Come for a stay, and have a beer!

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Yes, we’re about to do some shameless promotion. Since we’re working on settling down (just a little bit) we have taken on some other projects besides having jobs, raising a baby and planning another overseas trip. After a couple of months of de Swardt DIY on Guillaume’s part, we’re happy to announce the opening of our beautiful self catering cottages in Port Elizabeth!

Check out Umoya Cottages for what we hope will be the best Port Elizabeth Self Catering accommodation and give us a shout if you’re in the area. All overlanders get a 25% discount, as long as you are willing to have a beer with us and share some of your stories!

de Swardt boys #DIY

A photo posted by Dorette de Swardt (@doretteds) on

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A new little traveller

A lot has happened since our last blog! We’ve been back to Tanzania again for a short little trip down the coast and around Zanzibar (for a third time, seriously how lucky are we!!), we’ve found a temporary home in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and although I do Africa has been our favourite adventure until recently, we embarked on another similar, yet different, adventure shortly after our last visit to Tanzania.

In May 2014 we welcomed a new little traveller to our family. Our son Renier!5 days

In many ways, our I do Africa adventure prepared us for parenthood. We learned how to work as a team, we learned exactly where the other person’s limits are, what they are capable of and when they need help without asking.

Most importantly though, being on a pizza delivery bike in Africa for a couple of months taught us that two things are really important in life – endurance and structure (even though we don’t like structure very much). These two lessons have come in very handy lately.

As all parents know, having a baby changes a lot of things. Like, we now spend endless nights changing nappies and burping a baby instead of changing our minds about where to go next while drinking local Konaygi in Tanzania. One thing that’s stayed unchanged however is our sense of adventure. We’ve been lucky enough to explore South Africa with Renier in tow, covering five of the nine provinces before his first birthday.

We’ve found that with some improvisation, travelling with a baby isn’t that hard. A bathroom or kitchen zinc can also be a bath, a pram can also be a cot, if you’re lucky your baby loves the car and thus sleeps almost all of the way to wherever you’re going, plus they fly almost for free if they’re under two years of age!

It’s a new chapter and challenge for us but luckily, Renier is a good and easy little traveller and we’re sure there are many adventures ahead for us and this little guy!

The West Coast sun goes to bed.

A photo posted by Dorette de Swardt (@doretteds) on

Vakansiehuis badtyd is die lekkerste badtyd. #Paternoster #5weeksold #vacation

A photo posted by Dorette de Swardt (@doretteds) on

#sunset #Paternoster

A photo posted by Dorette de Swardt (@doretteds) on

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Revisiting Zanzibar

Eight months after our return from our “I do Africa” adventure, we have been very fortunate to revisit Zanzibar. This time it was different since it was 5 star accommodation instead of our “I do Africa” minimal budget. We went on behalf of The Herald and Times Media to review the amazing travel packages offered by Africa Stay. Not only are the beauty of the hotels mind-blowing, but so are the cheap costs of the these packages too. Be sure to check out these specials at http://www.africastay.com/zanzibar-specials.

After our rough and crazy Trans-African honeymoon, we finally had our romantic 5 star all inclusive second honeymoon. Here are some photos of our experience and the great people we met.

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Almost Home

The African part of our trip has come to an end and we are just a week away from going home. For the past two weeks we’ve been traveling around gorgeous Ireland enjoying the comforts of Europe. Being here has made us aware of some things which we took for granted before our six months on the road and we thought we’d share them:

  • Tap water. Yes, we can drink it again!
  • Also, running water and as an extra bonus it’s hot too.
  • Beds – not the floor, not a tent or the back of a smelly truck in the desert but a real bed.
  • Food, glorious food! Every trip to the supermarket with its shelves stacked with goodies is in great contrast to what you would find in an African market.  We love having so many options.
  • Television. We never watched it before we left but now we can’t stop.
  • Traffic rules – they have them here.
  • Not being approached every two minutes and hassled for money and the lack of the words Muzungu or Farangi/Faranji!

This said, there are a couple of things about Africa that we really do miss:

  • Bargaining. Shop owners here aren’t impressed if we try to bargain the price down.
  • Cheap beer.
  • Hot African days filled with sunshine!
  • Getting up every morning and having no idea where we’ll be by the end of the day (and what we would have seen).
  • Africa’s friendliness and all the smiling kids we met along the way.
  • Big Boy – we miss our uncomfortable monster!
  • But mostly we miss the chaos of Africa.

Africa was tough and we chose probably one of the toughest ways to travel it, but if we could do it all over again, we would in a heartbeat. It’s been one hell of a ride and an experience we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.

We’ll say goodbye with some pictures from our time in Ireland – see you soon South Africa

 

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The Valley of the Kings of Hassle

Walking down Nile road to the Luxor Temple I was ambushed by a mass of males selling jewellery, taxi rides and god knows what else, grabbing onto every piece of recognition I would give them. I react by pretending not to understand English and end up, much to my own amusement, watching a fat man painfully slowly and loudly (why do we talk louder when someone does not understand us?) explaining to me in very basic English along with all the classic hand signs and pointing at objects that “HE!! wanted to take ME!! for a ride on his HORSE CAR-RAIIIGE!! back to my HO-TEL!!”. He followed me around for over three kilometres, wasting more than an hour of his time. ‘No hassle, no hassle’ he would shout every now and then, ‘you come my carriage, no hassle.’  It got tempting after a while!

In Egypt nothing is free, not the felucca rides nor the artefacts or lifts or tea or horse carriage rides – no matter how many times they tell you it is. Not even advice is free and I’m pretty sure that if they could, they would charge you for the time they wasted on hassling you. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Egypt and most things Egyptian, it is my favourite country between here and South Africa, but that adoration, along with most other things, seems to come at a greater price than just cash. These men will consume you if you look away for just too long, especially if you are a woman walking around alone. They will walk away with all your time, energy and patience after slowly wrenching away from you every last pound you have – painfully like pulling teeth without anaesthesia.  Yes, they will do all of this with big shiny smiles on their faces for the bargain price of only a couple of coins. Never in my life could I have imagined that human beings could be this relentless whilst they buzz around you. Bring your own insect repellent is what should be written in guidebooks about visiting Egypt’s sites.

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Trying to sell crap, at this point I’d already said ‘no thanks’ four times

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How about a ride on a camel then? Only 20 pounds.

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What you don’t see on the postcard. The area in front of the Sphinx and Pyramids at Giza lined with stalls and persistent vendors

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A street vendor screams at passers-by in Cairo, a popular technique used to lure customers. We watched him for two days – he shouts from around 15:00 to 23:00

How you go about visiting all the museums, tombs, pyramids and other touristic opportunities is each traveller’s prerogative – and the options seem endless, but for a traveler like me – who prefers to do things my way, separated from the masses – Egypt poses many obstacles. Seeing all these historical sites felt a bit like signing up to be herded together with a bunch of brash Brits and Americans and Spaniards and well you name the nationality, they are there, like sheep and then being financially raped in the ass just to end up tipping your guide for the experience. Don’t get me wrong, the things you see are fantastic but man the Egyptians have a way of spoiling it for you.

And they know all the tricks, the little buggers. Not even five and a half months of intensive schooling in Africa’s many ways of screwing you over, like I have just had, can prepare you for their trickeries. “Only 5 pound, ok four then. No? Ok, I give it to you for one pound.” And then they have you. You stop for that split second and think to yourself “wait a moment that can’t be right”, which is precisely long enough for them to hook you. Then, when you have their cheap artifact in your hand, they simply refuse to take it back and just banter even quicker and become more persistent. “Yes just one hundred pound, I told you.” By the end of the day you pretend to be a death mute with no hands just to escape the aggravation.

They might bother you a lot but you have to give it to the Egyptians, they have a really good sense of humour. The owner of the hostel I was staying at spent an hour giving me advice and information after seeing that I was just sitting there alone doing nothing but reading. When I finally got the gap to excuse myself het put out his hand with a sly smile and jokingly said, now you give me money. It was an entertaining poke at his own society but he would have taken the cash had I produced it.  I quickly learned that my best bet was just to crack a joke, they love that shit it seems – after a handshake and one last attempt at getting you to buy whatever they are selling they walk away laughing and shouting “maybe tomorrow then, maybe tomorrow.”

Tourists, doing touristic things and paying local kids to help them take touristic pictures. Not that we were much better, it was just fun to take pictures of them taking pictures.

Another thing that seems very Egyptian is loud verbal fights in public places. Hardly have you gotten ten street vendors off your back when you first hear and then see two men shouting at each other with a small crowd gathered around them. It turns out to be the first of about three such ‘incidents’ you’ll witness every day. They use the gargling Gggg and rolling Rrrrr sounds a lot and they spit more and more as the argument gets more intense and they get closer and closer to each other.  But they never touch one another and after a couple of minutes of this harmless shouting the ‘fight’ usually ends in one being ‘dragged off’ by his friends, still spit-shouting a couple of insults, and then the crowd disperses. I assume they probably argue because the one was hassling the other, but who knows?

Yes, Egypt is a really pleasant place. You wake up and then you bargain all day. You learn the Arabic words for ‘no, go away, stop it and goodbye’ real quickly. You opt for quieter back-alleys and eventually air-conditioned busses but you still end up taking that bloody felucca ride and paying the 2 pounds for a horse carriage and some stupid artefact that looks really cool now but back home will be considered tacky. You inevitably end up with all the other Americans and British and Spaniards and whatever nationality in the museums and tombs, sheepishly ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the ridiculously astonishing beauty before you (because it really is that impressive).  I for one sure did. But every time I stepped outside and saw and heard the colourful chaos of Egyptian society I got a huge smile on my face. I might not admit it all the time, but I loved every moment of it and can’t wait to return!

Here’s our own personal, ‘been there done that’ collection:

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The Fat Boy Sings

Yes, we have reached the end of the line for our wonderful bike. It is Egypt, but not exactly the way we had wanted it to be. Turns out that the cost of a Carnet for Egypt, plus all the extra costs at the border, adds up to much more than the current value of the bike and no matter how we looked at the situation we just could not justify spending that amount of money on a temporary Carnet just for the mere 900km drive to Cairo where we would have to continue without him anyway.  And so it was that with great sadness we had to leave Pole Pole at the border.

For the past 22 weeks almost every waking hour was consumed by things relating to the bike – be it driving on him, fixing him or finding solutions for obstacles encountered with him. Our bums are literary bruised and aching, our backs hurt, and when we go to bed at night we still hear his Hhhhhhrrrrrruuuummmmmmhhhhh ringing in our ears. We have driven 13 800km from South Africa to the border with Egypt through 11 countries. We spent many, many painful hours nursing and cursing him, at times wishing he would just give in already but mostly boasting about his miraculous achievements. We have seen the better part of the eastern side of Africa from the back of our stallion, driven in the freezing rain of Ethiopia, the blistering heat and desert sand of Sudan, the muddy roads of Namibia and the colourful tarmac in Tanzania.  He outrode a charging Elephant bull in Botswana, carried three passengers in Zambia, and went through Uganda and Rwanda without the slightest complaint. And more than all the stunning things we did and saw it was Big Boy who has played the major part in the biggest adventure we have ever had. Throughout all of this we knew this day would come but we secretly hoped it wouldn’t.

Needless to say, leaving him behind was a bittersweet moment made worse by the fact that he is still in top notch condition and would without a shadow of a doubt have made it to Cairo … and all the way around Africa if only we had the money and equal amounts of endurance to that of Big Boy.

We greeted him by taking a last joyride along the Nile as the sun was rising over Wadi Halfa with Egypt in the distance and reminisced about our travels. It was an emotional goodbye but we found a good home for him with mr Magdi, with the agreement that we might even pitch up again one day and take him back home. As for us; we have taken the ferry into Egypt and will continue the last stretch to Cairo without our travel companion before flying to Ireland for a relaxing time with family and then returning home.

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Buy a Map!

So, we took the wrong way up! Serves us right for attempting to do a Trans-African trip without a map or a guide book. Yet, as someone once said, “Bad decisions make good stories”.

We left Khartoum four days ago, ‘happy as chappies’ and ready to get to Egypt, just to find ourselves stuck in this:

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Apparently the road from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa via Dongola is a stunning tarmac heaven through the Nubian Desert. The road to Wadi Halfa via Abu Hamed on the other hand abruptly ends as soon as you have left Abu Hamed, leaving you with 350km of desert ahead and 600km behind you to get back to the Dongola-road. We thought it was the other way around mainly because we have no map or book to inform us otherwise… can you imagine our surprise when we realised we were wrong.

But, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Paul Theroux writes that ‘photography’s spoiling the visual pleasure of places is nothing compared to the way the Internet and our age of information have destroyed the pleasure of discovery in travel’. Let’s just say that we support that idea fully. Thanks to our lack of informative guides (and books and maps) we took the road less travelled but we also got to discover the splendour hidden in this unforgiving terrain.

The result was a night camping in the desert with a view of the stunning Nubian Pyramids at Meroë. And we even exchanged our Pole Pole bike for a camel (but only for an hour).

Meroë is probably one of the most spectacular places we’ve seen during our trip. Not just because we ended up there by fluke, but also because it is so remote, so untouched and the isolation of its location left us breathless. For hours there was nothing around us. No sound, no movement. Just heat and the stunning pyramids. We were in awe at its splendour and as the sun started setting over the desert we explored the area.

 

Our joy was short-lived though as we had absolutely no equipment for desert camping and ended up spending the night sleeping inside our tiny tent that was gradually fulling up with sand as the desert wind swept through it. It was like attempting to sleep on the beach during a very windy day. We had a bloody hectic night and at the first sight of sunlight we packed up (with an argument or two) and headed onwards.

With another 350km dusted we looked at the end of the tarmac in Abu Hamed and finally faced facts and accepted that we have taken a wrong turn. We also knew the only way out of the desert was straight into it so we had a great dusty adventure for old time’s sake.

We waited in the desert for a lift, first in our own makeshift hideout until a passer-by kindly informed us that we were in the wrong spot and later in the right spot with traffic police. Subsequently we found a ride with an empty truck and spent another night in the desert.

After endless hours on no road we were, once again, covered in dust when we crossed the stunning and brand new tarmac road from Dongola into Wadi Halfa – just in case we didn’t know what we had been missing. Nevertheless, we are on schedule according to our visas and made it to the border and our last stop in Sudan – with Pole Pole still in great running condition.

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السودان‎

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Getting into Sudan proved to be more of a challenge than what we expected. We were greeted by a short, dark soldier with a very firm and final “no” and that seemed to be the end of it. To add injury to his insulting snub we had already been stamped out of Ethiopia and were therefore stuck on the unsightly bridge that makes up the No-Man’s-Land between the two countries.

Until now we have not had any real problems with border crossings because of our lack of Carnet, but it seems that in this part of the world you abide by the rules or you stay home (or in our case, you sit on a bridge in the sun). As the day progressed however Guillaume systematically smooth-talked his way up the ladder of military bureaucracy till finally he managed to get hold of someone with the power and willingness to help. As most who have met him knows, Guillaume has super-human powers when it comes to charming people, so who started out as tough, stern soldiers in the morning where by early afternoon extremely friendly and welcoming men, laughing and joking with him and even buying us coffee.

Eight hours after we were stopped at the gateway to Sudan we were given an official letter, unofficially replacing a Carnet (for free) and send on our merry way.

We were thoroughly impressed by the country initially: the difference between Sudan and Ethiopia (and also the rest of Southern – and Easter Africa) is immense and the landscape changes rapidly from the border onwards.  Sadly, despite all the great stories we have heard from other travelers, Sudan does leave a bit of an eerie feeling with me. Possibly it’s all the rotting carcasses of cattle that is decorating the sights from the highway, or the long stretches of desiccated landscape, spoiled by plastic bottles and other human trash or maybe the Muslim influence and the fact that I am the only woman around not covered from head to toe and that I am asked really inappropriate questions by fat bearded men in broken English.  That said Guillaume is being treated like a king and loving every moment of it!

Nonetheless, we are exhilarated to be here and supposedly the Nubian desert, the next obstacle we face, will provide more scenic pleasures so we decided that we’d rather get a move on instead of hanging around for too long and possibly running into trouble – we have no idea what is actually written on our unofficial but now official Carnet-substitute.

 

* السودان‎ is Sudan.

 

 

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Interesting Times

The only thing worse than the layers of dust on and in everything after northern Kenya, we discovered, are the icy cold showers of Ethiopia’s rainy season.  There were times of extreme discomfort, freezing moments when only the small fires of local Samaritans provided relief and lots, and lots of shivering.  But, we have made it all the way to Bahir Dar in western Ethiopia and it is only 17 ‘October’2004 or 17 Säne (Ethiopia’s 10th month) 2004!

Yes, according to the Ethiopian calendar the millennium didn’t pass too long ago – and it shows. Addis might be a booming city, expanding daily, but the rest of the country seems very isolated and undeveloped, which guarantees a feast for the eyes of traditional dress, housing, customs and dancing.  Few things that we have seen in Africa can compare with the beauty of these people, their ancient culture and passion for religion.

Our journey through the country with 13 months of sunshine brought many up’s and down’s (literary) and coincidentally not much sunshine.  In just 10 days we drove through the lush south, very dry middle, rainy, windy and chilly Blue Nile Gorge and now the stunning Ethiopian Highlands all the way to Lake Tana, the origin of the mighty Blue Nile and possibly one of our last stops in Ethiopia.

We’ve had to fight for our rightful place on the road with the likes of donkeys, sheep, camels and other ‘cattle’, ate some very curious (and spicy) meals, slept in interesting places for dirt cheap and chased after a couple of kids who threw stones and bottles at us – confirming that Ethiopians really do run ridiculously  fast!

Yet, as interesting as Ethiopian culture and cuisine might be, equally interesting times await when we travel through the last two countries on this journey; Egypt, which is currently lost somewhere between election results, a possible army coup and many riots and Sudan, which is at war with South Sudan and where rioters have also hit the streets of the capital, Khartoum.

Our Big Boy has never braved the heat of a full scale desert (nor have we) and we have very limited resources at our disposal. Again the ‘small’ issue of the lack of a Carnet de Passage for our vehicle is brought up and just to add extra pressure, we have a time constraint put on us by our visas. But, all of this makes us two very happy travellers – again we face a couple of elements, which when combined, guarantees as much adventure as possible!

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Why We Travel – Part Four

Our bike is unrecognisable. Somewhere under layers and layers of paint hides the once very orange body of our trusty steed – beaten up and at places broken by months of driving through the African continent. But you can’t see any of this anymore; all you see is a beautiful mess of colours – on the wheels, on the tank on the side panniers – the result of a ridiculous amount of fun.

Peter‘s body has been broken by nature. Diagnosed with severe arthritis Peter found help at the Naro Moru Disabled Children’s Home in Kenya. They can’t really do much for him other than physiotherapy which is a very painful experience, every time. The pain caused by the disease has a crippling effect on him in such a way that he cannot run and play with his friends. He has been condemned to live a life of solitude, watching others from the side-line. He doesn’t talk much and he doesn’t move much either. He leans on his walking frame like an old man and despite enjoying it, he can’t even crack a smile as he slowly moves his crippled hands up and down in an attempt to paint our bike – it just hurts too much.

Peter has yet to make peace with his condition, with the painful life he will lead and with himself, his physiotherapist tells me. He is only five.

Peter is one of a hundred disabled children being treated at the Naro Moru Disabled Children’s Home in Kenya and after spending a day there our outlook on life, on our journey and on our future has changed forever. We travel through Africa to enjoy life, they go through painful operations and therapies in the hope to have a glimpse of a painless, joyful life. We have seen poverty, disease and even hunger on this trip, but nothing touched us as deeply as these wonderfully positive little children, limping and at times crawling around our bike each with a paintbrush in their hand, smiling from ear to ear.

After many hours and many gallons of paint rubbed all over our bike and splashed on their mangled bodies and on their walking frames, we leave as they sing; “Who said disability is inability, we will show you our ability!”

These children were let down by their own bodies. They are prisoners of their conditions and the limitations it has as a result but they are everything but imprisoned or negative and with the help of the staff at the Home they are sure that they will overcome their disabilities and live as abled lives as possible.

We received very generous donations to help Peter and although we know it won’t give him the body he deserves, the Parrafin Wax Machine we bought with the money will help to relieve some of the pain he endures. We, Peter, the staff and the other children at the Home thank everyone for their kind contributions!

* All images were taken and published with permission of staff and parents at the  Naro Moru Disabled Children’s Home.

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