposed to claim your vehicle, only hundreds of desks you are meant to cart back and forth between where you are asked to pay 100 Egyptian Pounds here, 50 there and it NEVER ENDS! These ‘agents’ aim to portray the system as so complicated that there is no way in hell you could ever navigate it on your own and so you have no other choice but to hand ALL your money over to them.

After a translation from a Arabic speaking woman who confirmed our suspicions that this guy was definitely a huge conman and was planning on demanding 700 Egyptian Pounds from us and ensuring we came back for another day to milk us further.... we could no longer take it! The camel was crippled and fuming… after having this crazy man running around with our passports and taking us for a ride for over 5 hours in the sweltering sun from one apathetic official to the next, we demanded to speak to a manager! However, to cut a long laborious story short… they are running an obvious scam and there doesn’t seem to be one competent member of staff there who is not in on it. We were told by the manager that there is nothing he can do because “it is the routine!” So… we still don’t have our bikes and now need to wait until Monday before trying again. Hmm… it is absolutely insane the system that is in place here! I could say a lot about it… the system here is notoriously corrupt and every overlander on this route complains about Egypt but it is hard to really imagine it until you have suffered it yourself.
Me walking through the Khan al Khali market

So Cairo has been a battle in this respect… but we were aware and prepared and I guess we just need to be patient and take comfort in the fact that this bureaucratic battle will be the worst of the lot! From here on nothing will be able to perturb us.

Hold thumbs that we are successful on Monday and hopefully we will be off to Luxor on Tuesday morning…. So looking forward to getting on those bikes!!!
Life happening on Cairo's streets....

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Correction: Riding Cairo to Cape Town... whoops!

Dad, ready to bid our bikes farewell... see you guys in Cairo!

 How do I explain this... We have decided to change our journey to a north- south venture! We shall now be flying over with the bikes to Cairo and heading on down South back to Cape Town. How did this massive flip occur?

There are several reasons for our decision... Most notably Egypt is notorious for their backward and annoying bureaucracy. If anyone doing this trip of a lifetime has anything to moan about it is always the hassle they incurred in Egypt. Among much other bureaucratic red tape we will be required to snip our way through... we will need to re-roadworthy and reregister the motorbikes with an Egyptian number plate in Cairo. All of this takes time and patience, which we agreed we would much more likely have at the beginning of the trip when we are still fresh and feel alive with excitement for the road that lies ahead. Another consideration was the many complaints we have heard about people being ripped off my Egyptian shipping companies when they need to ship the bikes back home. So we rationalised that it was a better idea to bargain with a South African shipping company then be ripped off by an Egyptian company... a sour cherry that could top off an otherwise successful adventure.

It is also this northern part of the road from Cape to Cairo which is the hardest... after Northern Kenya the road and border posts just keep getting better and more hassle-free the closer you get to Cape Town. So I guess it is a psychological tactic that we are employing... get the biggest challenges over with first!
     
The time has finally come and our epic adventure lies waiting for us just around the corner (7 nights away to be exact!) We are due to fly to Cairo on the night of the 20th July. The bikes have already been sent over and await our arrival... the excitement is electric!!!

Our two bikes in the crate... eagerly awaiting Cairo! Whoohoo!!!

My father took our bikes this last Sunday to be shipped off. He was accompanied by a mechanic who taught him how to dismantle and put back together our bikes (thank god one of us knows how!) He also received a crash course in how to fix any damage we may inflict on the bikes along the way- essential to surviving the road!

Dad's dismantled Kawasaki KLR...

I received this pic of my BMW650 with the caption "Come Put it Back Together!" Hmm... funny! Hopefully I will return more bike savvy!

So we are just about ready and just need to tie up a few loose ends in preparation for this amazing trip! Most visas have been acquired, except for Sudan which has turned out to be a serious mission... (hmm, we could potentially have an interesting border-encounter in store for us, especially with my passport so decadently decorated with Israeli stamps!) Cross fingers it all goes smoothly! We shall keep you updated and hope to have many thrilling stories for you soon!

In other news...we are moving forward with our support for the Earthchild Project and hoping to reach our fundraising goals in the next two months to come. If you would like to hear more about the Earthchild Project and our African adventure, tune into 702 Talk Radio or Cape Talk this Sunday from around 7.30 am. Janna Kretzmar, the Director of Earthchild Project, will be speaking to Udo Carelse on the Weekend Breakfast Show. Janna and I will also be speaking to Heart FM and OFM next week about the Earthchild Project and the fundraising trip... dates and times to be confirmed!

Please continue to spread our cause around the globe and help Earthchild Project in their quest to create a new generation of healthy, confident, conscious and responsible earthchildren.

Donations can be made to the Earthchild Project via the secure backabuddy site at:

http://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/riding-cape-to-cairo-for-the-earthchild-project-