(M) The past couple of weeks have not been our best.  Dave, Grant and I spent the best part of a day replacing the steering box.  Sarah and I spent the best part of more than a day on the spotlights.  And the stresses were beginning to tell.  On Tuesday just under two weeks before departure, Mike’s birthday, we managed to incur a £60 congestion charge fine.  The very next week, following Sarah’s work leaving drinks we ran up another fine, this time for illegal parking (great evening had by all though and some very generous gifts too!). 
On Wednesday night we sat up until 3:00am packing up the contents of our flat, only to spend the whole of the next day carting boxes up and down stairs and into storage.  Friday was no easier, with the flat needing a thorough once over in readiness for the new tenants.   We also found out that our Carnet de Passage, an essential document for taking the vehicle across borders was not going to be ready and we’d have to arrange for it to be couriered to somewhere in Europe where we could pick it up en route.  Needless to say we were not in high spirits. 
Saturday started foul but got better.  After settling the new tenants in and signing agreements we managed to drag ourselves off to the pub, where we were given a wonderful send-off by friends and family – thank you again to all who came along or wished us well for the next six months.  In case you weren’t there you may be interested to know that Charlie Boorman (spell?) of Long Way Down fame happened upon the pub while we were there, which struck us as a good omen.  We eventually extricated ourselves at midnight when the lights were turned up and had to squeeze Dave and Jo into the back of Mapenzi for the two hour drive back to theirs (not legal as we don’t have back seats – oops).  We did see a badger though – Sarah’s first and another good omen?
Sunday, the day before departure should have been relaxing but we had last minute things to do – a final trip to Screwfix, phonecalls to make, filling Mapenzi with diesel, vehicle packing etc.  Dave and Jo managed the day in style though, starting with a full fry up and ending with a roast to be remembered; thanks dudes. 
Then, another later night…


Day 1 – Monday 6th October 2008 LONDON – FRANCE (299.8 miles, Total 299.8 miles)
After yonks of planning the day finally dawned, dark and raining.  (S) Though the alarm went off at 5am it was only half an hour later that we finally got out of bed and dressed.  Dave generously offered Mike his digital SLR camera for the trip – despite best intentions we hadn’t managed to arrange buying one ourselves.  Waved fond farewells to D&J and the dogs too, and put away the final pieces of kit. I managed to make a total hash of reversing out of their awkward driveway – didn’t help that farmer Brian had stashed a pile of logs within Mapenzi’s turning circle! Covered in bits of apple tree and hedge we headed off into the wet Monday morning.
An uneventful journey to Dover and we checked in and boarded the ferry by 9:15.  Mapenzi looked great tucked in amongst the other vehicles; she really does stand out in a crowd.  Ravenous, we scoffed an English breakfast from the canteen and then settled down to enjoy the view.  We left the white cliffs shrouded in mist behind us and headed into the channel, glorious sunshine welcoming us to France.  Managed to exchange a couple of Euros with some manoeuvring – the machine wouldn’t accept new £20 notes and the boy in front of me in the queue managed to snaffle the only old note they had in the cash machine after he followed me as I asked around and made a plan!  Soon enough we’d arrived in Calais and Michael expertly drove us out of the terminal on the right side of the road.
A long day of driving south-east lay ahead.  Scenery was pretty plain – very agricultural and flat, with industrial towns and not much variety.  Stuck to the toll road and regretted it when we got to Riems and had to pay E18 for the privilege.  I was being a rotten passenger, falling asleep constantly so Mike pulled over in a truckstop for a half hour power-nap when the fatigue just became too powerful for him too.  Stopped for baguette at mid-day, while I tried again to resolve my ongoing Vodafone dilemma.  Finally sorted it out and managed to get hold of Paul Gowan at RAC to arrange for a courier to send our carnet to Chambery in southern France.  We’ve noticed that with the additional weight, steering at speed is a bit wobbly.  Also, you can tell when the big trucks are going to pass you, even before you’ve spotted them in the rear-view-mirror.  As they speed up to overtake you can feel the Landy being sucked in to the vacuum they create.  Guess I’m giving away the sort of speed’s we’re driving at when I admit that the trucks keep passing us all day long!
Did some basic grocery shopping and drew cash before giving up on ever spotting a campsite sign. I bravely asked in a petrol station café and the cashier suggested we simply make ourselves at home in their parking lot.  Mike was tempted as it would save us some euros but the thought of spending our first night of this 6 month trip listening to truckers driving in and out all night didn’t seem so appealing to me.  Kept going with wishful thinking and then omen number three – a campsite sign outside Chalons de Champagne…  Very friendly receptionist checked us in and erroneously complimented my atrocious French! Set up camp – not too bad for a first effort and sorted out “prison” food dinner (tuna, sweetcorn, veg soup sauce pasta with salad).  Routine needs some work!  Still a bit tedious unpacking and re-packing everything in the back, and some items don’t have their own place yet. We’ll get there.  Enjoyed our gorgeous bottle of Veuve Cliquot (thank you Bronnie and Michael!) and made many toasts.  Had talked about saving it for later in the journey but couldn’t resist!
Shattered by 11pm, so to bed - slept very comfortably if a little chilly.

Day 2 Tuesday 7th October 2008 FRANCE (134.6 miles, Total 434.4 miles)
(S) Slept in nice and late – up at 10am. Choccie muesli for breakfast (why are English breakfasts all savoury, and French love sweet? Pain au chocolat, croissant, Nutella et al?).  Packed up slowly, sorted out a few bits and pieces and headed off at midday.  Didn’t cover much distance, slower on the N roads anyway.  Stopped at another supermarche for top up groceries, got fuel, chose a perfect picnic spot for late lunch and then almost gave up hope as the two campsites we headed for were no good. The first was closed, the second far too expensive and resorty for our taste.  Happened upon another in a pastoral village just past Langres, though it too looked closed.  It felt like bush camping as we settled in for the night but just after 7pm an elderly man on a bike appeared and I managed to work out that they were in fact open until the end of October but there were no facilities available.  I shrugged and when I then asked how much it would cost for one night he kindly said it was free.  Fantastic!  A chap arrived to stay in the caravan further up the slope though we only exchanged a greeting rather than stopping to chat.  Yummy dinner of Mexican chicken, veg and cous cous with red wine, and dark chocolate for dessert.  Had to do washing up in cold water, and then luke-warm bucket bath by the glow of the streetlight! Not so cold, but still longing for warmer climates to come.  Read for a short while then sleep took over.

Day 3 Wednesday 8th October 2008 FRANCE – SWITZERLAND (199.5 miles, Total 633.9 miles)
(M) Promised ourselves we’d try and get a reasonable start but took a while to get up after the alarm at 7:30am – light rain again.  We managed to beat yesterday’s packing time and were off in about an hour, sans breakfast.  Stopped at a boulangerie in a small hamlet for a couple of pain au chocolat and croissants.  I have pretty much no French in my vocabulary and have a fear of trying, and so managed to order only one croissant, which I discovered when I returned to the car.  On towards Geneva, sticking to the secondary roads which are quite good really – more scenic and a whole heap cheaper.  They also have nice picnic spots all over the place.  It’s really satisfying making eye contact with starving drivers as they pass you stuffing your mouth with fresh baguette and pate. The scenery became a bit more interesting as we entered the hillier areas towards Switzerland.  Amazing autumn colours and some pretty good steep climbs to test Mapenzi for the journey ahead.  At the Swiss border we were waved through without any unnecessary cavity searching and turned off before Lausanne towards Geneva.  There seemed to be a good few lanes of oncoming traffic between us and the lake but still an attractive approach to the city.  We weren’t really sure where we were headed so just made for the town centre to try and find tourist info.  Amazingly we found parking right near the station and after wandering aimlessly for a short while managed to get halting directions to the tourist info, near Steboogs and Madawnell (Starbucks and McDonald’s).  Armed with a city map we had our lunch sitting in the back of the vehicle before heading (via some missed turns!) to the municipal camping, a plush site right in the city’s flightpath but with fantastic showers.  And that’s where the day took a turn for the worse.  It had been raining on and off for most of the day and we felt it appropriate to use the awning for the first time.  Sitting under it enjoying our spaghetti bolognaise, we noticed the water starting to seep through the stitched seams.  It got worse.  We then noticed a few small holes in our tent flysheet and when I went up to investigate I realised that the whole flysheet had soaked through (not just from the holes) and was now dripping water onto the inner tent.  Oddly, the mosquito meshed apex guided the water away and we did manage a dry night’s sleep, though it doesn’t bode well for the expected tropical downpours later in the trip.  Come morning we’ll see what response we can get out of the dealer. 

Oh, I almost forgot the most important bit – Leonard Cohen is playing in Geneva on his world tour. I can almost hear myself singing along.

Day 4 Thursday 9th October 2008 SWITZERLAND-FRANCE (79.3miles, Total 713.22 miles)
(M) Elated to wake up dry, not so elated to wake up.  Today we mosey on back into France, Chamonix to be precise, though we only decided that later on.  First was a trip back into the city centre to find an internet café.  After some entertaining parking practice we paid for our hour online and also managed to log onto their wireless network with our own laptop; hehehe.  Even with both of us online we only managed a few email responses and a tiny bit of website updating (just contact details and a few links).  Still trying to sort our photos so that we can put those on the website – seems we’re already falling behind on duties (sorry Mom), we are trying.  Left Geneva later than expected and entered into the most spectacular scenery so far.  Stopped to take a couple of pics of Mont Blanc, which of course got better as we drew nearer.  Oh, I neeaaarlly diiieeeed.  Sarah has one of those horrendous personal alarm things designed to pierce eardrums.  They’re supposed to go off on demand when your life is in imminent danger, not randomly on a motorway at high speeds from a handbag in the back.  Thought Mapenzi may have been on her last legs but frantic diagnosis and a sharp detour onto the hard shoulder revealed that it was indeed not an air intake fault or dodgy belts, but rather less sinister.  Chamonix is a lovely place but at this time of year most of the campsites seem to be closed, which was not something we’d prepared for.  After trying a couple we found a delightful little 1* site with very helpful, very old and very French proprietors who proceeded to show us where we could walk and where the four points of the compass were.  Decided that, although late in the day, a walk would be nice so, after a trip to the supermarket we headed on up the hill to the starting point.  Leaving at 16:30 pretty much guarantees that you’ll have the mountain to yourself.  It also doesn’t come recommended in most guidebooks.  The weather was clear though and the path very obvious so we started the trek up to the foot of Glacier des Bossons, a gruelling 40 minute climb if you’re not very fit.  More baguette, more pate, a black squirrel sighting and a few snaps later we headed back down.  It’s a worthwhile trudge if you’re in the vicinity, really very pretty.  Decided that despite being well over budget we wanted to go out to eat.  It’s not the most lively place out of season but we did find a quiet place with very good pizza and steak, and they do the dishes for you.  Pretty chilly so Sarah made herself a hot water bottle (pretty organised hey?) before bed.

Day 5 Friday 10th October 2008 FRANCE – ITALY – FRANCE (184.9 miles, Total 898.1 miles)
(S) What a cosy night – not. After Mike remarked at dinner how amazing it was that I hadn’t so far needed a loo-run in the dead of night, I woke up regretting that final glass of vin rouge.  Bitterly cold, in the pitch dark, with my boots at one end of the tent and my damp jeans at the other, what started as a quiet attempt not to wake Mike up ended in much frantic zip-&-unzipping, elbowing and cursing as I had to dash to the sanitation facilities in the wee small hours. I felt a bit bad disturbing his sleep as well, but really it was his just desserts for jinxing me.  Managed to warm up again at last.  We’ve discovered that the fleecy blankets I bought as a last-minute luxury have proven to be just the ticket in these alpine climes. Woke up rather grumpy and totally ignored the alarm and my husband’s inappropriate morning “chipperness”. We have yet to obey the 7.30 am wake up call.  Finally roused myself and we packed up the dripping tent and headed into Chamonix village for a spot of breakfast.  Expensive hot drinks and sugary crepes in our bellies, we drove up the winding pass to the entrance of the Mont Blanc tunnel.  Major traffic jams due to extensive roadworks, but at least here, in the most inaccessible of places, we finally found scores of radio stations playing fairly decent music. Go figure.  Paid the hefty toll and entered the tunnel – obeying the strict traffic rules about following distance, minimum and maximum speed restrictions et al.  Considering that at one stage we were more than 2km under the mountain, all in all it was rather dull!  Great feat of engineering of course, but in reality it is just 11miles of concrete and tarmac.  On the other side, suddenly in Italy, I managed to navigate myself onto a never-ending road down into the valley, through endless tunnels with no exits.  Totally frustrated and fuming about lost time and diesel, we had to pay a toll at the bottom only to U-turn back up (and pay the toll again!).  Back at the entrance to the Monte Blanco tunnel we realised that the solid red road on our map didn’t seem to exist anymore.  In the neighbouring town we finally got directions from a friendly Italian fireman after we discovered the tourist info was closed for lunch for 2½ hours.  On a deadline to get to Chambery to collect the Carnet from the DHL office before they closed we “scorched” a path up the pass.  Mapenzi (and driver Mike) were fantastic, coping with hairpin bends and serious gradient like pros.  Good test for the new steering box which seems to have held up admirably.  Beautifully scenic, especially as we hit the snowline.  Had to stop for photos and an ice-cone. Must be even more impressive in season with the resorts open and the ski-lifts running.  At one stage on the way down the other side of the pass, we got a horrible adrenalin rush as a mad motorbike careened round a corner in our lane and just swerved past Mapenzi’s bull-bar – whew, close call.  Again, really pretty scenery but now we were on a mission.  Asked again for directions before topping up with fuel in the mad dash to Chambery.  Thanks to Yolande’s internet magic in London, we worked out that the DHL office closed at 6.30pm not 5pm so we had some extra time to find our way.  Eventually got there and to huge relief the Carnet was patiently waiting to be collected.  We are now all set!  Now to find camping that wasn’t closed until May 2009 – third time lucky I managed to look desperate enough for the Monsieur to relent and let us in!  The sign did say in bold letters that it was open, but he started out adamant they were actually ferme.  Thank goodness for feminine charms!  Fairly comfortable – with stunningly hot showers.  Had stir-fry for dinner and then with Mike serenading me on his guitar I finished the diary for today.  Tomorrow we need to do laundry, internet and sort ourselves out.  Boring chores but gotta be done!  Can’t believe we’ve been going for 5 days already.  At least we can get the tent up in <5mins, becoming totally expert!

Day 6 Saturday 11th October 2008 FRANCE – ITALY (128.5 miles, Total 1026.6 miles)
(M) It’s difficult sleeping with a swollen face, yet few camping guides have a ‘handy hints’ page suggesting that you should aim your head upwards.  After a short while suffering with our heads downhill we concluded that the bed should be reversed and the rest of the night was spent clinging desperately to the top of the mattress, always aware of the seven foot precipice beneath us.  Other than that, not a bad night’s rest.
From the campsite, with its empty pool, dodgy playground area and cement garden sculptures, it was a fairly straightforward drive over another steep and windy scenic mountain pass back into Italy.  I’m really impressed by Mapenzi's engine braking power. On the Italian side the road followed a blue, glacial coloured river so we stopped to buy some groceries for a picnic in the first real hint of sunshine.  We hadn't planned our overnight stop again so were keeping an eye out for campgrounds, which seemed to be few and far between.  We were also hoping to find internet somewhere but this too was not to be found.  Finally, in Avigliana, we found the poorly signposted tourist info where we were given a map and directed to the only open campsite in the area.  Somehow, despite a beautiful lake nestled in the mountains, the campsite managed to have a view of nothing.  Expensive as well (in fact camping in Europe has so far been way more expensive than in the UK).  After last night’s debacle we decided to put a rock under one of the tyres to level the tent, which worked a treat.  I think we were the only real campers as all the locals staying in the caravan/chalets looked like they were in their Sunday best, so I felt a bit bad smoking them all out with the Kelly Kettle.  Got over the guilt pretty quickly though.  The ablutions were a treat, no pictures anywhere so we had to rely on our knowledge of Italian which goes something like this:  Donne or Uomini…hmmm, Donne sounds masculine and Uomini sounds like woman.  The next day Sarah remarked, to my surprise, how disgusting the loos were.  Well, have since discovered that we had them the wrong way round.  Not much more to the day really,  except a hedgehog rootling around next to our site (another first for Sarah, so quite exciting really).

Day 7 Sunday 12th October 2008 ITALY (105.6 miles, Total 1132.2 miles)
(M) Not our best day.  We left the campsite at around 10:00 and proceeded up another steep hill to have a glimpse of San Michele.  We didn’t go in so I’m not sure what it’s known for but it’s a pretty impressive Cathedral? on the top of a mountain.  Even more impressive was the number of cyclists sweating up the road – must be a good 10-20km of uninterrupted, steep uphill.  After confusing the police at the top, we realised we couldn’t go back the way we’d come (so I’d have to miss looking out for the big black pumpkin on the way down).  Instead we circled back round to Avigliana where the internet we’d hoped to use was still closed but we sat outside trying, unsuccessfully, to get a wireless signal anyway – with a massive St Bernard barking at us.  Decided to go straight through to Turin.  Again, pretty quiet in the city and we couldn’t find the tourist info anywhere because, as it turned out, it was in a pedestrianised zone.  After being chatted to in a foreign language by a very friendly man dressed in period costume w eventually found parking near somewhere and spent an age trying to figure out if we were flouting the law.  Managed to get directed to the tourist info but were sidetracked when we noticed a wireless internet point in a small café – woohoo.  Spent just over an hour updating website and trying to book ferry tickets (not successfully) etc until our battery ran low and I had to take it back to the car to be recharged.  A long walk into the piazza followed.  And that’s where everyone was.  All getting ready for some sort of parade it seemed.  Lot’s of drumming and people walking around in various costumes but after an hour or so they still hadn’t started anywhere so we left.  Had a map to get to the ‘Museum of the Shroud’ which was very interesting.  Unfortunately the real shroud is under restoration so we had to content ourselves with a replica – the story is pretty amazing nevertheless.
Back to the internet which closed at 19:00.  We hadn’t managed to get everything sorted and realised we hadn’t organised anywhere to stay either.  Somehow managed to reach the decision that we’d just push on through the night and aim for Genoa.  Not a practical suggestion really as it’s not a full night’s drive!  Would have liked to spend a bit more time in Turin actually, looks like a beautiful city.  Anyway, at about 20:00 we decided that if we didn’t see any campsite signs by 21:00 we’d start looking for a quiet backroad and just set up rough somewhere.  Not as romantic as it sounds.  There didn’t seem to be much in the way of country lanes so we tried in a quiet self service petrol station where Sarah was put off by the mutilated cars lying scattered about.  Then found somewhere that looked ok except that a sign outside seemed to indicate that it was a military access.  Finally when we did find a quiet backroad we had to pull over to let a car pass.  Instead of doing so, he stopped, turned around and turned off his lights (in the middle of the road) so we skedaddled.  Ended up on the busiest cul de sac known to humankind somewhere near Alessandria (?), only to discover that about 10 litres of water had spilled itself in the back, so spent some time trying to mop up in the dark.  A grumpy meal was followed by a very chilly night shivering on the makeshift bed in the back.  All our bedding was in the tent which we didn’t want to erect in some residential road.  Hope tomorrow's better.

Day 8 Monday 13th October 2008 ITALY (71.9 miles, Total 1204.1 miles)
(S) Woke up at the alarm at 5am and frozen and exhausted we ignored it for an hour or so. Totally dark outside when we finally gave up pretence of sleep and climbed into the cab at about 6am.  Ignoring how chilled and uncomfortable we’d been, the bed actually rose to the challenge pretty admirably – barely creaking and it was really stable.  Good job Carpenter Mike.  Drove until the sun was up and on a layby at the top of a steep pass we pulled over for a hot drink and bowl of muesli.  Pushed on and were soon on the outskirts of Genova.  Huge city – followed signs for ferry terminals, and centro in the hope of finding tourist info.  Finally at the central station Mike managed to find a city map which helped us work out where we needed to be. But, as per usual, the Italian system of one-ways foxed our navigation so that we soon found ourselves driving up what can only sensibly be called a steep scooter alley.  Barely wide enough for Mapenzi to squeeze through, we crawled up and up, past helpful locals who watched in awe/disbelief as we held our breath and climbed up an ever-narrower cobbled “road”.  With nowhere to turn around, and no hope of reversing, Mike simply kept driving up.  Finally we could go no further.  With a bossy local informing us that the authorities’ “eye in the sky” was watching us and would fine/penalise us for coming up a limited access road, we found some space to turn around.  Cue mad gesticulating and useless directing from our self-appointed bossy saviour as Mike bravely 50-point turned Mapenzi around. Continue to be amazed by the Landy’s versatility – she’s like an elephant in ballet shoes sure, but she’s handled every obstacle so far with solid reliability.  At the bottom again we gave up on getting close to info and simply found parking and walked.  Got campsite directions, discovered internet too far and no camping stores (?!). Managed to withdraw currency on 4th attempt (almost cursed Barclays for blocking Mike’s card!) and headed off to buy ferry tickets.  After struggling to find parking (again, the roofrack is just too high for secure lots) we realised when in Genova do as the Genovans do. We sommer parked in an empty patch of tarmac in between the ferry onramp roads and walked to the terminal building.  Bought our passage to Tunisia from the ticket office as well as some groceries from the supermarket in the shopping centre. Then headed into Pegli to find our camping.  Up on a hill, it was really nicely situated.  Desperate for a shower we luxuriated in the lovely hot water and clean facilities.  After enjoying a hasty but tasty lunch we did the load of laundry that had been accumulating since we left the UK. Ugh.  Rigging up a maze of lines we hung it all up to dry.  Now to unpack the whole vehicle so we could mop up the last moisture from the watertank debacle.  Out came the cupboards, the matting and all the bolts and screws we’d painstakingly installed over the last few months.  Dried it all up and then packed it all back in again. Took ALL afternoon, but very relieved that the wood hasn’t warped too much and it’s now all dry.  Can’t say the same for the laundry annoyingly, which was still dripping by the time we were ready for dinner.  Mike made tuna macaroni and we had a gorgeous ice-cold beer.  Showered again and to bed. Oh, have repacked the food into a wolffpack box rather than the smaller cupboard section – a vast improvement.  Still making adjustments a week in – just as well we decided to take an amble through Europe to shake Mapenzi down rather than rush into N. Africa.

Day 9 Tuesday 14th October 2008 ITALY (35.7 miles, Total 1239.8 miles)
Good night’s sleep except for a midnight rush to bring in the clothes not under the awning when we heard drizzle on the tent.  Turned into a loo run anyway so not a totally wasted journey down the ladder.  Woke up and made yummy fry-up with bacon, eggs, banana, tomato, fried bread, mushrooms – the whole shebang. Hoped that the sun would come up but no real luck. Gave in and splashed €3.50 on the tumble drier which barely made a dent. Oh well. By mid-day we gave up and simply piled everything into the back and headed out to find Decathlon.  Mike the spotter noticed a sign and then another and soon we’d picked up our tent re-proofing kit, a cheapo watch for me and a canoe bag for the laundry.  Headed back along the coastal road south though it became uncomfortably twisty and windy as we left the city.  Gorgeously scenic route – if slow going.  Stopped often to let faster traffic past and for a photo here and there, then got to Rapallo and decided we had had enough.  Lost tourist info as usual, finally found it after some circuitous meandering.  Got a map and headed off to find the camping spot.  Yet again, stymied by the one-ways I sent Mike up a no-access road (he’s beginning to get suspicious I think) until we could go no further.  A kind family doing their gardening helped us turn around without squishing their flower boxes and we headed back down the hill to try again.  Running low on fuel we luckily found a choice of 3 garages right next door to each other (progressively cheaper by a .1 cent or so) and managed to fill ‘er up despite the impossibly confusing self-service pay machines.  Found the campsite at last and checked in – fairly comfortable and convenient trees for us to rig up a new clothes line.  Football field next door kept Mike amused – the players were giving the coach quite a verbal commentary it seemed.  Beautiful full moon, and a little chilly, so brought in the still damp clothes.  Had thai green curry and the last of our red wine for dinner, then a lukewarm shower for me and a better one for Mike before bed.

Day 10 Wednesday 15th October 2008 ITALY (248.2 miles, Total 1488 miles)
(M) Our plans were scuppered from the outset.  Woke up earlyish with the best intentions - to get a couple of hours of internet in before leaving Rapallo to travel through to Siena.  We needn’t have bothered as we were locked in until 9:00 anyway, when the office opened.  Parked at the gate and spent the time downloading photos onto the laptop and selecting a few for the website.  When we did get going the town was already in full swing.  It’s actually a very pretty beachside resort and we were sorry that we wouldn’t have more time to spend there. Sarah had the address for the internet point, which turned out to be a funny little Tabac on a touristy and shaded side alley.  We did manage to reply to a few messages but didn’t get round to updating the website as we also had to research campsites and the laptop battery only lasts a little over an hour (few of the computers in the internet cafes have memory stick USB ports, so we have to rely on wireless to transfer our data).
We’d paid for two hours of parking and it seemed a waste to leave Rapallo when it seemed so attractive, so went for a short stroll before sitting down in the sun at a café for a cuppa (and to use the facilities!).  We eventually did get going at about 11:30 and again crawled up and down the windy coast road.  The squeaking steering wheel was getting on our nerves a bit and we weren’t making very quick headway so opted to spend the money on toll and hit the autostrada for an hour or so.  At Livorno we stopped for a couple of baguettes and turned inland towards Siena, passing through some lovely fortified Tuscan towns which all seemed to be on top of hills, at the end of steep and windy uphills and the beginning of steep and windy downhills.  Other than the squeaking, Mapenzi is doing a fantastic job with the steering box still holding up.  And for those who care, we’re managing around 30 miles to the gallon - better than expected, especially considering the roads.
At 3:00pm we started looking for campsites.  We’re starting to realise that distance signs in Italy mean little and think that distances given are to the next sign rather than the destination.  A sign indicating a campsite 7km away will result in another sign in 7 or 8km indicating the same campsite 10km away.  We drove for another few hours, investigating at least 5 sites (and 45 miles of extra driving?) to discover that they were all closed – very frustrating!  After finally reaching Siena at about 7:00pm, in the dark again, we spent another fruitless hour trying to follow the poor signposting, only to find the main campsite closed for refurbishment.  Moods were low, very low.  Tempers on the other hand were higher.
A night in the back of the vehicle, without a shower was starting to seem likely so we left Siena again and started keeping a eye out for possible camping sites.  Lo and behold, a sign to another campsite – one last attempt.  The sign said 7km so we followed it.  At 7km there was nothing so we turned around and went back to the sign, then took another road and did a big loop, still nothing.  An hour of searching followed.  Eventually stopped to ask someone in small village, but he didn’t know.  Stopped to ask someone else in a bigger village and were directed to a parking space.  We very nearly stayed there – it was fairly well lit and there was a campervan already parked (don’t know if was occupied or not) so we reversed in, levelled the vehicle and got out to investigate our surroundings.  Then the noise of a grid on the highway nearby became noticeable so we decided to move on a short distance.  At a roundabout there was another sign for the campsite we were looking for, only 10km!  One last effort.  Up a steep and windy hill we drove, the campsite signs changed so that we didn’t know what we were headed for, if anything but then, at the top of the hill there it was… the one remaining open campsite in Italy – you beauty.  By now it was 9:00pm and La Soline reception was closed.  We’d spent 6 hours and who knows how much diesel finding this place and were going in anyway. 
The moon was almost full, it was quiet and lovely…

Day 11 Thursday 16th October 2008 ITALY (180.6 miles, Total 1668.6 miles)
(S) Arose at about 8am. It had either rained in the night or there had been some serious dew, and the flysheet was drenched. I washed my hair in the basin in the ladies, while Mike played with the Kelly kettle, though with the stiff breeze he battled to get it going.  Had cereal for breakfast while the laundry finally flapped itself dry, to the sound of some learner musician playing not-so melodious scales further down the hill.  Leisurely packed up and got going by 10am. Friendly lady in reception offered to help me in Italian, then Spanish, French and even English…  Scenic drive through Tuscan olive groves and vineyards almost made the twisty, hilly roads worthwhile! In a little fortified village we discovered we were alongside the lake and hadn’t even realised it.  Very pretty.  Tried in vain to find a supermarket (one-ways and mis-info signs AGAIN) and when we did it was closed.  Right.  Continued on, again through towns lined by castle walls with churches on every corner.  Eventually arrived in Civitivecchia – managed to locate Tourist Info after some searching, but yes, it closes at 2pm on Wed and Thurs. Recurring theme in this part of the world! Hint – Italy mostly shuts down in October, but leaves signs up to fox ignorant travellers who dare come without pre-booking everything!  Loitered in an Internet café instead, and discovered that there is indeed a campsite nearby in San Agostino.  Brief diversion into MacDonalds as desperate for lunch, the loo, and we are so over-budget we daren’t give in to the tourist trap pizzerias on the shorefront.  Headed back north to find the campsite, good signposting actually, until crunch time. A 3-way stop and no hint of where to go next.  Third time lucky we actually found it.  And, yes, it was closed.  I had a mini-tantrum and Mike had to take over the driving for both our sakes.  Thing is, we expect Africa to be really hard work and to challenge our ingenuity, but we hadn’t anticipated it being so difficult in Europe.  Or to be more expensive for camping for instance, than the UK?  Almost gave in and bush camped again, but for the huge signs we then saw forbidding it in the Civitivecchia Commune.  Headed further up the coast road again to no avail.  A helpful B&B man when questioned, suggested another campsite and in broken English directed us back south.  Hopes rekindled, so followed another hour of searching.  When a nice garage man then pointed on a map he had, we realised this site was in fact the same one we had crusaded to find earlier.  And so followed another hour of driving, in search of a B&B. Even the hotel we tried was full.  Tired, poor, and miserable, we eventually chanced upon Villa Chiara the second time we ended up in that neighbourhood.  On calling the bell, a ferocious chow-type dog barked incessantly at the gate, so that I couldn’t hear a thing.  But the couple’s friendly son opened up and let us in, showing us to a palatial room.  The house was ornately decorated with statues, chandeliers, a marble staircase and even 3D paintings.  Not what we’ve become accustomed to!  Joy of joys, we had wireless access, so had snack dinner in our room, hot showers and enjoyed Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and James Bond in Italian.  Funny how you don’t need to understand the dialogue to still follow all the action.  To bed.

Day 12 Friday 17th October 2008 ITALY – FERRY (11.6 miles, Total 1680.2 miles)
(M) Don’t do what I did this morning – wrong fuel!!!!!!!  The day started well, despite sleeping for an hour past the alarm and waking up 3 minutes before we were supposed to have breakfast.  A mad scramble was followed by a traditional Italian breakfast of sweet bread and the strongest ever coffee, the ornate table set amongst the Roman sculptures and intricate lamps and tiles of the dining room.  Our hosts were very friendly and when we did eventually check out (after another hour or so online) we had a long chat about SA and our trip, so left them our contact details to stay in touch.
Just up the road there was a Co op supermarket – ideal for stocking up with non-perishables to tide us over in our first couple of nights in Africa.  We spent an hour or so in the parking lot sorting ourselves and Mapenzi out before going in.  Pretty normal store, so I won’t go into detail but they did have a great selection of pizza slices which we had for lunch.  Then it all went horribly wrong.  We were low on diesel but at the first garage we tried there was nobody about and we couldn’t be sure that their gasolio was the correct fuel (nozzle handle wasn’t black) so we tried another garage, which was closed, then another, where we couldn’t operate the self service machine.  This was perhaps why there was nobody else there?  At the 4th one it all seemed ok to go, so out we got and Sarah figured out the self service procedure.  Blindly I picked up the nozzle and started to fill. The sinking feeling came when the price didn’t seem to match the number of litres going in.  Whe I looked down the feeling got worse, I’d now pumped 9 litres of the most expensive unleaded into our tank.  There followed a series of expletives and blind panic.  This was followed by the thought of siphoning the tank and then the more correct thought of actually draining the tank.  Out came the jerry cans, the funnel and the siphon pipe.  Out came the socket set and a plastic bag to lie on.  Thoughtfully I held the funnel under the drain screw whilst Sarah held the other end of the pipe in the jerry can.  The screw came out and all was going smoothly until we realised the funnel was filling rather more quickly that it was emptying.  And then it was all over the place and I had to beat a hasty exit from under the vehicle.  The rest will probably be funny years from now.  Slippery diesel and petrol all over the place.  Euros emptying onto the forecourt and not a bucket of sand in sight.  We had to use the last of our Euros to get some diesel in and left with less than we’d come in with.
Back into town to find parking and clean up at the public toilets (I had diesel all over me, though the baby wipes did come in handy to get most of it off).  Then wandered around the banks trying to draw Euros.  I could draw up to my daily allowance at the ATMs but we really wanted more – oh well, just have to hold thumbs that we don’t need too many in Tunisia.  After about 4 banks we went back to the internet café and finished off a few emails, updates etc.  Then had to rush off to check in to the ferry when we realised we were supposed to check in 3 hours before, not 2.  Pretty badly signposted again but we managed to find our way to the right place with a bit of helpful and less helpful directing by official looking folks.  Then followed an hour or two of waiting and slow boarding.  I have to admit, I was a bit nervous of seasickness so we both took our Sturgeron.  Don’t know if they helped?  Neither of us felt ill but it was the flattest, calmest journey imaginable.  The ferry was actually a lot more luxurious than we’d expected.  We’d gone for the cheapest option so didn’t have a cabin, but we did managed to secure 4 seats each, so could stretch out and get a few hours nap.  Showers were not too bad either.  Wandered around a bit then settled in for the night.


Day 13 Saturday 18th October 2008 SICILY - MEDITERRANEAN – TUNISIA (2.4 miles, Total 1682.6 miles)
(S) Mike was in raptures having been able to stretch out his entire length and not have to dangle his feet off the edge of the row of 4 airline seats. He had a great night’s sleep, was at one stage warm enough to take his fleece off, and woke refreshed and eager to try capture the dawn sunrise over the sea on film. I, on the other hand, couldn’t get comfortable. I even tried the floor as the sloping seats were making my neck cramp.  I woke up at 3am needing the loo and then couldn’t get back to sleep due to extraordinarily powerful snoring coming from a large man in the row of the seats behind me, and then miserable crying and wailing from the child in front of me.  Oh well!  Had snack bars for breakfast and a lukewarm shower then went on deck to watch as we were piloted in to dock in Palermo.  Fascinating watching the ramps being lowered and the hive of activity below us as lorries, cars, scooters and pedestrians streamed off and on the ferry.  Spotted some fish in the very clean water. Noticed a couple of overland vehicles queuing to get on – full kit with a zillion ratchet straps holding on sand ladders, spare wheels,jerrys etc.  We were keen to disembark if allowed, but couldn’t.  Mike went down to D deck to check on Mapenzi.  Considering we’d arrived half an hour late they were pretty prompt setting off again. 
Turning into a beautiful morning.  Admired the bay and the seafront and then back into the open water.  Sat on deckchairs for a while and then felt like we were getting a bit sunburnt so headed indoors.  The rest of the day was spent trying to entertain ourselves.  The cafeteria and mini-shop opened briefly, but everything else (cinema, pool, jaccuzi, casino, disco, ice cream parlour) was closed.  Found the Magnifica lounge at mid-day and had hotdog and dry matzos for lunch. Momentary excitement when a group on the opposite side thought they saw dolphins but turned out to be a false alarm.  In the warmth of the sun we dozed off and enjoyed a good 2 hour nap. Lovely.  Went back up on deck and sat in the sun for a bit, watching 2 couples with their dogs bond over shared fruit.  Filled in our landing cards, with some assistance from the staff and then suddenly it was sunset.  Went back to Magnifica to get a view from the front of the boat.  Then the announcement that we were an hour or so late dampened our spirits a bit.  We played POP and hangman to kill some time, and went back to our Roma Pullman seat room.  Screening Chuck Norriss again – can’t believe it.  Mike had a shower and then they chucked us out.  Waited in the bar with all the other passengers all bored that we were now an hour and a half late.  As we pulled into the harbour, we went on deck to watch the portly pilot clamber on board and the sea gulls wheeling about in the lights.  Two hours late, we finally were allowed to go down to D deck and retrieve Mapenzi.  Total bedlam driving off after the orderliness getting on! Border police were initially suspicious of my new biometric passport but other than some admonishing for putting UK not British down as our nationality we were through pretty quickly to the Douane section.  Considering we had to get the vehicle through, it wasn’t actually too bad.  Cursory glance over the vehicle asking us if we had arms or drugs (no officer…).  Fixers bossing people around were helpful to a point but Mike did get passed from booth to booth and back again. One chap in the queue didn’t have his carte grise and looked hopelessly lost.  I changed some euros just so we had a little bit of currency to tide us over until we found an ATM, as no one in Italy could sell us Dinars.  The 4x4 group asked Mike if he spoke Italian – shame as would have been nice to meet up with some travellers we could converse with!  The 4x4 scooter adventure group also went through without fuss.  Handed over our bits and pieces of paper and suddenly we were through!
Drove through the docks, quiet for a Sat night.  Kids playing football in the street – initially we were alert to the rocks in the road before we realised they were simply the goalposts!  Past some ruins and flags, and in La Goulette we chanced upon a police station.  Friendly cop agreed to watch the vehicle for us so we could sleep in it as now too late to head anywhere to camp.  Strolled a bit to find food – a shwarma kiosk was open so we ummed and ahhed enough at the counter that the server took pity on us and simply made us a pita type sandwich each with some hot (harissa?) paste, mayo, coleslaw, processed cheese and olives (with pips still I discovered!) and lovely salty hot chips.  Yum. Explored a bit while we ate, very lively café type sidewalks and modern buildings.  Back at the vehicle we made up the bed, waved goodnight to our friendly cop with his semi-automatic rifle, and warm and satisfied we settled down for the night on the mattress.  Poor Mike was squashed but all in all, not a bad start to our trip.

Day 14 Sunday 19th October 2008 TUNISIA (92.6 miles, Total 1775 miles)
(M) The bed in the back is not long enough for me but, all things considered, not a bad night.  With nowhere to do the usual morning ablutions getting up is a relatively easy affair - pull on dirty clothes, get out of back, pretend you’ve just arrived at the car… with bed hair.
The friendly policeman was gone and the road was fairly quiet but from the occasional soul walking past with a baguette we surmised that there was a bakery in the area.  Went for a bit of a stroll to find our bearings but for some reason the map of Tunis in our adventure atlas didn’t seem to match anywhere.  When we did find the bakery (empty shelves but a big basket of baguettes on the ground) the chap tried his hardest to help us out, things starting to fall into place when he mentioned that we were in La Goulette – silly us.  We weren’t yet in Tunis.  Back to the car and off we pootled until we came to a roundabout with policemen blocking our way.   Not a problem though, we managed to glean some sort of alternative route from them and then just drove in more or less the right direction according to the sun (that’s right folks, SUN).  Stopped for some fuel en route and discovered the price more to our liking than in Europe, 0.96 TD / litre (£1 = 2.25 TD).
Tunis is like other large cities, it’s large and it’s a city.  Navigating into it wasn’t too bad though and we did manage to find the tourist info fairly quickly.  Of course they were closed so we made off to the other one indicated on our map.  We couldn’t find it but instead found ourselves weaving around the local traffic and being directed down narrow side roads.  When we did get back to where we’d started we decided to park and walk instead.  A big empty parking lot with a guard cost us only 1 Tunisian Dinar.  Back into town we found tourist info now open, with a friendly, English speaking lady who gave us a map and pointed us in the direction of an internet café, though she assured us it was unlikely to be open that day, possibly because there was a marathon being run? – and indeed she was right, though we didn’t find it anyway.  Decided to have a look around and get some money.   Without going into detail surfice to say we tramped that city flat.  Well not really, though we did visit a market, with an amazing array of fruits, vegetables, meats (including cat?) and fish – some a bit stinky and unappealing – and an annoying kid trying to sell us plastic bags.  He eventually left when I thumped him!
Back in the tourist centre we sat down at a pavement café and ordered sandwiches and cokes.  Should have realised we’d be ripped off but it’s all part of the experience I suppose.  Then a quick detour through some of the alleys of Tunis’ main medina, where we were invited to go and view Berber carpets at the mosque, but decided we didn’t feel like it.  While it was all very interesting, being in a city is not what we wanted so we decided to head up the coast towards Bizerte and Cap Serrat, where we thought there may be a campsite.  Took the main toll road after trying a smaller road and having no idea where we were going.  Bizerte was bigger than we’d hoped so we exited the other side and continued.  A wrong turn took us along a smaller and steadily deteriorating road which felt more like the Africa we’ve come to see; it was heading in more or less the right direction though not via the quickest route.  Nevertheless we stuck to it until we came to a lighthouse, which it turns out (according to our GPS) is the northernmost point of the African continent, Cap Blanc.  No tourist infrastructure at all so it seems we were lucky to get there.  The locals all seemed intrigued that we were there at all.
By this stage darkness was at arms length and it was looking increasingly unlikely that we would find a campsite at all so we started keeping an eye out for hideaway spots.  There were a lot of dodgy looking people around (Sarah’s convinced they were pirates though I suspect it was probably us being overly suspicious) as well as feral looking dogs but we did eventually find a nice looking area off the road.  Just as we were arriving there appeared a man on a donkey, so we decided we’d best ask if was ok to camp.  His face was full of character but he didn’t show any of it when I spoke to him.  As a consequence I had no idea if he was friend or foe, so we chose to move.  We did eventually find a lovely spot out of sight of the road, set in amongst bluegum trees – just perfect for the Kelly kettle.

PS: the bit about me thumping the child is not true.

Day 15 Monday 20th October 2008 TUNISIA (138.9 miles, Total 1913.9 miles)
(S) What an incredible first full night in north Africa.  Must admit I was on semi-alert for much of it, though Mike was soothingly calm.  Woke to a gorgeous sunny morning and set about making tea, washing last night’s dishes and having cereal for breakfast.  There were loads of small dung beetles around – one decided the soapy sponge was too tempting to pass up and attached itself to it.  Just as we were loading the chairs and table into Mapenzi, a herder strolled past – we were so close to having got away with being unnoticed (or so we’d hoped).  Waved solemnly back to my cheery greeting and disappeared into the forest.  We headed back towards the beaches past loads of dogs and shepherds on the side of the road.  There was no real track to the lighthouse unfortunately, so we had to make do with a distant view only.  We drove into the sun, sure that we’d finally hit a road to Bizerte.  Farmlands and tiny glimpses of the sea, but mostly the view was just slightly depressing little villages, smothered in litter.  Plastic rubbish really is a scourge here – and the smell is sometimes quite overwhelming.   Back in Bizerte we drove straight through and south back to Tunis.  Parked in the same lot, though twice the price and rather more crowded.  Asked tourist info to mark on the map where the Internet was, and got a proper plan of Carthage and the coast.  After nearly 2 hours of struggling with the Arabic keyboard and composing Libyan visa application e-mails (yes, we are still stymied – totally frustrated to discover process likely to take another full 2 weeks!).  Back to the car and headed for Carthage, terribly modern town in amongst all the ruins.  Posh schoolkids, caped guards at the presidential palace and some lovely villa type homes.  Bought tickets after fending off an elderly man trying to sell Mike ancient Phoenician coins, and ambled amongst the mosaics and headless statues of the Roman villas.  Disconcerting to see so many tourists! Have become accustomed to being surrounded by locals rather… Dry biscuits for lunch as we walked between the different sections of the old city.  Well worth a visit, and could have spent a few more hours, but keen to find official camping tonight. Museum interesting, though a bit limited (most artefacts are in the Tunis museum apparently), and the best bit was the Thermes baths which we got to last.  Much of it reconstructed but right on the water’s edge and impressive.  Had ice lollies and set off.  So began twisted journey back through La Goulette and Tunis (terrifying rush hour traffic past the port and merging lanes in the city) and onwards to Hammam Lif.  Far too crowded and crazy driving, so kept going.  I began to get anxious as the sun was going down when we finally made it to Hammamet.  Weren’t convinced there would be a campsite (though we had a name off the internet) so asked in a local hotel.  Very kind and helpful proprietor gave us directions but suggested we check it out carefully as he’d heard the hotel wasn’t nice.  Tried to explain we weren’t wanting to stay in the hotel but the campsite attached, but agreed with his advice to look around before we committed ourselves.  Directions weren’t totally clear so had to ask again. This time, the hotelier drew us a map and in superb English told us of yet another site we could try, further down the road if Samaris wasn’t open.  So impressed with how helpful and friendly people have been here in Tunisia.  Even the man on the donkey seemed just guarded rather than surly.  Directions were spot on, were shown to a site and all seems fine.  Only people here, so a bit lonely.  Arranged for a hot shower in one of the rooms – bizarre brick and tile wall around the beds, like a frame, and great pictures of old men on donkeys on the walls.  Gloriously hot water after 2 nights without a shower though, so no complaints.  Set up camp, as a cute puppy (skolwaan mutt) and loads of feral cats came up to meet us.  Have decided to stay for a day or two here – it’ll be our first full day in one place.  Can’t wait to get some of the chores done, like get the laundry out of the canoe bag (after a 4-day wash cycle – yuck).   Had delicious soup and bread for dinner, with chilli chocolate for desert.

Day 16 Tuesday 21st October 2008 TUNISIA (0 miles, Total 1913.9 miles)
(M) Ah, an easy day to write about.  We didn’t do much, and had a good time not doing it.  Woke late after a reasonable night and decided to get some of our chores out of the way before breakfast.  The laundry needed doing so we set about washing and rinsing in the sink, and hanging it to dry in the sunshine, on two lines strung between the Land Rover and an olive tree.  With that done we sat down for porridge followed by omelette cooked on our camp stove… and of course a cuppa.  Spent the rest of the morning chilling out; playing guitar, getting some of our paperwork and diary done, hunting for Sarah’s sandals after the puppy stole them (found under a bush after a 10 minute search of the campsite) and generally just being.  I think we’re finally starting to get some colour on our skin!
Around mid afternoon we thought we should probably achieve something, so ambled the 3 or 4 km into the town centre to find internet.  Loads of prickly pears on the side of the road so thought we may pick some later on – always up for a freebie.  Stopped at a pavement café en route, for panini and a coke and then continued, eventually finding internet in a stuffy and crowded, but adequate venue near the station.  Managed to get quite a lot done but a bit disappointed at the reply to our latest Libya query.  Seems it will take at least 2 weeks to process the visa and the cost is looking prohibitive if we want to see the desert – we’ll probably have to bite the bullet as it is a highlight and seems a shame not to do while we have the opportunity.  Problem is, we need an escort for the duration of our stay in Libya as well as a desert guide in his own vehicle to accompany us into the Acacus mountains.  Will wait to see what we can work out and plan to bush camp lots until then.
Started the 3 or 4km walk back, picking up a rotisserie chicken for dinner, and then some fruit and veg; melon, oranges, bananas, huge bunch of carrots and a couple of pale courgettes.  Things here are not as uniform or brightly coloured as we’ve become accustomed to tastes pretty much the same.  Oh, and Sarah’s telling me to mention the juice concentrate to take away the flat taste of the water that we’ve filtered…  And now she’s telling me to mention the ‘delicious looking halva’.
Did pick a few prickly pears, cleverly using paper to avoid the small hairs.  When we got back to camp I cleverly rolled them in the sand to remove the hairs and then not so cleverly proceeded to get lots of the hairs stuck in me anyway.  Swiss Army knife tweezers to the rescue.
Dinner of chicken, rice and veg; surrounded by begging cats and flies (it’s actually not that bad but it would make boring reading if I just said all was hunky dory – and there were cats and flies!).  Finally a cold shower (already saving sheckles for Libya) and to bed.  Nice day.
You should all know, my beard is coming on – I look a bit scruffy though.

Day 17 Wednesday 22nd October 2008 TUNISIA (13.9 miles, Total 1927.8 miles)
(S) Hummed and hahhed this morning about whether to head south or stay for one more day - totally dependent on the reply from our Libyan tour operator really.  I hadn't slept well again, partly due to the flag flapping next door, and the patter of drizzle on the flysheet with accompanying dilemma of whether to bring in the laundry or not.  When I finally emerged, Mike had finished labelling his photos and playing guitar.  I made pancakes for breakfast to go with all our fruit. Totally yummy.  The weather had been threatening all morning and then down it came - a proper shower, drenching the tent (luckily it seems to stay dry inside, so earlier fears of it leaking may be unfounded), rain sweeping in under the cover where we were standing.  The black cat joined us as we huddled at the back trying not to get soaked.  It didn't look like it would let up, so we climbed into Mapenzi and spent an hour or so sorting photos and finishing diary.  When the rain finally stopped we decided to pack up and get going, putting away a now-wet tent.  As we were driving out, the gardener who we'd been waving to every now and again, came up with three freshly picked pink roses which he passed through the window with a genuinely warm farewell.  We were really touched by the gesture, and hastily put some water in a travel mug so we could keep them fresh in the hot cab.  Said cheerios and drove around the corner to check out Camping Ideal which wasn't that ideal - more expensive and further out of town.  Maybe we'll just show up at Samaris again tonight if we do end up staying! 
Went into the Zone Touristique and discovered sandy beaches, deserted due to the weather but warm water and small waves.  Went for a stroll and met Ishmael on the route back to the car. Arsenal fan and pretty clued up on English weather! Tried to convince us to have a cocktail in his bar later and enjoy the Wed night disco - what an invitation! Via the boulangerie (had delicious chicken mayo baguette in the back of the Landy for lunch) we did internet - again no encouraging news about Libya yet.  Very anxious now as our route will be totally out of kilter - six months sounds like a long time, but not if you have 20,000 + miles to cover! Headed for the medina, parking next to a sandy beach with loads of fishing boats.  Very attractive but totally tourist hell.  Wandered into the medina and instantly hassled by vendors shouting "no hassle no hassle, just look, look only" (tapping on their cheek pointing to their eye) "come on make me happy" in various languages.  Felt hassled all right.  Some nice crafts though every stall the same - gorgeous leather handbags, tacky leather camels, lovely berber rugs and kitsch synthetic carpets, loads of colourful cous cous bowls and funny masks, delicate bird cages and knock-off sneakers.  Didn't feel like real deal, though the little back alleys were pretty with their trademark studded doors, white walls and turquoise shutters. I got suckered into a deal for a rug, from 180 dinars his final offer was 30! But it wasn't what we wanted and I think I just ended up insulting him by repeating my mantra - I do not want to buy, I am just looking!  Had hot drinks on the water's edge to watch the sunset, Mike sampling the sweet, syrupy thick coffee. 
We then ambled around avoiding the jasmine boys (who stuff poseys in your shirt and ask for a dinar) as we picked a restaurant for dinner. Chose fresh fish from a platter which was deboned at our table, the waiter chatting about how there are not that many problems in Tunisia because people here are the same, no real cultural differences.  He chucked the fish head over the balcony for the cat who had been eyeing out our table from a rather close perch! Tasty Tunisian salad for starters, with harissa paste for our bread and salty green olives.  Mike had a nice local (honey?) non-alcoholic beer too as a treat. Nice meal but blew our budget for the day!  Felt exhausted after all the hassling, so drove back to comfort of Samaris where they looked very pleased to see us again.  Hastily set up the tent and straight to bed after cold showers. 

Day 18 Thursday 23rd October 2008 TUNISIA (140 miles, Total 2067.8 miles)
(M) Today we really did head south.  We'd wanted to meet the fishing boats returning at 10:00am but needed to check the latest on Libya firs,t so moseyed into town, picked up some breads and croissant and hit the internet café once more.  Spent more time than planned there - we always seem to have unfinished business when we leave these places so stayed on to get our photos and diary up to date.  When we did make it to the beach the boats were already in so left straight away instead, making for Sfax further down the coast, where there's an authentic walled medina.  Decided to go easy on Mapenzi and take the toll roads (we had to pay at two of the toll stations but another two are still under construction, so looks like we got lucky).
El Djem, a town en route, attracts a lot of tourists for its colosseum so we felt we had to stop in and visit.  There's not a lot of information at the site itself but it's an impressive ruin that must almost compete with the one in Rome.  It's quite funny, within the site enclosure you're pretty much left to explore but the moment you step out again the sales pitches start again, shouted to you across the streets.  We managed to palm them off until we got back to the car which was now parked in.  We'd parked in a patron only area so had to have something - opted for a quick coke which was welcome anyway, before Sarah had to manoeuvre Mapenzi around the other parked cars back onto the street.
Off the toll roads again we started to see a lot of cafes dotted along the roadside offering mutton on the braai. Sarah was a bit squeamish but I was quite keen to try the authentic experience so we pulled up at one with a poor maltreated kite sitting on a stump outside.  Two of tomorrow's 'muttons' were tethered just off the verandah in the sun - it's difficult to imagine more forlorn looking sheep and it's hard not to feel for them.  The carcass which was to become our meal was hanging near the tables, wrapped in plastic.  With the plastic removed for me to choose my cut a cloud of flies rose off it - charming.  There was little finesse in the butchering of the leg which he cut for me either.  Just meat clevered into chunks and thrown, broken bone and all, onto the fire.  Next, out came some bread, spicy pepper dip, a bottle of coke and a bottle of water, and hot chips - and flies.  My shattered nerves! The flies!  Have to say the meat was truly tasty but it's difficult to justify the animals' treatment, and it wasn't cheap (though I'm sure we paid tourist prices).
Driving in Sfax was a laugh, with pretty colourful interpretation of the highway code to say the least.  It seems anything goes as long as it's not slowly.  Once you get used to barging your way in and just accepting that other road users will watch out for themselves it's not too bad, and really quite liberating.  It was pretty late already so we just found an internet café to look up places to stay.  Turns out there's no camping but we did manage to find directions to a cheap hostel.  There followed a couple of hours of driving in circles, asking the way and getting very friendly and helpful directions.  A particularly friendly group of guys were keen for us to return to their café to eat later and pointed out a cheap hotel nearby, though not the hostel.  The hotel was pretty scuzzy though, in fairness to them, I'd asked for cheap!  We opted to keep looking and eventually found an even scuzzier dive.  By now it was dark so we decided to stay.  It was cheap and being near the port, I think had a somewhat alternative agenda.  It was truly a cesspit.  The cracked cube that was our room had a well used double bed in the middle, with another single crammed up against one wall.  Next to the door there was a sordid basin with a grimy mirror above.  The floor, with it's mismatched and dirty tiles, was split in the middle, raising just enough to host the cockroaches underneath.  The curtains were greasy and ripped, opening onto a small balcony which overlooked perhaps Sfax's noisiest street.  And there were mosquitoes.  Armies of mosquitoes!  We put a couple of sarongs on the bed to lie on and, after a bit of a cobbled together meal, proceeded to wash in the basin (there were no available showers) and spend an uncomfortable night which we'll be able to tell our grandkids about one day.  All part of the fun.

Day 19 Friday 24th October 2008 TUNISIA (114.6 miles, Total 2182.4 miles)
(S) Oh my, what an experience.  We could only doze while we sweated away under the blankets hiding from the mosquitoes while the party happened outside our balcony.  At about 1am I very nearly considered draping the mozzie net that Steve and Barbara had given me as a farewell gift, over ourselves like a shroud (the ceilings were incredibly high so we had no way of hanging it successfully otherwise unfortunately).  Instead I managed to suffocate Mike by spraying our Mylol repellant spray on his back in such a concentrated dose (I couldn't see in the dark) that he couldn't escape the fumes.  Hmmm.  Added to that were cars revving up and down the street and revellers singing enthusiastically from a café nearby.  Wished away the hours until daylight so that we could safely emerge from what ranks as our worst hotel ever (quite a feat considering the dumps we have sometimes found ourselves in whilst travelling in South America or India - the "love-hotel" in Lima springs to mind!  And that was cosy in comparison!).  Anyway, now that it's all over, we can shudder and move on.  Waved farewells to the manager and parked around the corner.  Did a quick internet check but no reply from Libyan chaps so headed into the impressive walled medina.  Got slightly lost, but all part of the magic - we were totally ignored (what a relief!) by the house-proud vendors, who were energetically sweeping out their spotless clothes stores and displaying all their wares.  The tiny alleys merged with other tiny alleys coming off in all directions, and the distinctive studded doors provided back rests for little old men in fez hats and sandals.  At the other end we found artesian cobblers mending shoes, and carpenters making beautiful ladles, cous cous sieves, as well as handmade farming tools.  Watched one sharpening his knife on a grinding stone, and another working on an ancient foot-pedalled Singer sewing machine. Just outside the walls we found the veggie and fruit sellers, as well as stalls full of spice towers, chunks of myrrh (?) type minerals, incense, chillis, mounds of garlic and bay leaves.  At one moment the air is gloriously fragrant and spicy, the next fetid and rotten.  You need to watch where you stand if you're in open shoes too!  We walked right through the different sections, past jewellers, fabric stores etc and found a shop with clear, plastic tubing that we could use as a siphon pipe for our water tank which was rather a coup.  A group of schoolkids came up to greet us and cheekily posed for my camera.  We found ourselves suddenly outside and had to go back to the first entrance we'd used to short track back to the veg section. Milled around and then tried to buy onions - only wanted 3 and seems the vendor sells in bulk as he waved me away saying it wasn't worth weighing and paying for them! Felt a bit guilty, but smiled graciously and thanked him profusely.  We nearly garnered ourselves 4kgs of potatoes until we convinced the next chap that we only wanted 4 single ones. Having picked up on the system we successfully bought and paid for tomatoes, spinach, pears, courgettes etc.  One chap tried to get me to put a huge sprig of mint behind my ear but blushing I managed to say "non, merci" enough to convince him otherwise.  Collected some flat breads before we found the circular fish market - wow.  Eels, dogfish, mullet, octopus, shellfish, rock cod type fish - the works. Walked back to the car, Mike unpacked while I checked Internet again (no news) before we tried to escape Sfax centre.  Got hopelessly lost, meandering about the harbour and criss-crossing the train tracks before we recognised a fuel station from our hopelessly lost moments yesterday and finally navigated out of the city en route to Gabés.  Lots of dhows on the distant shore, but flat and featureless other than a couple of sheep braais, fruit sellers with buckets on planks, and dismal towns. Had lunch in the shade of some lone trees, harassed by flies to the extent that we shut ourselves in the back with our mozzarella, pesto sandwiches. 
Managed to get our GPS sorted to navigate to the campsite in Gabés after a few wrong turns (slowly getting the gist of it which is good).  I thought we were trespassing on a school, but Mike was convinced the campsite was behind the classrooms. I ate humble pie.  It was ok, totally alone again, dates everywhere, and very close to a mosque with a healthy loudspeaker, but entertaining watching men playing a netball-type game on the grass nearby.  No nets or goalposts but the usual shouting and barging!  Friendly internet café and at last, a response about Libya.  Totally breaking the bank (turns out that it is nigh impossible to travel independently, so we will be relying on two guides and paying almost the same as I was quoted by the other companies back in June - heart-breaking to think we could have just bitten the bullet back then and been sorted now) but have transferred the charges and now wait for dates... Will have to check again on Mon.  Bought some cashews and almonds for our padkos box and detoured past a curio shop where we were shown a clever teapot shaped like a camel with 3 openings (top for water to go in, bottom for milk to go in, yet only the side pours out tea). Managed to convince them we didn't want to buy anything after chatting about the marvel of SA hosting World Cup 2010 again.  At the campsite we made a tasty veggie meal before showering and then bed.  Noisy, but so lovely to be back in our comfy roof top tent, really didn't mind.

Day 20 Saturday 25th October 2008 TUNISIA (121.8 miles, Total 2304.2 miles)
(M) Decided it was time to move away from the crowds at the coast and head inland to the desert.  We left Gabes after a basic breakfast and discovering that our clothes washing bag has sprung a leak.  It was a good idea (add clothes to waterproof bag and let the bouncing of the vehicle do the washing) but hasn't been hugely effective so it's back to handwashing. 
The scenery changed quickly as we headed inland, from olive groves and people to gradually smaller scrubby bushes and flat, open landscape.  About 40 miles out of Gabes we realised we hadn't drawn any cash; we had enough to fill a tank but not to pay for camping etc as well.  Had that sinking feeling as we weren't sure where the next cash machine will be, or indeed where the last one was but decided that if worst came to worst we could bush camp and drive back to Sfax in the morning.
We wanted to get off the main road for a bit and managed to coerce our GPS into guiding us onto a sideroad which we followed for a couple of hours, looking for the ruins of two castles.  We did find the one, after being passed by a group of French 4x4s, but didn't stay as there wasn't much left of it really.  The route to the next one turned out to be more interesting as the tar ran out and the road started splitting into random dirt tracks.  A few men in a small settlement showed us the right one - we never did see the second castle but did find tar again after a further half hour or so.  The rest of the drive into Gafsa was uneventful and we were relieved to discover that it was a large town with numerous ATM's.  Also managed to get directions to an internet café to see if we could look up directions / coordinates for the campsite.  Didn't find any, but did get some for another site on a previous overlanders website and were impressed with ourselves that we managed to follow the GPS to get there. It was next to a restaurant with a couple of aviaries and supposedly a zoo (which doesn't appear to exist anymore) and, again we were the only ones there.  The proprietor unlocked a toilet and shower (lovely hot water and good pressure) and then we got the kettle on the boil.   Firelighting skills need some honing, I'm no Ray Mears.  Usual routine followed, though we did opt to go for a coffee at the restaurant after dinner.  Never quite know what you're going to get and I ended up with some heated milk with a topping of coffee powder, which turned out to be pretty strong when I stirred it in.  Not at all bad though.  Sarah had a very sweet tea with a lot of fresh mint.  Again, not bad.  It was nice an peaceful, other than the strange Arabic music we were being subjected to, and a bit of an altercation between our waiter and some of the local wideboys (hold me back fellas, I'm like a tiger when I'm loose) - don't know what it was about. 
Spent some time trying to photograph the toads on the path back to the tent, then shower (did I mention that it was hot and had good pressure) and then to bed.  A good day.

Day 21 Sunday 26th October 2008 TUNISIA (104.9 miles, Total 2409.1 miles)
(S) Had answered that we intended to head off at about 10am to the smiley gardener last night, as we were locked into the campsite, so ensured we made good time sorting breakfast and packing up.  I picked another pomegranate from the orchard as the one I tried last night was stung on one side.  Drove towards Metlaoui, through little oasis towns with laden date palms and whitewashed mosques. Just past the town, there was a road west that we hoped would take us through another chott (pan). Driving along we realised that it also skirted past the Seldja gorge.  There were a couple of tyre tracks so Mike followed along the river bank, and went into low-range to get right up to the opening.  The water was fast flowing but silted grey.  Mike jumped out to get a pic and we realised that there was a man on the opposite bank on a scooter, who started waving and gesticulating that Mike hop over to his side, which he duly did. I was then summoned over too, and so met Monsieur Lezaar who proceeded to offer us his services as a guide to the gorge.  We thought why not and went back to the car to lock up and get hats and suncream.  I managed to get both my pant legs wet in the river but they would quickly dry.  He was very enthusiastic if a bit frail on his cane and slippery shoes, and a bit too keen on taking photographs of us, constantly telling us to take our hats off and pose while kissing and hugging - so much for the advice against public displays of affection!  Seems he fancied himself as a bit of a cheesy wedding photographer... Very attractive gorge, with evidence of old phosphate mines and the train tracks now serving the tourist Red Train.  We walked through the tunnel with Lezaar convincing us the next train was only at 2pm.  On the other side had a super view of the gorge opening, but our 30mins was up and so we headed back.  Suddenly, the train arrived - with surprised tourists taking their scenic photos coming across two dusty travellers and an old man with a cane! Almost as surprised as we were I guess, it being nowhere near 2pm... Lezaar had now decided we had to visit his house and have a meal, and no amount of "no thank you" seemed to work.  He whipped out his mobile phone and called his wife, to order a meal.  We can't even get signal at Dave & Joey's house in Kent!  He tipped the young boy he'd coerced into being Mapenzi's "guardian" and directed us back to the road, as he couldn't make it across the river.  We picked him up and discovered that his house was all the way back in Metlaoui - very plain from the outside, but clean and traditional inside.  I was shown where to wash the silt off my feet and given some sandals to wear inside. We sat down crosslegged on the floor by a low-table, expecting to eat a meal with him, but were served bread, salad and meat, and left to eat on our own as guests, while the family had theirs in another room. Felt slightly awkward, but the food was delicious and ample and so we tucked in.  Lazaar did return to chat, about football, schools, his 7 children and nephew etc and then his wife came in to serve us hot, sweet, mint tea which she poured from a height into little tot glasses. She also gave us a bag of dates as a parting gift. Finished and keen to get back on the road as our 10 minute diversion had turned into a 3 hour ethnic experience, we paid him the price he'd asked for the guide service and were a little disappointed to discover that what was genuine hospitality also came with an asking price.  He also then asked for one of our travel mugs he'd spotted in the front and a pen which he left with him as our parting gifts.  We made our getaway hopefully without offending any cultural sensitivities and headed back onto the road. 
This time we made good progress until the tar ran out and it turned into a horrendous, braided track.  The main piste was corrugated and potholed so we mostly used the meandering side tracks.  Were passed by a bakkie loaded with cows, the driver waving happily as he sped along. 
We made a brief diversion when we spotted some camels grazing in a greener patch and then turned off onto the southern road into the chott.  Fantastic - totally flat and featureless, with shimmering horizons.  Soon the landscape changed into tiny bumps of dune sand, then larger until we were back in scrubland with the odd oasis here and there.  Finally in Tozeur, we struggled to find our way a little, the batteries on the GPS giving out at just the wrong moment.  But some helpful souls showed us the way to the campsite where we were delighted to see some fellow travellers for the first time.  Two German couples in a Land Cruisers and a Defender, as well as a Belgian family in a huge converted truck with major sponsorship stickers - a cinema for children all over the world?)  Set in amongst palms and shallow ponds, it was friendly but private.  We did some laundry and then went into town to pick up dinner ingredients.  Found some 0% beers and crisps which went down perfectly.  Unfortunately the shower was hopeless - zero pressure and cold.  Found out later that they have just built the block after a hasty move from another site so not quite ready yet.  Shame as we felt rather dusty and grubby - did I mention that there was zero pressure and it was cold?  Noisy as the horse-drawn carts were just next door, but overall was quite pleasant.

Day 22 Monday 27th October 2008 TUNISIA (63.4 miles, Total 2472.5miles)
(M) As we head further south the wildlife diversity seems to increase.  We have the flies and mosquitoes and now midges too!
After a late morning and pancakes for breakfast we reluctantly packed up and bade farewell to Tozeur.  I’m sure we could have made more of the place, which seems to have a wealth of culture as well as a pleasant campsite.  We had to go over to the previous site to pay at the office and asked there if they knew of internet in town.  Instead, they very kindly allowed us to use theirs.  We didn’t need it for long, just to check on Libya, but will need a longer session to upload photos and update the website soon, as we haven’t done so since Hammamet.  After that it was into town for a quick look about – we’d passed some carpet shops and wanted to get a Berber carpet for the back of Mapenzi.  First bought some lovely fresh baguettes and managed to draw some money in a local bank.  The street we were on was quite touristy but we did manage to make it past a couple of shops before we were enticed upstairs into a shop full of carpets of all descriptions.  And then started the sales patter, one rug after another being unrolled for us as we ummed and ahhed.  There was one we particularly liked but it was too big so we started ‘discussing’ a smaller one, with traditional patterning and colours.  He could give us a good price because we’re fellow Africans, but it’s still more than we were wanting to spend etc etc etc.  We eventually settled on a price agreeable to all parties and walked away chuffed with our purchase.
Out of Tozeur one is very quickly onto the raised roadway crossing Chott El Djerid, an impressive expanse of flat brown which extends to the horizon.  The Chotts are salt flats which date back to when a
portion of the Mediterranean was isolated from the sea. Salt is visible in places and in the water channel alongside the road, forms large crystals.  We were out of salt so broke off a chunk to try it.  Funnily enough it tastes like salt.  A little further on, a clapped out car which had passed us earlier suddenly careened across the road and then spun back on, doing almost a full 360 degrees.  Thought he was going to roll, so Sarah, who was driving quickly slowed down so as not to involve us.  Fortunately he stayed upright, so we stopped to push the car off the road and see if we could help with anything.  He seemed very grateful, if a little embarrassed, but managed to get the car going again without us anyway.
Our destination for the day was Kebili, a largish town of 45,000 on the fringe of the desert proper.  Driving through it to find the campsite, it didn’t look particularly inspiring but the campsite proprietor seemed very welcoming and spoke reasonable English (turns out he also speaks French, German, a smattering of Italian, Berber and of course Arabic).  We were invited in for a cup of their special mint tea and he proceeded to present us with a plate of huge broad beans with cumin (Sarah’s not a bean fan but they were very good).  Sadly, we’ve become a bit suspicious of friendliness because in most instances here it’s lead to a sales pitch or request of some sort.  He was offering us all sorts of advice on where to go and what to do around the area and we thought he may try and sell his guide services, so were wary.  It turned out that he was genuinely a nice guy and though we did give him something the next day, I don’t think it was expected.
The campsite is great.  It’s a large area of sand dotted with palm trees and two wells.  The pitches are flat and well maintained and the two toilets and showers, though basic, were clean.  The staff were friendly (…and brought us dates while we settled in).  We weren’t charged for the tea, nor for the beans and they also serve food at very reasonable prices too.  We decided to save ourselves the hassle of cooking and so ate in their restaurant instead; we were served a spicy but very good ‘berber pizza’ – basically tomato/onion sauce sealed in a flatbread (chapatti?).  Very filling.  Interestingly, before we ate he’d asked if we’d like wine or beers and managed to bring some in for us (a local brew, so I assume still alcohol free?).
There was another Swiss/French group who’d turned up in 3 vehicles (very friendly and interested in our Land Rover’s setup) who were going to make a fire outside that we wanted to attend but we missed joining them as$ our new friend invited us to join him and the two other staff to share their couscous after our own dinner.  I was already stuffed and only managed a couple of mouthfuls, though it was delicious – in proper Arabic fashion we were given a spoon each and told to help ourselves from the central dish.  I then agreed to join him for a shisha while we discussed our plans for the next day.  He had some good maps and suggestions for where to go and offered to take us to the market in town the following morning and then to make copies of the maps.
As an aside, he also gave us some interesting bits of cultural information which I’ll note for our own benefit as much as yours:
1) the hand sign often seen is the hand of Fatima and wards off the evil eye
2) fires are always kept in a home to show that visitors are welcome
3) blue doors are frequent in the area and are a colour of happiness (the patterns sometimes indicate how many families live there)
4) there are 10 palm trees to each resident in Kebili – they’re used as firewood, food, building and weaving material etc
So… a good evening had by all, if a little tainted by our unfounded worries about being suckered in.

Day 23 Tuesday 28th October 2008 TUNISIA (68.8 miles, Total 2541.3 miles)
(S) Woke up leisurely and Mike had left-over baguette for breakfast.  Had planned to be ready by 9.30 to go to the markets with our new friend Sghaier, but he was busy with his morning customers. Waved farewells to the French crowd who were heading north and pottered about, tidying Mapenzi and killing time.  When he was finally ready we drove into town to the vegetable market, picking up olives and admiring the variety for sale.  Then off to the animal market – though we were a bit late in the day by then and most of the transactions were complete.  We then strolled through the rest of the market, past sacks of coals, straw bales, clothes, shoes, toiletries, through to the spices and grains. Picked up popcorn, peanuts and some cous cous spice.  Interesting being with Sghaier; he showed us rock crystals used for deoderant, the little earthernware pots for mixing henna, and pointed out the medicine men with their potions.  After that it was to the internet café to scan our carnet to email to the Libyan tour operators, and off to photocopy some of Sgahier’s piste maps for the desert.  We then dropped him off back at the campsite, where he generously cut us a branch from one of his date palms as a parting gift.  Waved our goodbyes, filled with fuel at the friendliest gas station ever – though slightly nervous that one chap was overly keen on swapping his rusty old spade for our lovely new shovel! Drove off towards El Faouar, through dusty palm groves and scenic parts of the chott.  The piste we were following suddenly split in two – chose the western branch and got some fun film footage, but soon looked off track, so u-turned.  On the eastern fork, we made good progress until the small dunes blocked our way.  Managed to cross over the first few, but hadn’t let down the tyres as had more tar ahead, and so got a little stuck.  Out came our trusty shovel and we were on our way again. But not for long – soon the dunes had completely covered the piste, and we were reluctant to get in too deep.  So again, had to u-turn back to the crossroads.  On the western track again, we made it to the tar to El Faouar in good time (shows up as a gravel piste on our T4A GPS map but now a major road.).
The little town was overrun with kids at the end of the schoolday, and we couldn’t really find a good indication of which piste we should be aiming for.  Just outside El Faouar, we spotted a caravan of camels resting at the junction to Es Sabria and paused to check the map.  Two local guys arrived (one with the blackest teeth you can imagine) asking for cigarettes and wondering if we fancied a camel ride.  Regretfully shook our heads to both and smiled our goodbyes, deciding to head for Douz.  A could of kms later we spotted a gap in the dunes, so headed off the tar and 4x4d through them, running slightly parallel with the road before we saw another lull between the high dunes.  Had to hop out to check how steep the dropoff was, but Mike was confident Mapenzi could do it.  And he was right – punched through and over the other side, cruising up and over the few little sets until we reached the flat more rocky spot, perfect for our camp.  Bit breezy but not yet blowing sand at us – just dust.  Rigged up the shower and had liberating if chilly naked wash before decided to sort out the peapods we’d bought in the market.  Drank some ice-cold Coke with lemon, while shelling them – and though most were a decent size, they feel like little pellets – will probably end up rock hard!  Two luminescent green caterpillars feasting were rudely interrupted and face a rather horrible death in the plastic bag I’m sorry to report.  Better in amongst the pods than out in the sand I hope?  Hmmm.  When we’d filled two tuppawares with peas, we went about collecting twigs and desiccated camel dung to build a fire. Mike made damper dough while I trimmed two long sticks and we managed to get the flames to burn down to perfect embers.  Melted butter into them and scoffed them down as it got dark and the stars came out.  Put up the tent – marvellous view from the roof of the Landy – can see all the light haze from the villages dotted around the horizon.  Made dinner out of an emergency pasta packet with peas.  The wind had picked up though and getting rather blustery and very sandy, so we hid behind the bulk of the car to eat. Didn’t taste brilliant but filled the gap.  Tucked ourselves into bed, but had restless night worrying about the table and chairs blowing away as the tent flapped crazily.
PS More wildlife – lots of different moths and flying noo-noos committing hari kiri in our fire, also little brown beetles very keen on the damper dough crumbs, and lots of toktokkie type black beetles.  Surprised a tiny gecko lizard under the bush we chose to rinse our toothbrushes near.

Day 24 Wednesday 29th October 2008 TUNISIA (20.8 miles, Total 2562.1 miles)
(M) The tent flapped in the wind for most of the night.  That and the flies made up our minds for us and we skipped breakfast, packed up and left for Douz.  Somewhat of a relief that we made it out of our little dunes at the first attempt.  We weren’t far from the road if we had been stuck, but the dunes that we had to get up were only a metre or two high so it would have been really embarrassing to have to flag down a passing car.  The drive to Douz went smoothly enough, with wind blowing sand across the road in odd patterns.  We passed a number of camels lying in the dirt kitted out and ready to accept their next cargo of tourists.
In Douz we missed the turn off to ‘Camping Desert Club’ and passed a burnt out a truck that had somebody on the bonnet either trying to get it going again or taking parts (hopefully the latter).  Our newfound GPS skills and the odd signpost did get us to the camp in the end.  It had a good feel to it, especially since we both felt really sandblasted and dusty and in desperately in need of a shower.  The camping is popular amongst overlanders and offroaders so we were pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t overpriced (despite having pretty good facilities).  We were also surprised and a little disappointed that it felt a bit empty.  There were a couple of other groups there though they seemed to be keeping to themselves, so we found a good spot in a corner that was fairly well sheltered from the wind, put up the awning and went for a shower – cold but oh so gooooood.  A spot of laundry and then finally something to eat!  My stomach had been steadily digesting its way up my oesophagus in a desperate bid for survival but was rescued from the brink by Sarah’s very nice couscous lunch.  Chatted for a bit to a German couple in a camper van. They’d been in Tunisia 35 years ago (apparently a lot less touristy than now).  After they left we set about doing some chores and were joined by the noisiest cat in the world.  It shut up a bit when I gave it some water.
I got the Haynes manual out as the squealing from our steering pump has been getting worse. I didn’t do anything on it, though if it does get worse I might try adjusting the belt tension. Failin that we may have to have it seen to / replaced.
In the afternoon more cars started to arrive, including a massive German truck (Magirus Deutz) and a proper American 4x4 Chevrolet (6.5 litre engine!).  They were back in from a week in the desert and looked pretty bedraggled.  Funny to watch priorities though, first a cup of tea then a shower.  Karl, the German guy in the truck, came over to speak to us; turns out he’s a desert guide and spends 9 months in Tunisia every year, with the 3 hottest months back in Germany.  He had a DVD of some dune driving which we agreed to screen on our laptop later so that the other couple in the Chevy could watch too.  After a bit of a chat and a cuppa, we strolled into town, stopping first to chat to another German group (one was stung by a scorpion yesterday in the dunes, so had to drive out with a swollen leg – note to self, check shoes.).  In town we picked up some veggies and checked emails, while Sarah frightened a little girl by trying to ask her where the boulangerie was.  Picked up some nice fresh baguettes and almond pastries, and had a conversation with an English teacher who’s trying to sort out an exchange to go to Abu Dhabi – very friendly folks around here.
Back to camp for a chilled evening, and veggie stir fry.  By now it was packed with 4x4’s.  Quite interesting to check out everyone else’s setups and the different tent designs etc.  Flatteringly our packing system and MyWay tent were attracting a lot of interest from a French couple next to us, who kept pointing things out to their friends.  I was quite chuffed.  It all seems to be holding up at the moment, though we’re yet to experience really bad rutted roads.
Finally hit the sack after some more diary and another shower, oh the luxury!

Day 25 Thursday 30th October 2008 (42.8 miles, Total 2604.9 miles)
(S) Slept well, though there was a real buzz as the first desert rats set off to conquer the dunes at dawn. Gloriously sunny day with no wind – what a pleasure.  Got up leisurely, and Mike made porridge for breakfast.  Had a mixed French/English/sign-language conversation with our neighbours, comparing the pros and cons of the various roof top tents around the place.  Turns out they got their Hannibal tent 8 years ago, and went to Billing Land Rover show this year to check out new options. Mike gave them the details of ours as it made quite an impression apparently!  Got chatting to Karl again, and when we asked him what he planned to do now that his next customers had cancelled, he offered to take us into the desert instead – for the price of his fuel rather than his normal guide charges.  We hesitated for a moment, as his truck is pretty thirsty and we are horrendously over-budget now because of Libya, but it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.  Now we had to rush around a bit to prepare – filled the water jerry cans, went into town to update the website and share the news with our long-suffering moms, picked up 6 baguette (boy are we now sick of stale baguette – they are haunting us!) and veggies.  Also chocolate milks and cream cheese and some goodies.  It was Douz market day, so we detoured past the animal market. Have to say, I’ve had my teary moments when I’ve witnessed some ancient, sway-backed nag dragging a heavy cart in the hot sun, and those tragic sheep at the road-side braais, but the animals at the market were in superb condition and looked very healthy.  The goats in particular have the most spectacular long silky coats.  Very reassuring. 
Back at the campsite we hastily got the tent packed away and soon were ready to pay and have a last visit to the loos.  Karl shooed Ollie (his enormous Turkish Sheep Hound) into the Magirus and off we went.  Didn’t get far as the market day traffic was blocking the route out of town.  Mike and Karl nipped into the wholesaler to pick up six-packs of coke (2litre cokes mind you – Karl must have a sweet tooth!) while I guarded the Magirus.  Struck up conversation with a boy on a bike – he stopped to ogle Ollie (called him a lion!) and ended up telling me all about his school, chatting about Arsenal football (like I know anything about football…) and asking endless questions about the truck and the dog before he got suckered into helping a neighbour unload bedframes from a cart.  Karl’s antique motorbike on the front of the truck also drew lots of attention – again I’m afraid I know nothing about motorbikes – so much of the neighbourhood left with their questions unanswered.
We struck a new path and headed back towards El Faoaur, to Sabria, where we stopped outside the town to let the tyres down.  Apparently the kids in the area are a bit hostile and sometimes throw stones, so soon there was a queue of cars behind us, all deflating their tyres before zooming off towards the chott.  We did pause when two young fellows stopped to ask for cigarettes, again a quick shake of the head and smile sent them on their cigarette-less way. 
Pretty smooth driving, until we hit the chott – then had to speed up to avoid getting bogged down.  And then, the sand.  Some really cool, smaller dunes, which Mapenzi managed with ease.  We had to go off track as a camel caravan veered into our path, and then Karl spotted some bikers who waved him down.  They were keen to try and jump-start one of the bigger bikes with our help, but seems that the problem wasn’t the battery but more likely sand in the exhaust or something wrong with the fuel lines?  They ended up towing him from a quad-bike, not much fun.  We continued on, Mike driving like a pro, though at times tricky to keep up with Karl zooming ahead.  We swapped drivers at one stage, and I was doing well until I managed to get Mapenzi up to the chassis in sand on a particularly soft dune.  Got the spade out to start digging, but Karl suggested we simply deflate the tyres a bit more and tugged us out with his towrope.  Easy peasy.  Scenery kept changing, more and more dunes, less vegetation, and the sand changed from lovely soft yellow, to deep orange in places.  Went past a bir (a brackish well with scraggy palm trees) and then later, another.  We pulled over at about 4pm, and wondered why until Karl told us he’d heard something snap – his left front leaf spring had sheared.  He tried a hasty repair, while we made a Kelly kettle cup of tea, and watched Ollie herd two sauvage camels towards us.  But no luck.  He managed to do a temporary repair with some ratchet straps and a piece of wood, but we couldn’t now carry on into the big dunes.  Really disappointed, but what can you do? He suggested we backtrack to the bir crossroads, so he could check with a local for an easier route out tomorrow, so he could head north to buy a new part from the factory near Tunis.  We set up camp, started a fire, and helped him prepare dinner.  Had delicious soup with semolina rice, then cous cous, and sugary tea boiled on the coals afterwards, while he regaled us with stories of his adventures in Namibia, SA, Northern Europe and Asia during his youth.  The stars were incredibly bright, and the temperature dropped appreciably.  But the fire was marvellous and we relaxed until it burnt down and bed beckoned.  Really gutted that we can’t continue into the desert – but at least we got a taste of the dunes, and the opportunity to cross paths with Karl – we’ll have to plan a proper expedition one day.

Day 26 Friday 31st October 2008 TUNISIA (131.8 miles, Total 2736.7 miles)
(M) Slept well and woke fairly early.  Karl had a bit of an active stomach after the peppers last night but neither Sarah nor I seemed to have suffered any ill effects.  We were just going to have cereal for breakfast but our German guide had other ideas and came out with fried eggs and a potato thingy which was really good.  That and a cup of tea and we were smiling.
We kept hearing cars but either they were too far away or they were actually our fridge.  At about 9:00 a local guide with four camels and two tourists did arrive at the well and Karl went over to have a chat with them.  There wasn’t going to be an easier way out so we just had to go back more or less the way we’d come, only taking it a bit slower.  Nay bother.  A slow but fun journey followed.  Decided we’d try and get some video footage so one of us kept running ahead of the vehicles which were not moving very quickly.  We eventually came back to the tar and re-inflated our tyres while some of the local kids played the fool around us.  Karl was heading back to Douz but we’d decided we’d probably press on to Ksar Ghilane anyway.  We did follow him back as it was en route, and joined him for a cup of coffee and piece of cake on an open piece of ground outside town.  He gave a us a number of GPS coordinates for Libya and suggested places to stay on a remote beach on Djerba.  As we made our farewells wondering how we could broach the subject of how much, if any, refund would be fair, he gave us a gift of a tyre repair kit (strongly suspect he was having the same thoughts and didn’t have the cash without going to the bank – the reason we’d paid part upfront anyway).  Rather than seeming funny we left it at that – we had had a good time and I think he made an effort for us so we didn’t feel too bad.
From Douz we followed the asphalt towards Ksar Ghilane, with the wind picking up and the sand across the road blowing thicker and thicker as we went.  It was really quite miserable outside and perhaps not a bad thing that we weren’t now out in the dunes.  At one stage we got out to have a break and swap drivers and I made the mistake of opening the door while Sarah still had hers open – dust everywhere!  On we pressed, with the sun sinking fast and the road slowly disappearing under a coating of sand; some growing into small dunes like speedhumps.  As the sun set visibility became really reduced and we used our spotlights for the first time – more so that others could see us than anything else.  It was an uncomfortable experience, struggling to see the road let alone other traffic (though, not surprisingly there was little about).  At one stage we did pull over to offer some assistance to the occupants of a bakkie that flagged us down.  Gave some indigestion tablets to a fella who, by the sign language and burping seemed to be suffering a malady of the stomach.  Didn’t want to give him anything stronger as we didn’t really know what was wrong with him.
Finally, round about where Ksar Ghilane should have been there was a sign pointing off the road to a campsite.  There didn’t seem to be anything more than tyre tracks heading off into the sand but our GPS seemed to agree so off the road we went.  After a couple of minutes we saw lights ahead and then gradually the camp came into view – woohoo.  Turned out to be almost a resort, with a hot spring, Berber tents, a restaurant and nice bar etc.  Checked in and set ourselves up for a quiet night.  The wind by now was starting to die down again so while Sarah cobbled together a meal of stale baguette and salad, I cleaned up some of the mess in the front. 
Had a shower (almost warmish) then made some popcorn and settled down to watch a movie on our laptop; the first since we started the trip.  A chilled night after not a very chilled evening.

Day 27 Saturday 1st November 2008 TUNISIA (171.1 miles, Total 2907.8 miles)
(S) The neighbouring group of bikers had a really noisy generator, but other than that we had a relatively peaceful night.  Slightly cool still.  Had cream cheese and honey on our semi-rock hard baguettes and went for a stroll.  Watched a convoy of 4x4s head off into the dunes, the chap bringing up the rear shouting bon appetite to us out his open window.  There were lots of camels waiting for passengers and some kids with their fathers swimming in one of the hot pools. I was tempted but it looked a bit murky and we were keen to hit the piste east.  Packed up and headed off, after setting some GPS waypoints and finally working out how to create a route.  Went past a strange monument and got stuck behind a red French 4x4 who was also looking a bit lost.  Went around them and followed the track before we realised that most of the gravel road on T4A simply runs parallel to the tar – how disappointing.  After a bit more discussion we realised our priorities have kinda changed, and it would actually be better to just head straight for Djerba rather than cruise around Tatouine and surrounds. 
Went via Matmata, admiring the scenery as it changed from gravel and sand to rocky hills with scrubby bush and some photogenic little villages with mud houses built into the mountainsides.  Soon we were in tourist heaven, spotting the famous troglodyte cave houses cut into the rockface, with posing camels and children loitering on the roadside, and signs promoting café services, craft shops and tours.  We paused in Matmata itself but turned down the offer from a guy on a motorbike to see a “real” Berber house.  Also somehow missed the opportunity to take any photos – just seemed a bit fake and tourist-trap like, and we found we didn’t really have a burning desire to go into any.  Could have gone on to check out the Star Wars set as well, but in the end just pushed on to Medeniene.  Fantastic views from the winding road up and over the mountain pass.  On the ring road outside Medeniene we stopped for lunch in the back, and closed the door to keep out the flies.  Foolishly left our sandy shoes outside which attracted a teenager on a bike who came up to try his luck.  First he asked Mike for 5dinar (cheeky) and Mike laughed and said no.  Then he tried to get us to buy his phone for 5dinar (not likely given it was trashed) or give him a phone (yeah right!) - we couldn’t be sure.  He kept hovering and made a real nuisance of himself.  Once we’d finished eating we waved goodbye and hastily drove away.
Back to the coastal roads and the familiar sight of olive groves and litter everywhere. At the port we were soon in a queue waiting to board the ferry. I was desperate for the loo so ran ahead to a café. Customers only, so bought the most expensive bottle of water imaginable to use the most grotty toilet imaginable.  Ugh.
Orderly boarding meant we were in the middle lane near the back, behind the package tour 4x4s and a laden pickup truck.  Hopped out to see the view from the front, spotting cormorants drying their outstretched wings on the bouys (all have solar panels on top – v. clever).  About 5/6 ferries shuttle back and forth, repeating the 15min journey all day long.  We waited until we’d docked, barging hard into the wooden blocks, before rushing back to jump into the car.  Chaotic disembarkation, with hooting and aggressive pushing and shoving, yikes.  On land we followed Karl’s advice, keeping left and heading for Sidi Jmoer, following the coastal road past posh white beach homes and quaint fishing boats.  Stopped to pick up some dry palm fronds and root knobs for our fire later.  Kept a lookout for good camping spots but weren’t sure, and then we were at the mosque and realised we had come too far.  Went back, then were too close to the port again, so turned around.  Finally chose a sheltered spot and hopped out to pick up shells and peer into the rockpools.  Some goat herders arrived (two boys shimmying up a palm tree to pick dates) so we moved on again deciding to come back later. Chose a good spot and had a swim – lots of weed and water quite cold, but with warm isotherms, and lovely to be able to loll in the gentle swells. Lots of tiny fish in the shallows.  Sneaked up on a flock of birds but they were too sharp and spotted us, flying away.
We rigged up the shower to wash off the salt and chatted briefly to a guy who had come by to pick up his motorbike hidden in the scrub. We’d noticed a number of fishermen out on their little boats so Mike decided we should try and buy some fresh fish if they came ashore.  Now we were on a mission to find the fishermen, and stopped near a little bay.  The chap we asked seemed very friendly and wanted to give us a pile of small fish from his catch, when we only wanted 4 or 5, and he kept filling our bag while we kept emptying it! He offered them to us “complement” but we insisted on giving him something – 2dinar seemed to be appreciated.  By now it was getting dark so we dashed back to our spot and spent a while trying to level the vehicle.  Got the fire started and Mike gutted the fishies while I prepared the onion and potatoes for the coals.  Delicious meal by firelight, with the new moon over us and the stars blinking.  Got the tent up and made ourselves comfortable while the waves lapped at the shore, lulling us to sleep.

Day 28 Sunday 2nd November 2008 TUNISIA (41.9 miles, Total 2949.7 miles)
(M) Other than a couple of fishermen laying gillnets offshore there was still nobody about.  A few minutes after I climbed down from the tent a chap did arrive on his bicycle and spoke to me for a short while.  Neither of us understood the other so it was a brief but friendly conversation before he continued on his journey along the shore.  Took a few photos of the camp before Sarah emerged and then decided to leave and find somewhere for a swim.  We weren’t far from Houmt Souk, the capital of Djerba, and arrived after a short drive, complete with bed hair and unwashed.  Decided it perhaps wasn’t the right time to do our supermarket shopping so headed back out of town for a wash and some clean clothes, all done on the side of the road (hopefully out of sight of passing traffic).  When we returned to the town centre we spent an hour or so in a large supermarket with a western feel to it (if you ignore the meat counter).  It seems few locals do much of their shopping at supermarkets and they tend to be few and far between – good for stocking up and getting a few luxuries though especially as we don’t want to be wasting time finding things in Libya.  Very excited to pick up some mince for a bolognaise later.
Out of the supermarket we passed a garage offering a hand wash and spray.  Decided to treat Mapenzi to a bath as she was looking decidedly second hand.  Exterior only though, didn’t want to have to sort out the inside so that someone could go poking around with a vacuum cleaner.  A slow forty five minutes passed as she had herself pampered and we moseyed around the garage.  Once done we asked about internet and were directed a little down the road.  Very slow but adequate – still no word from Arkno so have to assume we’re still ok to get to the Libyan border on Tuesday.
Have been looking for a Tunisia sticker for the car so we made for a touristy area and were immediately schmoozed into a shop we didn’t want to be in - intensely annoying, so we left, bought some postcards at another shop and vamoosed.  Now for the challenge of finding a campsite.  From another blog and some research online we’d found one that was further along the coast.  Uneventful journey though disappointingly most of the coast on this side of the island has been annexed by luxury resorts and hotels and is only open to patrons – personally I think it’s disgusting but that’s the way of I guess.  Fortunately Aghir, where we were headed is still open and we found Hotel Sidi Slim where we thought the camping was.  Turns out theirs is closed but Aghir itself was a little further.  We’d read that the toilets were disgusting but otherwise not too bad so weren’t expecting much.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d hesitate to lick the tiles clean but they weren’t as bad as I’d imagined and the camp itself, set behind some basic chalets, was ok.  Nice piece of beach as well, so after parking we went for a swim. 
After a hot shower I decided to clean out the inside of the car and spent the next couple of hours getting as much of the sand and dust out as I could (just in time for another 10 days in the desert I know), while Sarah did some diary.  Pleased with the result, despite much of it being done by the light of a headtorch.  Great spagbol accompanied by some 0% beers and followed by a short walk long a nearby pier.  On the way back we were approached by two young guys who asked for our medical assistance.  One had a bit of a cut/graze on the back of his arm.  Personally I think he would have pulled through anyway but we humoured them and put a plaster on it.  By this stage there was a bit of distant lightning so decided I’d have another hot shower (they’ll be scarce in the days to come and I’m enjoying the fact that I now have shower gel instead of just shampoo) before bed.

(S) I just wanted to add that I had a hilarious conversation with the night security guard, one of the residents the hostel and some other guy after brushing my teeth.  They were sitting outside the bathrooms and insisted I go over to chat.  When they discovered I was South African, on came the questions.  We managed in part French, part Dutch, with some English, and from my answers they convinced themselves they were going to Cape Town to watch football, swim in the ocean, smoke lots of cigarettes, party with beautiful white women, live hard and then come back to Tunisia to sleep! Not for me to shatter their dreams :)

Day 29 Monday 3rd November 2008 TUNISIA (37.8 miles, Total 2987.5 miles)
(S) The storm was quite impressive - booming thunder and lightening but not a lot of rain.  Slept well and woke up to a bit of an overcast day.  It did perk up later, but typical coastal morning haze. We ingeniously resurrected one of the last baguettes, turning it into delicious French toast for breakfast. (Love our non-stick pan - worth the hassle of having to pack it carefully every time we use the kitchen box!) The camp dog reappeared - he also has those hideous parasite flies, but otherwise was a really friendly, cheerful pooch.  Would happily have adopted him (after a thorough disinfectant bath of course). As you can tell, we hate waste, so offered him the end crust of the baguette - he licked it and all but gave up. Really like cement now, we will have to give up and chuck them soon.
Spent the morning doing chores, clothes washing etc. and then I had a total tantrum with our inverter.  When we hooked up the electrics, we took great care to create a proper socket for it. I managed to convince Mike not to replace the plug section as it had a special fuse, but it has never worked brilliantly and takes a lot of strategic, subtle manoeuvring to get it to function.  We find we are relying on it more and more to charge the laptop and our cameras, and now it was really playing up.  It beeps shrilly when the connection isn't solid, and the alarm was driving me insane.  So I relented.  Mike expertly changed the plug and tested it and the wretched thing blew the electrics.
After fiddling around, taking out both batteries, replacing 3 fuses, putting the batteries back in, and some more fiddling around it was all working again, and best of all, the inverter works too!!! Hooray! Thank you sweetheart.
By now it was lunchtime, so we had cuppa soup (water boiled in the Kelly kettle as we're worried about our gas running out) with the final few rounds of baguette.  Yup.  But we only managed half and the final section was thrown onto the grass for our new friend to gnaw at. He made some progress and then it disappeared. Maybe he buried it under someone's towel on the beach or something...
Chatting to the helpful fellow at reception revealed that we should find everything we now needed in the neighbouring town of Midoun.  Alas, the ATM's weren't working and the banks were reluctant to let Mike draw with his passport, the garage only had butane not propane, and we couldn't find any internet. So off to Houmt Souk where we only managed internet. Not doing so well. Back to Midoun and now it was dark - got cash as the ATMs were working again, and asked in a souvenir shop for a sticker but no luck. So partial success only. By now it was totally dark, and we headed back via the long route as we missed our turnoff.  So much for our rule of never driving at night.  Back at camp we paid for our 2 nights stay and arranged for the gate to be opened at 5am.  Had potato-spinach patties with a bit of salad for dinner, packed up everything and went to bed quite early.  Pleased that the website is up to date for Tunisia, photos are uploaded and Arkno have sent us a pdf of our visa - we still don't know the name of our guide, but all should be in order for us to be at the border by 8.30am.  Slept fitfully, with the wind buffeting the tent terribly, Mike nervous that the flysheet might tear as it whipped up. Our last night in Tunisia - can't quite believe we've been gone for four whole weeks and a day already! 


Day 30 Tuesday 4th November 2008 TUNISIA - LIBYA (279.6 miles, Total 3267.1 miles)
(M) Mapenzi nearly ate a cat this morning!  We started early, having agreed with the camp manager that he'd open the gates for us at 5:00am.  The roads were quiet but the oncoming traffic that we did have kept flashing us. I suspect we're blinding people with our headlights as we have mismatched lenses (one lens for left hand driving and one for the right, so not really legal anywhere).  Somewhere along the way a slow cat timed its run entirely badly and Mapenzi needed sharp reigning in.  Other than that and being flagged down and immediately sent on our way again by a policeman (think he was trying to find a lift) we had an uneventful journey in the dark.  One wrong turn took us to the docks in a small town but otherwise the trip to the Libyan border was easy, passing a town where money changers waved wads of cash at us and shops opened with their piles of gaudy blankets and other cheap wares on the side of the road. 
We arrived at about 7:15, an hour before we were due to meet our escort.  Joined a queue and watched as people shuttled backwards and forwards, some pushing their cars the last few metres rather than start up each time.  A lot of Tunisians cross the border to buy cheap fuel, which they carry back in plastic containers and spare fuel tanks and sell on the side of the road (many burnt out wrecks on the roadside as testament to the perils of this venture).  When we got to passport control we handed over the necessary documents and were directed to one side where we waited.  I was asked for my passport and one dinar, which I dutifully handed over.  And that's where I met my toilet...
I can state, with absolute authority, that I have used the world's most vile latrine.  Forewarned is forearmed so the saying goes.  I could have guessed from the crumpled face of the guy who came out earlier, or perhaps the battered door held ajar with a rusty piece of wire.  The slimy green puddle on the concrete outside could have provided further clues, but being the soldier that I am I forged ahead regardless.  Without going into detail nothing could have prepared me for the assault on my senses that followed.  There were flies over everything and the toilet bowl, without seat, was split down the middle and caked with a cracked yellowish residue.  And let me not start on the randomly scattered human waste!  DO NOT need the toilet at Ras Adjir border.
The official who had my passport came and went, dealing with a wailing woman and various other tasks and looking generally quite important.  Finally, after 45 minutes of standing about and eating dates I was asked if we had a guide for Libya and when I replied in the affirmative, we were allowed to continue.  Our guide was waiting at the Libyan side with a placard, helping us through in under half an hour, complete with Libyan license plates which are now attached with bungee cords.  We later found out that after 20 years of isolation the people of Libya really appreciate any visitors (people wave and flash their lights at us all the time).
Driving in Libya is a lottery; two, sometimes three abreast overtaking with oncoming traffic at 70-80 mph on single carriage roads in clapped out, overloaded cars.  Can't really say enough to describe it though we did later drive through the biggest car scrapyard I've ever seen.  About 10km long, and stretching a hundred metres or so on either side of the road - piled on top of each other were crashed cars of all descriptions, mostly from head-ons it seemed.  All written off.  Pootling along at our own speed were were being overtaken almost constantly and soon got used to watching for people cutting back in, or oncoming cars trying to run us off the road to make space for one more.  Arrived in Sabratha at what we thought was about 11:00 (we found out later that time has changed again and it was actually midday) and our guide seemed very keen for us to have lunch at a restaurant there.  Was very nice, though can't eat out all the time and hope he will understand that.  Also found out, to our dismay, that we couldn't change Tunisian money in Libya - only on the black market.  Really annoying after spending so much time trying to get enough yesterday.  Our guide did manage to find someone who would do it, though at a very bad rate!
We made slow progress through the crowded streets of Tripoli's outskirts and neither of us was particularly upset that we wouldn't be stopping there.  Not much so far to indicate a sense of aesthetic outside personal appearance - lots of litter everywhere and the buildings are very block-like and drab, with military colour paint adding to the feel.  Loads of posters of Gadaffi everywhere and many of the kids are dressed in military clothing (don't know if it's uniform, trendy or just cheap).  One thing that did stand out though was the digital countdowns on traffic lights in Tripoli - cool idea.
Finally arrived at Leptis Magna at 16:30 only to find out that the site closed at 17:00 so we would have to see the ruins in the morning.  A bit worried as we're supposed to be covering a 1000km tomorrow which is going to be a push.  We instead went to the amphitheatre which is usually included as part of the visit anyway and which we could wander around at our leisure.  Quite littered but impressive, though difficult to tell restored from original.  The acoustics were interesting (a guide with another group had them clapping to demonstrate).
There is only one place to camp at Leptis Magna, in the grounds of a cheap hotel on a busy intersection, where our guide and the proprietor would have liked us to take a room.  The slightly more expensive one was ok and I didn't see the cheaper one (for the same price as camping), but we didn't feel like carting stuff up and down stairs and are also not quite sure of cleanliness standards and didn't want a repeat of Sfax, so opted for our tent instead.  It felt good to have some time to ourselves while our guide went off to a café to eat - it's quite an intrusion having to accommodate an extra person, especially with the language difficulties and cultural misunderstandings.  Set up camp and had a light meal.  Then a shower before bed.  The showers were entertaining.  There were two shower/toilets, one of which had a beehive in it.  The other had a drain hole on the floor, which gurgled up its contents when you flushed the loo - careful where you stand!
World's worst toilet, most interesting driving habits, biggest ever scrapyard - definitely a day of records.

Day 31 Wednesday 5th November 2008 LIBYA (436.7 miles, Total 3703.8 miles)
(S) Despite this being possibly our noisiest campsite so far (lots of near miss collisions happening at the crossroads by the sound of things), we both slept ok.  Up at 7.30 so that we could get a early start at the ruins.  Our guide who had simply stretched out under the palm a little way off was also awake so we rushed our weird Tunisian cereal for breakfast and packed up quickly, driving round the corner to be there as the ticket office opened at 8am. But alas, despite there being plenty of officious looking gents standing around, the office was closed. So we parked ourselves under a tree to wait. Half an hour later Karim arrived and we set off for our guided tour.  Turns out he was running a bit late as he'd been watching CNN and the announcement of Obama as the new US president.  We didn't have a clue! Have purposefully avoided the news so far but must admit, was rather enjoyable to hear Karim's version of world current affairs!
Leptis Magna really is spectacular - there is still acreage under the sand, and it's a little bittersweet to see so much concrete restoration/reconstruction, but we were both really pleased we'd made the effort to add this incredible place to our itinerary.  Karim was a real drama-king, loving the fact that we were South African, and kept testing us to see if we could work out the meaning of things.  Fair English though with odd Arabic/Italian pronunciation! It was great having him lecture us on the history and legends - he kept pointing out the graphic-style street signs, told us about the rheumatics plant, explained the technology behind the hot water baths, and obligingly rushed us through the 4hour tour in just over an hour and a half.  Many of the marble pillars are still intact (some restored to their upright stature), and you can see the different colours; green from Egypt, red from Italy, white from Santorini island, unfaded after 2000+ years, many of those spent buried under sea sand after the earthquake of 600AD.  At the end of the Roman road to the harbour, we dashed down to the sea to dip our toes in the Mediterranean, mostly to appease our guide who loved the symbolism of us touching the Atlantic in 5 months time, and being able to say we've been from the north to the south of Africa... What a romantic!
We gave him his fee + tip and the ticket price as we said our farewells and met up with Mr Mihemmed who hadn't had any success registering our passports because of the queues.  We hopped in the car and headed back to Tripoli, the traffic as chaotic as ever.  Tried to make good speed but got trapped in the lunch-time rush hour, before having to navigate enormous, mad traffic circles with 3 lanes turning into 5 or 6, and cops in white whistling like crazy to direct hurtling vehicles whilst avoiding being run over.
Not much to say about the journey - mostly scrubland and littered small towns, an interesting pass up into the highlands, and we stopped for bread which Mr Mihemmed refused to let us pay for.  Lots of people hooting and waving, flashing lights and smiling at us passing.  According to Mr Mihemmed, after 20 years of isolation, the Libyans are genuinely excited to see tourists.
We just kept trucking, slowly chewing the miles. At one stage Mike noticed that we were kinda going west, not south. And when I was playing around with the GPS to try and plot last night's camp I said out loud that we were still miles away from Nalut.  We were running a bit short of fuel, but it didn't seem to stress Mr Mihemmed much, so we kept going. After stopping to swap drivers and have a dash to the bushes, I checked the GPS again, and compared it with the map, and realised that we were about 2 hours drive west of where we should have gone south.  Nalut wasn't on our intended route.  Mr Mihemmed asked some folk driving past who confirmed the desperate news.  We at least had the grace to simply shrug and turn around, but boy was it just gutting.  I was also in panic mode about fuel, but again some locals saved the day and directed us to the next town.  Filled the tank and the clean jerry, warmly greeted by the pump attendant.  Whew.
Now the 2 hour drive back to the junction south.  It was getting dark, and Arkno express in no uncertain terms in their Libyan dossier that tourists are forbidden from driving after sundown. As do our own self-imposed rules for this trip.  But now, not only had we wasted four hours on a rather random detour, we were of course 4 hours + shy of our target for today.  We were supposed to get to Sabha and we weren't even half way there.  Breaking the rules, we put foot (as fast as we dared in old Mapa, she is only comfortable at 58mph max, and we were pushing over 60mph (makes dodging potholes and the constant oncoming traffic a hairy affair). 
By now it was truly dark and we were finally in the semi-desert.  Again we were blinding people, and most oncoming cars only have one headlight and drive in the middle to avoid broken down folk on the side of the road.  Yikes.  I slowed down at one of the roadblocks that Mr Mihemmed has all the papers for, but didn't see anyone so kept going.  We heard whistling but no one came chasing after us?!  Mike barely paused at the next one, and the kindly chaps waved us through the checkpoint after that.  And then we were stopped for good.
The coppers spun us the story about camels on the road and it was therefore far too dangerous for us to continue (no matter that we at least have lights that work, drive at a slower speed, and have a more roadworthy vehicle than the poor locals!).  Of course, the next day we stopped counting at 15 camel carcasses on the side of the road... Just as well we listened!
The police were overly helpful, trying to coax us to park in an abandoned building on site - but luckily (? There was trash everywhere!) we were too tall to fit under the broken doorway.  We simply parked outside and put up the tent.  Had tunamayo baguette as our meal and were ready for quick bucket wash and bed.  One of the guards very generously gave us an apple and banana each to eat - such kindness and hospitality...
Mr Mihemmed had a meal with them and then bedded down somewhere near their office.  Apparently they kept checking on him all night, waking him up at regular intervals to see if he was ok!  He would have been if they hadn't kept waking him up! We were at least cosy in our tent but boy, the traffic stopping at the roadblock was really loud.  And dogs howled ALL night long. Or so it seemed.  There was also a stiff breeze battering the tent and rustling all the garbage around us.  Sigh, so much for a peaceful night en route to the desert.

Day 32 Thursday 6th November 2008 LIBYA (549.5 miles, Total 4253.3 miles)
(M) We'd decided to get going as early as possible; before sun-up if the police would allow us, so managed to sneak away at 6:30.  Note: sneaking is not really possible in 3 tonne diesel Land Rover.  The stars were still really bright but the sun started to come up after half an hour or so and we made good time trying to stick to 60mph.  Nearly took another wrong turn after about 3 hours.  Fortunately the road turned to gravel, which roused our suspicions and again we had to prompt our guide.  After getting back to what he thought was the right road he wandered off to check, while we waited in the car and watched a camel pass us by, tied onto the back of a bakkie.  We did wonder if we should pick up diesel as the next town looked pretty far on the map, but there was a long queue and our trusty guide was sure we'd have enough.  300km, one jerry can and twice in the red later we did find eventually find some, but we are starting to be unsure about how sure our guide really is...
It wasn't until 14:00 before we eventually reached Sabha, supposedly our destination for the day before.  We were due to meet our desert guide here, so pulled over outside a college.  Interesting watching the goings on - almost no mixing between sexes and many people, particularly the women, were dressed traditionally - have to be careful about photography here as you're apparently not supposed to take photos of women.  Our desert guide arrived, though not outside the college, in an old Land Cruiser with horns tied to the grill.  He didn't speak any English but seemed quite pleasant - a young guy, Nadil.  While we waited he zoomed off with our passports and 30 dinar which he deposited somewhere in Sabha for us to collect when we return - apparently we require a stamp if we stay in the country for longer than a week.  Then off we went!  Our slow pace was not enough though and we had to follow on the now somewhat pitted road at between 60 and 70mph.  Again, some very dodgy overtaking with one especially close oncoming vehicle literally passing under Mapenzi's wing mirror.  Hmmmmm.  Stopped to fill up the tanks but had to wait while they fixed the drive belt on the diesel pump.  Decanted our left over contaminated fuel into the sand (I know, not good but there's diesel all over the place anyway) and filled both jerry cans.  Our fuel consumption at the higher speeds has dropped from a respectable 31 miles per gallon to about 23 miles per gallon. Back on the road we pulled over again in a small oasis town where our guide's Toyota broke down.  A pair of pliers, a bent screwdriver and teeth got it going again though.  We continued until just after dark where we passed another police checkpoint. The desert guide wasn't keen to upset the police so a short while later we drove about a hundred metres off the road and parked up for the night.  In the distance was the flare from a refinery and the faint hum of a generator but other than that and the occasional car driving past it was really peaceful.  The guides built a fire and we made dinner under the stars.  Joined them for a glass of tea and a chat (failing to avoid politics - another rule of the dossier) on their blanket before turning in for the night.  Really nice spot.

Day 33 Friday 7th November 2008 LIBYA (228.7 miles, Total 4482 miles)
(S) Slept well despite the generator hum at the refinery, and the tent flapping in the breeze a bit. Rushed packing up and breakfast so that we could get on the road by 8am for a solid early start. Followed Nadil back onto the tar, which was horribly pitted and rutted for a fair amount of the way, and he was pushing us to creep above the 60mph needle again - ouch. The scenery has changed from flat, desolate gravel plains, to medium yellow dunes, to the oases like Germa with palms and agriculture fringing enormous red dunes in the distance, to acacia strewn foothills and those odd flat topped mountains covered in black rock (which we at first thought was burnt grass).  By mid-morning we were in Al Awayanat - and first impressions were very favourable.  All the locals, waving and smiling, wore turban scarves and flowing robes in bright colours, and there was no litter (a first!) though they had ripped up half the street for roadworks.  We paused to pick up 2 plastic jerrys, and to buy our own kadmul fabric (3m each).  At the petrol station Nadil filled both his tanks and jerrys, but there was no diesel for us. So we headed back into town (picking up some baguette en route) to the campsite, where we filled up with water and had a shower while Nadil went off with all 4 of our jerrys in search of blackmarket fuel.  45 dinar later and we had 3 full jerrys, woohoo!
The campsite was chocabloc with French vehicles all filling their black solar shower bags and sweeping out tonnes of dust.  We didn't hang about though and soon were off through the outskirts of town into the badlands.  Fair pace and it sure was a bumpy ride - the ground is deceptive too.  The black stones covering gravel and sand look firm but the wheels sink and spin through it. While the desert sand looks really soft and was actually good going though at the speeds we were chasing Nadil we were slewing across them a bit!
Amazing scenery, especially as we started meandering through the bizarre rock formations of the Accacus mountains (or Akakus - places have so many spelling variations to their names, seems it's all depends on the phonetic translation! Our Michelin map, atlas, GPS T4A all have differnt ideas n these things...) .  There were balancing rocks, caves and jumbled rock formations - some that seem to have swallowed the dunes, and some that seem to have sand smothering them...  What a photogenic landscape - thank goodness we have digital cameras! I took over 300 pictures in the two days we were here, and if I'd been using film I'd have bankrupted us!  I just couldn't resist... Thing is though, I've deleted over two thirds as they were totally blurry, taken at high speed out of my window through Nadil's dust!  Our first stop was at a finger-of-God type balancing rock, called the Thumb by the Tuareg, and shaped like Tunisia. We took some photos, had the milky tree explained again (this time it can take away a scorpion sting?!) and then headed for our first rockart - lovely, really naïve engravings of cattle and camels, no people. At the next cave we were screened off by palm frond fence, but had a good view of the paintings, in red and white. of antelope, spotted giraffes and dancing people.  We visited a few more, each in a slightly different setting, one overshadowed by an enormous overhang, striated pink, white and yellow, where the drawings were of hunters, hairy legged goats, feathery palms and more buck. We spent the rest of the late morning driving through incredible landscape, sometimes following what felt like an ancient riverbed of sand, with huge arches, caves and balancing rocks on the banks. 
We stopped for lunch in the shade of another cave, near some other guides who popped by for tea. Very social gathering in the middle of nowhere!  The afternoon was dedicated to covering some ground - we went haring across the badlands again towards Ghat and the Algerian border, enormous dunes shimmering on our left, the Accacus looming on our right.  At one point we were back in the mountains and stopped at a bir, where Nadil filled up his water tanks and chatted to the guards.  We picked up some wood while we waited and then off we went to find a camp for the night.  Nadil selected a perfect spot, nestled between a dune and a big outcrop of grey/black.  We spooked some camels (1 brown, 1 black, 1 white - rainbow nation camels!) who disappeared over the dunes.  Got ourselves organised with some photos of the sunset and cold 0% beers for the four of us, then set about sorting dinner, bucket bathing and pitching the tent.  Unsurprisingly Nadil had a stonking headache, so we again dipped into our first aid kit to give him some paracetamol.  After our meal we joined the guides on their blanket for some tea, and again failed to avoid discussing politics - seems Mr Mihemmed doesn't totally agree with Ghadaffi's principles, but as Nadil is somehow "connected", he doesn't like to say the name and calls him The Leader instead! Ah ha, now we know why this is all in English and never translated back like the rest of our chat!
Soon we were nodding off, finding the blanket a little too comfy - signal that it was bed time.  Said our "tas bah alla kerr"s (phonetic version of Arabic "goodnight"!) and climbed up into our cosy tent.  Wow - total silence, what bliss!  It did get a bit breezy later, but for the first time in ages, it was utter peace as we fell asleep.
Of course I did end up needing to pee urgently some time in the night, cursing as I struggled to put on trousers and quietly unzip the tent.  I wouldn't normally share that sort of info, buy I have to as it'll explain why I found myself strolling alone back up the dunes lit up by the brightest half moon, spotting two shooting stars and realising with a shiver of delight that we're in the northern Sahara for real now... A little personal moment that made me pinch myself and realise just how privileged we are. It's been some dang hard work at times, and I've had some rather less wonderful personal moments of course, but this is just incredible...

Day 34 Saturday 8th November 2008 LIBYA (129.4 miles, Total 4611.4 miles)
(M) Woke up to watch the sunrise over the jagged peaks and dunes from up on a rock outcrop.  There were loads of small tracks everywhere - beetles and scorpions and stuff no doubt.  A few larger ones looked like we'd possibly had a fennek (like a fox?) visit the area during the night, though all was quiet by the time we were up.
A hasty breakfast and we were on the road for another day of aggressive driving and mile munching.  We knew we'd have a lot of distance to cover in Libya and were feeling it.  We visited more rock art, then more and more until we decided perhaps we'd like to see the dunes as well so should start to head back to Al Awaynat.  Just a few more rock arts - our guide was very keen to show them all all to us, the desert guide however seemed bored out of his mind.  We spoke to a French group who were walking from site to site - looked like hard work in the heat but a nice way to really soak up the environment if you have more time.  Personally I'm more interested in the place than the art, it really is amazing.
Back towards Al Awaynat the tracks became quite rough, very rocky and corrugated and we could literally feel Mapenzi shaking apart.  A few hours of hard driving followed.  Dust crept into everything (though I'm pleased to say that I dust-proofed our clothes cupboard pretty effectively) and the creaking and rattling became a familiar cacophony, which obliterated all other thought.  A part of me was envious of 4x4s we passed going the other way but the driving was taking its toll and was ready for a shower and a break.
We crawled into a deserted campsite at about17:30 and parked up against a wall.  While Sarah did some clothes In Al Awayanat washing I set about cleaning out the jerry can locker where one of our fuel jerry's had leaked.  It was getting dark by the time I was done with that and I had to use my headtorch to continue with the vehicle inspection.  I was being pretty thorough, looking for anything that may have loosened or broken - the back door catch had come loose, so tightened the fasteners.  Also noted the rubber gaiter on the steering drop arm appears to have a hole in it; possible leak around left front ball joint - brake maybe? And some oil from valve on engine block (though that's always been there and I don't think it's any worse).  Otherwise all looks ok.  By now a French group had arrived in their 4 vehicles and their guide came over to ask if we had a problem (I was looking in the engine).  Chatted to him for a while - sort of, in broken language, and I think they had come all the way from Ghadames on the desert track.  I reckon that would be pretty good.  I had to draw a map of Africa in the sand to show him that we were from SA but, because we're white I suppose, he found it hard to believe.  Very nice guy - he brought us two orange juices a bit later, just as a gesture.
A little while later the camp really filled up with the arrival of group of 10 Polish vehicles, mostly Toyota but a couple of Nissans and Land Rovers thrown in.  We had two park very close to us on either side and introduced ourselves to Pieter and his father who were in a LR 90.  Proceeded to be regaled with the various modifications that he's done to make it a good offroader.  Nice vehicle, though apparently the Toyotas performed best in the dunes that they'd come through - doesn't bode well for our heavy 110 which we're going into the dunes with tomorrow.  Oh well.
Sarah made a tasty dinner before that hot shower and bed that had been calling.

Day 35 Sunday 9th November 2008 LIBYA (203.7 miles, Total 4815.1 miles)
(S) The neighbourhood roosters had me awake before dawn but managed to doze fitfully until the alarm.  Rushed cereal for breakfast, and as clothes mostly dry, packed up pretty quick.  Mike's new friend popped by to take some photos of us on his phone, and show us a video clip of his "bambino", cute little boy but film on loop so watched it a couple of times I think!  Around us a hum of activity as the French troop set off and the Poles got organised too.  Mr Mihemmed was a bit grumpy with Nadil, who is always late and now needs half an hour to warm his engine, oh dear.  We said cheerio to Pieter and his father, wishing them a great trip and drove to the gate to chivvy Nadil along a bit.  Soon we were on our way to Germa en route to the dunes.
At one stage he started to pull over, and we realised he had a flat tyre. Beginning to think we're a bit of a curse on our guides!  The wind had picked up and it was a pretty dire job having to change wheels while the sand and dust came at us sideways.  But we were on our way soon enough, the wind pummelling us along.  Then Nadil pulled over again.  This time, the drive belt had come loose, and seemed to keep slipping off.  Mike to the rescue, offering our spare - not ideal as it's not really the right size for a Toyota, but seemed to handle well enough for us to limp into town.  Trusty old Mapenzi has been faultless so far, and the guides we've been relying on just keep breaking down!  Guess their vehicles have a very punishing existence, whilst our Landy has had a bit of a soft life in England!
Finally driving at decent-ish speeds, we made it to the outskirts of Ubari, where we stopped at a campsite to have lunch.  Nadil continued into town to try and fix his car.  A smiley fellow in a grubby turban cornered Mike and expertly persuaded us just to look at his good price souvenirs.  I was totally roped in, and with Mike's great bargaining and Mr Mihemmed's shaking head, we got him to drop his price for a lovely Tuareg style silver cuff bracelet, and a charming little silver fennek.  Probably ripped off still, but I love our new mascot!
We drove out the campsite to wait on the side of the road for Nadil, Mr Mihemmed becoming ever more annoyed.  Seems there's not a whole lot of love lost between our guides at the moment...  When he did pitch up we followed him into town, and I promptly lost him at a junction.  Some kindly traffic cops helped me turn around through the maze of lunchtime commuters and we found him parked outside a parts shop. Mr Mihemmed asked if we wanted some meat, and I foolishly said yes.  He walked me into the store and opened a chest freezer filled with chickens.  Well, cowardly me simply nodded and picked the smallest one I could spot, and grabbed some tomatoes while I was there.  How we are supposed to cook an entire, frozen chicken on a 2 hotplate stove with our meagre remaining gas, is a bit of a tricky question!  We'll make a plan I guess.
On the road again, then Nadil pulled over.  This did not bode well and indeed, after much agitated chat in Arabic, Mr Mihemmed ruefully shook his head and said that it was no good, we couldn't make it to the lakes after all, and he was really sorry but what could he do?  We nodded sadly and continued on. Suddenly we both realised that it meant that we'd have to race through to Sabha in time to collect passports today and battle to find somewhere in town to camp, and that actually we'd rather just pootle along and rough camp in the oases or something? Or even stop in the Germa museum for an hour or two? The thought of having to simply speed north again and miss out was very disappointing.  Flashing our lights, pulling over, trying every strategy we could to get Nadil to stop so we could negotiate a new plan, we failed to get him to see us.  At the point of giving in, he suddenly pulled over and like a man who's ears have been burning, dear Mr Mihemmed announced that the office had called and said to tell us if we wanted to camp in the small dunes that would be fine.  Hooray!  So we turned off and pulled into Africa Camp campsite on the fringe of the Ubari sand sea dunes outside town.  We both let down our tyres and Nadil set off ahead of us into the sand.  He rocketed up a huge dune just outside the camp, with us following well behind.  Mike drove brilliantly - it was quite nerve-wracking but pretty exhilarating too!  And what a mesmerising landscape - the dunes were simply stunning.  We drove up some pretty steep inclines and then down a hair-raisingly sheer drop where I nearly left my heart behind!  It was fantastic and we agreed that even if we didn't make it any further, this was SO worth it...  At one stage Nadil made a wide sweeping turn and came to a stop.  This would be camp for the night. Perfect!  We pulled up alongside and set about taking photos and having a look around.  Nadil headed off up a dune with his mobile phone and we realised that there was a boiling sound.  Which was coming from his radiator...  Mr Mihemmed by now was totally disgusted, going on about how old his car was and how unreliable he was etc.  Oh dear again! Seems that our Landy belt isn't working so well after all and his engine was overheating. In fact we spotted water droplets in the sand near his tracks - who knows how long the radiator had been spitting for!
We shared out some ice-cold Coke, then Mike managed a bucket wash before we heard an engine and over the dunes zoomed a 4x4 with 3 blokes, leaning out the windows, chasing Nadil across the sand.  Turns out one is his cousin, one works at the campsite and the other is a dab hand at making a fire and cooking.  All very jovial, they really took the mickey out of Nadil.  They marvelled away under the bonnet, the only help we could offer being the loan of our lamp.  I sneakily washed behind the Landy with Mike protecting my honour acting guard at the back door - nothing quite like standing naked in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand dunes, with 5 muslim men a few metres away, while you hop around on a floor map trying not to get sand everywhere!
Mike made dinner and I did diary, sitting on my sarongs on the sand. When we'd finished eating, Nadil came over, apologising, and saying that tomorrow all hinged on In Sh'Allah! Then the cook arrived with a huge plate of spaghetti and 2 pieces of meat, which was good if a little sandy!  We were both pretty full from our own meal but politely finished it and thanked them profusely. They also gave us some mint green tea, and then made moves to head off. By now it was pitch dark, so it's lucky they are expert local dune guides I guess...  We gave them some sweets for the journey and off they zoomed.
By now we were ready for sleep so grabbed the duvet and shower curtain from the tent and set up a cosy bed on the sand under the stars. Totally peaceful and quiet, how wonderful!
Turns out that the wind had other plans for us, and soon we were discovering that sleeping under the open sky wasn't quite as romantic as we'd hoped! The sand blew over us all night long, and as protected as you felt having your kadmul draped over your head, each time you shifted, the sand poured into your ears and over your face. Hmmm!

Day 36 Monday 10th November 2008 LIBYA (380 miles, Total 5195.1 miles)
(M)  " I walked through to sands of time, and came out with sand in my ears" (unknown)
I got up to watch the sunrise and take some photos while Sarah battled on valiantly with the sand.  There were small animal footprints (a rat sized animal) all around our bedding that indicated a lot of frolicking had been going on around us. But now it was totally quiet save for a few crows flapping overhead and then the sound of the guides emerging.  Once we were all up and about it was another hasty breakfast and pack-up and off we went further into the dunes.  We had wondered whether we were going to go any further when I'd asked the previous night if the car was ok, and received the response, "in shallah".  Sarah took over the driving, handling the car really well, despite some hairy moments slipping sideways on slopes.  On one or two occasions we had to be directed around slightly easier approaches when Mapenzi couldn't quite make it up a soft slope but we all made it safely to Mafu (spell?), the first of 4 oases that we visited.  It was beautiful; a still lake set in amongst the dunes and surrounded by lush vegetation.  The few people who work there were just setting up their stalls but nobody hassled us to buy anything.  There used to be a community living here fishing the water but they were moved closer to the road by the government about 30 years ago.  Apparently the water is really salty and buoyant.
We were a bit pressed for time so didn't hang around.  Neither of us felt like a swim anyway; there were loads of insect larvae in the water and it wasn't particularly hot yet.  So, off we went to the second, and then third, all equally stunning and hopefully better described by our photographs than I can do in writing.  Before the third one there was an especially steep descent (45 degrees? Sarah thinks more) so Sarah got out to run down to film me bringing Mapenzi down.  I had to hold myself back in the seat but Mapenzi handled amazingly, crawling down in low first gear as the sand in front avalanched forwards.  That maybe sounds a bit dramatic, it was a small, slow avalanche, but it was fun.
The last of the four oases would have been the largest but has dried up into great dried mud flakes.  From there it was back through the dunes towards Germa, Sarah driving again.  About five minutes before getting back we finally had to stop and put the a jerry can of fuel in - we had hoped to make it without doing so.  Back at the start we re-inflated the tyres and had a quick cup of tea before racing off back towards Sabha.  We didn't stop for lunch, so while I was driving Sarah hopped in the back and prepared some baguette sandwiches.  It was after 3:00pm when we arrived and pulled over outside a kebab shop.  A smooth black guy pulled up and started chatting to the guides and we could see that he had two passports with him - much relief to be reunited with our documents, complete with stamp.  Mr Mihemmed picked up a chicken and rice take away dinner for us and we hopped in the cars for more travel.  Pulling out into the traffic we lost our lead almost immediately but our new friend, the passport man, saw us go the wrong way so caught up with us and we followed him back to where the guides were waiting.  We followed the road back towards Tripoli for an hour or so before turning east near Ashkada when we had to say our farewells to Nadil, our desert guide.  We quickly packed our bedding into the tent again and made space for Mr Mihemmed in the back.  It was 17:00 and we wanted to make as much ground as we could so set off on a terrible, potholed road which took us a further 130km.  By the time we changed drivers and turned north again it was almost dark.  Unfortunately the road north was no better.  No potholes but now the road wrinkled so that it was like driving on a series of small speedbumps spaced 4 metres apart for the next 50-60km - very jarring.
Twice we passed through police checkpoints in the dark and were allowed to continue, eventually arriving in Suknah (or thereabouts) at about 20:30.  A long day's driving again.  After pulling over next to some shops our guide hopped out to ask if there was somewhere we could camp.  The chap he spoke to suggested a few places and even invited us to stay at his house if necessary.  With the guide we opted to try the mosque or the police station.  At the mosque the guy from the shop caught up with us and suggested that the police station would be better, so we followed him back that way - getting more offers of assistance (food etc.) should we require it.  The area behind the station looked promising so out hoped the guide and proceeded to walk straight through a big puddle, which had Sarah in fits.  Don't know how he failed to see it.  People kept arriving in their cars and somehow Mr Mihemmed seemed to be surrounded by a number of people, receiving more offers of places to stay, including a house which was still being built and therefore not yet occupied.  We were lead off to the house and parked in the secure front yard.  Still a building site but already tiled with lighting and running water.  It was a pretty big house and I think will look quite posh when finished, though perhaps a bit kitsch for our tastes.  A carpet was laid down in the main living area and mattresses were put down for us while a plastic bag was tied around the live wire dangling across the entrance hall.  We continue to be amazed by the welcoming attitude in Libya; unbelievably friendly people - truck drivers flash us and wave, most people we speak to welcome us and always the acts of generosity...
The three guys who accompanied us to the house stayed around for a while, which is fair enough though all we wanted to do was have a feed and get to sleep.  We didn't really have anything to give them as a gift and what we did offer was turned down (though if we'd had wine or beer that would have been appreciated - it's illegal here).  When they did leave we sat down to our by now cold chicken and rice.  Interestingly we were told to take any leftovers and leave them outside (I imagine for the feral animals).  Quite a different attitude to our own.  A wash in the cold basin followed (two days since our last 'proper' shower) and the, thankfully to bed...
And then the mosquitoes!  With nowhere to hang our net Sarah felt it necessary to go out to the car in the middle of the night and get the insect spray.  Not the repellant but the insectide which she then proceeded to spray on her pillow in desperation. Probably not a recommendation from the manufacturers, but it did afford us a couple of peaceful hours.

Day 37 Tuesday 11th November 2008 LIBYA (471.5 miles, Total 5666.6 miles)
(S) Roosters again.  I mean, come on, it was still pitch dark!  This lot had a particularly strangled crow that had me burying my head even deeper under the duvet in despair.  It was light when we finally got up, hastily washing in the bathroom and repacking the bedding into the tent.  Mike checked the tyre pressures and we were way down on all four as suspected, so the compressor had a workout.  Did a brief oil and water check too - it will be nice to have a day of rest soon so that we can scrupulously analyse all the nuts and bolts and look for any wear and tear that needs attention.  Will have to wait though as we have some serious mileage to cover again today.
Mr Mihemmed, who had slept with the light on for most of the night (?) locked the gates behind us as we bade farewell to the borrowed house. In the next oases town, Waddam, we filled with fuel, though I was a bit anxious as the price on the pump wasn't consistent and I feared we might get petrol instead of diesel... Was just being a panic-head, as Mike assured me, these guys work with fuel all day long, they kinda know what they're doing.  Seems the pump numbers were just a bit out of kilter, that's all. Relief...
Mr Mihemmed directed us back into town, muttering something about a pharmacy, but all the shops were closed, so we simply found ourselves circling back to the fuel station.  He hopped out to ask a local who pointed towards a dirt track with roadworks. We smiled and gave in, driving about 10m before the track disappeared.  A helpful shop owner (at least he was open) waved past the track so we tried again.  This time we were successful - the construction was blocking the onramp, but soon we were out on the open road again.
Not as bad as yesterday, but still huge potholes and corrugated sections.  We wound our way through a mini-canyon type dry riverbed system, actually very pretty, and then the boring nothingness returned. Just sand and gravel, no plants, no dunes, no variation.  We munched the miles slowly, doing 50mph to ease Mapenzi back into the swing of things.  The police checkpoints became stricter as we headed towards Sirte, where the Leader lives apparently.  This lot even have big guns.  At one stage during Mike's turn, he pointed out that he was driving over funny wide white lines and a short perpendicular piece of tarmac, and laughed saying it was like driving on a runway.  And then we realised, we were driving on a runway. Up ahead two fighter jets scorched past, then another off to the left trailing black smoke.  Turns out we were headed through a military zone, hence the overly officious staff at the roadblocks.  And all the fighter jets. At least the road seemed to be an emergency runway only, but it did have Mike checking the mirrors for a while!
At last in Sirte we stopped for Mr Mihemmed to ask a local how to find a bank, but apparently the people here aren't very nice or helpful, so we simply turned around and headed east.  The scenery at least changed to beach sand dunes, and the sky is a noticeably different blue over the sea than we'd become used to in the desert.  We pulled over for lunch at a grotty truckstop, and had tunamayo baguette rather than eating in the restaurant.  With Mr Mihemmed and his full belly on board again we set off once more.  The dunes changed to red sand again for a bit and then we drove into some rain - at least it washed the windscreen, though it wasn't hard enough to really rinse the dust off the tent.
We've managed to listen to most of our tunes now, and Mr Mihemmed was even driven to (jokingly we hope) ask if we had any Arabic music... Afraid not my friend! But it really was a boring drive and we were both pretty tired.  Kept trucking though, until it started to get dark. I found myself constantly asking if we could pull over and bush camp but our guide had an alternative plan in mind.  He wanted us to get to Ajdabiya come hell or high water it seems - not sure whether it was to ensure he got a hot meal, or in the hope of a hotel room, but even stopping 70km before the city wasn't good enough.  He did hop out to ask directions, but it seems the first guy was Egyptian, and didn't know, the second was Sudanese, and he didn't know either.  So Mr Mihemmed sent us on, saying "where is the one Libyan man you need when you are looking for him"!  Mike valiantly took on the driving, and we continued into Ajdabiya, on horrible alternative pistes due to roadworks, with people flashing their lights at us and overtaking SO dangerously, we saw millions of near misses.  This was just horrible - we really didn't want to drive in the dark anymore but now we were committed.
In the city Mr Mihemmed asked a number of times, but all the hotels were full and there was nowhere for us to go, other than the police station. They pointed to a spot in their parking lot, but we persuaded them to let us go a bit further near some bushes. Mr Mihemmed set off to his restaurant and we climbed in the back for Coke and cheese rolls.  A group of boys arrived and started building goalposts out of rubble, then played footie right outside the car.  They had pretty good skills, and we enjoyed watching them, but we felt really weird about having to soon climb out, set up the tent and try to go to sleep in this busy spot with soccer kids, pedestrians, an audience of 12-15 police officers watching us, let alone all the buses belching into the adjacent carpark and the café patrons sitting behind the bushes.
When he got back we managed to persuade Mr Mihemmed to let us go back to the police checkpoint, but after chatting to the coppers here, he decided to push on to the next one.  When we got there, with much toing and froing, they said we could camp and so we did.  Hasty teethbrush and then babywipe wash in the tent.  Far from ideal spot - right under electicity pylons which hummed like crazy (the lines down the road have static sparks coming off them) and can hear the trucks klonking over the roadblock rope, but at least it's mostly dark and we have some privacy.  With Mr Mihemmed in the car underneath us it was an uneasy end to a loooong day, but in the comfort of our tent we could imagine we were somewhere nice and so sleep took us gently in the end.

Day 38 Wednesday 12th November LIBYA (376.1 miles, Total 6042.7 miles)
(S) Woke to Mr Mihemmed calling Michael's name.  The alarm went off a few minutes later. Groggily got up and packed away the tent, barely pausing to find a bush or brush teeth or work out what was what and we were off.  Drove the "desert road" - basically X miles of totally straight link road between Ajdabiya and Tobruk.  No towns in between, no fuel stops, no scenery, no nothing.  What a day to look forward to!  In fact, there were some bends (though very minor) and the potholes made for interesting steering wheel turn opportunities, and we did spot some camels - both the roadkill and living variety.  Mostly, the view was of rocky, flat plains, with discarded and burnt out tyres. We diligently swapped drivers to keep ourselves awake, with the passenger in charge of tunes and updating diary and photos.  Poor Mr Mihemmed, subjected to more of our music.  We were low on snacks too, so he kindly gave us biscuits for breakfast, nuts for midmorning and we discovered some crisps in our food box for lunch.  There was a building or two at the one intersection on the whole stretch, but no fuel, so we did have to stop a bit later to empty the jerry cans into the tank.  Close to Tobruk, Mike pointed out a dust devil on the horizon but we didn't manage to get a good photo as it was just too far.
Outside the city we filled up with diesel, to Mapenzi's relief, but my wallet's despair. We really are running short of currency and the urgency to find a bank is growing stronger.  A freakish sudden rainstorm heralded our arrival at the Commonwealth cemetery, which was a very poignant memorial.  Touched by the number of South African and Polish soldiers who were amongst the British, Australian and New Zealand troops.  So many of the headstones though, were marked unknown.  All quite awful to imagine - it's such an inhospitable landscape... 
But now we were being rushed on again, seems the banks close at 1pm, and it was now 12.45.  Would have been helpful to know this beforehand, especially as I asked if we had time to stop, and we realised later that we had to come past here again anyway - so could have gone then instead, at our leisure?  Really beginning to wonder whether this guide/escort malarkey is a big joke - whether it's the language barrier or the cultural misunderstandings that get in the way, things just aren't very well thought through sometimes!
In Tobruk, an impressively sprawling city on the coastline, we stopped too many times to count to ask various locals about banks. At one stage we really got our hopes up, wandering into an official bank type building with Visa signs everywhere.  But no luck.
The traffic was just insane - real African minibus taxis screaming around, with the sliding door hanging wide open and various limbs hanging out - the near misses too were too many to count.  Finally we just gave up.  Too late now and the banks all closed.  So we headed back out of town, past the cemeteries, German, Commonwealth and French (the Italians repatriated their dead apparently) along the coast, heading for a little town where Mr Mihemmed said there was somewhere we could stay.  Lots of ghorfa type graineries, or pigeon roost buildings, and a particularly savage pothole in a bridge that had a scull and crossbones roadsign have buried in it!  I was now becoming adamant that I wanted to stop for groceries and bread, but to no avail.  Two police checkpoints later, and I realised we were just outside Umsaad - the border.  What?!?!  We now turned around, growing increasingly impatient that we were in for a repeat of yesterday.  At a little town right on the edge of the cliffs, we managed to convince our guide to stop, so that I could buy some fruit, veg and bread.  By now the sun was setting and I was really being anxious.
We stopped at the police checkpoint, and were directed on.  Same at the next one.  At least Mike could hop out and take a photo of the incredible moon - nearly full and enormous. The sunset was glorious, but I was struggling to maintain my sense of humour.  Finally we arrived at a pink painted rest stop type garage station near Al Burdi.  Mr Mihemmed disappeared off and we set about cleaning the car, chopping up the chicken, had an argument, resolved it, repaired Mr Mihemmed's broken blanket bag etc. He came back with a chap who asked for 5dinar - had to borrow our last few notes from Mr Mihemmed and add them to his tab.  Must try and work out his tip tonight...  Had nice chicken casserole and rice for dinner with 0% Becks beers Mr Mihemmed brought us as a bit of a peace offering I guess, and finally ready for bed.
A German couple came by and we chatted to them for a short while - they were just lovely, seems they are the adventurous type too, and did similar trip across north Africa and Europe about 40 years ago which must have been challenging!  They are now retired, so continue to travel, and were here with a small tour group, heading for Alexandria tomorrow.  Unfortunately a rock was thrown at their bus today, shattering a window, so a bit of a sad end to an otherwise pleasurably holiday by the sound of things.  We really enjoyed meeting them - in fact, the highlight of the day!
Another night of bucketwashing in the light of the streetlamp - it'll be 5 days tomorrow with no shower, yuck! Mr Mihemmed disappeared round the corner with his mattress, and we climbed, shattered into our haven on Mapenzi's roof.  Our last night in Libya, it sure has been bittersweet...


Day 39 Thursday 13th November LIBYA – EGYPT (364.1 miles, Total 6406.8 miles)
(M) Border day.  The Libyan – Egypt border is one that we’d been least looking forward to… “Mr Michael!” Mr Mihemmed was calling us to wake up; time to go.  I grumpily got my watch out of the tent pocket and looked at the time – 03:46.  WHAT??  It was fairly light outside, but only from the parking lot lighting.  Mr Mihemmed was already up and packed and ready to go.  In my fuzzy state of mind I was struggling to work out the logic of racing to the border to get there at 04:30 and wait for 3.5 hours just to be at the front of the queue, rather than just get through in 4 hours.  Eventually I poked my head out and asked him again what time the border opened – “08:00”. I pointed out the time to him and he sheepishly realised that he’d been reading his watch the wrong way.  A few more hours of sleep followed.
We got up before 07:00 and packed up quickly.  Our guide bought a cup of coffee in the cafe for me while Sarah wandered back to the car. The German man from the evening before came over to say his farewells and gave us a box of German biscuits as a parting gift – very nice of them. We would have liked to hear more stories from their travels 42 years ago.
The border was a short drive of about 25 km and we arrived at 07:58.  First we were directed past a few trucks to park on the side of the road.  Mr Mihemmed climbed out and gave someone our passports.  A few moments later we were through to another short queue, behind an overburdened taxi.  Surprisingly they weren’t searched and we were ushered forward.  I climbed out to open the back so that the head honcho could check inside.  He seemed satisfied with a cursory look but was concerned that we were short of a vital piece of paper which our guide should have had.  After some frantic conversing between him and Mr Mihemmed we were again welcomed to the country (which we were now leaving) and allowed through.  He told us to go about 100 metres where we’d have to get our passport details and names copied down and then we’d be through to no man’s land.  Bid our farewells to Mr Mihemmed and 100 metres on we were stopped and I followed two men into a dank room with a dusty wooden desk. They started copying our details, carefully in Arabic, onto two sheets of copier paper.  Back outside we were out of Libyan control – just 40 minutes.
We were stopped twice for a chat before parking behind a car being searched.  A man came over to tell us we needed to go through passport control first, so we moved and I followed him into a big hallway with queues of people waiting in front of empty kiosks.  He took me down a dingy side passage to an office where two guys, one in uniform, were enjoying a break.  They didn’t seem to mind being interrupted and the guy in uniform lead us back out and went over to one of the passport control kiosks.  I was told to fetch Sarah.  So far nobody had asked for any baksheesh.  Back inside again we were ushered to the front of the queue where we handed over the passports which were dealt with by two separate people and given back to us, stamped.  Then around to the side of the building where a window advertised money changing.  We bought >1000LE, which we assumed would be plenty.
Back to the searching bay where a helpful chap speaking fairly good English checked our Carnet and sent us to around a kerb to another building where we had to have rubbings of the chassis and engine number done.  The two guys there quickly found what they were looking for and took the rubbing while standing over the engine and lighting up cigarettes!  Then out came Mustafa; serious looking but polite and helpful.  He checked the rubbings against the Carnet and filled in another sheet before sending me to the traffic office – about 100 metres away.  At the traffic office I was sent around to a front window to get the Carnet and ownership documents copied.  I didn’t have everything with me so it was a jog back to the car and back again.  Back at the copier office I was given two cardboard folders with our new copies of everything, at a cost of 40LE!  Then next door to insurance where a balding man wrote down the sum of 520LE!  He then gestured to a little guy to take me to get the money or something.  I followed him back to the big passport control hall and down another passage to an important looking, though still smoky and dusty, office where a fat, pompous man took the papers and looked through them before sending me a few metres to another badly wood panelled office with a sullen official blowing smoke out of his nose while a radio station blared out of his mobile phone on the desk.  After checking the documents he sent me to the cashier to get a receipt for 502LE.  Back to insurance with new, signed documents but was told I’d still have to pay 520LE (I’d hoped they were the same thing but it turns out one is a tax nd one for insurance I think).  I handed over the extra money and we went into a small room with a table and a bed, where he wrote out a receipt for me. Back next door to the traffic office to get our Egyptian licence plates - a further 55LE.  By this stage we’d run out so Sarah scooted back to the money changer (by the way £1 = >8LE).  While she was gone the guy behind the counter finished the receipt anyway so that I could go back to the man in the wood panelled office to complete the Carnet business.
Both back at the traffic office we were issued a new driving card and licence plates which we fixed on with bungee cords and finally we were through to the last checkpoint and into Egypt.  The whole border experience took us 3 hours, an hour less than we’d expected and with no queuing or baksheesh – woohoo.
It was only 11:00 so we thought it might be worthwhile pushing all the way through the Alexandria – want to get to Cairo and do fluid changes etc on the car which is sounding a little tired now.  Much of the drive was quite boring though it was interesting to note that Egypt seemed cleaner and more prosperous straight away – a bit leerier though.  Just before sunset we reached Al Amain (spell?) known for the battle in WWII.  From here all the way along the coast it was one luxury resort after another, totally built up.  The sunset was stunning but we didn’t have time to pull over for long so pushed on.
The traffic in Alexandria was something else but overall the mood seemed quite pleasant and we just got into the fun, hooting at cars, pushing in, flashing lights etc.  We had the name of a hotel from our Tracks4Africa, so assumed it would be ok.  The GPS was a dream and eventually lead us straight to the Hotel, which turned out to be a 4* Sofitel. At 200 Euros per night it was way beyond us but the friendly desk clerk suggested we try the Union around the corner. This cost only 105LE per night (about 11 Euros and included breakfast).  I was just pulling into the traffic and was straddling two lanes when we got a tap on the window.  A British guy, John, introduced himself to us and asked which way were going.  He did a similar thing a few years ago and had met up with the Belgian family (the ones we met in Tozeur I think) who were now a few days ahead of us.  Great to catch up with someone who knows what it’s all about.  We chatted for a bit but I was stopped across two lanes of a fairly busy road and he was on his way to dinner so we had to keep it brief, though would have liked to find out more from him.
The hotel Union wasn’t bad at all and we had a lovely hot shower (first shower in 5 days) before heading out to find somewhere to eat.  The guy at reception suggested a fish place close by so we headed that way.  En route we were joined by a chap, called ‘Buddy’ who wanted to help us find the place.  He wouldn’t take no for an answer and wouldn’t leave us alone.  Clearly after baksheesh but I just found him annoying and slimy so we didn’t give him anything anyway.  It did mean the meal was a bit uncomfortable but sod it, I hate being taken for a ride so we’re not going to buy into this nonsense.  The  restaurant was pretty basic but the food was delicious.  You first choose your raw fish and then ask for it grilled or fried.  I tried grilled mullet (which surprisingly was really good) and Sarah went for calamari.
Back at the hotel it was straight to bed – an expensive day.

Day 40 Friday 14th November EGYPT (0 miles, Total 6406.8 miles)
(S) With our crisp clean(ish) sheets and the hardest rock pillows in the world, we slept pretty well in our single beds. Heading through to the dining area that has perpetual football showing, we could admire the deep blue water in the bay.  Patiently waited for our croissant and rolls, jam and cheese, butter and tea.  At one stage, a friendly Scottish lady came over to point out how much a chap at another table looked like Morgan Freeman – a skinnier version maybe, but a real likeness.
I started the laundry while Mike tried to get a haircut, but seems the city only gets going mid-morning as everything was closed.  Managed to wash our towels and grubby clothes – the water was mud brown, eeuuw.  Recklessly hung them on the balcony to be buffeted by the rather gusty wind – hoping the pegs would hold!  Spent a while sorting photos and getting the diary ready to upload, but the laptop battery didn’t last so we decided to finish in the back of the car.  Sitting on the bench seat sorting through, Mike realised a greasy looking guy in a white jacket had started loitering outside.  He was trying to look casual, lighting up a cigarette and glancing at the back door – but he had no reason to stop there so Mike put his hand protectively on the door handle.  I couldn’t be sure whether he could see us or not, but with the tint it must have been impossible – he might have been able to see the glow of the laptop, but he didn’t make eye contact or anything and was being just too blasé.  Our suspicions were confirmed as he suddenly put his hand on the door handle and pulled.  He got more than he bargained for when Mike pushed the door firmly and asked loudly “What are you doing? Why are you opening our door!?”.  He quickly shuffled back muttering how it was ok, no problem (I don’t think so!) as Mike glared out the open door.  He had computer cables wrapped around his legs, so just as well it didn’t go any further – wouldn’t have looked very suave if he’d had to leap out and collar the guy but tripped in the process! 
Warning the car guard to be on the lookout for a repeat, we locked up securely and headed along the embankment to find some lunch but ended up doubling back as got ourselves into a cluttered area full of cheap nasty clothes and toy stores.  Did manage to locate an ATM, so when we found ourselves on the other side of the hotel, we couldn’t resist going into KFC for lunch. Ashamed to admit it, but we were so hungry and all the cafes just seemed to be serving drinks and sheesha.  An expensive luxury but we were craving something familiar and it did taste pretty good!  From there to a Vodafone shop so I could find an Egyptian sim card and a camera lens cleaner.  We asked the helpful guys for directions to internet and managed to find a narrow little office with the slowest computers yet.  Took me two hours to upload 20 photos and do a couple of diary paragraphs… My patience was really running thin when Mike came back from having an amazing sounding haircut – he got a trim, neck massage and head rub from some dodgy barber, and looked very handsome though I had secretly hoped the language barrier might have resulted in a little less beard hair too! No such luck.
We strolled past some incredible smelling shwarmas so decided to get 2 for dinner.  I also spotted a Baskin & Robbins and insisted we get an ice cream too so with those in hand we dodged the frightening traffic back to the hotel.  Fully in the mood for a little extravagance Mike got Egyptian Stella beers from the vending machine in the lobby and we sat back to have a totally anti-social evening watching a movie in our room.  Was brilliant until the last 10mins of the film when the laptop battery ran out.  Totally annoying!  I took the laptop down to charge in the car and we decided to shower and get ready for bed.  Had to ask for the hot water to be turned back on.  An hour or so later we’d collected the rejuvenated laptop, finished our movie and were laying our heads onto rock pillows again.

Day 41 Saturday 15th November EGYPT (179.5 miles, Total 6586.3 miles)
(M) Planned to leave straight after breakfast but I don’t know that the food last night really agreed with Sarah who was a little off colour.  We also got chatting to Jean and John, the Scottish couple from the day before.  Turns out they’re living as expats in Cairo and invited us to stay with them if we needed a place.  Thought we may take them up on their offer though were still unsure if we’d be catching up with Ginny and Barny and also needed some time in a campsite where we could do a bit on the car – oil change etc. 
Checked out a little later than planned and made our way back through the Alexandria traffic and small side streets, following the GPS back to the Cairo road.  Going south was quite pleasant – strangely green and lush with mutant size cabbages being sold on the side of the road.  I’d always wondered what the Nile delta would be like.  It was very flat and very agricultural.  Water buffalo and cows side by side and all looking content with life.  I know if I had to choose I’d be a beast of burden in the Nile Delta rather than Libya or Tunisia, no question.  There was some other entertainment too; hooting and pushing in are national pastimes but the regional sport apparently is to drive the wrong way up the hard shoulder of the motorways.  Fortunately the roads were wide and good so there was no fisticuffs between Mapenzi and the other traffic, only a few raised hackles and a bit of snarling.
We tried at a garage for some motor oil and also to use the toilet (pretty bad but still nothing can compare to the Tunisian border!) but all their bottles of oil looked open and I didn’t trust what was in there.  Instead we found a Mobil outside Cairo and stopped to top up the diesel and buy the oil.  We were served by a very smiley fat man who spoke no English whatsoever.  Like all our other transactions we managed to sort out the correct fare and weaved our goodbyes to our new garage friend.  By this time we’d heard from Ginny and had planned to meet them later that evening and stay over.  As we were a bit early we decided to find the campsite anyway.  We took an offramp a bit early and had to find a way to rejoin the highway.  Then, on the ring road again, we took another one too early.  This time we were just heading towards the point on the GPS so didn’t know it was too early.  We did eventually find it but only after some time in Cairo’s back alleys and waterways, weaving under and over bridges, between rubbish heaps and squalid shacks.  A few times people pointed out where we should be going but trying to find a way to get there proved challenging.  Even at the site there is no sign and we found out we needed to follow the way to the Art Centre off the canal road.  Camp Salma seemed pretty good though.  We weren’t staying so wanted to explain that we just needed directions to Maadi, so Sarah went off to find the camp proprietor while I parked and started speaking to two French women who had come through Syria and Jordan in an old Citroen panel van, and were heading towards Libya.
Nobody could help us with directions to Maadi so we just headed for the motorway again, hoping there’d be a sign.  Luck was on our side though we did have to turn around and backtrack and ask a few times.  Turning is not easy in Cairo as all the roads seem to be divided by a barrier.  You have to look out for the U-turn signs but even then you may not be ale to turn back onto the road you just came off.  We did make it safely to the Philps’ though.  What luxury, it was difficult not to feel a bit scruffy after all our camping and cheap hotels!  After a quick catch up, a G&T and shower we headed out to a great restaurant for Egyptian Meze and shisha.  Wonderful evening catching up and talking deserts…  Thanks again.

Day 42 Sunday 16th November EGYPT (0 miles, Total 6586.3 miles)
(S) Regretfully disloyal to our rooftop tent, I have to say it was a marvellous night’s sleep in bed heaven staying with Ginny and Barny: crisp cotton sheets, air con, no roosters or traffic noise, what bliss… Inexplicably, Mike woke up with a sore big toe – convinced it was gout. But I wasn’t sure as surely one beer, ok a few tomatoes and a tiny portion of red meat might effect normal sufferers, but surely not out of the blue like this? Weird. Anyway, we spent a short while gathering our passports and paperwork together, while Jelly the cleaner, helped us do our linen laundry.  Hooray not to have to handwash it again.
Walked/hobbled to the Metro, where we got our 1LE tickets and a helpful dude showed us a map to work out our stop.  And then we successfully climbed onto the women’s only carriage.  Don’t think Mike would have noticed if I hadn’t said anything, but he was very well behaved and avoided eye contact before switching to the men’s carriage at the next stop.  I stayed on and ended up being offered a seat by a student, who insisted when I tried to decline.  She and her friend (in full veil) then asked me where I was from and we ended up chatting (with lots of sign language and a map to help us get by!) until I nearly missed my stop!  Poor Mike had almost given up hope that I would reappear…  We found our way along the Nile to the British embassy, which was clean and smart, with a ticket system, orderly seating, magazines to read, and Sky news on the telly.  They processed our letter of recommendation for about £35 in under an hour, and we were on our way again.
At the Sudanese embassy just round the corner, we had to try 3 doors before we found the right one on the other side of the building.  Mobs of people were hanging around, there was a single official desk with one short leg, the ancient computer on it leaning at a rather unhealthy angle, and a grimy counter with official notices on torn bits of paper cellotaped to the walls. The photocopier was working in overdrive as we were pointed to a bossy looking man who gave us application forms to fill in and ignored us.  We put in our religions, that we were tourists (about 3 times) and hoped for the best – returning them to the bossy man who then made photocopies of everything.  Looked very concerned when he obviously couldn’t find our Egyptian visas, so we hastily produced our SA passports for him to copy.  Paid him some LE and then the photos were stapled to the forms and we were sent to the counter.  I panicked then, thinking that we had to pay the fees in LE too, when we’d only brought our $100 US each.  I ran off to find an ATM while Mike bravely tackled the queue.  Apparently the chap asked for me but it didn’t seem to present a problem that I wasn’t there in person as he signed the forms anyway and sent us to the next window to pay.  I got back just in time, and we ended up paying in US $ after all.
That done, we were instructed to return the next day at 2pm.  Fingers crossed!
From there we found a little stall selling yummy smelling shwarmas and fried chicken baguettes, so we ordered and waited with the shmarmy schwarma man flirting leerily with us both!  Bellies partly full we made our way to the Egyptian Museum, along with thousands of other tourists – some in the skimpiest hotpants and vest tops imaginable.  Even on a beach they’d have been considered revealing!  Feels really weird to be absorbed into the foreigner maelstrom like that – after weeks of being pretty much the only tourist on display, it was nice to blend in and not nice to realise how annoying tourists really can be…
Got our tickets and after buying horribly expensive water from the café, we went in.  What an incredible place – according to a guide at the ticket kiosk there are 120,000 articles in this building.  And as one of Ginny’s friends commented, it’s like someone’s come in and started unpacking them, but never put them away in a particular place and they’ve all become buried and lost over time…  Some are numbered, but most have no or simply hopeless exhibit labels.  As for the throngs of people crowded around certain displays, the exasperated guides with umbrellas ushering straggly groups of exhausted or bored visitors along, and the leery staff, trying to chat up the hotpants chicks, it was crazy.  We simply went against the flow of traffic and had a brilliant time, even though Mike’s foot was beginning to ache.  Loved the little hidden things, and the exquisite detail of the pictographs and hieroglyphs on the mummy coffins… All very overwhelming though and we were a bit shattered by the time we escaped.
Returned via the metro to Maadi, and at the house we did some website stuff until Barny got back from work.  While enjoying a G&T he showed us his fantastic photographs of their desert trips – beautiful images, and really inspirational.  
We then strolled to the Ace club, just round the corner, to join Jean and John, the Scottish couple we met in Alex, for a couple of drinks.  Had a really enjoyable evening, sharing stories over a glass or two, and a plate of hot chips!  Perhaps we can return the hospitality one day should they find themselves in South Africa!
Got back fairly late, with enough time luckily to thank and say our goodbyes to Ginny before collapsing into bed. Mike’s foot is rather swollen and still very painful – we’ll try keep the walking to a minimum tomorrow…

Day 43 Monday 17th November EGYPT (20 miles, Total 6606.3 miles)
(M) Day 43 dawned warm and smoggy with a sore toe.  Those of you who know my big right toe also know that it’s fat and bulbous.  Today, like yesterday it was fatter and bulbouser than usual.  Yay, another day of hobbling around one of the world’s largest cities.
We woke up quite late and sat downstairs having a cup of tea and rolls for breakfast; also sorting out some of our business (banking, emails etc) while we had internet. We had to be back at the Sudanese embassy at 14:00 so at about midday we left the house and made our way towards the Metro via a circuitous route.  We were also on the lookout for a Radioshack where we could buy a transmitter thingy for the iPod.  No luck so we just picked up some buns and chips for lunch and sat near the station resting.  Again, an easy ride into town and we ambled / limped into the embassy 5 minutes early.  Our visas were ready and we would have been out in a matter of minutes if we hadn’t bumped into another traveller, Colin, who by the sounds of it was having a bit of an adventure with the truck they were in.  Thought we might catch up with him later at the campsite but he wasn’t sure if he’d be travelling back up to Alexandria, where the truck was being repaired.  We exchanged details and made our way back.  The metro was really crowded, and squeezing onto the carriage, poor Sarah got groped twice in the confusion. It was impossible to make out the culprit but it’s highly likely that he as well as a few innocent men in the vicinity got a very sharp elbow in the ribs as she lashed out and wriggled up as close to me as possible.  Horrible, hot journey but we got to Maadi eventually.
Got some more US currency from the Amex travel agency near the station and made our slow way back to Ginny’s.
Wrote in the guestbook, packed up and left for the campsite.  The journey took longer than we’d planned after stopping en route at a garage.  I wanted to see if they had gearbox oil and it turned out they could do the oil changes for us.  Succumbed to laziness and lined the car up over the pit while Sarah sat in the back sorting things out.  The front diff went like a breeze, the back would have if the drain plug hadn’t slipped inside the casing.  The poor mechanic had to take off the rear casing to retrieve it, which of course meant draining and replacing all the oil as well.  We were there for over an hour and all cost less than £8!  I did decide to do the main oil change myself, when we got the campsite.
Found a decent looking supermarket a little further on.  It was great inside but hideously expensive; filled only with imported goods.  We did buy a few luxury items though.
The drive back to the campsite took an absolute age.  With my sore toe I wasn’t able to help out with the driving but Sarah was getting much more confident in the traffic, even taking to hooting back and using the bulbar as an effective tool for finding gaps.  We weren’t helped by the fact that the indicators seemed to go on the blink (pun intended) for a bit, though they seem to have fixed themselves.
Back in the campsite it was already dark.  The two French women were apparently still around as their car and tent were still there.  With nobody else about it was perfect for a quick oil change.  I stripped down to a pair of shorts and took out the Haynes manual.  I should know by now that nothing is as easy as it sounds.  On went a pair of rubber gloves.  Out came all the tools.  I’d been worrying about a container to drain the oil into so we fashioned one from some plastic bags and a box.  It would have worked except that I expected the oil to drain downwards.  Instead it rushed out almost horizontally when I got the plug out.  Lucky my hands were clean because nothing else was!  Now, with oil all over the sand and some floating in the box we read the next part…’check the copper washer for wear’.  What copper washer?  I spent the best part of the next 15 minutes rootling around in the sand and old oil, to no avail (NOTE:  it hasn’t yet leaked – I’m still convinced that there never was a copper washer).  Nevertheless, the oil is now out and all that remains to be done is to take the filter off.  Should be no hassle, they’re only hand tightened and besides, I have a rubber tool which will loosen it if it’s not.  No sirree.  The next hour was spent under the vehicle, in the dark, freezing to death in my shorts on the sand, struggling with the #$%^!ing filter.  We eventually managed to loosen it with a ratchet strap and screwdriver combo, though not without a few choice words to help pass the time.  Finally we could hand tighten the new filter, add the new oil and cover the mess we’d made.  Sarah then moved the vehicle so that we could pretend the mess wasn’t ours, while I went to shower – metallic smelling water but very hot!
Thai green curry and then bed.
What a night.

Day 44 Tuesday 18th November EGYPT (13 miles, Total 6619.3 miles)
(S) Woke to a really smoggy/foggy morning.  The dogs had barked most of the night, but we were so tired getting into bed after midnight, that we slept late anyway.  Mike’s toe was still swollen and painful, so we were reluctant to rush off to the pyramids and force him to walk on it for a whole day.  I wasn’t feeling marvellous yet either – my tum still a bit iffy and I don’t have my appetite back.  Sure sign that I’m run down, as you’ll know, I’m very fond of my food!  In the end we simply chored for the best part of the morning and afternoon.  Washed dishes, did laundry, cleaned out the back, sorted out the water tank which is tasting too plasticky and needed a good Milton rinse, and used the compressor to blast out some of the red dust that we keep discovering in the oddest places.
The two French women bid their farewells, offering us two blue crates they’d discarded to make room for their Libyan guide. I offered them our last Tunisian dinar coins, which they were really pleased with, so a good trade!
Had cous cous and cupa soup for lunch (sounds gross but was actually rather tasty) and then Mike played guitar while I read one of the magazines Ginny kindly gave us.  What a rare moment, just taking time out to relax a little. Didn’t last long, as we had to go and pay for the camping, and find a supermarket.  Got some rather dodgy directions and set off, after stacking the crates near the drying clothes to prove we were in fact coming back.
Oh my, the traffic – it was just horrendous.  Cairo really does deserve the reputation it suffers – we reckon the Libyans are just as dangerous (crazy overtaking and lane switching) and the Tunisians as frustrating (mad scooters everywhere and hooting) but here in Cairo it is both… The speed is slow enough that you can avoid outright collisions, but you have to block your ears to the constant tooting, and you have to drive as sneakily as they do, straddling lanes that change from one to two to three as they speed up the rubble verges in the mad rush to get another metre ahead of you.  Bumper to bumper, they ain’t going nowhere faster than you but it doesn’t stop them trying!  Anyway, I’ve become one of “them” – I hoot right back, squeeze in where I can, and simply drive into the main road so that they have to swerve around me as they won’t let me in sensibly.  Ahhhh, stressful!
So we got lost.  I asked at a fire station, and then at a veggie stall, had a fist shaking set to with a tuk-tuk who veered in front of me with no lights on (yes, by now it was dark – funny that), asked a sweet couple who tried to avoid me I think, asked at a Mobil garage where we got top up oil, and then asked two policemen.  We even detoured behind some buildings which turned into a dead end and resulted in me offroading until we were back on a recognisable bit of tarmac.  Yikes.  Finally we found the Metro supermarket on El Haram street. 
Had a field day choosing veggies, fruit, biscuits, tea, halwa, 0% beer etc.  A few bags heavier and a whole lot of Egyptian pounds lighter, we headed back towards the campsite, joining the psychotic traffic going in the other direction.
Back at the campsite we set about making spaghetti bolognaise, which we enjoyed from the comfort of inside the vehicle as we watched a movie and sipped our non-alchy beer.  Poor Mikey’s foot is horribly swollen and puffy and looks really sore.  I’ve bullied him into promising that if it’s not better tomorrow we’ll make enquiries about a doctor.  If it is the dreaded gout, how clever that we’ve had tomatoes, red meat and beer tonight.  Oh dear…

Day 45 Wednesday 19th November EGYPT (14.3 miles, Total 6633.6 miles)
(M) A trip to the doctor would have squeezed our itinerary a bit so we were both relieved that the swelling seemed to have gone down a little.  My toe was still sore but it did seem to be on the mend so we decided to risk leaving Cairo anyway.  We started the day quite slowly, only packing up at about midday, but still wanted to see the pyramids so headed that way via El Haram Street.  At a Total garage we decided to get Mapenzi washed again – leaving Cairo feels like the start of the next leg of the journey so it’s only right that we start with a fresh vehicle. Whilst there I struck up conversation with Essam, a chap ahead of us in the carwash; really nice guy who got the right price for us and also gave us his mobile number to contact him from anywhere in Egypt if we aren’t sure how much something should cost.  He was very anti the Egyptian ‘culture’ of ripping off tourists.  When he left we sat in the café and had a chocolate while we waited for Mapenzi to come out sparkling.
On El Haram we managed to find a Radioshack (thanks also to new friend Essam) and pulled over for Sarah to run in and buy the iPod thingy.  She was gone for a long time and eventually came out with the guy from the shop.  Seems they had everything except the gadget we were looking for.  So, for now, our tunes will have to continue to come from the laptop.
By the time we got to the pyramids it was already 15:00.  We were directed through a police stop and towards a parking area where a policeman with a dog wanted to search the car.  Another asked if we were carrying weapons!  I had to stay with the car while Sarah went to buy tickets; coming back after a short time to say that they closed at 16:30.  A bit disappointing as we’d have to rush the site or come back tomorrow.  Decided that we’d go in anyway – we’d wanted to go inside one of the pyramids but the site tickets were 60LE each and to go inside would have been another 100LE each. 
Just to be at the pyramids was amazing but you do need to be almost aggressive to keep the touts away.  We did manage to walk around alone for a while, after firmly declining a few persistent ones – and took about a brazillion photos.  Being there late in the afternoon did have it’s advantages as far as the light was concerned, though we didn’t quite make it to the last pyramid before we were being turned around.  Instead of going back to the car as we probably should have, we wandered on down to the Sphinx, which is at the bottom of the site.  On the way I got a ‘hey meester’ from the top of the camel.  Assuming the worst I tried to ignore it, though this time it turned out to be a kid who’d dropped his scarf and just wanted me to pass it to him.  Should have asked for my tip. 
The Sphinx wasn’t as big as we’d expected but still incredible.  Apparently she used to guard the ancient Thebes, killing any traveller who couldn’t answer her riddle.  She was finally defeated by Oedipus and killed herself…  When we were chased away from there at 16:30 we started walking back to the car (my toe had been holding up ok-ish), which of course meant we wouldn’t be out by 16:30 – woohahahahah.  We were going in the opposite direction to all the other tourists and were lucky enough (though some policemen may not have agreed) to have one of the pyramids almost to ourselves for a short period.  Mapenzi was alone in the carpark when we got there, with a forlorn looking policeman leaning on the bonnet, obviously having drawn the short straw on having to wait for the last slow tourist.  Couldn’t really get away without the baksheesh on this occasion.
We had planned to leave Cairo, but it was now quite late and we didn’t want to be hunting for a place to camp along the side of the road, so decided to go back to Salma.  The sunset when we arrived was out of this world.  Cairo has really bad smog, not so good for breathing, but great for sunsets.  We were also pleasantly surprised to see another couple in a Defender had arrived and were busy putting up their roof tent.  We introduced ourselves to Wim and Chantal (Belgian and Dutch couple) who had just arrived from Alexandria, travelling more or less the same route as us – at least as far as Uganda.  Sounds like they’ve had a real time of it, with radiator problems in Libya and then head gasket, cracked windscreen etc from a dodgy mechanic. They’ve been delayed by a month sortong out the various problems and today was their first back o the road.  We’ll be on the same ferry to Sudan so will catch up with them then, if not before.  Glad to have some company we invited them over to dinner and they brought beers – Hoegaardens!  What a treat – all the way from Belgium.  Had a great evening sharing stories and photos and swapping details.  We’ll definitely keep in touch as we go, though to start with they’ll be a day behind us on the desert route.
Tomorrow, back to the desert and then the Red Sea??

Day 46 Thursday 20th November EGYPT (251.2 miles, Total 6884.8 miles)
(S) After a 3am disruption due to the neighbourhood’s dogs having a healthy barking debate, we almost slept over the alarm.  Another smoggy Cairo morning, but this time we were saying farewell for good so made the most of a rushed cereal breakfast and dishwash session.  Had another great chat to our new friends, planning to meet up again in Luxor – will be absolutely brilliant if we can travel together from Aswan on the ferry to Wadi Halfa and beyond as they are really good company, and drive about the same speed we do by the sound of things! 
Waved cheerio and set off on the supposedly boring first leg of the Western Desert road south.  Had to get out of Giza first and did so without too much hooting and bulbar bullying.  The pyramids were hidden by the haze, so we were doubly pleased we’d made the effort to go yesterday.  The GPS helped us out at one of the more confusing junctions and then we were past the roadworks and on the open road.  It skirted the railway tracks and soon the landscape was pretty much the boring gravel and sandy plains we expected. 
(M) It must be one of life’s little ironies; becoming road kill on an Egyptian desert road.  You choose to scrape a living in one of earth’s most inhospitable environments, a sand and gravel plain without food, water or shelter.  And you die squashed on the one road that cuts through this vast space by the one car per hour that uses it.  I guess they don’t have much opportunity to put into practice the teaching, ‘look left, look right, then look left again’ – shame.
(S) We kept going, pausing only for quick hotdog lunch with ketchup (Mike’s fave) and when we checked T4A we realised we’d missed out on a possible alternative route. There was a track apparently, which cuts through the Valley of the Whales, and it was a real shame we’d gone past, as we were really keen to maybe swim in Lake Quiron and search for fossils… Oh well!
At one of our driver swap spots though, we did explore a little as the rocks were shining like wet metal in the afternoon sun.  Amazing – beautiful agate like shapes and colours, there must have been fossils lurking in amongst the chalk and shale.  Hard to describe, I hope my photos come out well! 
At Bahariya oasis we marvelled at the lush green agriculture, and all the cows mooching around the ponds.  The police checkpoints persist in asking us to repeat our nationality, they really are struggling with the idea that we are from South Africa and even producing our drivers card or passports is met with much confusion.  I now need to find the one policeman who understands and ask him to tell us what SA is in Arabic…
We drove through the town, but weren’t that keen on stopping just yet, so kept going right through.  Especially as the fuel station we drove into had a broken diesel pump and we were waved away before we’d even slowed down.  A few kms further we decided to try and find a bush camp spot as the sun was about to set. The hills are really deceptive as we thought we were out of sight and then spotted a car.  Tried a few more times, but each hollow we tried we realised we were still in view of the road and at the mercy of the wind.  Incredible rocks though – the finest edges, brittle like metal and all corrugated and worn.  Couldn’t resist a few more photos!
The sun was now setting when we chose another mountain to hide behind, being selective until we found level ground.  As the sky turned pink we did a Kelly kettle to get hot water to wash with and set up camp.  Very liberating if a little chilly doing a naked basin wash in the desert, but we’re becoming expert and got maximum use out of the lovely warm water.  It was still a little too windy to really relax outside so we lurked inside the vehicle, Mike reading his fishing magazine while I made veggie omelette for dinner – my speciality.  We then did some diary and got everything ready for bed.
Took the binoculars and fleecy blankets up into the tent and sat on the roof to star gaze.  The wind had died down and it was serenely peaceful.  The stars were super bright and we had fun using the binos to discover hidden minute stars hiding in the bigger constellations. Blissfully quiet.

Day 47 Friday 21st November EGYPT (89.9 miles, Total 6974.7 miles)
(S) Poor Mike woke up roasting as we’d opened the windows and the sun was shining directly onto him. I was fine as the other window just let in a cool breeze.  The stuff on the shaded side of the vehicle was really cold still, but the other side was scorching. The way of the desert it would seem…
(M) We knew we wouldn’t have far to travel today so it seemed a perfect time to have a lazy morning in the middle of nowhere.  Got the Kelly kettle on and settled into our chairs to soak up the rays and catch up on a bit of reading.  Eventually dragged ourselves out of our reverie at about 11:00 and headed back to the tarmac.  A short distance further on we decided to go offroad along a track that is shown on our T4A map.  We weren’t alone though, arriving at hot spring pool with a group on tour, American or Canadian I think.  They were having a great time splashing about but we didn’t stay, instead moseying on through a strangely lush area supporting crops of all descriptions, though not a person in sight.  Stopped briefly to pick up some firewood before resuming the journey on the main road.
Then we hit a section that was being resurfaced – without warning there was fresh bitumen spraying up the side of the vehicle, @#$$£@#**!!.  Decided we’d have to stop before it had a chance to dry fully and hoped that we’d be able to get it off. 
The road before Farafra goes through the White Desert and we suddenly found ourselves cresting the edge of an escarpment and looking down over some fantastically shaped rock outcrops set in a bed of sand and sharp stone.  There were a lot of tracks leaving the road so we decided to leave with them and find a sheltered spot for lunch and a bitumen workout.  Hadn’t expected the soft sand that we encountered but we managed to manoeuvre Mapenzi though without lowering our tyre pressures – though did have to engage low range occasionally when we lost our momentum.  Found a nice place to stop but the frustrating task of cleaning up the mess (having to resort to soap and WD40 to loosen it) meant that tempers were fraying when we left to continue our journey; not helped by me almost getting stuck and having to use difflock to crawl out; and then driving over Sarah’s sunnies when she dropped them in the path of an approaching BF Goodrich All Terrain.  They were sandy but whole when we retrieved them but we found out later that superglue was needed to fix the one arm.
From there we opted to continue our offroad sojourn so followed tracks further south.  At one point it must have taken a good 45 minutes to cover a few hundred metres.  We were surprised by soft sand and didn’t have the chance to get our momentum up so were crawling along; Sarah hopping out periodically to walk ahead and scout out some firmer terrain.  We did well though, I think and before sundown were on track to reach the white desert proper for an overnight stop.  Then the track ran out and we spent a tyre munching half hour negotiating a rock strewn plateau.  Finally we were in sight of the weird shapes and outcrops which give this area its reputation.  What an amazing place.  We stopped near a couple of larger stones and set up camp, digging a pit for the fire and heating a bit of water for a quick basin wash again.
We wanted to really experience bush camping by not even resorting to using our stove, so made up a basic dough and turned our mince into burger patties which we cooked on a piece of tinfoil on the coals.  Somewhat unique burgers but not at all bad.  Of course we smelled a bit by the end but a fire is always nice.
By now it was perty dang chilly so Sarah made a hot water bottle for bed – see? Not all basic.

Day 48 Saturday 22nd November EGYPT (226.8 miles, Total 7201.5 miles)
(S) Another wonderfully peaceful night.  Bright stars and no moon, and rather cold, but we were cosy in our rooftent.  Great intentions of waking to see the sunrise, but even though we beat the alarm it was blaring sunshine by the time we peeked outside.  Mike decided to do a naked photo expedition as we were basking in the heady freedom of being totally alone, while I braved the chilly morning air wrapped in the blankets.  We did hear a car engine in the far distance a half hour later or so, which meant time to face the real world again. Mike made himself porridge as we did the dishes and packed up camp.  Not without a little rest to drink our lemon tea and revel in the sunshine of course.
We then headed back towards the road, pausing for photos of the spectacular white mushroom, table and bulbous shaped rock outcrops. We chanced upon the National Park sign, which had a good map of the area so compared that against our T4A tracks and planned a route south.  Not much good seeing the sign on our way out of course, as we’re not entirely sure we were allowed to camp rough in the park – but too late I guess. 
There were so many tyre treads crisscrossing all over the place that we lost the main piste at one stage and ended up adding a few of our own regrettably.  And then for some reason we were totally off it and had to rev through soft sand, with me speeding along in third gear trying to keep up my momentum, with us both sliding on the seats a little as we swished through the dunes following tyre tracks.  Very exhilarating if a little tough on the old Mapenzi, who guzzles diesel a bit in those kind of conditions.
We then spotted the tarmac and one of the ubiquitous roadblocks on this route.  Sigh. Being the good citizens we are, we rejoined the main road and went through the motions yet again.  Yes, we are South African, no, we don’t speak Arabic, giving them Daklha as our proposed destination etc.  So far only one smiley chap has shown any indication that he knows what or where South Africa is. For some reason, the bloke in the uniform is usually sitting on his butt in the shade and sends some poor sap in plain clothes to deal with the tourists and battle on in English.  We feel a bit bad, trying to draw a map of the continent to point out where SA is, or mention the football World Cup 2010 (which gets them all excited but even more confused) but so far it’s all to no avail…  At least with lots of smiling, proffering our passports and Mike’s driver card (“your name is Land Rover?” is one of our favourites J) we get waved on.  They do write stuff in their tatty notebooks but it’s probably the number on our wrecked Egyptian license plate. Oh, they also keep asking how many there are of us – um, two?!?!
The road meandered through some austere landscapes, more white desert formations, dunes, mountains and plains before cutting through several little oasis towns.  So many donkeys hauling carts with sugar cane, mielies, unidentifiable green stalks and people of all ages.  Where there is water, the ground is jade green and lush, with palms and big trees, side by side with gravel nothingness desert.  Remarkable.  We stopped for lunch near a big outcrop, salvaging hay stalks and a few sticks to get the kettle going to make cous cous salad.  Onwards again, through more checkpoints and more oases and more desert.  Pleased we came this way as it is pretty amazing scenery, but the long drive was taking its toll and I’ve run out of fun snacks to keep our spirits high.  And then we saw the amazing abandoned old citadel of Al Quasr, nestled on a hill behind the new town.  What a shame we didn’t have time to stop and explore and take photos…
We filled up with diesel just outside Dakhla as the sun was setting and set about driving in the dusk on to the Bedouin camp I’d found on T4A.  We both got totally fed up with the bizarre local custom of driving without lights, then flashing them on bright just as they pass oncoming traffic – nothing like being blinded by the glare as you suddenly discover there’s not only a donkey cart, pothole, a truck and a motorbike lurking ahead of you in the dark, but there’s surprise oncoming traffic too!
The GPS led us straight to the campsite and we managed to get ourselves organised before making tuna pasta for dinner and downloading our gazillion photos of the white desert. 
(M) The mosquitoes were ferocious and twice Sarah felt it necessary to use the old, ‘there’s a mosquito on your forehead’ trick as an excuse to give me a sharp klap across the pip.
(S) Unfortunately there was no hot water, so it was cold showers and a rather desperate dish washing exercise in a very blocked sink, before we took the laptop into the tent to hide from the mozzies and the bitter cold, before crashing after a long day.

Day 49 Sunday 23rd November EGYPT (362.5 miles, Total 7564 miles)
(M) 15 police checkpoints!  That's a lot of, 'Nationlit?', 'South African'... 'Nationalit?.  'South African'... 'Afrik??'  'mmHmmm'.   'You are Land Rover?'. 'No, this is Land Rover, I'm Mr Michael'.  'Two?'.  'Yes'.  'Where you go?'.  'Luxor'.  'Kharga?'.  'No, Luxor'.  'Luxor?'.  'Yes'. 'WELCOME'.  Ahh, language barriers are a wonderful thing.  The police who are stationed at these far flung checkpoints must get pretty bored and all of the non conversation is friendly.  I think their primary role is to make sure you're not in any trouble anyway, so not really to be feared.  Sarah didn't mention yesterday that we were invited in for a cup of tea by a couple of the guys; we were running a bit late though so couldn't stop.
Today we were up at 06:45 and quickly packed to be on the road just after 07:00.  The drive from Dakhla through to Luxor is about 580km - at our slow pace that's pretty much a full day's drive, so we thought we'd start early and take it easy; stopping en route for breakfast and lunch.  We didn't start well, taking a wrong turn before we'd even left Dakhla (or should I say not taking the right turn), but the delay only set us back about half an hour.  The landscape was spectacular again, with the flat gravel being interrupted in the distance by a sandy escarpment.  In places the gravel turned to small dunes or even flat sand plains that extended for miles.  We were glad we'd stopped at a campsite. There is bush camping to be had, but driving through it we realised that you'd want to be an hour or so past Dahkla to be comfortable and we would have been driving in the dark.  The scenery is interesting too and we wouldn't have wanted to miss it.  The old road outside Kharga is a stark reminder of what happens when maintenance ends.  Huge sections are totally covered in dune, disappearing under the sand as if they'd never been there and in patches the dunes seem to be catching up with the new road as well.
Just past another friendly checkpoint, on a long and lonely stretch of road, we stopped for lunch.  I managed to scrape together enough scraps of wood to boil some water (we have a new trick - using diesel soaked cardboard as a firelighter) and we sat down for lunch.  In the half hour that we were there not a single car passed.  Not a good place to break down... which we didn't.
Not much to say about the rest of the drive really.  As expected it took us the whole day and it was late afternoon by the time we saw the green of the Nile belt come into view.  Driving the short distance north to Luxor was quite a change and very pleasant.  The rural scenes seem so much easier and more relaxed than the dusty run down communities that we've been seeing.
The GPS took us north to a bridge across the river, then onto a major road for a few kilometres before turning off and passing through our last two police checkpoints to campsite Rezeiki.  The huge steel gate was opened for us and there in front were two group overland trucks.  What a change.  The campsite seemed pretty well run and we were offered a cup of tea or refreshment as a welcome while we settled in.  It wasn't cheap but when there are few campsites and you get one that has everything there (internet, bar, swimming pool etc - none of which we used), you take it.  We were also informed that there would be dinner and a show later if we were interested (for a further charge of course).  So, we set up the camp, introduced ourselves to the French family next to us and then decided to go all out and treat ourselves.
After a hot shower, dinner was served - a buffet of Egyptian food, and very nice.  The belly dancer, whirling dervish and snake man were pretty entertaining too. Everyone had a chance to handle the cobras, me getting it down my trouser leg and Sarah with a tongue flickering her chin.  They like you to believe that they're poisonous and just used to being handled but I'm pretty sure that the venom is milked and in a lot of cases snake charmers actually remove the fangs, which neither of us likes.  He also spoilt it a bit by indicating to Sarah that he wanted baksheesh.  We're pretty hardnosed by now and as far as we were concerned had paid for dinner and a show, so he'll just have to get that from the camp.  Instead we made a quiet getaway and went for a cup of tea back at the tent.   And then bed.

Day 50 Monday 24th November EGYPT (49 miles, Total 7613 miles)
Slept well, despite the partying Kumuka bunch making rowdy noise for much of the night.  Poor Mike now has a cold (decided he's all run down now from having a sore toe apparently). Up fairly early, having breakfast and packing up the tent after doing the dreaded laundry.  Washing clothes is my most hated chore back home, but at least there I had a washing machine!  Doing it by hand is knackering when you've been dancing in desert dust for a week or so.  The water was totally mucky brown, eugh, and my pale cream combat pants are looking very worse for wear.
We also had a really good chat with our neighbour, Laurent, who's travelling with his wife, three kids and black Labrador down to SA. His mother is out in Egypt touring with them at the moment, so there are 7 of them living in his truck; impressive!  He gave us some useful advice about the convoy to Safaga on the coast, and they will be in Aswan aiming for the same ferry we'll be booking on, to Sudan, next Monday.  Really feels good to meet some fellow intrepid folk who are doing the same crazy things we intend doing!
He then asked us our intended route through Sudan, and got Mike really excited.  We had hoped to skip Ethiopia, but it was looking like the roads straight to Kenya might not be doable.  Laurent's maps are more detailed than ours and he seems very keen to find out if it might be allowed after all - he also had the perfect response to our "bad roads" fears: "yes, but we are driving the vehicles that are for off roads are we not?!".  Good point!  Perhaps we can convince some other vehicles to come along and make it worthwhile?  We'll investigate, as it's pretty thrilling to think that we might just be able to find a less well-beaten path down south...
We headed into town, along the corniche, crossing the river and going north towards the Valley of the Kings.  Stopped to take photos of the Collosi of Memnon (some impressive restored sections with interesting hieroglyphs), but lots of hassling children selling postcards, and enormous tourist buses blocking the parking.
At the "Kings Valley" we managed to walk up the exit route before realising and wandering back again, pausing in the visitor centre to read up on the tombs, and analyse the map to work out which ones we'd be able to visit with our expensive 3-tomb ticket.  Avoided the mini-train (4LE per person for less than 5mins ride round the corner - what a rip off!) and milled about with the hordes of group tours.  Amazed by the richness of the colours in the first tomb we chose to see; Ramses IV (we think? Got confusing after a while - so many Ramses...).  Glorious blue on the ceiling with white stars painted on, and hieroglyphs on both walls, with scarab beetles, Anubis, vultures and so on.  We peered in the entrances of some of the others, but saved our tickets for Septha: where the security guard seemed to ignore the fact that the lights had gone out for 10mins, and No 47 (a long name we've both now forgotten) that was accessed via stairs up the mountainside, with the tomb snaking down to valley bottom level again - it was pretty hot inside, but well worth seeing.
We decided against visiting the Valley of the Workers, against Claire's advice only because it was now a bit late in the day.  We did detour past some alabaster factories, seeking out candle holders, Mike doing an excellent job bargaining the chap down to what we thought was a decent price.  Think we were maybe ripped off, as he threw in some beaded necklaces for free, or maybe it was just a kind gesture! Gets confusing here...
From there we went to Hatshepsut temple, where we parked down the road to save 2LE parking - how cheapskate are we!  Again, the mini-train looked like a total joke...  3mins journey this time, and no corner to hide the fact - but how obedient the package tours are, all climbing aboard...  In this batch (of mostly Polish folk), there was a girl in the tiniest hotpants and high heels, who progressively became more and more self-conscious when she realised how inappropriate it was.
On the top level, where the main rooms are gated off, there was a character trying to pose with people, then demanding backsheesh.  We were mesmerised - he just alienated everyone and got nothing - what a weird waste of his time? Wonder whether it's ever a lucrative way to bolster his salary!  One idiot climbed onto a ruined pillar to pose, and this security guy was so busy wedging himself into someone else's photo that it took him 5 minutes to notice and tell him off! We loved the hieroglyphs on the bottom level too, in fabulous colours, of the lions, the palms and boats, and the vultures.  Very beautiful.  Helps of course that the mountains and azure sky behind the temple make such a magnificent backdrop!
We were tired and hungry by now, so headed back to Luxor town.  We stopped at an ATM and then internet after giving up on the idea of parking near the corniche (10LE which is basically the price of internet at the campsite anyway - ridiculous), finding a decent café though for one heart stopping moment I thought I'd lost our diary upload with a minute to spare!  We also popped into a grocer, coming out with bags full - we probably paid over the odds, but the store owner graciously offered me a gift of 3 lemons as we were leaving.  They love this idea!  Overcharge you and then sweeten you with a present!!!
Back at the campsite we chatted to the manager who gave us some tips for avoiding the convoy to the coast, and Laurent who wanted advice from us on the Valley of the Kings. The Belgians in the Angeleo truck, that we met in Tozeur are here too.  We had yummy lentil soup for dinner and to bed fairly early. Another noisy night though, with some tuneless singing going on for hours - apparently there was a wedding taking place next door, but it did sound like awful karaoke being played over loudspeakers. Can't be grumpy with genuine celebrations though!

Day 51 Tuesday 25th November EGYPT (210 miles, Total 7823 miles)
(M) Got up, collected laundry from the line and packed up quickly to try and catch the convoy to Luxor.  After some quick farewells and see you soons (Laurant kindly lent us two masks and snorkels; we should be able to return them on the ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa) we headed out of camp to fill up with diesel.  Often at the petrol stations they clear the amount as soon as possible, so you have to keep an eye on it.  The cheeky fella shortchanged me and keeping the remaining 8LE for himself as baksheesh.  Fortunately I know how much it should cost and had seen it - as far as I'm concerned I get to decide on how much, if anything he gets tipped, so I made him give me the rest and left him with 2LE.  Chancer.
There was a group of policemen nearby so I went to ask where the convoy left from and what time.  Wasn't sure if I understood the answer but they seemed to think it only left at 6:00pm.  We made the decision to try the route that the guy at the campsite had given us and just take the chance at the police checkpoints.  The road was really good, running more or less parallel to the one the convoy takes, and much quieter.  After an hour or so we joined to normal route and came upon a checkpoint not much further.  Other than a request for cigarettes, and then baksheesh, both of which we declined with a smile, we were allowed to continue - not much fuss at all really.  We did feel a bit naughty but it was nice to be able to stop when we wanted so we pulled over for some breakfast on the side of the road.  Strange to think that tourists aren't allowed on this road except in convoy, it's so quiet and apparently there's never been any trouble anyway.
The police checkpoints were pretty frequent but half of them weren't obviously manned or didn't even stop us.  At the others it was the standard questions, 'where are you going, where are you from?'  Always they let us continue, as campsite man had said they would (it's only the main stops at Luxor, Qena and Safaga where they're stricter but we'd got round these on the other road).
As you near the Red Sea the Eastern desert turns to a dramatic mountain range running north-south just inland from the coast.  Very beautiful and we were lucky to be able to stop for a couple of photos.
We didn't have a plan for Safaga, other than find a piece of beach to camp on and find somewhere to snorkel.  Our first impressions suggested this wouldn't be so easy.  Most of the coastline is taken up with port / industry or hotel resorts - all of which control their section of beach.  Our T4A did have a campsite listed in Hurghada though, further up the coast so we decided to try that.  What a wasted journey.  Hurghada is a big town with all the amenities (we did find a Metro supermarket and stocked up on some luxuries) but big towns are difficult to find deserted beaches in.   We found the spot listed in T4A, but there's no campsite there and nobody we asked had a clue - the first time we've been let down by the T4A info.  Our most promising suggestion came from a dive agent who said that just a little further up, past the Sea Star Hotel, we could camp on the beach.  Not so promising when we got there!  The beach was a series of construction sites interrupted only by buildings.  We did stop at one area, seriously considering staying, but it was a bit dodgy, so just had a peanut butter baguette on the water's edge instead.
By this time the afternoon was getting on and we still wanted to snorkel so I suggested we try our luck at the hotel complex next to us.  It looked like it was in the final stages of being built and there were sun loungers on their section of beach.  I'd also seen a chap at the boom gate and thought that for a price they may let us park there.
(S) We were both feeling rather down about the whole scenario... Just as I was saying that maybe we'd made a mistake coming all this way, a shoal of bait fish leapt out the water, obviously being chased by some unseen predator - definitely a sign that we should keep our chins up and find the positive!
(M) Well, the guy at the gate was very helpful, opening the boom and leading me into reception. It was then that we realised it wasn't being finished but was in fact open, just with nobody there, and a bit tatty - as if it had closed for the season.  After some discussion and chin rubbing the main man agreed that we could stay.  Great.  For a price!  His quote was ridiculous so I had to point out that there was nobody there and we wouldn't be using any amenities anyway.  We could just as easily, though less securely, camp on the other side of their fence and pay nothing.  More chin rubbing.  Perhaps he could do it for us cheaper.  Still too much, thanks anyway, turn to leave...  'What is a good price??'...  We eventually settled on a reasonable rate, with the use of a bathroom and I was quite chuffed with my bargaining skills.  Later we discovered there was no running water and were given only a bucket of water to wash the salt off in a run-down room's bathroom...
First things first; we locked up and headed straight for the beach.  It was already after 16:00 so not very hot.  There wasn't really any reef but we did see some interesting fish, including a couple of butterfly fish and morays, plus a trio of puffers.  We swam out as far as a wrecked boat (about 100m offshore, though still shallow enough for me to stand), which I was hoping would have developed some active fish communities, but I think it was too recent a wreck.  By then we were pretty chilly anyway and it was getting dark so we headed back.
After our bucket rinse we put up the tent and Sarah made dinner while I diaried, trying to ignore the three guys sitting watching us.  Early into the tent and to bed as it all felt a bit awkward.  Will bush camp properly next time.

Day 52 Wednesday 26th November EGYPT (56.8 miles, Total 7879.8 miles)
(S) Up at 6.30, swiftly packed, dropped key at reception and were out of there by 7am.  I got a bit of rope burn trying to lift the boom, but we managed to depart without paying any more dreaded backsheesh, hooray!
Headed back south to Safaga, pausing to check the prices printed on the snorkel safari shop doors.  At Menneville, Mike got collared by a chap who was overly keen to sell us his tour, and when Mike declined, offered him some dried petals claiming they were Egyptian viagra!  Mike's still a bit sniffly from his cold and was instructed to make tea from what looks like rosehips (?) to cure his cough and enjoy some added benefits too ;-)
After a few more fruitless enquiries (we'd missed one tour by 10mins), we resorted to stopping outside Ducks marina (which is listed in our T4A - faith almost restored as Ducks were excellent and very fairly priced - though think we got a discount for booking last minute and not reserving through the hotels!).  As we killed time, sitting under their umbrellas, we watched two grey falcons landing on the balcony and then wheeling away on the thermals.  We had cereal and gathered our kit together and then learnt that we were in fact departing from the Sun hotel.  Gave Hussain, the snorkel guide, a lift.  Really nice guy - apparently his wife and two cute little girls (again we got to see pictures on his mobile phone :) ) live in Luxor and he works 7 days snorkel duty, 7 days diving, before he gets to go home.  We hung around waiting while the rest of the group gathered and then set off on a spacious boat with 3 more crew members.  Most of the tourists here are German.  We sat up front and had tea and coke in the spray, luxuriating in the view. Loads of kite surfers and windsurfers, on beautifully clear water with the rugged mountain range in the distance.  After half an hour we arrived at the Four Pillars, quickly putting on fins and masks, and jumping into the water.  Stunning - you could see each whole reef stack, from floor to surface, about 20m+ visibility.  The pillars were slightly different, two quite close together with a large puffer fish hiding in the shadow.  Amazing - clown anemone fish, butterflyfish in pairs, surgeon and angel fish, picasso triggerfish, basketball size black urchins, moorish idols, whole shoals of little fish in bright red, yellow and silver.  Hard and soft corals too - was impressively rich and the fish are so tame...  Hussain had a real battle keeping his "barracuda" group together as we were all a bit over excited!  Forty minutes or so later we were back on the boat and quickly towelled off, had a glass of coke and set off to the next spot.  Near a very shallow reef we hopped back in as Hussain broke breadcrumbs into the water - suddenly we were surrounded by vivid parrot fish, 75cm long trumpetfish, schools of yellow butterflyfish - incredible... The viz here must have been about 40m and the sheer volume of reeflife was quite overwhelming.  A school of silver fish zoomed by with their mouths open wide, closing and opening in unison.  We hovered over the shallowest parts, taking great care not to touch anything, and marvelled at the colours. The water here was a little colder, so we didn't stay in quite as long. Back on board the horsing around started, Hussain picking me up fireman style and leaping into the water, then attempting to tip one of the German men in when they were distracted laughing.  We warmed up quickly on the top deck as we started towards the island, before being called for lunch.  Great spread with very tasty fried fish, salads, potatoes etc.  Mooring just off the island, we transferred to a glass bottomed boat for the transfer to the beach. There we were given free reign for an hour - most of the group opting to sunbathe.  Obsessives that we are, we snorkelled some more - floating out in the shallows, skimming over sand and weed before reaching the reef and drop off.  Just spectacular.  Loads more triggerfish, also unicornfish and huge multicoloured parrotfish.
We guesstimated the time and went ashore, now slightly chilled but very happy.  Hopped on the glass bottomed boat, then back aboard our vessel and the day was almost over.  We headed back to the hotel, enjoying melon and orange before a cap whipround for tips (much easier this way!), lolling up front in the afternoon sunshine.  Dropped off our hired fins, had an icy fresh water shower and then picked up Hussain to give him a lift back into town.
He very kindly showed us to a store where we could buy bread, and a pharmacy next door where I could get some antibiotics and drops for my earache.  He offered to show us to a beach but we were a little concerned that it was already getting dark and we had yet to find somewhere to camp so declined.  He in turn declined Mike's offer of a little extra tip for his help, so we were again pleasantly surprised.
We drove past the harbour and turned off into a quarry, where a track led us to a fairly level spot, which was kinda out of sight of the road.  What we hadn't counted on, was that they would be grinding stone or something through a night shift - as trucks and pickups with workers kept driving past on a distant access road. We set up camp anyway, having peanut butter rolls for dinner and popcorn in the tent as we watched a movie and enjoyed the privacy.
Another beautiful starlit night, if a little too full of mosquitoes!

Day 53 Thursday 27th November EGYPT (157.6 miles, Total 8037.4 miles)
(M) Up at 04:30 after a restless night's sleep and packed up quickly.  We'd taken a rough track the night before and following it in the dark wasn't easy but we were back on the road after about 10 minutes.  The convoy, we were told, left at 06:00 and we weren't sure where we supposed to meet so headed for the police checkpoint just outside town.  There we found out it only left at 07:00 so turned around and went back to fill up and catch up on some diary again.  At about 07:40 we noticed busloads of tourists turning into a compound a little down the road, so followed them in.  A bit annoyed that they wanted to charge us 10LE for parking!  We weren't parking, we were playing by their silly rules and joining the convoy.  Sensing our annoyance the price was dropped to 6LE - in some ways even more annoying because it just shows that it's not even an official charge.  Have to say, this constant effort to rip off tourists is really tiresome and unfortunately casts a shadow over all Egyptians, some of whom are genuinely nice people.
Queuing first with the buses and then being directed to the smaller vehicle queue we were attracting a lot of attention from the hordes of tourists milling about.  Then a siren sounded and we were on the move.  We must have been part of the convoy for the best part of 10 minutes before it was just us and a police car behind - and a growing queue of civilian traffic.  We could travel faster but it impacts on our fuel economy and basically we don't want to.  If they insist on these silly restrictions then they can live with our slow speeds (interestingly the convoy travels faster than the speed limit anyway).
We caught up again at a rest stop after about an hour.  Locals wandering about with camels and donkeys posing for photos with all the tourists.  And we sat and waited to get going again.
Back in the convoy we lasted about 15 minutes and then they were gone.  After a while the police car bringing up the rear pulled up alongside us to try and get us to close the gap.  We had to gesture back that that they were going too fast.  A frustrating and annoying hour followed, with the police trying to insist we go faster and us stubbornly refusing.  I suppose I can see their point, but they need to travel at a speed that all can go at.  Finally, just outside Qena, we stopped at another checkpoint and a non-uniformed officer came up to us.  He was very friendly but wanted us to close the gap.  We explained that the convoy was too fast for us and he said, 'no problem to travel at 80-85, but we must stay closer'.  Don't quite get the logic myself.  A few minutes later we'd lost them again and did the final 60km to Luxor on our own, going along the river rather than the main road.  We never did find the convoy again. 
Back at camp Reiziki we had quite a welcome.  Wim and Chantal were there, as were the French family who'd returned from Aswan having been told that there was probably no space for their truck on Monday's ferry, and the campsite there had closed; disturbing news.
Chatted for a while before setting up camp in the same place as before, so it really did feel like coming home.  Wim and Chantal were on their way to see Valley of the Kings, but not before a bit of a yarn.  We'd planned to go and see Luxor or Karnak temple but were overcome with laziness so booked a spaghetti lunch a the camp and set about an afternoon of chores - had some laundry and showering to catch up on!  There seems to be a lot of maintenance being carried out at the camp; we almost started our washing in a basin with a fresh coat of gloss!
Wim and Chantal returned later in the afternoon and we joined them for dinner again.  Great to have someone cook for us, and a good feed too, chicken and potatoes.  We unfortunately had failed in our mission to find beer so will still owe them.  Can still count on one hand the number of alcoholic drinks we've had in Africa so it's a good thing neither of us is too bothered by that (though it would have been a nice way to end the day).
Went to bed late, ready for a good night's rest. Hmmmmm, still noisy.

Day 54 Friday 28th November EGYPT (166.2 miles, Total 8023.6 miles)
(S) We had hoped to spend the first part of the morning being productive and busy, so that we could then relax before heading off in the 11am convoy.  Not to be.  For starters, we realised that we hadn't filtered enough water, the internet in the campsite office was horrendously slow and took twice as long to upload half as much as usual, we still had to do dishes, sort out the laundry, blah blah.  Didn't help that we were both quite tired.  Apart from the noisy music (wedding, shmedding - think there's actually a disco next door! At least this time it wasn't karaoke I guess), we were woken at 3am by the black puppy barking repeatedly.  I tried to ignore it with zero success, so after about 15mins of internal debate, got dressed, climbed out of the tent and went to sort it out.  Ended up chasing the dog around Laurent's truck and when I caught up with it, the mother and other puppy came to join in the game, bouncing all over me.  By the time I had got them distracted enough to hopefully stop barking, and climbed back in the tent, Mike was now awake.  We then tossed and turned until the alarm.  Oh well!
At 10.30 we were suddenly all rushing to head off - quickly paying and waving farewells to the manager and his team, with Laurent, his family & doggie in the maroon and white truck leading, as they'd done this before of course, Chantal and Wim in the Landy next, with the Angeleo truck behind them.  We made up the rear, quite happy to follow and see where we were led.  We detoured past a fuel station so they could all fill up (at least we were sorted) and then realised we'd gone past the convoy starting place on our T4A... Turns out we made the first stage of the journey without police escort - just as a convoy of our own.  At one of the checkpoints out of the city, an Opel 4x4 slipped in behind us - we learnt later that they were an retired German couple (Diedrich and Elke), and so we became five.
About halfway we were then stopped at a checkpoint, with loads of craft stalls.  They're rather unsubtle about the hard sell!  We were forced to wait for the official convoy, but it was a good spot to become acquainted with our new members! I am so tired of being hassled every time you stop though - one of the guards kept asking for perfume for his wife (I'm not even travelling with any for me buddy!) while a vendor kept trying to get me to buy a pashmina. 
The cops arrived at last, and for 5mins we followed dutifully, before they were took off, driving too fast, and left us behind.  Oh well!  That's tough luck! So Laurent remained our convoy leader as we skirted mudhouse towns with beautiful mosques, endless donkey carts, overawed locals gawking at the Angeleo truck, and the blue waters of the Nile.  Scenic drive if tiring, and Mike did valiantly as it's stressful avoiding swerving taxis, potholes and donkeys.
We made it to Aswan pretty late in the day, Laurent leading us along the river to the corniche where the main tourism beat starts.  We all parked and made plans, as felucca scouts, horse drawn carriages and taxi drivers hassled us as they went past.  We decided to try the port office as the Nile Navigation company office was closed (it is Friday after all I suppose), and as we had the coordinates on our GPS, we were now the new convoy leaders.  We managed to find our way perfectly until the final turn where we did have to turn around, but it was an interesting journey past a huge mosque, over the train tracks, past the dump where hundreds of yellow-billed kites were riding the thermals, and some run down little villages.  At the port, a rather over-enthusiastic fellow tried to translate for one of the security guards, that we were not in luck and could only negotiate the ferry plans via the main office.  So a bit of a wasted journey, but at least we tried?
Back on the corniche a while later, we stood making more plans.  Turns out that there was a fixer who would meet us at 8.30pm to let us know what our options were.  So we followed the trucks to a parking lot where we might be able to rough camp.  Looked ok, if a little close to some shops, and overly brightly lit.  Chantal and Wim were heading off to find dinner so we joined them, walking a fair distance back into town. We decided on a pizza place, which was above a bustling bakery, full of locals - good sign!  The pizza was actually excellent (Mike reckons he had a whole block of mozzarella on his) and very filling, and we needed to have our leftovers wrapped up so we could have them for lunch tomorrow.  Only downside was a greasy waiter, who brushed past me a little too closely in the loos, and then "brushed" me again when he set my plate down on the table.  I'm afraid that he might have thought he was being subtle enough, but women know these things, and it was actually totally obvious.  As tired as we are with all the hassling and constant "taxi! taxi!" or "good price, you want this?" when we obviously don't (we will hail you if we want a taxi!  And we will ask for something if we want it!), I'm exhausted with the staring, whistling, "hello, you beautiful" attention of the young men in this country.  I guess it would be flattering if it wasn't indiscriminately directed at every single western female tourist!
We joined the others at the meeting point and waited for the fixer.  He finally rocked up, and gave us the bad news that we would have to spend a small fortune for a private barge for the vehicles.  Despite asking him what his fee was, he slimily avoided it until we were about the depart and casually suggested that most people in small cars gave him $60 and trucks give $80 tips! Each!  We all laughed at how outrageous that was and told him that we could do it on our own. What a rip off!
Chantal, Wim and I walked back to the parking lot while Mike hitched a lift so he could get the kettle on.  When we got there though, there was much consternation as a wedding was in full swing and the road was full.  So we followed the trucks back onto the corniche to try another spot, but the police sent us to yet another parking lot next to a Nile cruise dock.  It was perfect - fairly private, level and free!  At least we don't feel like we're the only cheapskates travelling here, everyone is as budget conscious as we are...
A policeman did pass by to ask us to move on, but Cathrine got into her desperate act and appealed to his soft side, miming that "the babies, the babies" were sleeping (partly true :)) and how could we disturb them?  He let us stay.  We did a quick bucket wash, teeth brush etc. and straight to bed.  A bit noisy with music from a riverside bar, but no problem.

Day 55 Saturday 29th November EGYPT (58.2 miles, Total 8261.8 miles)
(M) Considering our location in the middle of a busy town, we'd found a relatively quiet corner and managed a decent sleep.  A couple of buses full of tourists roused us from our slumber - two trucks and two land rovers with grubby sleeping people must have made a bit of a sight at the entrance to the luxury Nile cruise ships.  It's funny how easily we've become street scum and don't even care.  We sat and had a cup of tea before wandering along to the nearby public toilet for morning ablutions.
Just before 9:00 we all set off, leaving the French family in their truck doing schoolwork.  We'd agreed to meet at the Nile Navigation offices at 10:00 but wanted to find out from the traffic office if it was possible to cross at one of the land borders so followed our group on a convoluted route around town, eventually arriving on a dusty street with no discernible public office.  By now it was almost 10:00, so we volunteered to go back to the office to meet Dietrich and Elke.  We were a bit late by the time we found them but nobody was being allowed in or out (though the fixer from last night seemed able to go in and out at will - a bit awkward as none of us wanted to use his services but he was definitely the sort who could make or break our chances of getting on the ferry).  There were a couple of other overlanders there as well - a group of three driving a Borgward German WWII military vehicle, three Dutch bikers and two South Africans and two Aussies in a Land Cruiser.  They'd all been stuck for a week in Aswan - not looking good for us.  I went off to draw some money while we waited for the rest of our group.  After hunting around for an ATM I eventually found one which promptly swallowed my card.  The cash machine wasn't attached to any bank and I didn't want to leave my details with the group of men who were now arriving so spent a frustrating 15 minutes randomly pressing buttons until my card came back, but no money!
We waited more; and still no sign of the others.  Mr Salah and the slimy fixer were now getting anxious that they needed to measure all the cars and make a booking if we were going to get on the ferry.  We waited longer and we started to get anxious.  When the group did eventually pitch up it was with the news that a land crossing was impossible but there was possibly another ferry/barge/pontoon.  More confusion.  Fixer man started to get the message that none of us had any intention of paying him the US$60 per car that he wanted, so disappeared.  We would go through the process ourselves. After still more hanging around and discussion and measuring we were suddenly in a rush to make it to the traffic court and then the traffic police before they closed at 14:00.  Off we raced, following Chantal and Wim who'd been given the GPS coordinates for the court, where we had to get a signed piece of paper that we'd not committed any traffic offences or had any accidents.  It was an unassuming building on a dirt road and a man standing in an open copier shop on the corner started shouting directions to us. First we had to make copies of all our passports, then we had to cross the road to the court and get each car cleared.  More waiting and confusion.  Sarah and I, with the Germans, decided to leave the others to complete the paperwork while we  went to the traffic police to try and hold the offices open (it was 13:45 by now) so off we went.  The directions in Arabic were not great though and we took a wrong turn. Stopping to ask directions we were worried that we weren't going to make it and that's when Sarah had to turn in a narrow junction and reversed into a car - a sinking feeling followed.  To cut a long story short, I got out to assess the damage and try to deal with the owner of the vehicle, and Diedrich and Elke went on alone to try to keep the office open.  Sarah stayed in the car to avoid the lynch mob.  A pretty large group had gathered round us, all trying to shout over one another, but I did manage to establish who the owner was.  I was hoping that the insurance we'd had to buy at the border would be ok and tried to convince the guy to lead us to the traffic office where we could report the accident.  What we hadn't realised was that Egyptians all fear the police and didn't want it reported (in retrospect a good thing for us too, as we'd just cleared ourselves at the court and who knows what bureaucratic nonsense it could have created).  The crowd wanted 1000 Egyptian pounds!  Fortunately I had the insurance / police card to play and they realised they were going to get only 150 or nothing (about £16?).  It may sound not very much but under normal circumstances insurance should have paid anyway, and the damage was hopefully minor enough that it would cover the cost of repair.  If they wanted cash they'd have to accept less.  Anyway, it seemed an easy let off and the damage to Mapenzi was minimal; only a slightly twisted ladder.  Ten minutes later we were on our way again, en route to the office where we found them still open - relief!  And managed to delay them closing for the 15 minutes that the others needed to arrive.  All sorted we made our way back into town.
The two trucks decided to try and camp in the same place as last night but we, with Chantal and Wim, were keen to try the beach camp that we'd been told about. Made our way North along the river and crossed at the road bridge to the western bank.  The official campsite, Adam's camp, was closed (the manager needs to get some papers in order apparently, so should open soon) but just north of the bridge there is uninhabited beach with a few palm groves which hid the vehicles sufficiently from the road. We found our way there and stopped for a bit of a feed before heading back into town to stock up on supplies for Sudan.  Three of the guys from the Land Cruiser made an appearance (they were already based at this makeshift camp) so we chatted to them for a while before the 15 minute ride back into town. 
It was too late for a sunset felucca ride so we just went in search of a general store.  Found one who after some haggling was prepared to offer us reasonable prices.  Just to get good prices we ended up getting an oversupply of things like toilet paper.  I still had a bit of a cold so they could come in handy.  Also had a laugh at the super smooth apprentice, smoking and charming the ladies (he must have been all of 12 years old). Bought some freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and then went to look for a cash machine again.  There are a number of banks further along the corniche so we made for those and drew some money.  Back to the camp where the four guys were just finishing up with their camp organisation.  Have to say, we thought they'd be rowdy company but one was already in bed and the others had a really neat setup going.  We were going to join them but they wanted an early night so we just made soup and bread, sorted the vehicles for their trip tomorrow and went to bed ourselves.  What a quiet, pleasant site, just the gentle chugging of the boats as they made their way down the river.

Day 56 Sunday 30th November EGYPT (25.4 miles, Total 8287.2 miles)
(S) Woke to bird calls in the palmery, as well as the odd truck or taxi passing by on the nearby road.  Glorious sunrise though, and we were quickly packed with rushed breakfast and photos of the bridge and farewells, before heading into town to fill up with Egyptian diesel.  Topped up plastic jerrys and left them in the back as we're not sure how secure the barge will be.  From there we headed towards the office, where we parked while we bought bread for breakfast and fresh groceries to go in the fridge.  Veggie man was asking a bit much though, quoting LE32 for Chantal & Wim's selection - he dropped as far as LE15 in the end but they insisted it was still too much and left.  We chickened out though and still bought from him, though we put the kiwi fruits back at LE2.50 each!  At the office Mr Salah held court again, relishing his power. He eventually ordered us to go to the port to start the boarding procedure for the cars.  We still don't know if we'll even get on the passenger ferry properly, as the first class cabin tickets are sold out.  Looks like it'll be deck class for us then!
We led the way to the port and offered our slip of paper to the guards at the gate.  After some confusion they let us in as a single car and started searching the back before an important man in uniform and smart shades arrived and told us to go back outside the gate for an hour.  So we did, now loitering at the back of the queue.  Everyone was here today - a real mixed bunch, and all slightly anxious that we were locked out essentially!  Our over-enthusiastic friend from Friday arrived, looking delighted to see us, and eagerly called me to approach the uniforms to find out what to do next (Sarah is apparently a common Arabic name, so I seem to be rather popular - at first I was flattered but now realise it's just that they can remember my name more easily than the others probably!).
A frustrating day followed. We sat around waiting, Mike finding a hosepipe to fill the water jerrys, Chantal sorting out our passport photocopies, and the kids slowly going stir crazy being constantly told to sit  still in the shade.  Suddenly there was a big rush as drivers only (a phrase that us passengers left behind soon began to dread!)  paid their LE8 entrance fee and clutching passports, copies, carnets etc filed through the gate. I'll spare you the boring detail but the hours trickled by as the inefficiency and lack of co-ordination the Egyptian port authorities or Nile Navigation or both possess became excruciatingly evident.  To think this process has been in place once a week for at least the last 10 years (one website we saw was that old and it was still the same back then), and they still haven't worked out a better system? Amazing!
Anyway, Mike and the drivers basically went from dingy office to dingier office to wait, shuffle papers, wait, get customs to sort out the carnets, wait blah blah.  Poor Wim and Chantal, who had to extend their visa because of the breakdown but hadn't been told to extend their insurance at the same time, now had to pay an additional fee.  At first they were quoted LE300, but like most things in Egypt, it seems that it's hardly official and they ended up paying only LE200.  Who knows!  The drivers moved the cars and then waited some more admiring the huge piles of onions around the place.  They eventually started loading, but some dock workers had to move the barge by hand to adjust the location as the ramp had shifted a bit.  Nothing like trying to move an X ton barge with X tonnes of vehicles already on board by pulling on a rope... One by one they all reversed on, with inches to spare - Mapenzi sandwiched between the motorbikes and Angeleo - and after more onions were squeezed on board, they were finally able to re-join us.
While all this had been going on, the passengers were all stuck waiting outside the gate.  There were some run down concrete benches that we could squeeze onto, but the sun was moving quickly and it was impossible to keep in the shade.  There were no toilets other than a totally disgusting cubicle past the train station (Elke and I had to act as lookout for each other while we used the bushes behind it, it was so gross), no entrepreneurial shops selling cold water or drinks or falafels or anything, no proper seats, nothing.  And zero information.  Luckily I'd persuaded Mike to take my phone so Chantal could keep in touch with the drivers, but other than the odd "we're still waiting" text, we knew nothing of what was going on.  It was horribly frustrating and the children were incredibly bored and fractious.  At one stage a small group of us went for a stroll to the bridge to see if they could spot the barge, but after an hour or so were told they couldn't sit there by a jobsworth in uniform.  Chantal and I decided quite early on that it might be best for us to head into Aswan to enquire about hotels so that when the boys were finished they could simply join us, but each time we were about to head off, news would come of some advancement and so our hopes would be raised only to be dashed again when half an hour later nothing happened.  Finally, at about 3.30 we picked up our bags and started off to find a taxi and suddenly they were back!  Hooray! 
We piled into a group of taxis that miraculously appeared, our driver, Kamal very excited that we were South African. We crammed in, Mike and I on the front passenger seat, the others squashed into the back, and rocketed into town.  He drove like a man possessed and more than once we screwed our eyes shut and prayed that we'd make it out alive as we grazed past other vehicles and bumped over potholes. We bravely arranged for him to bring us back again tomorrow morning, and sorting out a drop off spot nearby all our hotels, he refused to let us pay, insisting that we simply hand over the total tomorrow.  Sweet deal.  Waving farewell to the others, Chantal, Wim, Mike and I headed for the youth hostel, which was full, but luckily the manager directed us to a grotty but useful hotel in the alley between the train station and the souk. At LE10 pppn for a 4bed room, we were expecting it to be a bit dismal and it was, but it would do the trick.  We headed out to have crisps and coke on the jetty to watch the sunset, disappointed that we wouldn't be able to go on a felucca after all, but making the most of our last few hours in Aswan.  We then had a delicious kofta dinner next door to the hotel, before doing some internet (where I stupidly left our nice memory stick behind - disaster :() and then split up so Chantal could finish her e-mails while we tried to find a bank that was still open to get some US$.  No luck but it did mean we had to detour back through the souk which was wonderful!  Not that much hassle, and some lovely things, but we resisted the temptation to buy, simply bargaining for the right price for water, until a man shiftily offered us beer.  Magic words!  We hesitated for only a moment before Mike went into his shop, but he wanted LE20 for each Stella!  After some really hard bargaining (the old hag outside - his mother or wife I guess - interfering as the men haggled) Mike emerged with 4 cold beers, secretively wrapped up in paper.  Back at the hotel, we proudly revealed our newly found treasures to Wim and Chantal, who were equally delighted, and the four of us sipped away as we slowly packed up and prepared for the following day.  What an enjoyable way to end the evening!  They sure tasted goooood!
Beers finished, we showered in the pretty gross bathrooms while Chantal and Wim went out to spend their last few LE.  We were already tucked up in bed when they returned, but the electricity had gone out again, so it was a bit of an effort for them to find their way around in the darkness.  Not terribly comfortable, and a little noisy, with some very persistent mosquitoes, but it would do.  Filled with trepidation about the journey tomorrow, we finally drifted off.

Day 57 Monday 1st December EGYPT - SUDAN (0 miles, Total 8287.2 miles)
(M) Up early to make some last minute purchases and get to the bank again.  We wandered back into the souk where I left the others and walked to the bank, which we were told would open at 8:00.  Had to fend off numerous taxi drivers desperate to take me wherever, even if I didn't want to go anywhere.  When I got to the bank it was just 8:00 and it was still closed.  I waited a short while outside until the guard came out to tell me that it only opened at 8:30 - a bit of a problem as we were due to meet our taxi then.  Back to the hotel where I found the others and made a plan to be picked up from the bank instead.  Back to the bank (remember, it's a 10-15 minute walk each time!).  I arrived just as they were opening and managed finally to buy some $US, in the nick of time as cash might be difficult to find in Sudan (at least before Khartoum).  I was almost done when Sarah came rushing in to say that the taxi was waiting outside but couldn't park for long. All sorted we made our way to the port.  We had to make a short stop at the traffic police where Kamal registered that he was taking us there.  Sarah's mom called for a quick chat to wish us bon voyage, which she was very happy about. 
Unlike yesterday, the crowds were gathering at the port and it was fairly chaotic, though not as bad as we'd been led to believe it would be.  We arrived just after 9:00 and found a space in the shade where we dumped our bags while the girls went to buy tickets from Mr Salah. They found him looking important behind a small window in a dingy office.  There seemed to be one window for locals and one, with Mr Salah, for us.  It didn't seem to speed up the process though.  The other families arrived and joined us while we waited.  Laurant was annoyed at their taxi driver who offered them a good price but then brought them across the Aswan barrage against their will.  They'd had to pay an extra 20LE per person to cross, instead of just coming around the back route, so they didn't pay the taxi as punishment.
After a couple of hours there seemed to be some movement and we joined the queue of people with all their belongings; from beds and wicker dining furniture to water tanks, fridges and linen, and waited a while longer before we started to move forward.  Once through the gates we had to show our passports and put our bags through a scanner before being waved forward to customs, a further 100m on.  There we picked up a form and were directed to buy a 2LE stamp from a man at an outside table (licking and sticking stamps for each of the hundreds of ferry passengers). Then to passport control.  We'd filled in details for our SA passports instead of British ones, so had to go back and get another form.  With the formalities out of the way it was down the ramp to one last passport check and then onto the worn looking ferry.  We'd had a laugh earlier at the ferry picture on the ticket; as promotional material you might have expected a pretty smart looking vessel but the picture depicted a rusty hulk.
By now it was after 12:00.  There was a short gangplank onto a pontoon and across to the ferry.  The small door opened into a dank corridor, which turned right at some steps.  We went up and found another door leading to the outside.  Pushed past people crowding the walkways and found our way round to a blackened cafeteria where some of the locals were already eating (didn't look too bad either) and a money changer doing business at his table at the back.  Through a busy below deck sitting area and up some more steps we found our way to the top deck and the front where some of the other travellers had already secured a decent space in the shade in front of the bridge.  We piled our stuff and sat down to watch the goings on below.
There were onions... lots and lots of onions.  Red bags being constantly trucked in, stacked and loaded.  We watched men with heavy trolleys running down the ramp, some carrying fridges on their shoulders; it should have been chaotic but it actually seemed pretty orderly. 
We heard some talk that the ferry expected to leave at about 16:00.  Unlikely.  16:00 came and went, then 17:00, 18:00, 19:00.  We were told to move but didn't.  There wasn't much space on the rest of the boat by now so we convinced ourselves that it might be ok as long as we didn't obscure the captain's view.  Some of the group were also annoyed that we'd had to pay the tourist price of 306LE each while the locals paid only 60LE, so felt we were justified in expecting a bit more.
Finally, just before 20:00 we felt the ferry start to move and slowly we left the harbour.  Once clear the ferry set it's course and we were now ordered, more forcefully, to move.  The captain showed us an area on the bow, where the anchor chains etc come through, where we were permitted to sleep.  We made camp as best we could and settled in for a snooze.  There were some rumours that it might get wet later but we took this to mean that if it got choppy the waves might break over, and fell asleep anyway.  Wim even went to check and they told him it would be fine.  Quite comfy really... until about midnight when we were abruptly awoken by water washing across the deck.  They'd opened a ballast valve and it was gushing out all round our sleeping area (thanks for the warning guys).  Apart from being wet we were also a bit fed up by now.  Not much we could do though, so gathered up our belongings and found another cramped area next to the bridge and settled in again for an uncomfortable night.

Day 58 Tuesday 2nd December EGYPT - SUDAN (5 miles, Total 8292.2 miles)
(S) What a night - slept so fitfully, that when we did finally rise we didn't feel particularly rested.  We were still annoyed that they'd not woken us to warn us before opening the valve.  Turns out the families on the other side also had problems all night (apart from crates of hot chocolate being piled up in their space, the captain kept spitting into a box, and they slowly but surely got squeezed into the final square metre or two that remained). Mike was up at dawn, watching the sunrise while I hid in my damp sleeping bag for as long as I could.  Slow start to the day, as we lounged around, until the sun started to get too hot and we needed to create some shade.  Rigged up our sarongs and managed to create a shadow big enough to sit under.  Wiled away the hours playing cards, reading Adam's Sudan Bradt guide and chatting about our plans for the route south.  Had a good laugh when one of the local fellows, who got a little overexcited about our card game, trying to get in on the act though we despaired of teaching him the rules across the language barrier - suddenly departed on a little boat that had moored alongside us.  We were convinced he was a secret agent spying on us!  Another boat turned up a little later and some more people disembarked - all a bit strange.
The captain stopped the whole ferry at lunchtime so he could eat, turfing us off our spot.  The two or three crew up in the bridge also forced us to move on each prayer time, shoving us aside while they flung out their mats.  Really would have cost nothing to ask nicely surely?!  What a grumpy lot!  Such contrast to the friendly Sudanese people we met on board - one lady offered me her soap to wash my hands in the basin for instance.  Such a small gesture but really appreciated.
At about midday Mike pointed out a pale shape on the bank in the distance, and we realised it must be Abu Simbel.  We went back down to the bottom deck and looked through the binoculars until we were close enough for photos.  So impressive, I really am sad that we never got to visit, but it seems we've missed out a fair bit faffing about waiting for the ferry.  No feluccas, or visits to the islands in Aswan etc etc.  Can't be helped and I guess we got a rather unique view anyway from the lake.  Looked spectacular, especially as just as we passed, an enormous flock of cormorant type waterbirds skimmed upriver across the water.  The flocks were pretty spread out, but there must have been tens of thousands of individual birds, as they just kept coming and kept coming.  Amazing! Once the excitement was over we realised that we were now in Sudan, as the border blips into the lake just north of Abu Simbel.  At last, we head away from Arabia into Africa proper...
Our passports were still in the office, and it was late in the day when they called us to come and collect them.  A very friendly chap interviewed us as he wrote down our details, delighted that we were from SA, and spotting that I was born in Durban commented that there were too many Indian people there!!
By now the sun had moved again and we were struggling to create any shade.  We were also a little anxious that we might have to wait a while for the cars as Laurent was sure he's seen us pass the barge in the early dawn.  And then we were told to move on one last time. We grabbed all our kit and made our way through the crowded passageways, to the cafeteria where we changed some money.  The guy said 2.7 and Mike said 2.6, then changed his mind saying "2.5 and we'll change it all".  He agreed and then proceeded to use 2.6 anyway.  All a bit frustrating and eventually Mike resorted to taking the calculator from him to do it himself - the chap then remarked to me how clever Mike was to solve the problem!  I simply smiled and said yes, isn't he!  We bought a pepsi with our final pound fifty and went to wait to disembark now we'd arrived in Wadi Halfa. Took ages, and the boat was so crowded we had to shift from the top deck, to the first class cabins, to the stairwell.  The good news was the Nicholas had seen the barge with the cars and it was safely in port!  Hooray!  He showed us a photo to prove it and was promptly told by a stern looking official that he photographs were forbidden.  Turns out that later the uniforms forced him to delete all the photos he'd taken of the ferry, even of his children sleeping on the deck - a bit extreme but they are pretty strict about any photography of sensitive areas it seems.
And then the rush started - people were climbing over luggage and shoving, and Mike and I nearly got separated, but we did manage to squeeze out into the open air and trip down the gangplank.   I held onto the bags as Mike went back to help with the children and then everyone was off.  The port was pretty nondescript, and looks like it got recently flooded as one of the roads disappeared into the water, and the streetlights were half submerged.  We had our passports checked, bags searched and then were about to walk through the door and a stressed out man with armfuls of paper ushered us back in again.  Mr Magady proceeded to chaperone the Drivers Only through the next phase of carnet approvals, forms and hanging around, directing the vehicles off the barge and asking for some backsheesh for the captain - Mike stood his ground saying that we'd been overcharged as it was and the others agreed, so the captain went without I'm afraid.  A bit nonsense really, as they already had a load of extra dosh from Laurent for looking after his dog - and it's not like we'd tipped the ferry captains from Italy or to Jerba island! Nonsense.
Meanwhile, the rest of us, by now pretty used to just hanging around, just hung around.  Chantal and I played a dice game with the children to try keep them occupied, and one of the Aussies, Dave, threw an onion at a ceiling fan to chop it in half.  Gives you an idea of how bored we were. We also changed some more money, from a guy with a serious load of notes in his pockets.  At least there was a yummy falafel stand, so we could have some dinner.  By now the sun had set, and we were still waiting.  Finally, forms handed in and cars ready, we set off in convoy to Wadi Halfa town where the final paperwork needed sorting.  Yet again, the Drivers Only convened, poor Chantal inadvertently stepping into the room to find out what was going on, only to be met by a tight circle of chairs and some strong vibes that she didn't belong!
We said our farewells to the Borgward team who were heading south straight away (they are really behind schedule after rolling in the Libyan desert and having to do extensive repairs), the SA/Aussie guys who were in search of more food (they are also a bit tight on time as they had to wait 9 days in Aswan for the ferry), the Polish couple (who have decided to take the train tomorrow) and the 3 Dutch bikers who are also leaving first thing in the morning.  Bit sad that our merry band of travellers are all splitting up, but no doubt we'll bump into some of them again somewhere further south.
Our Luxor convoy remained, plus one - Adam, the young English guy who we offered a lift to Abri - so we all followed Laurent out into the desert just outside town for a perfect freedom camp. Poor Elke was feeling rotten - she was the first to get drenched on deck, and now has a horrible cold, so she and Dietrich went to bed pretty much straight away.   The children were all tucked up as well, so we huddled near our cars and had tea after setting up the tents, with some chocolate and a chat before we too turned in.  Pretty great spot - lovely stars (saw a few shooting stars too) and can't believe we're actually in Sudan!


Day 59 Wednesday 3rd December SUDAN (84.4 miles, Total 8376.6 miles)
(M) Up and ready to go by 8:30 to complete the last formalities.  Back at the office we were offered a cup of coffee while we chatted to some Canadians travelling north.  By the sounds of things the road to Dongola is still bad, though a new one is currently under construction and expected to be finish in the next year (Cairo to Cape Town will be on new tarred surfaces and the ferry will be a thing of the past!).  We had delicious omelette sandwiches and some tea, before paying for our alien registration, which cost us 61SP each.  We've been a getting a bit concerned about the gears which have started to clonk a bit so I decided to find a mechanic to check the gearbox oil while we waited for the others to register.
Mustafa is the cousin of the chap who was helping us and I was directed down the street, left, across the railway line to the end of the tar.  There I found a chaotic yard with a couple of young teenagers working on an old series Land Rover.  Abandoned car parts littered the area; lying baking in the dust were old gearboxes, radiators, springs, axles, you name it.  There were also a few cars - a couple of Land Rovers, a Land Cruiser, various Peugeots and others.  I asked a man who approached if he was Mustafa.  He nodded and then disappeared.  I got the feeling that he wasn't Mustafa, so hung around checking out the yard.  Eventually the real Mustafa arrived, dressed in orange overalls, and had a cursory look at the underside of our car.  He then proceeded to work on the car already over the pit, so I hung around a bit more; I wasn't expecting to jump the queue. Then Nicholas arrived with his Angaleo truck, apparently with problems on the brake pump?  Unfortunately the truck was a bit big for this small operation so I was left alone again.
After almost an hour and some dodgy looking welding on the other car I was beckoned forward to the pit.  There was clearly oil leaking from somewhere and the test here in Africa is to smell it.  Seems a little was engine oil and some from the gearbox - this we had already surmised but I was impressed that he could tell just by sniffing his fingers.  Now I felt I was in expert hands.  He tightened all the bolts on the gearbox and then indicated that we were done.  Not too sure I asked if he would check the oil level while we had it there.  A bit disturbingly, but not surprising, it was on the empty side.  They were supposed to have changed it in Cairo but I don't know that they actually checked.  Anyway, we haven't been carrying any spare so one of the apprentices was sent off to get some.  When he returned the two of them were left to fill the gearbox while Mustafa got on with another car.  I've been avoiding the gearbox oil because accessing under the vehicle is a boggel and pouring uphill is not something I've mastered, so it was useful to watch how they did it with just a pipe and an old plastic bottle as a funnel.
Sarah arrived, concerned that I had been gone so long.  Diedrich and Elke had already said their goodbyes to the others and left, and Chantal and Wim were also itching to get on the road.  We were nearly done though so they waited for us while the last of the oil drained in.  I asked for the leftover (about 3 litres?) and shoved it on the roof with our two plastic jerrys.  The whole operation cost only 50 Sudanese Pounds (not bad considering that includes 5 litres of oil). I tried to tip the apprentices but they wouldn't take it - what a change from Egypt; liking it already.
On the road again we left the trucks and made our way out of Wadi Halfa towards Dongola.  In the town and along the road we were constantly amazed at the welcome we got from the people - huge double handed waves and with no hint of expectation.  We had heard that the Sudanese have a reputation for being genuinely friendly and hospitable and it's tangible as soon as you enter the country.  Another interesting change is the traffic.  There's not a lot of it and that which there is seems to include a lot of new vehicles. It certainly doesn't feel poor; of course many of the people are rural and probably have very little in the way of possessions, but the houses that we passed, though simple mud dwellings, were generally neatly constructed and well maintained with tidy, swept yards.  Most of the people were well dressed and seemingly fairly well educated.
About 60km outside Wadi Halfa the good tarred surface ended abruptly, turning into a deteriorating gravel road which criss crossed the raised surface which will hold the new road.  We travelled slowly, following the dust being kicked up by Dagobert (Wim And Chantal's Land Rover - www.dagobertinoostafrika.blogspot.com) and after a couple of hours stopped to pick up a few scraps of wood for the kelly kettle.  There was a consensus that we'd stop and camp early if we found a good spot, which we did at about 16:00.  There were a few small trees near a rocky outcrop so we left the road and drove 500 metres through the sand to park up for the night.  Quite a homely spot once we had the awnings, the two roof tents and Adam's small ground tent set up.  Got the kettle on, collected some firewood and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling.  At one point we saw the two trucks pass on the road, but they didn't see us waving and hooting - hopefully we'll catch up with them at another stage.
When the sun went down we set about getting the fire going for some potatoes while Adam played around with our laptop, trying to retrieve our lost diary.  And got it back!  Really glad we offered a lift to him now (he's just finished studying computer engineering or something?).  So, no diary tonight, we'll have the time off thanks.
Spent the evening around the fire... with marshmallows.

Day 60 Thursday 4th December SUDAN (58.3 miles, Total 8434.9 miles)
(S) What a lovely spot.  We all got up fairly early, well rested and hungry.  Setting up the table and chairs in the shade we had coffee and tea while I made pancakes.  Considering I'd mistakenly bought wholemeal flour in Jerba, they tasted fairly good though there weren't really enough to fill our bellies, so we also had toast and cheese. Breakfast done and dishes cleaned, we started to pack up.  The road continued in much the same vein - the odd section of tar which ended in a barrier of stones or piles of sand, and an exit track onto rough piste which followed in parallel until some hill or ditch forced a sideways diversion.  We soon came into a little town (Akasha?) and there in front of us stretched the fertile banks of the Nile.  What a contrast - had to stop to admire the view and take some pictures.  The villagers were so friendly, waving and smiling.  Just past, we paused again for a photo opportunity, and a man approached us.  With some creative sign language and drawing in the sand, we established that he needed a wheel spanner and a lift - so he jumped in the back with Adam and we drove up the hill.  On the other side we found a broken down taxi - the passengers watching the driver struggling to remove a flat tyre.  We handed over a few sockets in various sizes, our wheel spanners and all sorts, and they eventually got it off and the spare on.  We waved our farewells and set off again.
In the next big village, the same taxi waved us over, this time motioning that they needed help to remove the tyre from the rim.  They had a whole audience of little boys gawking, who were mesmerised when we pulled up and brought out the compressor - Chantal and I couldn't resist taking photos of them and showing them the results on the digital screens - they were thrilled if a little shy at first.  By now there were also two donkey carts watching the goings on.  When it transpired that the valve was damaged, they simply used a handpump to fill the tyre and all our bits and pieces went back into the bag.  A woman had joined the group, clutching a wretchedly blunt looking sickle knife (that we thought was for palms but was actually for slaughtering a goat for Eid) who spoke fairly good English and so we chatted to her at length.  Someone handed us a bag of dried dates as a thank you for helping, and we reciprocated with a box of biscuits that they could hopefully share out amongst the kids. Unfortunately, an austere looking man then came up and seemed to tell the woman off for speaking to us.  All got a little awkward, and she ended up trying to ask us for money.  We had to politely refuse and drive away. 
The trucks were in the same village, so we stopped for a chat, before heading off en route to Abri.  When we got there it was definitely lunchtime, so we parked and strolled around until we found a bustling restaurant.  They were serving delicious potatoes in soup with fresh bread, and we had soft drinks rather than the ice cold water they served us.  Sad to be paranoid, but our guts aren't quite strong enough to handle Nile bugs I don't think!  We ended up ordering one more dish of the potato stew as it was so good, and then went to find some veggies and drinks. 
From there we continued on the dusty roads through the villages - just not worth lane hopping to get onto the tar.  As soon as we relaxed on a piece of smooth surface, a blockade of rocks or mound of snad would force us off onto corrugations again.  Or, the sides would be so steep that we'd have to backtrack along the tar until a breach could be found.
By late afternoon we were on the lookout for a suitable campspot and found a clearing in some palms behind ruined mud buildings, near some neat fields.  We thought it would be fairly private, but we discovered the next morning that it's actually a bus turning spot, drop off for passengers for a little ferry boat.
Mike and Adam went off to ask permission from the farmer tending the fields, while the rest of us parked the cars and set up camp.  They soon disappeared off with the farmer's teenager son Omer, to find crocodiles - but with little success.  Even with the binoculars later we couldn't discern whether the shapes on the far bank were crocs, rocks or turtles.  Lovely birds here in this spot though - saw a hoopoe pair, some plover type birds, loads of singing birds in the palms and Mike spotted bee-eaters on the banks.
We tried to relax a little but the Nile flies and mosquitoes were relentless, Wim was suffering the effects of his cold, and we were a little tired from heat.  But we ended up enjoying our pasta meal, after a quick bucket wash, and before our new friends approached; Al Bahdri - who spoke really good English, and Omer - who was a little too mellow, constantly sipping from his little bottle of toxic smelling palm "gin".  We had a really good chat with them, Al Bahdri teaching us some Nubian words and sharing his experiences working in Egypt as a security guard, keenly asking about job opportunities in SA.  At 11.30pm or so, we were all feeling too tired to keep talking and so made going to bed motions.  Saying our goodnights, they melted back into the darkness, back to their homes, while Adam retired to his tent and Chantal joined Wim in their rooftent.  We grabbed our maglite and went down to the water's edge, counting six pairs of green eyes (foxes?) in the fields, and watching handsized fish swimming in the shallows.  Back at the camp we picked out a reddish pair of eyes in the torchlight and managed to track the owner's progress through the palm branches.  It was a small cat like mammal with a ringed tail and pale spotted coat - we looked it up on google later and are certain it was a rare African palm civet.  What a treat!  It was a little shy, but we got a really good look before it dropped to ground level and slinked away into the darkness.  Wonderful!
Really pleased with our discovery we climbed up into the tent and collapsed onto our comfy mattress. What a peaceful, lovely place.

Day 61 Friday 5th December SUDAN (120.9 miles, Total 8555.8 miles)
(M) Woke up and pottered around for half an hour before our friend from the night before turned up again.  Had a good long chat to him - we've secured an invitation to his wedding (though it's not yet planned) and by the sound of things he's also trying to make a plan to visit SA for the 2010 world cup, where he'll support Brazil.  We promised to stay in touch if he can drop us an email so that we have an address for him.  Could have had a guided tour of the nearby island, which is what Adam wanted to visit, but we'd already agreed that we needed to press on today.
Our young friend, Omer, also turned up, wanting to point out a crocodile to me.  I followed him, with Al Bahdri, to the river but couldn't see anything so we waded through the wet grass to a better vantage point at the top end of the cultivated field. Al Bahdri wasn't convinced, but there was definitely at least one croc across the river.  Omer seemed to have seen a second but I couldn't be sure.  The one I saw was probably 2 -2.5 metres, not huge but big enough to dissuade me from swimming!
Back on the tar we'd only been going 5 minutes when we passed two cyclists coming the other way.  We turned to go back and chat to them - John and Elke, very friendly from New Zealand and Netherlands respectively).  They've made it all the way from Tanzania and will fly back to Europe for two weeks over Christmas before returning to continue their epic.  Hoped we weren't the bearers of bad news but as far as we were aware there's no ferry from Wadi Halfa until week after next, which will make getting to Cairo a tough call.   We swapped details and will have a look at their website, [email protected], as soon as we find good connection.  They had some great stories and what we're doing really paled in comparison - good for them.  Chatted for a while but didn't want to keep them as they had a lot of ground to cover, including some tough roads before Wadi Halfa.
The road got steadily worse, disappearing into a series of braided, rutted tracks in places.  Pockets of fesh fesh (?), talcum fine dust, dotted the route and billowed out in dense red brown clouds as we drove through, reducing visibility to zero for the car behind.  Now and then we found our way back to the new road and managed to follow the raised gravel for a short distance before being turned back by rocks and sand heaps blocking the way.  There seemed no alternative but to follow the old track, but if it was easy it wouldn't be what we planned for anyway.  Poor Adam in the back was probably having a rougher ride than we were.  We were a bit concerned about the extra wear on the suspension from carrying the extra weight as well, though Mapenzi seems to be handling admirably (a few minor ailments which we'll have to look at, and still the oil leak from the gearbox).
The trip from Aswan is not a clean affair - 5 days and counting since our last shower... dusty and sweaty and hot.  There was dust everywhere, except in our clothes cupboard where our seal was doing a fine job.  We didn't really need to open it anyway - there's little point putting on clean clothes so we were both still wearing what we'd put on before the ferry.
As the afternoon wore on we were still a long way from Kerma and had to pick up the pace despite the rough driving.  With Wim in front we bounced along at a healthy 15 - 20 mph, stopping only briefly for photos of scenery.  Finally just before sunset we arrived in the dusty town of Kerma.  It was bigger than I imagined and we headed to the centre to ask for directions to the one hotel in town.  Chantal and Wim waited while we drove up and down trying to follow some vague instructions.  We eventually found it next to a faded sign; Hotel Karma.  It didn't look much like a hotel but it did look open; even so it felt mean to drop Adam off with darkness closing in, but I guess that's what you buy into as a backpacker.  Really feels like a luxury being able to stop anywhere at any time and camp, provided we can find an open space.
Thought we might come back into town to join him for dinner but we needed to find a campsite first so headed south, hoping to leave the residential areas.  It was difficult in the dark and we seemed to go on forever, eventually turning off at a promising looking palmery.  Silhouetted in the dark it actually looked better than it turned out to be so we all decided to take the next turn away from the Nile and try to find somewhere uninhabited in the desert.  Another 15 minutes of driving before we could turn off but it turned out to be a good decision.  Near an acacia tree we levelled the vehicles and put up the tents.  We were a bit far from town now to return for dinner, though would have to go back that way in the morning anyway.  We were just off the road, so didn't expect to be totally alone, but even so, the only other person we saw was the dark shape of a man on a camel gliding past about 100m away.  Nice soup with rice type stuff and then to bed after a tiring day.

Day 62 Saturday 6th December SUDAN (110.8 miles, Total 8666.6 miles)
(S) Woke up to voices, convinced there were people outside the tents, but turns out it was just a donkey ambling past.  There were a few people hovering in the distance, and a man on a tractor came quite close as we were about to depart, but other than that, we had good privacy considering how close we were to fields and huts.
Had bread and coffee for breakfast, then packed up and backtracked to Kerma to find some ancient mud brick temples called the Kefuffas.  Built by the Kush in 2400BC, the ruins are supposedly still visible, but despite faithfully following the GPS coordinates, we couldn't find them.  None of the locals seemed to know either, so we simply backtracked again and headed south. The roads through the villages are such hard going - really undulating and corrugated, with deep pits of fesh-fesh talc dust, making for very slow progress.  Just outside town, bumping and lurching along, Mike at least had time to react when a large chameleon dashed across the road.  About 30cm long from head to tail-tip, in vivid lime green, he was pretty swift crossing, but once in the safety of a large tree, he slowed to the distinctive ponderous two-toed chameleon stride.  We didn't stop long as Chantal and Wim were leading the way today, so left him in peace and caught up with them.
Again our day consisted of bouncing through little mud house towns with shaded water urns and leafy trees, fields fringed by palms and the odd diversion in search of tar when the dust got too much.  We were aiming for the Kawa temple, and after two false starts; one round impenetrable looking sand dunes, and another along the river banks ending in ploughed fields, a local showed us the right way.  We followed Wim and Chantal for a speedy dash across the soft sand, and following tyre tracks literally drove onto the site.  We only realised when we saw a group of elderly tourists peering into a pit in the ground, staring at what looked like crumbling foundations.  A fierce looking official rushed up and gave Wim an earful for driving the wrong way (pretty rich when there are no signs, or markers, and Wim was simply following someone else's trail!) so we hastily parked to discuss our options.  The stern official suddenly turned on the charm and quoted $10US each to visit the temple.  He got very excited about our nationalities and Chantal's name, even thrusting his mobile phone at her so she could speak to someone on the other end! He also invited us for a meal at his house and soon it was all just a little too awkward, so we very politely declined, wished him Eid Mubarak for the upcoming celebrations and got out of there! Felt a little guilty that our archaeological adventures today had so far been fruitless, but the drive back on the sand was fun!
Intending to enquire about the ferry to Dongola, we cruised into Selema and parked near the ticket office, alongside... the two trucks!  Found the families enjoying lunch in a nearby café, so joined them for a while discussing routes south.  Sounds like the better option is to follow the tar to Karima, simply drive over the new Friendship bridge and head to Khartoum from there.  Seems a shame we won't get to visit Dongola which sounds like a pretty place, but will be fun to travel together again. We had falafel breads for lunch, some ice cold pepsis and I bought a watermelon to put in the fridge.  Then we all set off to get fuel and water, waiting for the trucks to fill their tanks just outside town.
Drove in convoy for a while, through flat desert scenery, camels loitering on the side of the road.  At a small town we diverted, so that Nicholas could see if they wanted cinema for the children, but as we got closer we realised that it was deserted, probably just an old labour camp used while they were building the road.  It did seem like a fair place to camp though, so we carried on, Mike getting a chance to try and drive the Angeleo truck.  Was a little tricky though and the sand was getting softer, so it was cut short a bit!  And then Laurent's truck got stuck.  He softened the tyres and we went just a bit further before stopping for the night. 
Really lovely atmosphere; set up the tables and we made French fries for everyone!  Crazy offering to make pomme frites for Belgians :) At least we could offer them mayonnaise!  Thank goodness things don't have to perfect in the desert!  Laurent reciprocated with some delicious homemade wine (what a treat!) and Nicholas offered to organise the cinema for us all as he had to check the lenses anyway.  Seems the shaking on the rough roads may have damaged the projector and he wanted to make sure it was all working alright.  So we washed dishes, had a quick cold shower behind the vehicle, and cleared everything away so we could prepare for a rather surreal experience.
Camp chairs set in a semi-circle, wrapped in blankets with cups of tea, we all sat in the middle of nowhere out in the desert, watching the Horse Whisperer on a big screen with incredible sound.  Not everyone else's ideal choice of film maybe, but I loved it, and it was the atmosphere that made it even more special.  At one stage there was a fantastically bright shooting star just to the right above the screen!
Unfortunately, the lenses have moved so Nicholas struggled to focus the projector properly - didn't bother us (nothing has to be perfect in the desert remember!) but they are very worried about it.  Hopefully they'll be able to repair it in Khartoum.  We helped them pack everything away and then brushed teeth and crawled into the tent.  The wind had picked up and it was darn chilly.  I had a really restless night, with the flysheet flapping in the wind, worrying about things blowing away, but thankfully all was fine.

Day 63 Sunday 7th December SUDAN (159.5 miles, Total 8826.1 miles)
(M) Everyone was up by 8:30, all in various stages of awakeness.  We packed up slowly and got ready for the drive to Karima and south towards Khartoum.  I'd put a piece of cardboard under the vehicle to gauge our oil leak, and got a bit of a surprise when I lifted it and discovered a very venomous looking scorpion hiding underneath.  Going on the rule of thumb that says small pincers and a large sting = dangerous, this one was pretty bad.  It was a pale yellow with a darker body, about 7-8cm long (I later tried to identify it and couldn't be sure, but the similar looking ones all seemed to be potentially lethal).  That'll learn us for wandering around bare foot in the dark.  Nicholas' kids loved it, but it was a bit of job making sure they didn't get too close.
Back on the road Wim made a makeshift repair to his rear door lock, using a spring and drilling a hole into the lock tab - seems to work, sort of.  The two Land Rovers then decided to leave the trucks who were taking rather longer to be ready; inflating tyres, pottering around etc.  We had a long way still to go to Karima and wanted to get south of Abu Dom.  We don't drive fast either so wanted to get going.  We went behind again to allow Wim and Chantal to set the pace.  They travel even slower than we do and it took some time to get up to a reasonable 50mph.  Needless to say it took us even more time to get to Karima, a bustling little town north of the bridge across to the other side.  We stopped to top up with diesel before going in search of a place to eat.  Falaffel sounded good and there were plenty of places back the way we'd come in.  So back we went...and again met up with the Angaleo truck, the family later joining us where we were eating.
Found a little café for our lunch and sat in the shade of his awning.  It was hot!  High 30's in the shade I reckon, so a cold 7Up went down a treat.  After lunch we said our farewells again and proceeded to drive in circles trying to find the road that would take us to the bridge.  Logic would tell you that following the river was a sure way to find the bridge across it, so this we did.  Unfortunately the dirt road we were following was a bit slow so we resorted to asking for directions again.  Good thing we did too, we were travelling parallel to, and not far from, the main road which took us to the bridge in under 5 minutes.  For some reason we were leading at this stage and had to pull over a short distance along the other side when the other Land Rover failed to make an appearance.  After a short wait we turned around to see where they were, and found them a kilometre or so back with Diedrich and Elke.  Great surprise.  We thought they'd be far ahead of us by now but they'd spent a couple of days in Dongola and we'd caught up.  Glad that we got to see them again; I was sorry not to have had the chance to say goodbye in Wadi Halfa.  They weren't going the same way though and we parted company a little further along (they turned off to Atbara, we continued towards Abu Dom).
The rest of the journey was uneventful and we started looking for somewhere to spend the night.  About 280km shy of Khartoum the flat desert approached a small cluster of mountains, though the sand looked soft around them.  To test the firmness I put one wheel into it and it held up well so we decided to head offroad and set up camp in a small depression at the base of the hill.  It was a lovely spot, with only the wind and the faint sound of traffic on the road to disturb us as we watched a pretty sunset.   Had a relaxed evening between the cars but didn't bother starting a fire, wood being a bit precious in the area.  A couple of times we were a bit worried about our privacy though.  Just after dark we heard voice from the road.  This seemed odd given that we were in the middle of nowhere.  I went up onto the ridge but couldn't quite make out what was going on.  They left but we were sure we weren't hidden.  A little later a car pulled over further up the road and started hooting.  Still have no idea what it was about - could have been animals in the road or something but they came closer and stopped again, in line with our camp and hooted again.  It may just have been recognition that we were there, a warning that we weren't supposed to be there, bandits, pirates, landmines? ... who knows.  Nobody bothered us after that.

Day 64 Monday 8th December SUDAN (202.5 miles, Total 9028.6 miles)
(S) Slept well despite one midnight pee run.  Promised we'd be up at a good hour so that we could make some decent progress this morning and have the afternoon in Khartoum to clean up and dirt-permitting, relax a bit too.  Quick cereal for breakfast and pack up, before bumping back onto the tarmac.  Mike and I paused by the side of the road to admire some big birds of prey on the ground - I was convinced they were Epyptian Palm Vultures and after googling them later we're even more sure that they were.  Very cool sighting.
The drive to Khartoum was mostly uneventful - a couple of police checkpoints that weren't even manned (maybe the staff are already off on leave for Eid), flat acacia scrublands with some distant hills, some untidy roadside villages and flat gravel desert.  It was a road of death though - so many carcasses, it was rather distressing.  Mike pointed out that the camels being herded here are all hobbled - no wonder they can't get off the road in time to avoid oncoming cars.  The donkeys should have little excuse, and at one spot which must be a favourite crossing point, there were about seven dead donkeys in various stages of decomposition, on both sides of the tarmac.  Just horrible...
We also spotted Laurent's truck, pausing to say hello before continuing on.  By late morning we were passing through outer Omdurman (the ancient capital city), with busy traffic and lots of people milling around.  Chantal and Wim took us on a bit of an adventure through some narrow lanes, but with some GPS aid we came out the other side near the White Nile bridge, so soon found ourselves heading for the modern city centre of Khartoum.  Green parks on our right, and tall glass buildings ahead of us, it suddenly felt really western, until we realised there were still fields and cattle on the banks, and mudbrick buildings in between the high rises.  Very laid back feel though - possibly because it's Eid and most of the locals have gone to their families out in the sticks for the celebrations - and rather pleasant not having to fight through major traffic like other big cities.
Another detour round the People's Palace (no one may drive in front of it apparently) before we found the Blue Nile Sailing Club, which we were under the impression had a campsite.  Unfortunately, it's more like a carpark where overlanders can set up camp, and we soon realised that it was far from ideal.  But on arrival we were just pleased to be able to settle, and to have a refreshing cold shower and place to sit in the shade.  Mike and I set about cleaning the car - what a mission!  Had to take almost everything out so that we could use the compressor to chase the dust out of every nook and cranny.  Incredible a) how much stuff we have (seeing it all piled up outside the car), b) how insidious this dust is (the only safe place was the clothes cupboard that Mike carefully sealed) and c) how delicious a cold Coke really is, when you're parched...
The whole afternoon was taken up with cleaning; exhausting and boring work.  Most of the gang were here - the SA/Aussie chaps who'd been here a couple of days, again delayed by bureaucracy as the Ethiopian Embassy is closed for Eid, as well as the Angaleo truck.  Sounds like we'll have to change our plans too, as we'd hoped to get our visas tomorrow so that we could head north to Port Sudan, come south via Kassala and be in and out of Ethiopia by Christmas.  Not to be.  The guys were talking about trying the Uganda border which re-opened last week, depending on whether the authorities think South Sudan is now safe - we're a bit torn as Mike is keen to explore, and it would be an amazing adventure off the beaten track, but I'm slightly anxious about it, not least because we might get there to discover that the border is closed again and we'll have to come all the way back...
That afternoon we were suddenly aware we could hear church bells.  There is a cathedral nearby, and the resulting service/choir practice was very enjoyable - loud and cheerful singing, African style.  What fun! By late evening we were shattered, so gave in to the tempting suggestion of a Willy burger - one of the club staff, William, apparently makes great burgers so we thought we'd give it a try.  They were tasty, with an egg and mozzarella, but not really what we'd anticipated!  We chomped them down whilst sitting alongside the Nile; it's an attractive setting between the two bridges. Chatted to Adam and Dave for a bit before they headed off for drinks with a local chap.  Had another cold shower (the bathrooms are pretty shocking considering we're paying $15US to stay here in a car park! The ladies is simply a cubicle with a seatless loo that rocks, a shower pipe out the ceiling, and a rickety basin.  The floor is muddy from the shower puddles too.  Yucky).
Anyway, despite some traffic noise, the humid heat, and a trillion mosquitoes, three of which made it inside the tent somehow (little &*%^$£%s), we fell asleep pretty quickly. Whew, tiring day.

Day 65 Tuesday 9th December SUDAN (21.6 miles, Total 9050.2 miles)
(M) Had a bit of a slow start to our day. We’d found out that the Ethiopian Embassy only opens on Monday so there was a general air of lethargy about. Also, Sarah had found a weak internet Wifi signal so we were trying to read some emails. Besides, after cleaning out the inside of the car yesterday neither of us was jumping at the chance to do the laundry. The Angaleo family had kindly let us do some in their washing machine the day before but it broke (hopefully not because of our clothes!), so it was back to hand washing unfortunately. This is no easy task in the humid heat of Khartoum. We didn’t feel too bad about our laziness though; Wim and Chantal were doing even less; lying in their hammock reading. Around midday Laurent and family also arrived. They’d spent an extra day in the desert to try out a solar cooker that he’s made. They arrived bearing news that there was a western style shopping centre out past the airport. Sad as it sounds, we didn’t need to be told twice.
After lunch we dug into our energy reserves and fired up Mapenzi for the trip out to the supermarket. It was a bit odd walking past all the shiny UN vehicles in the parking lot and into the airconditioned confines of the modern Afra centre. It’s not big by our standards but does house the only cinema and bowling alley in Sudan and was very modern and out of keeping with the rest of the country. Most of the shops were closed for Eid though.
The supermarket was good but we soon realised that we didn’t need a lot of things. Most people do their shopping at markets and roadside stalls so, unlike back home, supermarkets are more expensive for most things. We did pick up some luxuries though; a couple of cold 0% beers, some meat and fruit juice. On the way out we were met by a friendly local; the most talkative man ever. EVER. He was a bit odd and kept making reference to his other friends, the South Africans and Aussies and the Angaleo group. He then invited us to join him later to eat meat with his family at their Eid celebrations. As generous as this sounds, alarm bells were ringing. The Aussies and SA guys went out with some guy last night after he invited them out for a meal. It turned out he didn’t have the money he claimed to be carrying and their evening ended in a coffee, which they paid for. We suspected it was probably the same guy. He seemed harmless enough though – apparently having western friends in some parts is a bit of a status symbol.
On the way back from the supermarket we tried to find an internet café and found the only one open was the Solitaire coffee shop with very expensive drinks. It was very nice inside but clearly aimed at expats and priced accordingly. Also, you needed to have your own laptop and we don’t get much battery time from ours, so we continued back to the campsite. Probably would have been worth the treat if we had more battery life.
Surprise surprise, back at the Blue Nile Sailing Club there was our new friend, come to pick up the other guys, and us if we were keen, to go and eat camel and sheep with his family. We declined and were vindicated later when they returned with stories of being pulled over by the police for being on some dodgy road, plus being asked to leave early because, as univited guests the family was finding their presence a bit awkward. Odd fellow.
Our afternoon was a bit more sedate. We sat around a bit and later had a tasty fried rice meal which Chantal put together. A touch of mosquito beating and then bed.

Day 66 Wednesday 10th December SUDAN (16 miles, Total 9066.2 miles)
(S) Well, we planned to leave today, but ended up staying… Mike was up early, valiantly doing dishes and doing odd jobs around the Land Rover, tightening bolts on the tent etc, while I naughtily slept in a bit. In fairness, I wasn’t feeling very well; just a bit drained from the heat I guess. We spent ages dithering over our plans – finally admitting to ourselves that Port Sudan really is just too far for us. It seems crazy to spend two days driving there and two full days driving back, to go for what would essentially be one day’s expensive scuba diving – especially considering the fact that both of us were struggling to equalise while snorkelling in Egypt (due to my ear infection and Mike’s cold! What a sorry pair…) and also that all the books recommend that this part of the Red Sea is for experienced divers only… Turns out the SA/Aussie guys have also decided against risking the north Uganda border option. So we will all have to hang around and wait for the Ethiopian embassy to open on Sunday/Monday. We continued debating what our best option would be until I finally managed to convince Mike to stay one more day – we would join the others for a braai (barbeque) tonight and set off early tomorrow to visit the Meroe Pyramids and return to the city this weekend.
Once we’d made a decision we could relax a little, so rested in Chantal and Wim’s hammock while they spent the morning doing their chores. It was their rest day yesterday, so now it was our turn! Dietrich and Elke are here now too – sounds like they’ve had a mixed experience up north, really enjoying the pyramids but had stones thrown at their car after they declined a guide near the Cataracts… Hmmm! At lunchtime we decided to try and get our tourist permits for Meroe, and exchange some dollars. The others followed us to the supermarket at Afra shopping centre where we went to the UAE Exchange before picking up some chicken for the braai, and some breadrolls for lunch. As we left we spotted Dietrich and Elke’s Opel, but couldn’t find them. Turns out they had met up with the three Dutch motorbikers who had an even sorrier tale! They had zoomed down to the border, processed the carnets to get the bikes safely into Ethiopia but on trying to enter themselves discovered that the visa stamps in their passports they’d got in Cairo weren’t correct… Stuck now, they either had to waste precious carnet pages coming back into Sudan or hire a taxi to bring them back to Khartoum overnight. Didn’t help that they all had stomach ailments (downfall of not having a fridge on board their bikes perhaps!). At last their luck turned – the Ambassador was collecting something from his office when they arrived at the very closed embassy, and after hearing their story, arranged for someone to do an emergency visa for them. They then had to travel all the way back, sleeping overnight again in the taxi! What a drama, we felt really bad for them as they were so organised, and are on a pretty tight time schedule… Shame!
We meanwhile tried again to find internet – no luck, they were all closed, and drove around all the one ways to find the Tourist Department. We were hoping to get a "ticket" to the cultural sites along the Nile, as well as our photo permit. But, lo and behold, they were closed. Driving around we were dismayed that the gears have started clunking again, and Mapenzi’s acceleration and feel just isn’t normal… We will have to find a mechanic tomorrow to have a look at her.
Back at camp we were just in time to witness Laurent’s amazing solar cooker – a satellite dish shaped, foil covered contraption, that focuses the sun’s rays into the centre where you can place a pot of water or some such vessel. Very impressed that it boiled in about 15mins! We gave in to temptation, and spent 5SP on a fresh chilled mango juice from the kiosk to share – yum! We then spent the afternoon reading and chatting, before preparing for the braai. At dusk an Oasis truck turned up. Had a great chat to the driver Grant, who’s been travelling the West route south, East route north for about 8 years! His reports of Ethiopia were really encouraging, which is good – still think it might be impossible to camp with any privacy though!
The fire got going, and our Luxor Convoy team grouped the tables and chairs, sharing salads and breads while we waited for the meat. Really tasty meal, and lovely to all be together again. Turned out to be a late night, as we waited to shower before climbing up into the tent.

(M) I made about 4 litres of iced tea today. Quite successfully if I may say so myself – a subtle blend of Lipton yellow label, cool brewed with lime and flavoured with just a hint of sugar. I impress me.

 Day 67 Thursday 11th December SUDAN (154.2 miles, Total 9220.4 miles)
(M) Had planned to get going by 9:00 but started chatting again over a slow coffee.  We'd decided that we'd definitely leave Khartoum for a bit but first wanted to have the gear oil checked again.  When we'd said our goodbyes to Diedrich and Elke and finished chatting to the Oasis guys we eventually made the move and left our little group behind.  Our first stop was the Land Rover parts place that we had coordinates for. We weren't sure what to expect but hoped that there'd be someone nearby who would check the oil for us.  The industrial area of Khartoum that we reached is an interesting place; a network of dusty side streets with small parts shops for every make of car you can imagine, plus oils, tools etc for the motor trade.  Of course most of them were closed!  Undeterred we bounced our way along the track until we saw a cluster of very old, broken Land Rovers - a good start?  The guys there couldn't speak English but I can point and an oil leak is a visible thing.  It was low again, as we'd suspected.  A bit of a worry as it was only last week that we topped up.  Got him to top it up again and happy that we'd be ok to get to the Meroe pyramids and back we decided to go anyway and bring it back on Saturday when the parts places would be open (to get them to change all the seals and gaskets - a big job!).  An English speaking guy, Moi Michael, had also turned up and was translating for us.  He suggested that if we came back in the morning on Saturday or Sunday he could be around to help us again.  Nice guy.
Back on the road we headed north across the river where Khartoum, on its fringe, turns into a sprawling mix of homes and roadside businesses.  There were lots of charcoal bags piled up as we drove so we hit on the idea that we'd pick up a bit and also try to get a braai grid.  The charcoal was easy; the grid not so much. We drove backwards and forwards as friendly people tried to understand my drawing of a grid and then, when they understood pointed out places where I might find one.  I never did, but did learn Arabic for braai grid (mangat?), I think.
We drove on, stopping only briefly to change drivers.  The scenery was fairly bland; flat desert with scattered animal carcasses in various states of disrepair - donkeys, camels, dogs, sheep, birds, goats; a bit like a game drive... sort of.
The desert gradually started to include a few small sand dunes and as the afternoon wore on the distinct shapes of the Meroe pyramids came into view in the distance.  We'd decided to follow the example of other travellers and try to camp near the pyramids so that we could watch them in the sunset, so took the gravel road past the ticket office, fending off a couple of camel touts as we went.  We're possibly a bit hard after Egypt because the people in Sudan really don't seem to hassle you if you say no (sometimes they don't understand 'no' though).  Two young guys followed us on camels around the base of a dune to where we wanted to camp.  They didn't seem to understand that we wanted to relax and somehow got it into their heads that we wanted a ride tomorrow.  Oh well, we'll deal with that when we have to.  One of them did point out a better spot a little further round and we drove through the semi-soft sand to get there.  It was pretty windy and the touts had dampened our moods a bit so there was a bit of friction between us by the time we actually put out the awning and set up our chairs.  Never mind, with the coals in the pit, ready to be lit, and a cold 0% beer and chips in hand we made for the top of the hill (about a 1 minute climb) to watch the sun go down.  It was really something.  A group of pyramids stood about 100m away, set apart from the others where we could see some people.  We had 'ours' all to ourselves.  They're not as big as the famous ones at Giza but there's something about the absence of crowds and how the pyramids are crumbling into the dunes that really creates a special atmosphere, and we were glad we'd made the effort to travel to them.  We took some photos and then made our way down to the car.
Had a shower, standing next to the car and then cooked up some steak and beans (with potatoes on the fire) for dinner.  Only one mishap; without my headtorch on I mistook a glowing coal for the reflection of tin foil and picked it up.  But not for long!  One burned finger later we packed up and settled in for a windy night.

Day 68 Friday 12th December SUDAN (204.8 miles, Total 9425.2 miles)
(S) What a disrupted night - the wind howled and flapped incessantly at the tent.  But it was the most glorious nearly-full moon so at least we could admire the bright night sky while we tossed and turned in our roof top bed!  We were up very early, packed up and almost ready to go before the first camel tout turned up.  With lots of smiles, head shaking and "ley, shukrans" he got the message and hustled his grumpy beast into a trot over the dunes.  We drove round to the gate but it wasn't yet open, so continued a short way before pulling over to have quick cereal breakfast to fill our bellies before taking our Lariums. 
Sharing a grapefruit we then pulled on sunhats and grabbed our cameras and went into the pyramid complex.  The chaps at the gate gestured that we should simply pay the entrance fee later as the office was still shut, so we ambled around freely, dipping in and out of the various antechambers of the ruins.  There are some pretty intact hieroglyphs, and with the wind sweeping through and the dunes creeping over the foundations, it was a fantastic experience. A Sudanese family inexplicably coerced their terribly shy children into posing with us for a photograph - what a turn of the tables!  In fact we have spotted a few local people taking photos of us and/or Mapenzi from their mobile phones or with point-and-shoot cameras - some surreptitious, others quite blatant.  Passengers in the back of bakkie type taxis in particular seem to relish the opportunity of photographing us as we pull up behind them to overtake! 
We walked the whole area before returning to the boom-gate to purchase our tickets.  From there we decided to visit the Begrawiya/Meroe Royal City on the opposite side of the highway, which was totally fenced in and deserted.  At one point there are two pillars closer together, with the barbed wire flattened between them, so we presumed it was the entrance and strolled in. A bit eerie, with the wind blowing up the sand and a pair of yellow-billed kites soaring above us, but not another soul around.  Considering these structures were supposedly built in 592BC, it's hardly surprising that there's a tangible, if a little spooky, atmosphere to the place.
On our way out we did a slight backtrack to chat to a hitchhiker who we'd spotted waiting for a lift.  A really nice Polish guy, also called Mike, he was hoping for a ride to Khartoum and we offered to take him as far as Omdurman where we were stopping to watch the Sufi whirling dervishes later in the evening.  We can't offer much space for a body and a body-sized backpack (as Mr Mihemmed and Adam would agree) but it was nice to chat to him about his travels and I hope he wasn't too uncomfortable!  We stopped to have a very brief chat with Laurent and Sylvie as they passed us in the other direction, and they mentioned the other temples worth visiting on this road.  So we looked it up on our GPS and decided to detour slightly.
The road was rough gravel and hopelessly dusty, but we made good progress until a locked gate stopped us.  Skirting the fence we simply drove around the fenced section and arrived at the temple entrance by mid-day.  Seems the staff were all having a snooze as the guard who sleepily approached the car was only in his vest and combat pants, unhurriedly pulling on his camo jacket.  He smiled and waved us through when I asked him about tickets, so we obliged.  Parked in some semi-shade and hopped out to look around.  The boys were soon approached by a chap wanting to sell us tickets for 10$US each - but we'd bought our all-inclusive archaeological sites ticket this morning - or so we thought.  There followed a raging debate - with us in English insisting that they should make it clearer how the tickets work, and charge us the correct price at the outset not while we were already inside, the keeper in Arabic insisting that we pay something, dropping his price to 3$ implying that it was just a random charge which in principle we felt was wrong...  Anyway, the result was that we eventually simply drove away in a huff without seeing anything, while the keeper no doubt rued the loss of his 30$US.  Next time at least, he'll make the effort to charge people at the entrance hopefully.  We set off back along the gravel, stopping for watermelon in the shade of an acacia, then rejoined the main road south.  This time we weren't stopped for toll, and the passport chap simply looked at them rather than whisking them off to copy down every detail.
But it was still a long way.  We made it to the Sufi Mosque just in time, driving through the outskirts of Omdurman, spotting Dagobert parked outside.  Hooray!  Chantal and Wim were sitting enjoying a chai under a tree, so we joined them, sipping the scalding sweet tea and chatting to a school teacher who offered us vetkoek type fried batterballs coated in sugar - yum.  There was a rather eclectic mix of people milling around as the drummers started singing and moving within a semi-circle crowd, outside the mosque.  There were a handful of curious tourists, some believers in bright green and red garments, some women and children in bright colours, and men in their white garb, but there were a rather large number of eccentrics and loonies - some maybe already in a spiritual trance, others perhaps with mental disabilities, it was hard to tell.  The dervishes never made an appearance - apparently due to Eid, most of the usual worshippers were celebrating the holiday with their families out in the rural areas.  The overly chatty guy Mohammed, from the supermarket also appeared, with a fresh batch of Westerners in tow. Seems he likes to tread the tourist track and find new friends amongst all the tourists that come to Khartoum.  As the sun set we decided to head off, hoping to find the state campsite before it got too dark.  We dropped Mike off near the bus station, wishing him well as he and his pack disappeared into the Friday night throng of people, taxis and minibuses. 
We then went straight to the campsite, which was in reality yet another carpark set within a sports facility, with hostel type dormitory buildings, fields, a mosque, a small theatre stage etc.  We set up camp, preparing pesto pasta and salad for dinner, Mike cleaning out the car again.  The dust just creeps in everywhere!  And then suddenly we heard a familiar rumble as Dagobert cruised up next to us!  Chantal and Wim had had enough with Blue Nile - not only had they lost their parking space, but they were told off for using their light and were informed that they couldn't cook until 9.30pm, as the club was hosting their Friday night clientele.  Well.  Regardless of what the members might be paying for their membership fees, at $15 a night to camp, they've got a real cheek to ask campers to keep quiet and out of sight!  We for one won't be recommending them, and would be happy to bet that they're going to learn the hard way that the current system won't keep working for long.
Anyway, how lovely to have our travelling buddies with us again!  We had a cup of tea and caught up, before setting off to shower and get ready for bed.  The bathrooms aren't marvellous, but a far sight better than Blue Nile! 
The only downside to this site seems to be that the muezzin or Imam at the mosque is as tuneless as they come, and likes coughing and breathing into his loudspeaker.  What a racket - and it's about 50m away.  Could be a very noisy dawn wake up call!

Day 69 Saturday 13th December SUDAN (12.2 miles, Total 9437.3 miles)
(M) Yup, pretty noisy at 5:00am.  Between the mosquitoes, the Imam and the wind we didn't get a good night's sleep but were up at a reasonable hour regardless.  The plan was to take the car to the mechanic, leave it there and find an internet café while they worked on it.  Then return to camp, do some laundry and finish diary so that we could spend the rest of the day chilling.  Nothing ever goes according to plan.
We left the camp late but with good reason, Chantal and Wim surprising us with omelette for breakfast, so by the time we'd visited the money exchange and reached the mechanic it was already gone 10:30.  It's a fairly industrial area and we hadn't seen any internet within easy walking distance.  Also, by the time I'd mimed new gaskets and seals our English speaking friend from the other day turned up.  It would have been rude to leave now so Sarah climbed in the back to work on the diary while I stood and chatted as we watched proceedings.  I'm not sure what I expected but it was a much bigger job than either of us anticipated.  First the prop shafts had to be disconnected.  Then the handbrake drum (which is connected to the gearbox on Land Rovers).  Then the centre cubby from inside the cab so that they could access the panel from above.  Then the drivers footwell plate.  And finally the full gearbox.  As you can imagine, it's a pretty heavy piece of kit and without the benefit of hoists or pits this was all done with the mechanic lying in the muck under the car.  By this stage we had four people working on it and there was now a gearbox worth of oil adding to the slime and dust on the side of the road.  Can't say I was't a little nervous, but there was no leaving now.
It was now midday and Sarah was still stuck in the back of the car when some food was delivered. I was invited to join the two main mechanics and Moi Michael squatting around the two shared bowls while they shared their bread with me.  It was really delicious.  One of the bowls had chopped tomatoes in a kind of sauce and the other an unappetising looking, but really tasty, concoction called wat and beans (I think).  I also had some water of dubious origin so watch this space.
Back to work and the gearbox started being dismantled (me = calm exterior, tormented interior). All the gears were removed and placed on the steel table which serves as a workbench.  Now we needed new parts!  The mechanic started hi old Land Cruiser with the help of a push and I hoped in with Moi Michael for the short drive to the parts shop.  It cost 100 Sudanese pounds plus another five for the gasket sealant.  Expensive but at least it was a British brand that I recognise, Bearmach.  The gaskets came as a complete set with all the necessary seals and we headed back to Mapenzi.
Then the cleaning started... and further dismantling.  I had to provide some diesel to wash the parts out before they were cleaned thoroughly with water and some green cleaner stuff.  I got a bit panicky inside when they were scraping the old gaskets off with a metal fragment.  I don't know a lot about these things but I though gasket facing plates needed to be polished smooth?  Anyway, allowed myself to trust the mechanic.
The rest of the afternoon was spent talking to Moi Michael; everything from the situation in Darfur to the religions and cultures of Sudan to palm wine to how he writes prescriptions for his friends.  Apparently because he speaks English, pharmacists never question his credentials!
Sarah sat in the car reading...
The mechanics dismantled, cleaned, scraped and put back together Mapenzi's gearbox...
The afternoon wore on...
At 17:30 the last bolts went back on and I was given the thumbs up.  Not quite sure - there still seemed to be a bit of oil leaking but it could just be spillage.  Then I was given the price!!!  It came as a real shock though in fairness it was a full day's labour with a couple of guys, and still cheaper than the UK.  I was happy that we'd had it done so we paid up and said our farewells.  Africa hasn't turned out to be cheap and Sudan isn't the cheapest country to visit either so I don't think we were ripped off.  Nevertheless we had to scrap our plan to treat ourselves to a Steers burger and have the car cleaned, and instead headed back to camp.  Wim and Chantal were there, back from a relaxed day using internet and doing a bit of shopping.  That's the difference between having a year for the trip and having only six months.  Six months sounds long but we haven't really stopped off anywhere yet and seem to fill all our spare time with chores.  Apparently the odd guy, Mohammed, had turned up earlier with another overlander; we think he hangs out at places frequented by tourists to pick up European friends.  Glad we weren't here.
Seeing us shellshocked they offered to cook us dinner as well - we really have found good friends and will be sorry to part company when we leave Khartoum.  While we waited we did a little laundry and I put a piece of paper under the car to test for leaks.
The other overlander, Eric, came over to speak to us just before we sat down to dinner.  A really interesting guy who's been down the west coast and is now making his way back, hoping to go through Saudi, Jordan etc.  In February he'll have been on the road for three years, half of it alone in his Land Cruiser! (see www.border-crossings.com).  He had loads of information and tips about other countries that we'll be going through - very positive about Uganda and even south Sudan; less so about Ethiopia.  It's a country we wanted to avoid initially as we've heard only bad things about the people and it's also supposedly very crowded.  We've made the decision to go through though so will try to keep open minds and hope that the people we meet are friendly.
The five of us chatted until quite late so sleep will have to wait for another day.

Day 70 Sunday 14th December SUDAN (72.7 miles, Total 9510.1 miles)
(S) Oh my gosh the muezzin at this mosque is awful!  Please forgive such a shamelessly insulting, sacrilegious statement, but he is totally tuneless, and seems to call every half hour, spluttering, mumbling and coughing into his microphone.  At 5am he spent nearly an hour calling the faithful to prayer, waking us all.  Just as we were falling asleep again, the alarm went off.  We set about packing up, filling the water jerrys and paying at the gate, so that we could be at the Ethiopian Embassy when it opened at 8.30am.  Lucky we did leave fairly early, as we got caught in the morning rush hour on our route back into the city centre.  We found parking and waited patiently while staff trickled in, until a sudden rush as a smart white SUV arrived.  Must be the boss!  We were ushered in at a security gate, with a cursory pat down for the men and handbag search for the women, and sat inside while we waited for our forms.  Filled them in, added our photos and approached the first window, only to be asked for a copy of our carnet.  Wim and I set off to find a copy place on the corner, and bumped into Laurent's truck, with both families piled in.  On our return, we found that the rest of the gang had arrived, with Polish Mike and two other backpackers, the SA/Aussie guys and a horde of other people clamouring for forms.  Which had run out it seemed.  We meanwhile, were able to hand in our applications, pay at the cashier and with receipts in hand, were free to go, with instructions to return at 3pm.  The others managed finally to get copies of the forms made themselves, and when we left them, were squeezing through the crowd to try and hand them in.
We aimed for Byblos Bank, which supposedly arranges cash advances (credit card facilities, travellers cheques cashiers and international ATMs just don't exist in Sudan).  But, due to an embargo by either the UN or the USA, we couldn't make out which, Visa and Mastercard etc no longer support cash advances.  Their workaround is via another office in Beirut, which takes a few days and some trust in the bank manager I guess!  We decided to bite the bullet and exchange more dollars (not ideal but we'll hopefully find ATMs in Ethiopia) but it won't be so easy for Chantal and Wim - they were very undecided, especially as they still have potentially two weeks here, and dwindling euros.
From there we dithered a bit - finally settling on the urgent need for breakfast.  I suggested simply making omelette and eating it with bread at the cars, and so we picked up some ingredients and re-parked in the shade of a nice tree, putting out the chairs.  Felt a little strange, but there are loads of chai stalls and such all over the city, so we probably didn't look too out of place eating on the side of the road.  Passers by who were especially curious did stop to say hello, and one man even offered to help us find somewhere to camp - suggesting his friend's farm, until we convinced him we weren't staying, but merely picnicking.  A woman also came up and shook hands, then brazenly helped herself to two of Wim and Chantal's breadsticks, just taking the bag and opening it, implying that as she was pregnant, the baby needed one too!  In reality, she gave it to an elderly woman who was waiting for her a little way up the pavement.  Oh well!
From there we set off to the Afra centre, where we changed money and left Chantal and Wim to do some more shopping in the supermarket.  Back near the embassy we spent some time on the internet, trying to catch up on emails, photos and blog.  We are so far behind, it's become a major chore.  Will try and get up to date properly in Addis maybe, as although the connection wasn't too slow, we just won't have enough time here.
At 2pm Mike went to see if our passports and visas might be ready a little early - turns out ours were, but they hadn't filled in our vehicle customs form, so he had to wait.  The other passports trickled in two or three at a time, but when I joined them all to say our sad farewells an hour or so later, he was still waiting.  Chantal and Wim were heading north to the pyramids and then on to Port Sudan, the families were staying on in Khartoum, the SA/Aussies were speeding southeast to Ethiopia - our little band was splitting up for good.  Wishing them all bon voyage, Mike and I were suddenly left alone in the embassy, still waiting for our form.  With a flurry of activity at about 4pm, the staff finally handed us a piece of paper with a stamp, and with an unexpected "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!" waved us on our way! 
We followed the road south out of the city, pausing to buy breads and a watermelon, then hitting the open road to try and cover some ground.  It was very built up with farms along the banks of the river and herds of goats everywhere, and busy traffic.  At a police checkpoint, we recognised the Land Cruiser parked in front of us; the SA/Aussie guys, who waved cheerfully and sped off.  The guard hastily copied down our details and thrust a pen at us, saying it was Henry's!  I doubt we'll catch up with them again, but he was adamant that we take it to give back to them.
As dusk approached we started looking for possible bush camps, finally deciding on a copse of fruit trees behind some thorn branch fencing.  A little up the track we met a friendly man who at first misunderstood my sign language, nodding and pointing to his hut for us to sleep in.  I finally convinced him that we wanted just to sleep in the car and he looked a little relieved I think, if not even more confused! We parked on an open piece of ground between some irrigation trenches and set up camp.  The farmer came by to check on us, offering us handfuls of limes, which we gratefully accepted and gave him a box of tea in return.  He smiled broadly and I guess we had our formal permission to stay on his land!
The insects were insatiable - mosquitoes and midges by the gazillion, which made for a rather unpleasant experience with the lights ere on.  We had simple veggie stir fry for dinner, and the last of Mike's iced tea, and then had a quick bucket wash by the light of the moon.  Tired out and a little melancholy that our adventures in Sudan are almost complete, we climbed up into bed.  Fairly peaceful, even if the distant road was a little noisy, so slept better than we had in days.

Day 71 Monday 15th December SUDAN (282.6 miles, Total 9792.7 miles)
(M) Wanted to be out of our farm camp before we caused too much disruption so were already packed up from the night before.  All we needed to do was put away the tent and we were off, waving as we passed one of the farmers.  The road was pretty good and we pootled along quite happily.  There weren't many camping opportunities as we went so I think we did well to pull over when we did.  Of course there may have been other small farms as well, or perhaps if you go further off the road towards the Nile it might be easier?
Wanting to get close to the border before finding another camp we drove pretty solidly, stopping only at the police checkpoints and once to fill some water bottles.  As far as Wad Medani the sides of the road are lined by neat mud villages and farmlands, and Wad Medani itself is a vibrant, nice looking town but we didn't stop.  Out of town the scenery starts to change quite dramatically - the road is quieter for a start, changing from desert to thorny scrub with bigger farms behind.  The route is dotted with small settlements which serve as truck stops so we pulled in at one to buy some cold drinks.  We could hear shouts of 'tea, tea' as we stopped, and a very enthusiastic man came over to help as I wandered up to buy the drinks.  He was from the next door establishment but the owner of the shop didn't seem to mind that he opened the chest fridge for us and took my money, serving as middle man.  The price was the same as we've paid all over Sudan and I asked if I could buy bread as well.  There wasn't any in the shop but he lead me behind the buildings to a soot blackened room where warm discs of bread were packed in a tray under a dirty cloth.  I took four (they're really good).
He was still very keen for us to have tea at his stall so I went over to get Sarah from the car.  It was hot and a cup of sweet tea is pretty refreshing and usually only costs 0.5 Sudanese pounds.  I quite like the traditional way that it's made as well, with the water heated in a kettle sitting directly on the coals.  A huge amount of sugar is added to the small glasses and the water is strained through the tea leaves, which must be pretty strong.  You drink it black and very sweet.  Two chairs were put out for us and we sat enjoying our drinks on the side of the road.  Inside the stall there were beds.  Lying down seems to be a national pastime and you often see people weaving the nylon platforms onto rickety bedframes.  There are beds in most offices and checkpoints in small towns - usually a room with a desk and a bed.  And people aren't shy to have a snooze; mechanics, border officials, security police, it doesn't matter.  You might stop to have your passport details taken and some poor guy will have to move from his prone position.
While we sat and drank our tea the proprietor threw water on the ground, in an attempt to keep the dust down.  Two fellows arrived and were brought some bread and a pot of lamb chunks. They invited us to share their food, which we did.  Didn't want to eat all their lunch though so we just had a couple of pieces each.  Don't know what part of a sheep it was but very tasty.  When we got up to pay he wouldn't accept anything; just Sudanese hospitality.  Such friendly people. 
We carried on through Gedaref, taking a wrong turn and having to make our way along residential unpaved sideroads.  We reached the main road just before another police checkpoint where we found out that the Aussies and South African chaps had been through the day before! They must have travelled well into the dark.  It's only 160km or so from Gedaref to the border town of Qallabat but we didn't want to have to do more than 100km to reach the border tomorrow, so started looking for a campsite about 60km out of town.  There were occasional promising tracks leading off into the fields, but there always seemed to be a settlement very close by.  So much for our plans for an early stop.  Finally, at about 17:00 we took a track off and were pleased to note that there were no vehicle tracks in it, only animal.  We were never more than about 50m from a field, but nestled in the grass, in amongst the thorn trees and scrub, it felt like the Africa we know.  Only the occasional car going past to disturb the sounds of birds and insects, which have been lacking in the desert areas.
Spent the rest of the afternoon making tea, reading, catching up on diary, playing guitar and generally relaxing.  I decided to treat us to a hot shower (our last one was in Aswan two weeks ago) so heated up some water in the Kelly kettle and added it to a jerry can.  We have a 12V shower which plugs into the cigarette socket in the car.  It's a cheapo but works quite well when set up.  Just need to drop the pump into the water, plug in the cable, mount the shower head and away you go.  With a foot mat serving as the shower floor we're pretty much sorted (do need to keep it brief otherwise the water runs out though).  Sarah managed her shower and I'd just soaped up under the setting sun when we heard the disquieting sound of human voices not far away.  It was an awkward moment when the cattle herder brought his herd of cows past us and came over to shake my hand.  I was sitting with just a towel precariously preserving my dignity, so had to stay seated until he went away.  Oh well, if that's the only bother, then it's still a pretty good camp.  Sarah gave them a handful of limes as a parting gift. 
Lit some candles, made a nice dinner of veggie couscous and watched the moon rise, orange and ghostly as we packed up ready for tomorrow.  We went to bed early, listening to the crickets and planning to be up at the crack of dawn.

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