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Cairo – Khartoum

May 1st, 2010

Belated greetings from Sudan!

Firstly a note about regularity of updates – internet access has been worse than expected, but we are very aware of this and will be making efforts to improve blogs.

Tuesday 13 April – Tuesday 20 April – Cairo

In Cairo we caught up on emails and pottered about between the British, Ethiopian and Sudanese embassies as we jumped through the necessary hoops to secure onward passage. We particularly enjoyed paying the British embassy £40 GBP to stamp a photocopy of a letter for us. But fear not, as UK citizens and tax payers we are getting value for money as they do offer organised beer evenings for ex-pats.

We coughed up for the expensive hotel taxi driver as we both wanted a rest from driving and he spoke good English. Additionally having seen a serious accident every day for the best part of a week, we did not want to run the risk of having a dent put into our lovely Landy. We’ve both seen bad driving, both at home and abroad, but Cairo took everything to a new level. Mirrors and signalling were most certainly not in fashion, nor was having a dent free car. We were even bumped from behind whilst taxi-ing to the embassies. A generally nerve-wracking experience as a passenger, given all the more flavour and colour from the clouds of black, blue or white smoke that inevitably come from drivers seeking to eek out the final few miles from tired old engines.

The car service went reasonably smoothly, tightening a few loose bolts and connections and noting the beginning of a couple of new oil leaks. That was, until we re-tightened the sump plug and the oil didn’t stop coming out. Aah. In order of importance of the sump’s roles, keeping oil in is pretty high up there and this one was failing spectacularly. The sealing surface didn’t look perfectly flat and we realised that the standard 300tdi sump washers we were trying to use weren’t accommodating this, as the compressible copper washer which came off had. Reluctant to resort to sealants and start down the slippery slope to Bodge City so early in the trip, we scoured Cairo for the correct compression washer.

This search led us to email a couple of Ex-pat teachers in Cairo, James and Lee, who helped us out no end by pointing us in the direction of a couple of spares shops.

No luck in the shops, but after a quick search of his spares, James found the exact washer we needed! Our problem with the oil washer was solved, as was the search for a diff-lock lever replacement, thanks to another Ex-pat who was in possession of a dead Land Rover engine and transfer box! The lever was liberated late at night after much beer and tales of dune driving, after which James and Lee invited us to stay at theirs.

James and Lee – if by some small chance these two Toyota worshippers are reading this, thank you so much for your hospitality – a real home and a few western luxuries did so much for us, allowing us to settle down and relax after such a hectic start to the trip. You are both absolute stars.

After a day of relaxing in the shade (it even rained for about 3 minutes!) all day, we were shown how to use GPS and introduced to ‘Tracks 4 Africa’, a computer based GPS compatible map of the entire continent; ideal for helping to pin down elusive campsites late at night after a long days driving.

After a lot of paperwork, mechanical toil and stomach upsets, we finally made it to the famous Giza pyramids. Not the most straightforward visit as we were initially refused entry due to the sponsor logos on the car. Eventually an agreement was made that all was ok if we parked down the road at a local hotel.

We were naturally extremely disappointed that we couldn’t photograph the car in front of these world famous landmark as many others were, but we left the car and got our Tilley hats to save us from the burning sun and mingled with the thousands of other tourists.

The pyramids themselves were quite remarkable, with just like at Stonehenge their appeal being simplicity itself – how on earth did they managed to build them?! Sights well worth seeing but the incessant heats and constant barracking from local touts took the edge off the experience for us.

Wednesday 21 April – Hurghada

Cairo to Luxor. On James and Lee’s advice, we took the coast road passing through Hurghada – a longer, but faster route – and travelled a few miles short of 500 miles in one day after a 6.45 am start. We rocked up in Aswan late in the afternoon after experiencing a few km of the Nile road and quickly found out why it was so slow; crap roads and constant holdups due to local police checkpoints.

On the drive down, for the first time since owning the car the temperature gauge left the centre mark – but this was after 10hours of driving at temperatures in excess of 40° and whilst climbing up to 2000 feet. Thankfully we have an additional Kenlowe fan which kicked in the feeling of relief as we saw the temperature fall in front of our eyes was immense! Suffice to say, we are both now big fans of the Kenlowe.

This was the first real day of using GPS and T4A, and they were amazing. The downside is having cables all over the cab whilst driving to power the laptop, GPS and aerial but my word what benefits. T4A contains a wealth of GPS points all over the continent of fuel stations, overlanding campsites, internet cafes, banks and major tourist attractions.

This is all displayed on basic but clear road mapping. Using our GPS unit we can now plot where we are at any point. Our thanks go to David Woodnutt, a friendly neighbour in Chalfont who gave us the GPS unit. Whilst we coped without these items until Eygpt, surviving on maps and signs, the new system is so much better. A long day finished in Luxor at a campsite by the Nile.

Thursday 22 April – Luxor

Luxor, home to the Valley of Kings. After our long drive yesterday, we wanted to get out of the car and see the sights. This was the first really enjoyable tourist attraction, aided by the fairly cool temperature. Amongst the other tombs, we saw Tutankamuns tomb and his mummy. Very impressive place!! Frustrating that no cameras allowed, so no record of the trip save from memory. We had a real spine tingling sense as we looking at the photos from the explorer Howard Carter, when he opened the tomb for the first time in 3000 years in early 1900s. Some guards encouraged us to jump over fences and have closer looks at certain items, naturally they wanted a couple of coins in return. It was a bit cheeky but it just added to the whole experience.

We rolled back down the hill to our campsite to be met by 22 Dutch-mobiles. Best part of 50 crazy Netherlanders are driving from Amsterdam to South Africa in time for the World Cup.

A remarkable mixture of vehicles containing a Unimog, Landcruisers, VW Beetles, a motorbike, VW Passionwaggons, a Burton sportscar to name a few. Naturally they were all coping with different degrees of comfort; the Landcruiser boys sat back with cold beers whilst others swarmed all over the carpark in Orange overalls completing major mechanical work.

With the help of some local mechanics two guys worked on their Opel Frontera until 4.30am removing the engine to try and find why a cylinder wasn’t firing. We awoke first thing to find the engine on the car park floor in two pieces having been removed using a tree branch, rope and 5 guys might.

Meanwhile three other Dutchlanders were fitting a second radiator to an ex Swedish military truck which was designed for the cold, definitely not 40° heat. Unfortunately the Burton’s engine was pronounced dead having spat oil all over the engine bay, with no spares available in Egypt for such an unusual engine. In the end they were towed to the ferry by a Toyota with the intention of sourcing another motor in Sudan!

Not wanting to feel left out we set about adjusting a wheel bearing and trying to work out why our diff lock light appeared to be constantly inaccurate. Turns out one of the contacts on our recently fitted replacement diff lock switch had broken off. Whether this had been knocked as we were working to replace the diff lock lever or had simply broken due to it being a poor quality part is currently up for debate!

Friday 23 April – Aswan

We left on Friday and headed south to Aswan following the Nile, very green, so different from the bland desert views to which we have become accustomed. As with the rest of Egypt, police checkpoints were everywhere, stopping us every 2 miles before being promptly waved on our way after a chat.

As we arrived in Aswan and headed to a campsite (which the Dutch guys were also staying in) we caught up with the story of the boys with the Opel Frontera, stuck back in Luxor. After we had left, one of their team had flown to Cairo to try and find a replacement piston and a set of piston rings. Arriving late in the evening by chance he immediately found the Opel importer and was promptly told that the parts were available in two places, both about an hour from Luxor.

Thus armed with this info, the other team member who had remained in Luxor chap borrowed a car and sped to the two towns, only to find there parts weren’t actually there. Meanwhile the guy back in Cairo continued to search fruitlessly and flew back to Luxor at 6am the following morning.

The plan was then to get the car to Aswan on a towtruck so it would make the ferry on Saturday. A further complication was that the engine block needed repair so the Hollander who was arriving back from Cairo then picked up the 80kg block and took it to a engineering shop, booking the train to Aswan later that day with the block as his luggage. ‘We must do whatever it takes to keep going’ one guy said to us. Madness! Hope they make it.

Whilst casting an eye over another Dutchmobile ( a ‘Duke’s of Hazard’ sportscar) we noticed the windscreen was gaffa-taped on. It turns out that, following an argument with a lump of stone on the highway, the only replacement windscreen available was larger than the previous ‘screen, so naturally it was being kept in place using the bright orange gaffa tape. Do what it takes to continue!

Saturday 24 April – Aswan

A day of paperwork and loading the car on the barge. Lots of stress trying to find the courthouse and the transport police. We first had to prove that we had not commited anytraffic offences whilst in Egypt, then hand in our licence plates. Thing is, none of this is signposted and, in typical Egyptian style nothing is ever simple.

Paperwork finally sorted, we headed for the port and after having the Carnet stamped for exit from Egypt, we loaded the old girl onto the barge and watched her sail away into the sun. Hope she’s there when we get to Sudan!

As for the Dutch, the Frontera and the Burton were both towed/pushed onto the barge and towtrucks were arranged to collect them Sudan, where they would be taken to Khartoum to be fixed. The previous owner of the Frontera was flying out to Khartoum from Holland with the spare parts and would rebuild the engine for them there.

Sunday 25 April – Aswan

We spent Sunday killing time for Monday, popping on onto the Nile in a Falouka or sailing boat, to watch sunset with a cold beer.

All very civilised. We also bought our passenger tickets for the ferry and had a wander round Aswan,which is one of the nicer Egyptian towns we’ve been through, but still with that unavoidable detractor of street-seller hassle.

Monday 26th April – Aswan

Monday 10am start for the ferry. We got down there early to beat the Sudanese and secured a great spot on deck under lifeboat, thus ensuring a bit of shade from the relentless sun. The boat didn’t leave until 6pm, which gave us time to watch the maniacal loading of goods onto the cargo barge next to the ferry. We lay out sheets on the deck and fell asleep in the shade, after our first taste of Sudanese grub, which is uninspiring to day the least. Otherwise a smooth 17 hour crossing, so quiet and peaceful, the landscape in the distance looks bleak but pretty cool.

Tuesday 27th April – Wadi Halfa Sudan

Tuesday saw us unload the car in Sudan and crack on with the next batch of paperwork, which was mercifully light. Great to be in Sudan and out of Egypt, despite the heat rising to 45 degrees. We said goodbye to our Swedish motorbike friends and shot out to desert, looking to follow the Dutch and take the desert road whilst some backup was available.

That night, having failed to find anyone called Dick Van Dyke, we camp in middle of nowhere. Stepping out of the car, we stopped for a minute and listened to the silence of the desert, which is as complete as you can possibly imagine.Amazing stuff, quite surreal. The full moon lit up the rock outcrop we were sheltering next to, as well as highlighting the seemingly endless desert stretching out before us. Brilliant.

Wednesday 28th April – Abu Hamed

Desert driving day. We did fairly well travelling at a maximum 30 mph through the rough stuff, until we got stuck in sand around midday. Out came the X-Eng land anchor, which was amazing – quicker than unloading the sand ladders. We shall have to get some more photos to prove the doubters wrong!! Thanks once again to Dave Wilson for his ingenious hassle free mounting of the anchor. Driving along the soft dirt tracks was safer but a hell of a lot more bumpy. Eventually the tracks gave way to smoother sand and we even managed to hit 50 mph at one point!

Thursday 29th April – Atbara

Lots of overheating today, so we keet stopping and trying out different ideas. We’re constantly running with the Kenlowe on full to stabilise it, but occasionally the temp would rocket and we would have to hit the brakes!

Sound insulation underneath bonnet and on the block were both ditched and the front grill removed to maximise airflow to the rad. Double checked system bled and driving along with the heater blasting out as much hot air as it could. Our next idea was to try to bleed rad independently incase air trapped in there, remove the thermostat and finally remove bonnet entirely. Thankfully though after driving at 40mph for the next couple of hours and then stopping for 1 1/2hours during the heat of the day, the car was back to normal by the afternoon and we camped right on the edge of the desert near a town called Abu Hamed.

The fridge and inverter draining batteries very very quickly due to their fans and overheating. Currently discussing ways of cutting up the bulkhead which is partially blocking one of the fridge vents. We had considered airflow of these items when fitting them but now are wondering if drastic measures are needed or whether this is just because it is Sudan and the ambient temp is 45 Celsius throughout the day. Needless to say we have lots of issues to occupy the mind during the long hours in the car.

Stopped in Atbara for food and to change money. Very filling meal in the Nile Hotel consisting of,chicken, rice, veg, stew and fruit. After 2 bottles of coke, felt properly hydrated for the first time in days!

A chap called Hassan came and sat with us as we were slouching in their armchairs, extremely proud at having managed to finish the meal. He offered us a tour round town. A little sceptical and aware of time limitations we accepted and wandered round the market, immediately becoming distracted by the bright white Arab shawls and other offerings. After being introduced to Chris, a friendly US volunteer currently teaching in Atbara, we took rickshaws back to the car, carrying bundles of fruit, veg, sandles and full Arab dress. Hassan, the kind chap who was showing us around was simply fantastic, without us asking he had argued with retailers who increased the price for the two of us and ordering us away when a shopkeeper was clearly being unreasonable. Nice bloke.

Friday 30th April – Moroe Pyramids

The drive to Khartoum via Moroe was hot. Terrible night’s sleep once again, hot wind which picks up to a gale at 3am. Up at 6.30am to make miles before the heat of the day sets in. We covered 200 miles to Khartoum, which would take total miles on trip to approx 4,500.

Donning our Arab costumes to try and combat the heat we arrived at the first fuel station to be met with smiles galore as they saw our outfits. They either saw us as embracing the culture or as a right couple of muppets; we’ll let you decide which is more likely.

Saturday 1 April – Khartoum

We’re now in Khartoum. Once again sharing a campsite with the Dutch, the guys with the Frontera have rebuilt the engine and had it running (on 4 cylinders) for about 30 seconds then it died and after a further 12 hours work they have still not managed to get it going again.

We’re kicking back, trying to avoid the heat and swimming in the Nile to cool down. A couple of holes have now been cut for the fridge to receive more air, lets hope it helps! We’re of for dinner with the other Overlanders now, a cold beer would be nice but we’ll have to wait a couple more days until we get into Ethiopia. Then, we can drink away for 25p a pint! Winner.

For an up-to-date routemap of our progress on the trip and lots more photos, visit

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