Archive for July, 2011

Doris

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2011 by nornironafrica

First thing you notice is the fine layer of red dust that covers everything. There is a compass and Michelin Map “Africa South” on the dash. This is joined by our GPS system and the power inverter for the laptop. The windscreen has around 2000 bug and mud stains on it that never seem to leave even in the heaviest equatorial rain storms. The floor is littered with bottled water, flip flops and the rubbish bag. The back seat has backpacks, sun glasses, sun cream, boiled sweets, various guidebooks and a jar of jam. There is a cable from the radio that leads to an Ipod, this is constantly stuck on shuffle to stop Cold Play and Snow Patrol being overplayed. The overhead console has more guide books, maps of Europe, Turkey, Arabia and Africa East. Finally we come to the centre piece, an air freshener that hangs from a sun visor. This is made up of two furry balls and covered in tiger print. We named these the Tiger’s Testicles and they swing back and forth in different directions depending on who has their window open. From the back there is a constant rattle of loose kit. Spanners, the socket set, air compressor and water jerry all rhythmically bang around in the back as Doris runs over bumps and pot holes in the road. Our personal kit is stored in four bags that squeeze into one compartment. Below this is our fridge, sadly it hasn’t worked since we left Belfast and is now a storage space for food. However, our diet is somewhat questionable. We have a number of Ration packs, these are known as silver nasties due to the silver packet they come in. The flavours include Bacon and Beans, Lamb Naverin, Treacle Sponge Pudding, Steak and Veg and the dreaded Corn Beef Hash/Rash. The titles are somewhat grander than the contents so to supplement this we have Indomie Noodles, tins of Tuna and a tin of Halal Frankfurters made of Egyptian reclaimed meat. Behind the food box is the item we hope remains untouched. The first aid kit. This leather bag holds, 4 trauma bandages, plasters, antiseptic cream, tablets for all forms of ailments, a thermometer, scissors and a mountain of rehydration sachets. Lets hope it stays where it is. From our spares we always seem to reach for the same items, insulations tape, fuses, duck tape, wires and the unsung hero of the trip, the cable tie. Outside on Doris we have our lighting rig which makes us look like a massive truck in the dark, our spare tyre held on with “Strap, Utility” and our roof rack which holds our tent, roll matts and garden chairs. Finally I must mention the BF Goodrich Mud Terrain Tyres which have carried us 9,653 miles so far without a single drama. Lets hope they carry us the rest of the way.

The Farm

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2011 by nornironafrica

After we left the Moyale Highway, we continued on towards Nairobi. On the way we called into a town called Nanyuki. Here we ran into a fellow Northern Irish man Bobby. When he heard of our travels Bobby was very kind to lend us a spot to pitch our tent for the night. This was his place called Turko Farm. It was fantastic, we’d been on the road for around a week without a proper shower so we relished the chance to sort ourselves out and poke around Doris. Turaco is near to a local bar and we went down to sample the local brew, Tusker. We had always said that when we reached Kenya we would take a day, top up the brake fluid, change the oil, swap out any parts we could and give her a good spring clean. Bobby pointed us to a local expat Titch who was a Landrover and Landcruiser specialist. We bombed down to Titch’s place Magma Holdings on the edge of Nanyuki and he and his crew of mechanics had a poke around Doris. We managed to get all our maintenance done and blew away some cobwebs from under the bonnet. Here we ran into ‘H’ a mad keen cross country motor cyclist, who donated 10 ration packs to us. He loves bumming around the Kenyan countryside on his KMT. We left Turaco Farm and went on to Nairobi. Here we met up with Emily Smith, Matt’s sister who volunteers in the Kibera slum. We dropped of the few items Matt and Tim had given us in Northern Sudan that they didn’t need anymore. From here we left behind Nairobi and hit the road to Mombasa. Mombasa is Kenya’s and arguably Eastern Africa’s largest and busiest port. Hence the road is covered with freight lorries ferrying cargo. This makes driving somewhat perilous and we saw a number of collisions and overturned trucks. We are now on our way to reach Mombasa and visit the Camara Headquarters for Africa.

The Moyale Highway

Posted in Uncategorized on July 28, 2011 by nornironafrica

Ker-thunk! Ker-thunk! Crash crash! This is the sound of a jeep going over corrugations. Its not a pleasant thing to experience. A corrugation is formed when a dirt road has a lot of freight lorries travelling on it, their bumping and crashing eventually means the road forms a ripple effect of bumps. These bumps vary from several inches to almost a foot in some places. Your options for driving on corrugations are either, drive at around 20kph and suffer the painstaking boredom and rattling or drive at 90 kph and skim over the bumps. With the second option however you run a number of risks. Your handing becomes very light while speeding along on corrugations, imagine driving on ice at high speed and you’ll know what I mean. The slightest move on the steering wheel means a big difference to your direction. The chances of going into a skid and then overcorrecting will likely mean youre going to be needing a recovery vehicle to pull you out of whatever ditch you landed in. Slowing down only means the ungodly shuddering returns and the chances of you losing control is almost a guarantee. This inability to brake means if you see a massive pot hole, ditch, ostrich or oncoming truck you just have to do your best to avoid them while maintaining your speed. This of course led to more than a few obscenities being sputtered. Our luck held out all along the dirt highway from Moyale to Archers Post. This 350km stretch of road is the worst on the whole trip. This is where every over landing vehicle runs into difficulty and usually breaks down. Someone is watching over us as Doris didn’t even get a scratch. Our biggest problem was that we were travelling with a full load of diesel and water. This means we were sitting rather low the entire way and the travel on our suspension was taking quite a battering. After jettisoning some weight and redistributing a few items about we were sitting higher. Apart from just bone shattering bumps and close your eyes moments the road from Moyale offered a few unexpected surprises. The first one was some proper African wildlife, including some ostriches and gazelles. Of course we ignored the vultures that were tailing Doris down the highway. We also came across some of the fantastic landscapes that make up the Great Rift. The Rift was created by volcanic activity and we saw a number of dormant volcano craters and valleys that have been cut out of the earth. We’re now in the southern hemisphere and have already experienced some ridiculously heavy equatorial rains.    However we’ve made it over the half way mark now and conquered the hardest road on the trip without the wheels falling off. Its still along way to Cape Town but we’ll get there!

Addis!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 28, 2011 by nornironafrica

We drove through the mountain passes north of Addis Ababa and worried about making it into the capital before dark. Luckily the road opened up into the flat grasslands and we managed to make it into Addis and down to the Camara Hub for late afternoon. We then rang Gina our Camara contact for Ethiopia, she came down and greeted us. She told us that Camara had just received a container of computers and they were setting them up to send them out to schools on Monday. We met the team of volunteers and staff who run the Camara hub, they were a spectacular bunch of people. Every year companies like Google, IBM and Dell update their computer systems in their offices. These computers will cost the company thousands to recycle properly. Camara works to take these unwanted computers and set them up in schools through out Africa. We were shocked by the standard that companies had sent, they were better than the ones we own at home. Camara work to train teachers how to set up, maintain and teach using the computers. They also make sure the schools are up to an adequate standard to keep the computers in working order, as Ali told us “There needs to be an investment by the school getting the school up to standard. If we just handed out free computers the schools wouldn’t take good care of them. That just isn’t sustainable”.  The Camara team helped us find a hostel and get some much needed website updating done. They then invited us for dinner at Habesha 2000, a popular place with local music and dance. We sat down and had a beer and when we realised the rest of the Camara team didnt show up we must have made a mistake. There are two Habesha 2000 restaurants in Addis. Obviously we were at the wrong one. A quick taxi up the road and we joined the guys. We had a meal of ‘endura’ a local speciality, its basically a sweet pancake with spicy lamb, goat or chicken. It was fantastic. Gina introduced us to two volunteers who had just arrived to help out at the Hub, Oonya and Rita. They have come over for a 5 week placement out in Ethiopia with Camara. While we traded stories about travel and where we would all like to visit, then Red was dragged up on stage by one of the dancers. They had a dance off in true Ethiopian style with Red just about keeping up with the moves. When Red had finished dancing we had a chance to try the world famous Ethiopian coffee. Johnny still hasn’t slept. It’s given him quite a buzz. When it was time to head on, Gina and the Camara team paid for our meal, we protested of course but to no avail. Thank you so much for your hospitality! We are deeply touched by this gesture. Addis Ababa has been superb, we’ve really enjoyed our time here. Sadly we could only spend one night there. We had planned to head out at 5am as we had a long drive ahead of us. We then ran into some logistical problems including getting more fuel money changed, filling our water jerry cans for the next week and buying some food for cooking. Then a torrential downpour hit Addis Ababa and while we waited for it to subside so the driving wouldn’t be so treacherous Red and Jack went off to find a money changer and buy some supplies. It was 9am before we got ourselves sorted. Unfortunately this meant our drive to Moyale had us driving late into the night but we got there in the end and set up camp short of the border. Ethiopia has been magnificent, we’ve really enjoyed our time here. The people are so friendly, the landscapes are absolutely breathtaking. As Gina said “This place has a habit of getting under your skin. You’ll probably be back”. We hope so.

Ethiopian Dancers!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2011 by nornironafrica

We pulled over 60km beyond Metema to pitch a camp for the night. We were greeted by a cacophony of sounds from crickets, frogs, grass hoppers and other creatures. This was in complete contrast to the silent desert we had camped in the previous night. During the night we got some rain, we were tempted to go and jump about in it as this was the first time we had seen rain in 38 days. The next morning we set off with the sun and were immediately struck by the beauty of Ethiopia. Mountains covered in green trees, crops, small wooded thatch huts and colourfully dressed locals with big smiles. The children here shout and seem to break into a stange dance when we pass. This happened once and we just thought “He likes to dance” but soon this became a recurring theme of children on the side of the road tending goats or cattle. When they see us they start yelling and dancing. Theyre quite good. We ventured on and after some terrible roads reached Lalibela to see the rock churches. We found this to be a bit of a tourist trap and we got mobbed by begging kids. We had been warned about begging in Ethiopia and it’s a sad thing when people see a white person they assume we are going to give them something. Their appeals can get quite emotional and the second you give something away more will appear and then everyone expects something. We left Lalibela behind and headed south to Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is very overpopulated its hard to get away from people at all and every spare inch of land is used for farming. There are very few dirt tracks of the main roads and these usually lead to settlements so it’s a nightmare to find a spot for wild camping. We eventually found a spot just of the main road. Jack then prepared a delicious meal of spaghetti, noodles, tuna and frankfurters. Yes, youre right, we need to go to the supermarket and buy some food that compliments itself.

We’re sorry for the lack of pictures!

The Legend of Khartoum!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2011 by nornironafrica

We set of from Wadi Halfa as soon as Doris was released from Customs. This was quite a task as the Dock workers decided to take a one hour tea break as soon as Jack and JC arrived to take Doris of the barge. Then there was trying to get them to use the perfectly good boat ramp for unloading rather than the rocky beach they originally moored the barge at. Once Doris was back on dry land we said our goodbyes to David, Tish, Wim and Pauline who had become our travel companions into Sudan. Northern Sudan resembles Mars, it has black sun baked rocks and red sand. It was in this desolate region beside the Nile we bumped into Matt and Tim again at a watering hole. They were taking a break from cycling and we checked in to see if we could do anything for them. After some kit shifting, they signed Doris and we were off again. We drove until we were just outside Khartoum and camped up with the desert rats, scurrying about. The next morning we hit Khartoum, this was a problem as our GPS cache of Khartoum and Addis Ababa had destroyed itself. We were going to have to navigate the capital on the fly no easy feat when they aren’t road signs. Getting about involved several U-turns and using East as the general direction we wanted to go. We stopped at a set of lights and a local Sudanese man pulled up beside us and looked bemused by Doris. He rolled down his window and started chatting, asking us what we were up to. When he found out where we were heading he gave us perfect directions. These led us straight to the highway we were looking for! What a ledge! Back out on the road to Ethiopia the landscape began to change from just yellow and red desert to include a smattering of pricky green bushes. We got down to Gederef the last main town before the border with Ethiopia. The landscape was slowly transforming to include more trees and shrubs. Here the road turned into a nightmare of deep hidden pot holes the entire way. It was just after 6pm when we arrived at the border to find out it closes at 7pm. We then got rushed through both border stations as everyone wanted to clock off and head home. We then found out that the Ethiopian customs man had gone home early. Luckily he was called back and passed us through without too much fuss. Sorted. We were now in Ethiopia! We had managed to cross Sudan in 2 days when we had figured it would take us 4. We’re making good progress on road and we’ll soon hit Addis Ababa to see the Camara Hub!

Mohammed

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2011 by nornironafrica

Mohammed deserves an article on our blog, he is by far the most interesting person I’ve met on the trip so far. I met him while wandering around the boat in the dark, he asked me questions about where we were travelling. I then found out about Mohammed’s life. Mohammed grew up in Darfur. In 2003 Mohammed’s village was attacked by a Sudanese Army helicopter and the 73 inhabitants including his father and brother were killed. Mohammed escaped with his mother and sister to the mountains, were the Janjaweed Militia terrorised a small group of refugees for a number of months. Mohammed had travelled to the International Criminal Court to sign a witness statement against the Sudanese Government and President Bashir. Mohammed explained the nature of the conflict was racial, I had always thought it was religious between Christian and Muslim but I was surprised to find out that Mohammed was Muslim. The conflict is between those of African descent and those of Arab descent. Mohammed then began working as a translator for Aid missions sent to Darfur, there a doctor working for Medcin san Frontieres convinced him to study as a Human Rights Lawyer and Mohammed is currently studying  a Masters in Human Rights Law in Cairo. Mohammed then informed me that there was a detainee on the ferry. He was also from Darfur and had been attempting to enter Israel and gain Asylum. However he was caught by the Egyptian police who were extraditing him to Sudan. The penalty for this in Sudan is death. Mohammed told me that as soon as we passed over the border the man would be removed by the Sudanese Army. Mohammed then got worried about being seen talking to me for too long as it might raise the suspicions of Arabian Sudanese on the ferry. We parted ways and in the morning sure enough a military patrol boat approached the ferry and then left we several more people than it arrived with. That was the transfer. He has now disappeared along with thousands of other people from Darfur.  The conflict in Darfur has been in and out of the headlines for a number of years with no consistent effort by the International Community to end the violence. It is reassuring that people like Mohammed are trying to fight for their rights and are trying to make a difference to their own country. Red