Friday, 21 October 2011


Great Pyramid looking to Cairo.  Photo (as all others) on my iPhone
Seven weeks, eight countries, 12,453 km and now we're in Cairo.
This is how you get to Cairo: from Hurghada on the Red Sea, up the freeway to just south of the city of Suez, chuck a leftie and bingo! Cairo!  And that's what we did yesterday.
Strange to be here, after all those weeks of getting up, often at 5:00 am, to squeeze into the 'Stang and drive on through the continent, and now, no more...
Cheers to all!
Update (28th October 2011): Now basically finished on this blog, as the trip's over and I'm back in Hong Kong.  Do feel free to comment on any post, though, as I'll be notified of comments and like to keep dialogue going with readers and participants. 
Update (10th January, 2013): On the issue of Aid to Africa, which I said something about here and here: an article in The Spectator, "The great aid mystery", of 5th January 2013 is well worth a read.  A companion piece asks why there should be an arbitrary goal of 0.7% of GNP "rink-fenced" for aid, which is counter-productive to its responsible deployment, in "Greening's challenge".  

Update (4 September, 2013): Re Aid to Africa, Joe Nocera writes in the New York Times, about Jeffrey Sachs and the factors in Africa's recently better economic performances: seeming to be less to do with aid and more to do with better governance and sounder economic policies.... Fighting poverty and critics. [pdf]
Update (4 June, 2013):  There's been a bit of activity on the post about the first of these Cape to Cairo trips in 1913 (or attempt, for they did not make it), and there's going to be more as well, about which I'll remain mum until it's out.  Here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"In Egypt, a new pogrom"

I mentioned earlier Jeff Jacoby's International Herald Tribune article about anti-christian violence in Egypt, and I've now found the link, which is here.
We're in Egypt, and we travel past guarded churches... and wonder what the situation will be like in Cairo.  From Jacoby's article:
THIS IS what a pogrom looks like: “The Coptic Hospital tried its best to deal with the sudden influx of casualties,’’ wrote Sarah Carr, a Cairo-based journalist and blogger, in her firsthand account of Sunday’s deadly attack on Christian protesters by the Egyptian military. “Its floors were sticky with blood and there was barely room to move among the wounded.
Read the rest here, from the reprint in the Boston Globe, part of the New York Times network.  It's interesting to note that in the reports of the violence in left-wing media such as the BBC or The Guardian, it's always headlined as "Muslim-Christian violence", or "inter-sectarian troubles", or some such, inviting one to infer that the violence is from both sides, equally.  It is not.  It is Muslim attacks on Coptic Christians.  It's been happening for years.  It's been reported in many blogs for years (e.g, here).  In recent times -- since the rise of Islamists after the "Arab Spring" -- the attacks on Copts have become so bad that even the mainstream media have had to take note. But mostly with the bogus "neutrality" as above -- "inter-sectarian violence", you know, like the Copts bashing Muslims and vice versa, that sort of thing, each side has its story, both right/wrong in equal measure...  Jacoby's piece is refreshing in telling it like it is.

BTW: I did not mean to suggest, in an earlier post about the Aswan Nubians' criticism of the "troubles" -- aka the March revolution, part of the "Arab Spring" -- that there is any sympathy for Mubarak.  There is not.  They're glad he's gone.  It's just that post-revolution, not all's gone according to hopes (forget about "plans", there weren't any) -- the effect on tourism, the mainstay of Upper Egypt (Nubia!), is devastating.  
We see it here in Hurghada as well: rows and rows of half-finished apartment blocks and resort complexes, lying idle.  Hotels half full.
Back pockets count, and they're empty.  

Harghada: Butlins on the Red Sea

I didn't get my own photo of Harghada, on the Red Sea in Egypt,
 so I pinched this off the internet -- it rather flatters the place.....
Yesterday arvo, we limped in to this place, Harghada on the Red Sea, a horridly tacky strip of low rise resorts catering to the North European and Russian trade, for the all-inclusive, all you-can-eat-and-drink holiday on the Red Sea, the Butlins of Egypt.
We limped because we broke another leaf spring, this time the main rear right one, and car now at the workshop being fixed if it can.
Pity about that, as the drive down was really Mustang Country: desert, fine road, leading down to the sea by a range of mountains spiked up like, like... well, like "great big spiky things"....[*]
Broken springs brings to mind a quick car report:
The Kombi: we last left Ron and Wendy from Mexico back in Aswan as they'd been unable to clear their car due to paperwork issues.  I believe Ron's in Cairo trying to get the paperwork sorted, then will mosey on up through lower Egypt at his own pace and may or no catch us before we leave on Saturday.
The MGB: Ian and Val's little green monster has had the engine fully out twice on this trip, once at a lodge in Zambia, quite some going that.  Overheating problems sorted with Gordon's fix of the windscreen washer diverted to spray on the radiator... Other than brake and clutch problems, all ok...
The others: seem fine, and the lads are now working on Egyptian bureaucracy to get them cleared for shipping, and dealing with Egyptian bureaucracy is another level of surreal insanity.
The 'Stang will go either to Southampton or Sydney.
Gordie's gone off scuba diving in the Red Sea.
I'm just about to head off into a semi-submersible to "do" the Sea in a touch more comfort.
[*] Blackadder reference.  King George season.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Haggling in Egypt: "Life of Brian" comes to life

These guys, here in Egypt, are straight out of central casting when it comes to the haggle.  Everything, but everything is up for haggle, and they do it just like Eric Idle in the wonderful Monty Python clip above.
They even haggle for stuff like toothpaste at the Pharmacy, or batteries at the corner shop.
"How much is the toothpaste".
"My friend, how much you want to pay?" (huh?)
"I don't know, it's your toothpaste - you tell me."
"50 pounds".  [Egyptian.  That's almost $US10.]
"Ridiculous" and you start walking out.
"How much you give me??  Ok, 40".
keep walking....
"Best price, for you, my friend, ok, 30"
keep walking... he follows you...
"My friend, my friend, I have a poor dying grandmother! Ok, 20, my last offer."
keep walking...
"Ok, mister, 10 pounds only!!"
Stop, turn, give the man 10 pounds.  No doubt still too much, but you need that paste... and one-fifth of the original price is what we've figured is the price -- still the rip-off price, but acceptable all round.
You take the paste and start walking out...
"My friend, I have some nice Viagra!  Only 250 Egyptian pounds!"
They have this other neat trick, as we first saw with our Nubian Christian friend Thomas.
He's been walking with Chris and me for some time, since we first met him at a shoe shop, where Chris wanted to buy a pair, that had to be cool...  He's come with us to a sort of department store, where he reckons we'll find what we want, but no cool shoes there, so now we're in the souk, the local market in Aswan, when he tell us
"Mister, I was with you on the boat yesterday, you remember?"
Huh?  Maybe he was, you kind of recollect a swarthy fellow with day's beard and 'tache.  But did he have that gap in his teeth?  You don't recall, but you'd better be polite and not ask what on earth the fellow was doing yesterday at the helm of the felucca and today he's a shoe salesman, and he's also a tailor and a silver merchant.  He knows all the people in the souk. But he could be the guy with the boat, so you say "Oh yes, yesterday, on the felucca. Imagine that...".
Of course, it's all nonsense.  Just playing on the fact that all foreigners would have had a go on a felucca and you're not quite sure, are you, one Arab Nubian looks like any other... and all that....
We buy some shoes (that I certify to Chris as being "VOC" = verging on cool).  We're walking back to our hotel, Chris and I.  After an unsuccessful attempt at getting some shirts from Ahmin.  Ahmin is the friendly (always friendly!) tailor with his father helping out in the shop.  His father is a copy of Ghandi, but half the size.  We'd settled with Ahmin on cloth types and cloth pattern, cloth sizes and shirt numbers.  I'd asked Ahmin numerous times for a price and he says "later, later", and finally quotes us $US35/shirt, and we're not even in the ballpark, not even for the one-fifth rule, and so we're out of there. "No worries, my friends, see you next time", at least they take it on the chin. We walk along the banks of the Nile, back to the hotel and a guy passes by and says
"My friends, I'm your cook at the hotel!  Remember me?"
Neat trick.  Establishing rapport.  These guys are master sales-men, a pleasure -- almost -- to see them in action.
But no way this guy is our cook!  I know our cook at the Aswan hotel, cause I helped him cook some eggs this morning....
[how to cook the perfect poached egg; but that's a whole 'nother story...]

How to have felucca at the Nile

Two feluccas raft up and speed up the Nile
Note the wake: power, man!
Ok, here it is: my ideal way to "do" the antiquities of the Nile.  (I'm an expert now; I've been here since Friday...)
Don't bother with any of the Lonely Planet ways to do it -- by road, plane, train, taxi, rickshaw, or any of that other nonsense.  Do it by felucca.
Here's how: fly in to Luxor and spend a coupla days here, maybe three, staying at a decent pub, like the one we're in now, the Steinberger, a five-star on the Nile, facing west.  Get a Nile-facing room.
Visit the magnificent temples and tombs that surround Luxor: about 100 just nearby.
Today we visited four, including the two big ones, Habu Temple and Hatshepsut's Temple (she was the only female Pharaoh, and had to exhibit some cunning to hold her throne), two magnificent and awe-inspiring monuments, quite as much "must-see" as the great monuments in Europe, St Peter's, St Paul's, Aztec's temples, Islam's Taj...

Then, organise yourself a felucca to float upriver to Aswan.
I investigated this in Aswan, thinking I'd leave on Saturday morning and get here to Luxor on Monday evening. But I couldn't get enough of my car-mates to come along.  And in any case, it seems that going upriver is better than going downriver, at least as the breezes are at the moment.  They're northerly, so that it's a nice run with the breeze behind you, whereas coming down river to Luxor you have to tack all the way.
These feluccas are really cool craft!  They have a big sail area and go like the clappers with a bit of weight of breeze.
The ideal trip....[click below]

Nubia: Respek, man!

Our buggy owner's son tries on my cool hat.  His dad, a Nubian,
bemoans the "troubles" of March -- ie, the so-called "Arab Spring"
One of the things I've learnt a touch more about on this trip has been Nubia.  This was the kingdom between today's Khartoum in Sudan up to Luxor in Egypt. The Nubians were sometimes under the suzerainty of Egypt and sometime independent, and always in a testy relationship with the latter.  Even today they see themselves as very much "Nubian", so that you'll meet people in Sudan or in Egypt's Aswan who insist they are Nubian, rather than Sudanese or Egyptian.
Nubia means "place of gold", the source of much that went into the treasures of the Pharaohic tombs.  Even today, we see gold being "mined" -- that is, thousands of Nubian peasants by the roadside in the desert on the way to Karima Sudan, digging the rock, crushing it by hand, then panning for specs of gold, in a scene from antiquity.  Hard-scrabble.
Their most famous kingdom was the Kingdom of Kush.  "Kush" means "troublemakers", or so our [very Egyptian] guide today informs us.  No doubt they were "troublemakers" for having had the temerity to resist the colonisation of the various dynasties of ancient Egypt.

A menagerie of photos: Sudan

Sufis in Khartoum -- men only -- whip into ecstatic stupor. Note
Barak Obama in the middle of the photo.  Friday night in Khartoum
Wallflowers on the same evening.  No place for women, even in
moderate Sufism

Click below to see some more photos of the last week or so.....

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Trubbel at Edfu...

We're still in Aswan, struggling with some technology, and planning when to leave for Luxor. 
We've just heard that there have been "troubles" in Edfu, which is half way from here to Luxor in the north and that there's a curfew from 4pm to 6am. There have been Muslim attacks on churches in Edfu. There's more on this at Raymond Ibrahim's site.
We were thinking of leaving in the morning, but now think we may mosey along the road to see how far we can get.
Heiko and Nicole have been waiting for a rental car to be delivered from Cairo, about 500km north. (Nicole just joined us in Aswan).   The car left at 6:00 am yesterday morning and is still not here 29 hours later: road blocks along the way for security and the curfew.
And to make matters worse.... Kiwis were up 14-6 at half time. Perspectives...

Catch up photos

Nubian ladies and kids, Karima, Sudan

Update 16 October: I've  not been able to get online for update and more photos, I'm afraid.... Connection dodgy/intermittent.... Sitting here in Aswan on the banks of the Nile. Lovely town, with tree lined streets and the feluccas, the latine-rigged sail-boats like the Dhows of Tanzania, sitting pretty along the river banks.  There's plenty of ancient temples and ruins surrounding us -- "I loove ruins" said Gough Whitlam and he'd love here.  The temple of Isis on Philae Island, saved in the sixties from the rising waters of the Aswan Dam, is in almost pristine shape and venue for a nightly sight and sound show.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sudanese desert, nubile nubian lasses

We're fanging along the banks of the Sudanese Nile at a bit over 170 kph in the mighty Mustang (aka "the 'stang").  Now that's fun!
The Nile's on our left, a palm-green swoosh in the dry desert, glinting between date palms.
North from Khartoum in Sudan, there's a new road, not on any maps.  Not that you can buy maps in Sudan. The military government bans their sale for "security reasons" (never heard of satellite technology, fellas?).
So we set our noses for "North" and follow them.

Quick interim update from Aswan

Hi all, and sorry for no posts in last five days.  We've been in the Sudanese desert and flat out finding beds, let alone internet connection, so now's the first time we've managed to get online -- here in Egypt's wonderful Aswan, near the high dam that makes Lake Nasser.
I'll post more on the Sudanese experience -- Nubian houses, nubile nubian lasses and all -- in the next day or so, when get some piccies uploaded.
Meantime, thanks for various comments received via email, appreciated.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Wallabies in a nail-biter!

Yay!  Here in the Acropole hotel in Khartoum: three of the cars have stayed behind to watch the game -- two from Namibia barracking for the Springbocks and Gordie and I rooting for the right side....
What a nail-biter, coming down to the final minute, and Jamie O'Connor making the long penalty for the kick of his life.
We rather thought the Springbocks deserved the win and the Wallabies a bit lucky.
Now we face the All Blacks next week. We'll be in Aswan.
We're in the hotel awaiting some permissions we apparently need for the further trip north.
It's 44 degrees outside.
A fine clear day in Khartoum....
Last night to the Corinthian, a massive mini-London-gherkin, for Asian food on the top floor looking over the Nile.  Good food, with the maitre d' young Melamie from the Philippines.  Shades of Asian service with a smile.
Cheers for now, off to the North, through the desert, for a night at a Nubian house, sleeping on the balcony, under the stars, temps dropping to high thirties....

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A day on the Ethiopia-Sudan border... and Kharthoum

Dealing with Sudan customs
Al-Grammah grasps my hand and asks where I’m from.  "Australia', I say. "Aussie, Aussie, oy, oy, oy", he says, startlingly....
I’m seated on a stool, in a dark mud-alley behind the customs house of the Ethiopian side of the border with Sudan.  My passport’s at the bottom of a pile in the immigration house, a hundred yards yonder, been there about an hour and Gordie’s in the line there, we’ve waited an hour already, and there’s nothing much else to do, so I’ve gone back to find the local black market currency seller, to get some Sudanese pounds, which I’ve done in the shack next door, and now I’m having a coffee.
Al Grammah’s going the other way, he’s done the Sudanese side and tells me cheerfully that it takes “many hours” on the Sudanese side.  Great. 
Scene of activity at the border post

Grammah’s a government guy, with his mate Assad, beside me, and they’ve been on tour with an Ethiopian song and dance troupe showing the Sudanese their culture.  How’d it go, I ask.  Great, he says, they loved it.  I show him the pics of the group we’d seen in Addis at the Yod Abyssinia, which he knows and we agree they’re babes. [photo of the Addis babes here]
He asks why we’re in old cars. Can’t we afford new ones?  “Old guys, old cars”,  I say.  Old women too?  “No, young ones!” says Assad.  He tells me the proper price to pay for coffee, three birr.  And here we’ve been paying 10 all along. Oh well, we spread the wealth….

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hannah and the Blue Nile

Hannah skips along the trail, rock to rock, her bare feet hardened to the hard earth.  Her hair is in corn-cob rows, her teeth white, she holds some shawls on her right arm.
We’re climbing the rocky path to the Blue Nile falls, and she’s trying to sell me a shawl.  She has a fine line in patter, and would make a good saleperson in any company.  But here in Ethiopia’s highlands, she’s born into a farming family of seven others, and she has to her bit to put food on the table.  She’s 10.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Crossing the Blue Nile

We're at 10,000 feet, Gordon and I and the 'Stang, looking down at the Blue Nile 6,000 feet below.  We drop down the road, a corrugated, holey, looping, switch-back and Gordon insists on stopping to get the photo of the grand view of this ancient, fabled, now mud-brown river below us. "You'll never capture it", I say, but he gives it a go.  The drops are vertiginous, thousands of feet; I'm driving and stick the car to the cliff wall...

We've reached the river half-way along today's 450 km stage from Addis to Bahir Dar on Lake Tana.

This was the best scenery we've seen on the trip so far. Green Ethiopian Highlands, 7,000 to 10,000 feet.

After the rains, it's green to the far sky, and plotted with maize, barley, sunflowers and flowering yellow rape.  With touches of lilac in yellow fields.  And everywhere groves and windbreaks of Aussie trees: gums like manniferabicostata, big stringy-barks, majestic blue gums, wattles in yellow flower, whispering casuarinas.  If you took out Aussie trees, Ethiopia would be treeless. Nothing is fenced, nothing is commercial; it's all subsistence, plus what can be put away in hay-stacks and the local grain gathery.  There's bucolic contentment, it seems: cows resting by a gum-shady nook in the stream, their herder leaning on his stick.

It's hard to believe that this, too, can be famine country when the rains don't fall.

The people are well-off today with the good harvests to come, by African standards, that is.  They're fed (though never to the tune of their cousins in America...), clothed, housed.  They tend their cows, goats, sheep. In the vilages, they.... walk.... service the farmers... give a bed to the traveller.  Brew an excellent coffee and cook meaty stew-like tips with barley injera for a couple of Aussies...

We dodge through the usual melee of people walking here and walking there and walking everywhere, walking, walking, purposefully, but to where?  In the morning, it's kids in uniform off to school and we catch them further north out of school.  But all these adults?  Where are they walking to?  And from? And where do the kids go, when they've finished school?  Tending cattle?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Lalibela, the "Honey Eater", in North Central Ethiipia

King Lalibela carved this church out of rock 900 years ago....
the UN decided to "protect" it with this monstrosity three years ago...
King Lalibela (the "honey eater") was a 12th Century Christian King of what is today's northern Ethiopia.  He got it into his mind to carve ten churches out of the volcanic mountain rock high on the mountain, at 8,000 ft.  That is to literally carve away rock around the imagined church, then carve into the resulting block to create a church made of one solid piece of stone.  He had ten carved, one for each of the Ten Commandments, then added one more to the memory of St George.  They reminded me a bit of Goreme the troglodytic city in Turkey, though it's not at all like that..  It's amazing what Man will do in propitiation to their various gods.
This is a UN World Heritage site.
Three years ago, UNESCO decided it needed protecting and they built ugly canopies over the churches.  The local people, the priests, Ethiopians at large, did not want the protection.  After all, they've survived nine centuries with minimal wear, the climate is dry and benign.
Yet the UN went ahead anyway.  The designer should be shot without trial, says Korbus, our resident architect (Korbus "Mercedes").  Not only are they ugly, they are unnecessary.  If protection were needed, it could have been done with waterproofing liquids.
But that would have been too simple for the UN. Consider where the money went: to feasibility studies, weather studies, to UN review committees, to the designers and builders, an Italian firm.  Money wen't to western companies, to design a western concept, built with western goods and services.  All this would have been counted as "aid" to Africa, yet virtually all of it would have gone right "Out of Africa" again.
To add injury to insult: during construction, the "protection" structure fell over and damaged one of the churches: more than it has been weathered over the last 900 years.
A scandal, a calumny, a shame on UNESCO.
Priest contemplates the inanities of UNESCO...
Isn't this episode a perfect metaphor for so much of what passes for "aid" in Africa?  Well-intentioned idiots, spending other people's money to do things that the locals don't want, and only making things worse.

The country around Lalibela is picturesque valleys and mountains, growing maize, barley, wheat and aloe vera, seemingly fertile and well-to-do.  But this is also famine country.  When the dry hits, people starve.  Direct action to alleviate this is surely better than vanity canopies.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

What's cool?

"Still life: hat with banana" an unwitting work of art
You know what's cool?  Ngorongoro, that's cool.  I don't mean the giant caldera, which I posted about here. Though that's cool, to be sure.  I mean the word "Ngorongoro"; I reckon that's as cool a word as the word "Dhaulaghiri", the Nepali name of the 8,000+ metre monster right next to Annapurna, both of which I visited in 1995.  I love that word, it rolls in the mouth and in the mind.
What else is cool is Kenyans.  Africans in many other countries are cool too, of course, but I reckon Kenyans take the cool cake.
And my hat is, by common acclamation, cool.  I'm not going to post a photo of it; I wouldn't want to seem immodest. In any case, attentive readers will note that it's in most photos of me.
And what's the opposite of cool?  Well, David Pineo's Hat. Which they call a "Yarpie" (as in South Efrican) hat. I don't mean to be rude about it, but it's simply not cool.  I'm sorry, but it's the truth.
Unfortunately, in attempting to prove that David's hat is not cool, I took the above photo with my iPhone this morning, and it seems to have turned out an unwitting piece of art, inspired, perhaps, by Matisse.
I might have to concede that this hat, if not yet cool, is nonetheless, in certain contexts, a piece of work, post-modern abstract expressionism.

Desert Photos

Gordon in default mode: fixing shock-absorbers.
Wendy and Ron "Kombi" look on
Desert of Marsabit, North Kenya
Ian "Pajero" inspects volcanic rocks in the Marsabit desert.
The whole area is a giant shield volcano, with hundreds of cinder
cones and craters.  Awesome, vast, vast vistas.
Ian takes a cinder bit home for his son.
"Gee, thanks Dad!  A rock!"...

Nairobi Concours D'Elegance

Have now posted some photos from the event here.

Ethiopia's "New Flower"

From the Lonely Planet:
On first observing Addis Ababa ("New Flower" in Amharic) a little over a century ago, one foreigner called it 'noisy, dusty, sprawling and shambolic'.  Over the next century this tented camp has morphed into a modern business centre and Africa's fourth-largest city, yet travellers still turn up and utter the same phrase.  If that isn't reason enough to discount first impressions, we don't know what is!
Well, with due respect to the LP, it's still a spot-on description.  And we ought to know, we've been here all of two days... It is noisy, it is sprawling and it is shambolic.  The traffic is terrible.  Like most (all?) African cities, public transport's a joke when it's not non-existent.  And I wouldn't be crowing about being Africa's fourth-largest city, either, considering those above on the list: Lagos and the like....

"Shit Happens"

Ian's plaintive cry, on the bonnet of the Pajero
David Hall, Ian and Neil ('the lads') in the Pajero, our "tail gunners"
in the desert on the way to Moyale, North Kenya, two days ago,
before a stone stopped their fuel flow, 50km from Moyale

Sandi "Volvo" and Chris, welcome Dave to Moyale, next morning.
Dave and the lads now back in Nairobi

Enchanting Ethiopia and Addis Ababamamas

Barrelling along the road from Awassa to Addis Ababa at 5:45 am, the sun rising over lake Lagondo (Italian?), we're high, seven and eight thousand feet, just north of the equator, but it's cool, crisp, in the early high morning.
We're surprised, Gordon and I, thinking Ethiopia would be arid or semi-arid, like the rest of High Africa, that we've been on since early September.  It should really be High Dry Africa, as it's been arid scrubby trees, and grasses, ochres and grey-browns, the occasional deep red sand desert black-rocked like Mars.  
But here, as we motor along in the magic 'Stang, it's green, green, green, crops of corn, new wheat, barley, millet and guys leaning onto the road, arms outstretched, offering coffee beans, cobs of cooked corn, and wrapped watermelon-sized bunches of grass, which turns out to be Qat, a stimulant, illegal everywhere but here.  I'm thinking to try a bit, in the interests of cultural research.
It's like no other land we've seen in Africa so far: high meadows, spotted with grazing cattle, a mix of antipodean flora -- gums, casuarinas, bottlebrushes, wattles --  has taken good hold in forest-lets set in wide vistas of crystal air, to the cerise horizons.
Enchanting.  Ethiopia.
There's business on the land, as well: vast acreages of greenhouses, producing for European and African markets.  At six in the morning, the workers trudge along both sides of the road; this is Trade at work, better than aid, surely.