See also: Where we might go
So far, we’ve made it to Bishoftu, just outside Addis Ababa in Egypt. We were planning on making it to Shashamane, but a guy in an Isuzu flatbed truck sideswiped us and we’re now holed up in his family’s hotel in Bishoftu (on them) while they fix the damage to Chuck the Truck.
We left London early afternoon on Saturday 8th September and headed for Patricia’s brother’s home in Oxford where we’d say goodbye to the Wan family and drop off some of our belongings for storage, including Bam Bam the dog. Ninety minutes later we were back on the road, heading to our friend Jeni’s ‘Festering in a field’ birthday, in Newport, Wales. Next morning, we had to head back home to NW London as a couple Amazon deliveries were late. Finally, it was off to the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone, which we had booked en route.
We’ve driven through France a couple of times already, so we were pretty ruthless in dispatching the miles. We slept in the Rooftop tent (RTT) in a Lidl car park on our first night in a town called Aubencheul-au-Bac, as the local campsites were closed — classy. The next night we also arrived in the dark and the campsite we chose this time was deep in an eerie forest. We didn’t think there was anyone there until a nice French guy arrived the next morning just for a chat, we thought. Soon, we realised he was the owner so did the right thing and paid. Unlike an amusing, morning stand-off I was involved in down in Patagonia ten years ago where there were zero facilities and a visibly-miffed Argentinian who’d arrived by a small boat. The next day, some vain attempts at getting our air-con fixed didn’t delay us much in making it to Switzerland.
It was stinkin’ hot by this stage, and our lack of A/C wasn’t making the journey a comfortable one. It was still enjoyable, though, as once one enters the Alps the scenery is spectacular and the driving fun. We headed straight for Sierre where our good friends Javi and Ksenija live, and we were excited to see their son, Luca, for the first time. As usual they were fantastic hosts (though we stayed in the RTT beside a local Italian restaurant called Auberge des Collines). We managed to find an amazing German-speaking independent garage who fixed part of our A/C problem, bodged a rear electric window closed after the motor had failed while it was open, and correctly diagnosed the remaining A/C issue – all for next to nothing. We owe them one, that’s for sure, so if you find yourself needing some work done on your car when near Sierre, please give them a shout: Garage la Raspille, Gemmistrasse 115, 3970 Salgesch, Switzerland.
Stinkin’ hot in Italy, also, with bag loads of mozzies. Lots of great campsites, most of them incredibly pricey compared to elsewhere — though we did stay in the Lakes for a bit so that’s no surprise. We finally got our A/C fixed in Milan – at at Toyota garage, no less! Amazing service by these guys – so different than the uninterested, snobby, twats in Toyota, Sierre! From there we did a quick tour of beautiful Florence, paid EUR 15 for an ice cream, and hot-wheeled it down to Pompeii for some real tourism. If you’re ever there, park in the Carrefour car park for free, avoiding the paid parking right beside it which the guy will try to force you into. Then it was into the Amalfi region which is incredibly scenic and the driving challenging in a large car. Then to our final European stop, the port city of Salerno, which is well worth a visit, actually. Our final night was in an apartment, where we felt completely out of sorts as we didn’t have our own transport any more – which would be the case for two whole weeks.
We flew into Cairo, spent a week and jumped on the train to Alexandria. We stayed about a week there, also, before we finally freed Chuck from the port. Given we’d spent 2 weeks arsing around in Egypt, we fairly raced south to the Sudanese border. All very picturesque and interesting, though mighty hot and sandy. We stayed a night just west of Alexandria with a friend, Emad, and then skirted Cairo the next day on the way to Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea. We camped right beside the beach at a 5* resort and then hugged the coast all the way to Hurghada, where we had some lunch. We headed inland to Luxor, did some (admittedly amazing) tourist things, and then headed south again through Aswan, driving over the dam (which we didn’t video on the GoPro, honest, as we know photography is strictly forbidden). Next stop was Abu Simbel where we checked out the amazing temples, camped in the car park, stocked up on fuel before entering diesel-starved Sudan, and caught the ferry to Qustul. We used fixers to cross this border, as both sides are notoriously difficult without speaking Arabic (Kamal in Aswan, who gave us documents to cross with, Hamada for the Egyptian side and Mazar on the Sudanese side).
We were in a bit of a rush in Sudan, too, it has to be said. Lots of stunning desert, with great roads. Only one amazing night wild-camping in the desert, which was a real shame – thogh the camel spiders freaked us out a bit. Four days and nights in Khartoum, ending on a high when we stayed with friends, Aziz and Lumya, and were invited to a Sudanese wedding. Amazing hosts, they’re just such nice people and we owe them! We had a really sticky, hot night in the tent in Wad Madani, in the carpark of a hotel with thunder and lightning making us feel very uneasy in the rooftop tent! The next night we wild-camped in the bush just before the border and came across a nice little scorpion as we showered…
Wow, this place is beautiful! It’s all mountains and terrible roads, but the views make it worthwhile. While we loved the views and people were incredibly friendly, too many locals see us tourists as walking ATMs where they just have to hold their hand out to be given money. Tough circumstances have created this, of course, and I’m not sure I can blame either the locals or the countries who helped provide so much aid to Ethiopia over the years. Another overlander, Joel Labi, who is a couple of weeks ahead of us with his wife Davina, addressed this issue really well here. Anyway, this isn’t the place for this sort of discussion! So the route was: Metema to Gondar, to the Simien Mountains National Park where we spent a couple of nights camping at altitude, which was amazing. Then we had a massive 12 hour day driving out of the park, back to Debark where we had a quick bite to eat before driving almost without stopping all the way to Mek’ele. We underestimated and ended up doing the unspeakable – driving at night for 3 hours, which was absolutely crazy, dangerous and scary. Then we took the route less travelled, going west to Samre and Sekota on real off-road tracks for 9 hours to Lalibela, where we again arrived in the dark (only 30 mins in the dark, though). From Lalibella we stopped one night in Dessie and then on to Addis Ababa, where we camped at Wim’s Holland House and met some cool people. And then we tried to get to Shashamane where there was some sort of Rastafarian celebration or festival going on – but someone crashed into us on the way so we’re stuck in Bishoftu until they can repair our truck.