Day 1,441: Halfa Way Home

Tue: 11.12.12: My phone alarm was set for 2am, as Mr. Mohammed told me that the bus left for Wadi Halfa at 3. Thus began a very long day in the life of The Odyssey Expedition. Mr. Mohammed and I arrived at some dusty corner of Khartoum where the bus was due to stop and waited. And waited. A bus came at 3.30am, but I was told it was the wrong one. Just after 4am another bus came and this was, apparently, the right one. I thanked Mr. Mohammed profusely for his spectacular hospitality and patience with my short but rather eventful couple of nights here at the confluence of the Niles. Staying with Mr. Mohammed and his family marked a high point in what was otherwise a remarkably expensive and frustrating trip through this barren and unforgiving land. I clambered on the bus and took…

Continue Reading Day 1,441: Halfa Way Home

Day 1,440: Tomb Raider

Mon 10.12.12: The Meroe Pyramids mark the southern extreme of Egyptian influence as you follow the course of the Nile river south towards its source. After the glories of the New Kingdom had faded, the great Egyptian empire fell into an era of in-fighting which culminated in the Balkanisation of the realm into smaller (usually warring) entities – one of which was the great Meroitic dynasty that ruled this area of the Nubian Desert from 592 BC to 350 AD. Although the pyramid tombs they left behind are nowhere near the gargantuan majesty of the Great Pyramids of Saqqara, Dahshur and Giza (Cheops’ Pyramid is 146.5 metres tall, the Meroe Pyramids barely make double figures), they are still definitely worth a day trip, situated four hours north of Khartoum. However, this being Sudan, getting there is only half the problem. To travel anywhere or take photos…

Continue Reading Day 1,440: Tomb Raider

Day 1,439: The Invasion of Khartoum

Sun 09.12.12: Odyssey rules state that I’m not allowed to use private transport over large distances, and so far I haven’t. But there has to be exceptions made here. Of course, I’ve already successfully completed The Odyssey Expedition, so in a way the rules don’t apply, but I still want to keep to them as best I can so if I decide in a few years (when, say, Greenland or Bougainville achieves independence) to re-active The Odyssey and travel to those countries from the UK without flying. The rule is there to stop me (or any who come after) intentionally breaking the law by speeding. But here’s the Catch-22: in this situation I can’t take public transport without breaking the law. I am mandated by the Sudanese authorities to be ‘escorted’ in a private vehicle to Khartoum. Never mind, this journey is about taking public transport…

Continue Reading Day 1,439: The Invasion of Khartoum

Day 1,438: The Camelot of Africa

Sat 08.12.12: Before Addis Ababa was founded around 100 years ago (Addis meaning ‘New’ and Ababa meaning ‘Flower’), the capital of what we now call Ethiopia had a tendency to move around a lot, much in the manner of the baddie’s castle in Krull. In fact, from around 1270 to 1636, the capital was wherever the king rested his weary head, much to the chagrin of the hapless locals who would have to stump up the readies to look after him and his extensive court should he turn up unannounced on a otherwise unremarkable Thursday afternoon. Then in 1636 Emperor Fasiladas decided to break with the old ways an established Gonder as the new permanent capital of Ethiopia. The two hundred years that followed were ones of great architectural, culture and artistic endeavour, while also being a time of Machiavellian plotting, court conspiracies and some rather…

Continue Reading Day 1,438: The Camelot of Africa

Day 1,437: Now Let’s Blow This Thing And Go Home

Fri 07.12.12: And? Okay. Here’s what happened. Arrived at the Sudanese Embassy at 10.30am, a little early, but I figured it could do no harm. Was told to sit. So I sat. And waited. By 12.30pm they wanted to close for lunch. Told me to come back at 2.30pm. I met Tadesse’s mate Tsegaye for lunch and we returned to the embassy at 2.30 sharp to sit and wait. Tsegaye left after the first half an hour. I didn’t blame him. I remained, sitting and waiting. As the minutes ebbed away, so did my belief that I would make it home for Christmas Then, at 5pm, the embassy closed for the weekend. There was a commotion behind the desk. I was called up and handed a new application form. The lady sitting at the desk in the waiting room filled it out for me. Religion? ‘Christian’…

Continue Reading Day 1,437: Now Let’s Blow This Thing And Go Home

Day 1,436: See You Tomorrow, Indiana Hughes…

Thu 06.12.12: Day 7 of my epic journey home from Juba began incredibly well. I called the Egyptian embassy and the nice lady told me that they were going to let me collect my passport with the visa in it this morning rather than this afternoon. I didn’t have to be told twice. Jumping in a taxi, by 10am I was triumphantly marching out of the Egyptian embassy, passport in hand. Even if the Sudan embassy decided to drag its heels and not give me my transit visa until tomorrow afternoon, I’d still easily hit my target of crossing from Wadi Halfa to Aswan in Egypt on Wednesday morning. So it was with a sense of triumph that I arrived at the Sudanese embassy. I know now that that sense of triumph was greatly premature. After all, This Is Africa. After filling out the required forms…

Continue Reading Day 1,436: See You Tomorrow, Indiana Hughes…

Day 1,435: Lucy

Wed 05.12.12: Ethiopia is a remarkable place, not least because it was the only African country not to suffer the indignity of colonisation, and not only for its immensely strong cultural identity: a country which boasts not only its own unique alphabet, but also its own unique was of telling the time (“three in the morning” means “three hours after the sun rises”). It, like Kenya and Tanzania, has pretty good shot at being the birthplace of modern humans. The discovery in the early 70s of ‘Lucy’, for a long time regarded as the so-called ‘missing link’ between apes and mankind, in the Afar Valley cemented Ethiopia as the physical anthropology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, embryology and genetics Mecca for anybody with the slightest interest in evolutionary biology. Any dimwits who honestly believe the world to be 6,000 years old, look away now: Lucy (or, to give…

Continue Reading Day 1,435: Lucy

Day 1,434: The New Flower

Tue 04.12.12: I got a phone call at 4am – it was Isit? calling to tell me that the bus was waiting outside. Crikey: when he said 4am I didn’t think he actually meant 4am. I grabbed my things, dropped the key at the front desk and then spent a good ten minutes trying to suss out how to escape this damn hotel – the front exits were locked (good job there wasn’t a fire eh?). Eventually I exited through a back door and hopped on the minibus. We drove around Awasa for a bit picking up passengers and when we were full, we hit the road. The downside of having decent roads in an African country is that the crashes become more spectacular and infinitely more deadly. The first death of the morning was a hyena, splayed out in the middle of the road, a…

Continue Reading Day 1,434: The New Flower

Day 1,433: Same Same, But Different

Mon 03.12.12: Yet another early start and by 6am we were hurling north towards Addis Ababa on a brand spanking new commuter bus, travelling along Ethiopia’s impressively smooth asphalt roads. The last time I did this run I was crammed into a minibus with Matt the Lonely Planet guy while he continued his quest to find the only bottle of Diet Coke in Ethiopia (it’s Ethiopia Matt, who do you think is going to be on a diet?), this time was somewhat more comfortable. With nothing left to read, the guy next to me speaking no English and the crappy battery on my laptop only lasting an hour or so, I spent most of the day playing a game of shutty-window with the guy behind me (every time I opened the window, he’d shut it) and observing the beautiful Ethiopian countryside. Miles away from the images…

Continue Reading Day 1,433: Same Same, But Different

Day 1,432: Badlands

Sun 02.12.12: The ‘badlands’ of northern Kenyan are not so called because they are full of bandits (although there are probably a few still knocking about), but because they’re no good for farming: dry, arid, dusty – you’d struggle to grow a moustache here (speaking of which, mine has gone, Movember is over). I’ll tell you what they’d be great for, Kenya: building a goddamn road. A nice straight road, made of tarmac, from here to the border with Ethiopia. You know, given that the entire expanse is remarkably flat and devoid of mountains/rivers/cities that may otherwise get in your way. If you ever do the drive down from Cairo to Cape Town, this is the *only* major section of dirt track you’ll come across (I can’t say the same for Casablanca to Cape Town, but that’s another story). But like this time three years ago,…

Continue Reading Day 1,432: Badlands