Cape to Cairo

Introduction

This is the story of Lorraine and Ian’s adventures driving from Nairobi to London in a 1969 MGB GT which they share with Maddy and Simon.  The couples met in 2009 and formed a partnership to undertake a similar event from China to London in 2010 driving the same car.  This time Maddy and Simon would drive the first leg from Cape Town to Nairobi where Lorraine and I would takeover to complete the journey to London.  Having not previously travelled to this part of Africa, we decided to arrive early to meet up with the travellers as they arrived in Dar es Salaam and stay with them on the island of Zanzibar before going our separate ways for a few days while they continued the final two days drive to Nairobi.

The car had survived the China to London trip in pretty good shape without any serious breakdowns.  We knew the cooling system would cope with the higher ambients so preparation was mostly about surviving African roads.  Extensive underbody shields and a 20 mm increase in suspension height would avoid the worst of the damage.  Borrowing a few measures from more modern cars, we also fitted heat shields to keep the footwell temperatures down and tinted side glass to cut down the heat loads

Shipping of the cars to Cape Town went amazingly smoothly.  Simon had found a competent shipper who allowed us to load the five cars leaving from Melbourne into two containers and tie them down firmly.  Nothing moved during the sea voyage and the cars arrived together with the three from Queensland without damage.  After enjoying generous hospitality from MG Car Club members in Johannesburg and Cape Town the team set off on 9 Sep.

We pick up the story a few weeks later….

Sun 23 Sep Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Arrived in Dar es Salaam late afternoon after a delayed flight from Dubai. Dubai might not be the biggest airport in the world just yet but must be the most crowded.  Only 5:30 in the morning and the queues for the women’s loos stretch for 50 metres or more already.  Nowhere to sit and with the flight delay we had a 7 hour wait.  Perhaps Business Class would have been a good investment after all….

I’m sure our first impressions driving in from the Dar airport were the same as everyone else on their first visit to this part of Africa.  You want to see colour and excitement but everything looks rundown and decrepit and you feel like you just got ripped off by the taxi driver.  Just how do the Lonely Planet people negotiate the deals they describe in their guides?  The welcome at the Protea Courtyard more than made up for it though and we enjoyed a good meal sitting by the pool.  We could get used to this.

Mon 24 Sep

We have all morning free before meeting up with the other travellers so decide to check out the Dar centre and port areas.  The lady on reception didn’t seem to think this was a great idea but Lonely Planet had a list of sights so off we went.  We had already figured out the major industry by looking around the other tables at breakfast.  Well dressed white people, mostly women, looking very serious checking their PCs and iPhones gave more than a hint of UN and NGO activities.  There was also an earnest looking young chap sitting with his PC whose occupation became clear later on.  He was the full bottle fire and brimstone evangelist who managed to summarise the complete Old Testament to an uneasy local without pausing for breath.  The local finally made his escape with the evangelist calling after him warning of the perils of an un-Christian life.

The taxi dropped us off near the ferry terminal where everyone wanted to help us, guide us or offer a deal too good to refuse.  Incredibly crowded and somewhat confronting but we pressed on with not another tourist to be seen.  Valuables and passports well secured in money belts we felt reasonably safe even when the crowds became a bit of a jostle.  We couldn’t find anything which looked like a shopping area or even a coffee shop so kept walking and after a while arrived in the embassy and NGO part of town.  Instead of tiny businesses operating out of holes in the wall or out on the footpath we now found ourselves walking past beautifully maintained gardens and big white buildings secured behind high razor wire fences.  The people who looked like the same folks at breakfast were arriving in nice clean white Land Cruisers and being escorted safely through the security gates to do their important business.  It wasn’t until we got back to the hotel for lunch that I realised my iPhone had been neatly pick-pocketed from my back pack.  Oh well, I have a spare phone so a good lesson learned.

After lunch we took a taxi to the hotel to meet the travellers who have arrived from Cape Town after three weeks on the road.  It was great to catch up with all the people we knew from the China trip and also with John and Ros, Peter and Wendy and Ross whom we had met at the briefing meeting earlier this year.  Also good to meet George and Cherie from Walcha in NSW and Nigel and Sue from the UK who had made all the arrangements for this part of the trip.  An enormous breadth of experience across the group and everyone seems to be getting on despite the challenges of crazy drivers, crap roads and car breakdowns they had faced getting this far.  The website has a good account of their adventures…

Into the mini-bus and a few minutes later we were back at the ferry terminal.  Fortunately the driver managed to bluff his way right onto the dock so we didn’t have to face the pack outside.  After a bit of a tussle with everyone who wanted to carry our bags we were heading out of the port for the 2 hour trip to Zanzibar.  A very smooth crossing despite all the experts’ forecasts and then we were cruising into the faded glory of Zanzibar – the fabled spice island.  A Portuguese colony dating back to the 17th century it reached its glory years in the 19th century when it was taken over by the Sultan of Oman and then by the British until it became independent and subsequently part of Tanzania in 1964.

Tue 25 Sep   Zanzibar

Our first morning on Zanzibar and we are booked on a couple of organised tours.  First up is a trip to a spice farm a few kms away.  There are dozens of these farms and they all seem to offer a walking tour to sample spices fresh from the garden.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, curry leaves, pepper, ginger, turmeric and others I can’t remember all growing happily in this tropical paradise.

After lunch we were off to see the Red Colobus monkeys in the National Park on the other side of the island.  The 5000 acre park is also a haven for the few remaining red mahogany trees following extensive logging in former times.  After a 15 minute walk we find the monkeys happily munching  on the fruits and flowers of a group of small trees.  They seemed to be happy to have their photos taken without wanting a financial contribution which was a bit of a blessing.

Wed 26 Sep

A free day to explore Stone Town near the port.  The town has an amazing mix of architecture reflecting the various countries which traded spices, ebony and other goods from the mainland in the 19th century.  Arabic, Indian, Portuguese influences all looking a bit tatty now despite a major attempt at preservation and restoration in the 1990s.  The former palace of the Sultan is now a museum.  Three levels of exhibits in a beautiful colonial building with the most magnificent mahogany staircases.  The upper level is surrounded by broad verandas providing excellent views over the foreshore and adjacent fort.  In one area the workers had torn down the ceiling of the veranda leaving large piles of swept up fragments of asbestos sheet – the worst type of asbestos similar to Australian buildings from the 1950s.

After lunch, the rest of the travellers leave to catch the ferry back to Dar ready for their early morning departure for Nairobi.  Time for us to enjoy a relaxing swim and another excellent meal sitting on the beach under a nearly full moon.  What a tough life….

Thu 27 Sep

Another rest day for us.  I could get used to this resort life.  We started to take a walk along the beach at low tide after breakfast but after a few hundred metres decide that may not be such a good idea.  Groups of idle locals were sitting under the trees along the shore and no signs of any help in either direction if things got ugly.

Back at the resort, Lorraine has booked in for a spa while I catch up on mail and start this diary.  She comes out after two hours looking very relaxed.  We were also fortunate to make skype calls to the family despite the lousy internet speeds and frequent dropouts.  Milly and Jack are really getting into the Africa trip.  Jade has bought them a big map of Africa and before we left, Milly and I drew the route in texta so they could follow our progress.  As we were talking about all the things we had seen, Nick was busy googling so they could see it almost live.  Very exciting!  We promised to take lots of pictures of the elephants and zebras and try not to be eaten by the lions.

Fri 28 Sep  Zanzibar to Nairobi, Kenya

We are booked on the 9:30 ferry back to Dar to catch the flight to Nairobi.  I had been given the  phone number of Moses, a reliable taxi driver.  We had a series of phone calls punctuated by dropouts the previous day while we were still in Zanzibar but I wasn’t confident that Moses had the time and place to meet us.  Anything to avoid having to work our way through the scrum of touts and thieves outside the terminal.  Sure enough he was there in the promised green shirt so a big sigh of relief.  Moses had been driving taxis for 25 years and was a bit angry that the price of fuel and electricity had gone up that morning.  He told us there were elections coming up and the ruling CMM Party needed more money to bribe the right people.  Tanzania has lots of problems according to Moses.

Our flight is delayed a couple of hours and we wonder whether we will get to the welcoming cocktail party at the Nairobi Club.  Not a problem, the immigration queues are short and although we have to do a lot of talking to explain why we don’t have an onward flight from Nairobi we finally get through and our bags are waiting for us.  Finding a taxi was also a breeze and very reasonable.  How different to Dar es Salaam (and Melbourne!!)

Sat 29 Sep  Nairobi, Kenya

An early start for the car repairs at the welcoming local Ford dealer and preparation for Sunday’s Concours.  Simon had a long list of problems, starting with an alternator which wasn’t charging, overdrive misbehaving, leaking rear dampers and a bunch of minor stuff.  The alternator proved to be a bit of a challenge for the local auto elec.  Firstly he disappeared with it for an hour or so before coming back and saying the nuts were the wrong size.  We had to explain that British cars didn’t use metric fasteners in 1969 and found him the right socket in Dave’s tool kit. Then after much testing with me pulling the alternator on and off about 5 times he decided there was nothing wrong with the alternator but there must be something wrong with the battery because it was delivering over 16 volts with the engine off instead of the expected 12v.  We all decided that was a bit unlikely and found him a multimeter which worked properly and read 12v.  Finally he concluded that the alternator could be ok but some of the test values were different to the closest reference vehicle he could think of, a 1990 Mazda.  And then he wanted the bus fare (euphemism for a tip) for the day’s work.  Ah well, he tried hard and I am a bit of a softy so he got the bus fare home – he probably could have made it to Uganda and still had change.  At least it’s now all working properly so the proverbial fingers are crossed that we make it to Cairo.

We also made some progress on the overdrive which we are pretty sure is electrical gremlins.  I found one very loose and corroded connector and a faulty 3rd gear inhibitor switch so maybe it will be ok in 4th.

The rear dampers were a bit of a drama.  .  Before leaving Melbourne I had contacted the company who fitted the original set of Monroes.  They convinced me that Konis were better and identical in stroke etc.  A bargain at $300.  Blow me down but when installed they were 30 mm shorter and would have lifted the rear axle off the ground with every bump before they tore the mountings off.  We later found out we needed new bottom brackets with different locations to suit Konis but they weren’t an off the shelf item in Nairobi.   Our incredibly helpful workshop manager suggested buying some locally and came back after half an hour with a set from a Toyota HiAce which set me back $50 and fitted perfectly.   Didn’t do much for the ride but at least they kept the axle from bouncing around uncontrolled.

He and his staff deserve a big pat on the back for their excellent service and also cleaning the cars inside and out so nicely.  Almost a pity to go back on the dirt but at least they all look good for the Concours tomorrow.

Sun 30 Sep  Nairobi, Kenya

The famous African Concours D’Elegance, highlight of the Nairobi motoring calendar and octogenarian Bob Dewar’s passion.  Bob was also a founding member of the Alfa Romeo Club and as we learnt during the cocktail party, a man not short of a few well chosen words when given charge of a microphone.  We were warned that traffic on the way to the Ngong Racecourse would be diabolical if we didn’t leave early so off we went in our almost pristine cars at 7:30 am.  Sadly, RIP, Dave’s pride and joy wasn’t looking quite so pristine.  Just 200 metres from the Ford dealership last evening, he was T-boned by a taxi causing major panel damage to the driver’s door and front mudguard but fortunately only superficial grazes to his arm.  Must have been serious because Dave couldn’t laugh for about half an hour and then he was back to his normal cheerful self.

A mixed bag among the competitors.  Everything from a Chev Impala with more bog than sheet metal to the most incredibly well restored V12 E-Type which didn’t surprise anyone by winning outright.  The entrant was a rather serious German who only came 3rd last year so he re-restored everything to make sure he won this time.  Our MGB GTs were entered in the “Saloons 1800-2000cc” class.  In the middle of our slightly well used cars was a left hand drive MGB GT which had also been immaculately restored by another serious German.  We scored 190 points, Nigel’s very smart GT scored 200 and the immaculately restored car scored 210.  If I were him I would have been seriously pissed off.  It turned out to be a very successful day for the Cape to Cairo team.  We ended the day with 5 prizes and both Peter and Dave managed second in their respective classes.

The highlight of the day though was the ladies fashions.  This was obviously a big day out for the local woman and the bright fabrics were well chosen to complement their generous figures.  I’m told their guys were pretty handsome too.

Mon 1 Oct  Maasai Mara, Kenya

An early checkout from the Sarova PanAfric to catch our flight to Maasai Mara where we are staying for two nights. The airport at the lodge was pretty basic.  A dirt strip and about a dozen 4WDs with not a business lounge in sight.  The surprise was the lodge itself.  I had imagined a few dozen dusty tents on raised platforms with a long walk to the loos.  Instead, the Sarova Mara is a tropical paradise with a small reservoir surrounded by lawns, shrubs and mature trees.  Each of the cabins had canvas walls but that was where the resemblance to a tent ended.  Paved deck out the front overlooking the park, polished hardwood floors, a huge bed and behind all that an office and enormous bathroom.  Don’t know what this is costing us but I love it.  And the food was also pretty amazing as we discovered later.  An endless buffet to suit every taste.

Maasai Mara (Mara = a plain with small hills) has experienced above average rainfall this year so everything is green and teeming with wildlife.  Even the wildebeests which are supposed to be migrating towards the Serengeti are hanging around.  After seeing the size of the numerous crocodiles basking along the banks of the Mara River which they will need to cross, I can understand their reluctance.  By the end of the day we have ticked off elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, buffalo and about a trillion wildebeests.  Not a bad start.

I have also successfully ordered a new alternator from Moss Motors UK to be delivered to Nairobi in two days.  After our fruitless attempts to diagnose the charging problems which Simon and Maddy experienced for the 4 days before we met in Nairobi, I thought  a spare would be good insurance considering the remoteness of the area we are heading into.  The warning lamp was flickering again on the drive home from the Concours.

Tue 2 Oct  Maasai Mara, Kenya

Another beautiful day at Maasai Mara.  The country side is a little like parts of NW Australia except cooler and there are no flies.  Maybe flies can’t handle the 1800m altitude although they don’t seem to have much difficulty on the Victorian High Plains. It certainly makes a difference to your enjoyment of the day.  Today we are booked for an all-day safari ending at the Mara River.

Highlights of the day were the lions.  Firstly two males who were heading towards the creek and not about to be put off by half a dozen 4WDs jockeying for viewing positions.  They had their eyes fixed on their destination and there was no doubt who was king of the jungle.  Very impressive.  Later we found a lioness with two cubs playing nearby.  She became a little wary when she lost sight of the cubs behind all the spectating vehicles but then casually strolled over to check we hadn’t kidnapped one.  I managed to get some great video shots of both her and the cubs.  We also added cheetahs, hippos and the ever patient crocs to yesterday’s list so another memorable day.

Wed 3 Oct  Nairobi, Kenya

Flew back to Nairobi and then drove to the Australian Consulate for drinks and dinner with Geoff Tooth, the High Commissioner.   All very relaxed and the lamingtons for dessert were a bit of a novelty.  He also represents Australia for a number of other East Africa nations along with Ethiopia so he is kept fairly busy.  There were many questions about the safety of the road to Marsabit and Moyale with the general consensus being that trouble was very unlikely.  Dave had discussed a police convoy all the way to the Ethiopian border but the cost quickly became prohibitive so we agreed to go it alone.

Thu 4 Oct  Archers Post, Kenya

Our original plan was to leave early for the 350 km drive to Archers Post to arrive at Sopa Lodge in the National Park before dark but first we had to sort a couple of issues.  The first was for everyone to pick up their Sudanese visas which took forever.  The second was for me to go to the airport to negotiate customs clearance on the alternator shipped from the UK.  I had an email from UPS saying they had delivered the parcel to the hotel but was assured that it hadn’t been received.  It turned out that there was a new regulation for auto parts requiring 2-3 days customs clearance so UPS recommended I try to negotiate a shorter clearance.  Arriving at the cargo terminal I was offered all sorts of help from guys claiming to be Customs agents so I negotiated a deal with one after checking his credentials.  It seemed to do the trick and he delivered the goods after 5 hours of traipsing from desk to desk parting with wads of Kenya shillings just in time for me to get back to the hotel to meet Dave who had picked up the visas for the whole group.  By the time our last three cars got away it was 4 pm with only two hours of daylight remaining and everyone else had long since left.

The route out of Nairobi to the northwest took us through beautiful hills in the tea growing region.   Great scenery for the first couple of hours and then it became dark.  This was my first experience driving in Africa and I’m doing it in total blackness.  Brutal unmarked speed bumps every hundred metres through the villages, potholes everywhere and a zillion people walking along the edges of the road with their animals.  All a bit of a challenge and not helped by what looked like a bat bouncing off the roof.  A few kms down the road when we slowed for yet another speed bump I could hear a scraping noise from under the car.  Got out to find we had been dragging the 2-way radio antenna along by its lead – not sure how the bat fared but it didn’t do much for the radio reception.

We finally arrived at the gate to the National Park around 9 pm with still another 20 km to the lodge. Fortunately they had been alerted there were a few of our group still on the road so they had stayed behind to open the gate. This was to become a regular experience with local people going out of their way to stay open to welcome us.  Unfortunately our GPS took us through the wrong tracks in the Park so we spent another hour trying to avoid dragging the sump guard over too many rocks or getting bogged in the sandy creek crossings.  Late meals were to become a regular feature over the next days

 Fri 5 Oct  Marsabit, Kenya

Woke up to a fantastic view of this desert park.  The dining area was open all along one side so we could enjoy the scenery and the bird life.  Again, no flies to spoil our breakfast.  Wish I knew their secret.  Getting out of the Park proved to be a bit of a challenge with people going in all directions.  We seemed to fluke the right road which was fairly smooth but a few got stuck on some awful tracks.

By this time our car was almost out of fuel so it was a bit of a concern to find no fuel stations in Archers Post.  No problems, the locals quickly twigged our dilemma and someone arrived with 20L jerry cans and 1L soft drink bottles which they assured me were good quality fuel from the nearby army camp.  And they wanted a 50% surcharge on the pump price.  Hmm…. Not much choice really so we bought 25L to get us to the next fuel stop.

As promised the first 100 km or so of the road had been sealed but after that it all turned bad.   Very stony and corrugated – the start of the Road from Hell.  Despite a reasonably early start, it still took us about 6 hours to travel the remaining 150 km so we arrived at Marsabit shortly before dark.  A very basic town which Paul Theroux treated fairly harshly in his book Dark Star Safari.  He wasn’t far wrong.  The real challenge was that we were again booked into a lodge in a National Park.  Only 6 km from town but after a few wrong turns on unmarked tracks two of the group became stuck on the steep single lane access track after losing momentum.  We got in touch with the lodge and the manager kindly brought a 4WD down to tow them up the steep bits.  Lots of drama in pitch darkness not helped by the fact that he had never towed anyone before and had to be shown how to engage 4WD.  Another late night and very basic meals and accommodation.

Sat 6 Oct  Moyale, Kenya

Today is the big day we had been mentally preparing for – Marsabit to Moyale on the border with Ethiopia.  250 km of seriously bad corrugations, large rocks and long stretches of red bull dust coupled with the potential threat of armed bandits setting up road blocks.  Because of the road conditions, speeds were down to 20 – 25 km/h in 2nd gear occasionally making into 3rd to give the cooling system a rest. Most of the cars were struggling for cooling because there was a strong tail wind – so strong that the dust was blowing forward.  The smallest vehicles which normally use this road are Land Cruisers creating a road profile with a high centre crown of loose gravel and rocks.  Most of the traffic was trucks, some carrying a dozen or more passengers perched on top of the load and hanging on grimly.  Hope they weren’t paying a lot of money for the privilege.

By mid morning things were starting to break or fail on many of the cars.  Reg and Mary had already lost a rear shock absorber link but then the starter stopped working, the clutch gave up and to top it off the sump guard had broken away and was only hanging on at the front.  Reg flew past the rest of the group who had pulled over for a rest shouting “Can’t stop, have to keep going”.  Mike’s MGA stalled in the sand and had to be pulled out – twice.  The list of failures went on and on.

By about this stage it was clear that this was a much harder durability test than the MG engineers had ever subjected these cars to.  Our car also suffered starter failure then the driver’s door became jammed with dust followed by the passenger’s door.  Good thing Lorraine and I have kept up the yoga practice. The dust was the real killer, it got into everything in the cars and everyone was just monotone red by mid afternoon.  Fortunately as we got closer to Moyale the road improved a little and we managed to get into 3rd gear for fair stretches.

We had planned on meeting our Ethiopian guide at 5 pm after clearing the border crossing but we didn’t make it to the Kenya  side until 6:15 pm and the border was closed.  We were fortunate, the last cars didn’t get in until after 9 pm with two on the end of tow ropes.  This still left Ken and Sue stranded after two punctures so Dave had to drive out with a spare to get them home.  All the guide books recommend staying on the Ethiopian side and we soon found out why.  We were directed to the best hotel in town which was a serious dump.  To top things off, it was a Moslem hotel so they had prayer calls not just at the customary 5 am but also an intermediate session at 3 am to make sure the faithful stayed faithful.  Oh well, I guess it’s all character building.  It should become easier from here ……

Sun 7 Oct  Awasa, Ethiopia

We were too late for the border crossing into Ethiopia last night so the plan is to get there as soon as it opens this morning.  It feels good to get away from the Moyale Hotel after trying to sleep through the regular calls to prayer during the night.  It rained over night so the dust on the cars has turned to mud and they blend into the dusty streetscape – a fairly dismal scene.

We have another problem to add to the list with our car, it is only running on 2 or 3 cylinders so Ken offers to tow us through the border crossing to avoid getting stuck in no-man’s land.  Easily fixed when we get through and have a few minutes to investigate, the choke linkage was jammed up with dust so we are off and running although dependent on a push from kindly bystanders until we can fix the starter.

Reg also has to be towed but his car isn’t going anywhere under its own power so a deal is negotiated with a truck driver to take the car to Addis.  Loading the car onto the truck attracted much interest.  The truck was backed into a ditch and then about 30 people lifted the car onto the truck.  Not sure how Reg negotiated payment but it wasn’t expensive on a per person basis

As this was a Sunday, the Customs Office was closed so another deal was struck to bring in the key man on his day off.  A little strange that Ethiopian Immigration was open but Customs closed.  Best not to ask too many questions.

We finally got away from the border around noon and headed for Awasa around 500 km to the North.  The roads in the South of Ethiopia are sealed but pretty ordinary and there were times it was almost as rough as the Road from Hell.  There were also long stretches of stony corrugated detours so by the time we got to Awasa it was after 10 pm.

I had a bit of a fright not long after we left the border when a camel decided to stroll across the road from behind some thick scrub.  I was a bit out of practice with emergency stops in a non-ABS car so by the time I pulled up from 100 km/h about a cars length from the camel there was lots of blue tyre smoke.  All I could see through the windscreen were camel legs so we both had a lucky escape.

By night fall we are driving through rain forest country with thick lush vegetation quite unlike all the images we are used to.  Ethiopia was regarded as the food bowl of Africa with its cooler high altitude plateau, good rainfall and rich volcanic soil.  In Haile Selassie’s time in the 1950s, the country was a net exporter of food products but the population was only 15 million.  Now it is bursting with over 80 million and needs to import food.  Over 80% of the population work on the land with no mechanisation.  Fields are ploughed with a single plough share behind a mule and everything is carted on the back or balanced on the head.  Fortunate is the wife whose husband can afford a donkey or mule so she doesn’t have to carry the grain and firewood.  You don’t seem to see many husbands carrying things – too busy chatting or herding their animals.

The Haile Resort in Awasa was 5 star and spectacularly located on one of the large lakes along the Rift Valley.  Despite the late hour, all the staff were there to serve drinks and dinner.  Our first taste of Ethiopian hospitality.

Mon 8 Oct  Addis Ababa

A fairly short drive of 270 km to Addis today and we get away around 11 am after repairs to Mike’s car.  There doesn’t appear to be an auto-electrician available so we decide to press on without a starter .  Closer to the capital, the roads improve and we are making good time driving between the large lakes.  Then we turn onto the major highway between Addis and the nearest seaport in Djibouti and we are battling with hundreds of trucks and buses toiling up the steep hills.  We have an interesting experience with a battered Nissan Patrol who tries to pull us over by blocking and forcing our car onto the verge.  Not to be conned by what appeared to be a Patrol full of not very nice blokes, I brake and let other traffic get through.  He stopped about a hundred metres down the road so we played cat and mouse for a few minutes but then George drove through and was forced off the road.  They claimed to be Customs officials and wanted both of us to return to the last town.  Cherie decided this was time to pretend to be very ill and throw up.  Being a weak stomached chap he waved them on and drove away without any further games so we’ll never know whether he was  legitimate or not.

Closer to Addis, the road became more and more congested until we were crawling along dodging trucks and buses and zillions of pedestrians.  At first it seemed like the typical congestion around a bus terminal but then it just went on for kilometre after kilometre right into the centre of Addis.  The GPS guided us to take a left turn at a huge and completely uncontrolled 5 way intersection – very exciting having no rules and just bluffing your way through without any scrapes.

The Ras hotel is just as described in Lonely Planet, a government owned hotel with very tired rooms and even more tired staff but at least it has an outside eating and drinking area to check out the street scene.

Tue 9 Oct  Lalibela, Ethiopia

Today we are flying to Lalibela, the site of the Orthodox monolithic churches carved from the relatively soft volcanic tufa stone.  King Lalibela, as he later became, had spent some years in the Middle East during the 10th century where the Ottomans had sacked Jerusalem and he hit on the idea of creating a ‘New Jerusalem’ in Lalibela.  Not being content with carving out one or two churches and apparently having a rather obsessive nature he continued for 45 years and built 14 churches to commemorate each of the saints. Construction of a monolithic church starts with a reasonably flat stone surface which is chipped away until you have a 10 metre deep hole with a single piece church in the centre.

The interior has a series of spaces for the congregation and a curtained space for the priests divided by columns and arches similar to a Gothic church except everything is from the one piece of stone.  An elaborate tunnelled drainage system minimises the risk of filling up the excavated hole in heavy rain.

The Tukul Village hotel is fairly new with individual stone lodges and a newly planted garden.  For the first time in Ethiopia we have internet and despite Lonely Planet’s forewarning, it is high speed and reliable.  A good time to catch up on news from home.

Wed 10 Oct  Axum, Ethiopia

From Lalibela, we are flying to Axum, the former capital only about 60 km from the border with Eritrea.  With the help of a few persuasive evangelists, Christianity arrived in Ethiopia in the 4th century and it has remained a largely Christian country from that time despite a few unsuccessful attempts to introduce Islam.  According to the legends, this was the home of the Queen of Sheba who managed a one night fling with King Solomon when she was visiting Jerusalem and this relationship produced a son, Menalik the First.  Menalik was a resourceful and persuasive person, whom the Ethiopians believe managed the impossible.  He brought the Ark of the Covenant to Axum.  A rather neat marketing coup, this has given Axum a significant advantage in attracting pilgrims and more recently the odd tourist.  The Ark is reportedly secured in the inner sanctum of the church behind the more recently constructed St Mary’s church and is guarded by a 90 year old priest who doesn’t allow anyone else to see it.  There could be a succession plan issue coming up shortly.

Nearby St Mary’s church is one of many fields of obelisks – tall columns marking gravesites from Menalik’s time.  One was recently returned with much fanfare by the Italians who had chopped it into three pieces and taken it back to Italy after their short period of occupation from 1935 – 1941.  The Italians not only gave it back but also restored and re-erected it on the original site.  Not so fortunate was a nearby obelisk which toppled during erection and broke into large pieces.  A definite ‘Oh s**t’ moment .   We trust the engineers had professional indemnity.

Thu 11 Oct  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Our last day in Axum and the first day of Ethiopia’s Gregorian month which is marked by a procession of priests carrying the replica of the Ark out of the church and around the city followed by the faithful.  The catch is that it starts at 5 am so a small group of us gather outside the church in the pre-dawn darkness to watch the spectacle.  Apart from our group everyone else is clothed in white with a head covering – more than a thousand people mostly silent with just one person praying loudly.  All very moving but we leave them to make their journey around the city and go for breakfast.

Breakfast at the Yeha Hotel (not at all C&W as it turned out) was fairly uneventful until Margie noticed something scuttling across the floor.  For the next ten minutes it was vintage Fawlty Towers as two waiters tried to catch a rat with sticks and beat it into submission.  Despite a heroic effort the rat came off second best and was unceremoniously thrown into the garden to be devoured within seconds by a raptor which just happened to be on the right flight path.  Even the staff saw the funny side after a bit of prompting.

Despite Ethiopian Airlines’ reputation as the Tiger Airlines of Africa, the flight is on time and we get back to Addis late morning where we need to sort out a few car problems.  The cars of Reg and Mike were trucked into a service garage recommended by the tour company but when we arrived there it was nothing like the Nairobi Ford dealer’s tidy workshop.  A tiny stone floored space jammed with broken and smashed Land Cruisers and not a hoist in site.  Reg’s car covered in greasy hand prints and Mike’s car covered in what looks like overspray from the painting job alongside.

Two mechanics were busily welding Mike’s exhaust system, one with the arc and the other holding the power leads together.  Neither wearing goggles to protect their eyes from the arc.  Don’t like their chances of 20:20 eyesight if they keep this up.

The good news was that they had both cars running so after an hour or so of the usual negotiation I managed to get the attention of the boss to look at our starter which I suspected was full of sand.

A few minutes later, one of his mechanics was under the car unbolting the sumpguard from our car.  We pulled it clear of the car to find about 20 kg of sand and dust jammed around the back of the engine and gearbox.  It had also suffered 3  large dings from rocks on the Road from Hell – anyone of which could have smashed the sump or gearbox so it had done its job.

We decided the sumpguard had served its purpose and left it off to give us the best possible cooling flow through the Sudan where temperatures will be around 40 deg.  The mechanic then started removing the starter, still with the car on the ground but didn’t have quite enough space so he jacked up the car with no support stands and crawled under to get at the last bolt.  About an hour later he returned with a cleaned and tested starter and we were back and running.

That was the simple part.  They then started trying to unjam the driver’s door.  After 4 hours performing all sorts of gymnastics banging and thumping the lock from inside the car they gave it away.   At one point one of the mechanics looked as if he was going to prise the door open with a large screwdriver so I stepped in and suggested that wasn’t going to be good for the bodywork.

I got back to hotel around 6 ready for our ‘cultural evening’ to find that Neil’s car is running very badly. On the run up from Nairobi it had been cutting out regularly and then blowing black smoke when it finally got started again.  Neil, Dave Godwin’s brother, admits to having no mechanical skills so Nigel and I got the job of overhauling the carburettors.  We finally got it together around 9:30 and retired to the bar for a beer and sandwich.

Fri 12 Oct  Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Today we are driving out of Addis heading towards Bahir Dar.  It’s nearly 600 km so we make a 5:30 am start to beat the Addis traffic.  It sounded like a good plan and the GPS did a good job on the route guidance but only 2km down the road Reg’s car died.  Out of fuel.  Someone must have drained his tank during the trucking process from Moyale.  A tank of fuel cost about 6 weeks average earnings in Ethiopia so not surprising someone would seize the opportunity.  By the time we find a fuel station we are about half an hour behind the rest so a good chance to put the skates on and enjoy the flowing roads.

About three hours later we come to the Blue Nile Gorge which must rate right up there as one of the most spectacular views in the world.  Around 1500 m deep, it was a major obstacle to trade until roads and bridges were built in the 20th century.  The great views were only spoilt by the stench of overheated brakes from the trucks crawling down the hill and the seriously rippled road surface caused by overloaded trucks occasionally interrupted by 30-40 cm steps in the road where whole sections had subsided.

Our car is singing along but the overdrive problem which Simon experienced a few weeks ago has reappeared.  The inhibitor switch which allows the overdrive to only work in 3rd and 4th is not consistently engaging so I have to give it a little encouragement by pushing the gear lever to the left.  A bit of a worry, I’m not looking forward to the prospect of driving through Sudan and later in Europe with the engine revving away in direct 4th.  Unfortunately the switch is only accessible by removing the engine and gearbox so we might have to find another solution.

The last 100 km or so was a new road which made for an enjoyable drive into Bahir Dar, the site of monastries built on islands in Lake Tana.  Our GPS couldn’t locate Abay Minch Lodge so we hired a tuk-tuk to lead us – we would never have found it down a rutted side road towards the lake.  We each scored a cabin built from local stone surrounded by beautiful gardens – very welcome and peaceful after the dreariness of the hotel in Addis.

Sat 13 Oct

This was a rest day and we are visiting a monastery on an island in the middle of Lake Tana about 1 hour from Bahir Dar by boat.  The island was covered in rain forest vegetation typical of what the rest of this part of Ethiopia would have looked like a few hundred years ago.  Ethiopia was originally 70% forest but now only 3% remains.  Since the late 19th century there has been a major revegetation program planting Eucalypt, Acacia, Grevillias, Callistemons and other Australian natives together with Peppercorns and Jacarandas.  Not indigenous but all seem to thrive in this lush climate even at altitudes over 3000m in places.

In the afternoon we took a minibus to the Blue Niles Falls.  We were assured by our guide that these would be spectacular and nothing like the slightly depressing description in our copy of Lonely Planet – “dry, dusty and little water”.  We were right at the end of the wet season so there was an abundant flow of water surrounded by green grass and lush vegetation.  We walked for nearly an hour on a circuit around the Falls and every view was postcard material.

Our guides suggested another ‘cultural evening’at a nearby restaurant.  It was almost deserted when we arrived but by 8:30 the place was jammed with people mostly there to watch the dancers and singers.  An Ethiopian band playing an interesting assortment of instruments including sax, guitar and the local single stringed instrument which is bowed.  The dancing was authentic Ethiopian which largely involves frenetic gyrations of the shoulders and chest.  All very entertaining especially when performed by well endowed ladies.

Sun 14 Oct  Gonder, Ethiopia

This was to be one of our last days in Ethiopia and we are driving from Bahir Dar to Gonder, the so-called city of castles from the 17th century.  Unfortunately I woke feeling as crook as the proverbial dog and just manage the drive before crashing into bed for the afternoon.  Lorraine went off with the group to tour the reasonably intact remains of the castles and which all agreed must have been a high point of Ethiopian architecture and building standards.  Our hotel has similar rooms to the hotel in Axum.  Lots of pre-cast concrete and non-functional plumbing dating back to the period of Italian occupation from the mid 1930s to 1941.

Mon 15 Oct  Gonder, Ethiopia

Another break from driving and our guide, Mullah, has arranged a couple of mini-buses to take us on the 250 km round trip to the Simien mountains north-east of Gonder.  These are serious mountains ranging up to 4500 metres and famous among the trekking set.  When we reach the park gates, we are joined by three armed rangers who sit in the back seat with their vintage FN semi automatics.

We were never able to establish whether they were there to protect us against predators such as the occasional leopard, or maybe bandits which seemed a bit unlikely.  Our first stop was at a large grassed area where a hundred or so Gelada Baboons were feeding.  They were a bit camera shy but didn’t seem too fussed by 20 or so tourists wandering around their feeding area snapping away.

We then stopped at a couple of points along the escarpment with spectacular views to the valley more than 1000 m below.  The final stop involved a short walk to see a 700 m waterfall cascading into the valley.  This stop had the lot, magnificent views and baby baboons doing their party tricks cavorting up and down the steep cliffs defying instant death if they missed their footing.  I’m happy to report that none did during our visit

Everyone agreed this had been a great day and nicely capped off our time in Ethiopia.  Our guides had been excellent, the pace was manageable, the hotels varied but overall ok and everyone we met was friendly and interested in our venture.  Ethiopia lived up to its reputation as a proud country untarnished by lengthy periods of colonisation.

Tue 16 Oct  Gedaref, Sudan

Our drive to the border with Sudan starts out with more spectacular scenery as we descend from the 2400 m plateau into the valley along a generally excellent road.  About half way down we skirt around a burnt out truck which looks as if it has been sitting in the middle of the road for years.  No tires and grass is growing up in and around the suspension and chassis.  A few close calls with wandering animals but luckily no one comes to grief and we arrive at the border around 10:30 am where we go through the now familiar chaos.  The Ethiopian side only took about an hour but Sudan was another story.  Processing the carnets took the most time – the officials clearly had to fill in a day’s work so our cars sat in the hot sun while we sought a few metres of shade along a wall among piles of rubbish and filth.  Not a great introduction to Sudan.  We finally got away for the short drive to Gedaref about 4 pm all in line behind our guide who had to negotiate our passage through the regular police check points.  They were all quite friendly and smiling but we were sure it would have been very difficult to do if unaccompanied.

Everything by the roadside had changed since we crossed the border.  No communities spilling into the road at regular intervals, no children waving from the roadside, very few animals on the road.  The people we did come across however were all smiles and waves.  Even the young guys were waving and cheering us whereas in Ethiopia they tended to regard us fairly coolly.

Our hotel is a sobering experience, literally.  The punishment for drinking alcohol in Sudan is 40 lashes so it’s soft drinks all round at dinner.  And it’s going to be like this for a week – I just hope the food improves!

Wed 17 Oct  Khartoum, Sudan

This should have been a reasonably easy 400 km drive into Khartoum.  We were mentally prepared for the 40 deg heat along the Blue Nile valley but not for lengthy delays to repair cars.  Mike’s car showed up yet another electrical problem, this time an almost new distributor rotor button.  He was close to the back of the pack so most of us cruised on slowly because it was too hot to stop and stand in the sun.  This part of Sudan is a grain belt, almost totally cleared of trees or shady shrubs.  Just dry, hot and dusty landscape with occasional dry, hot and dusty communities.  No wonder they want to emigrate to Australia.

Our car which has been running perfectly redeveloped the overdrive problem which Simon and Maddy experienced on the drive into Nairobi.  Every time I flicked the overdrive off the car would surge and lose drive as if the clutch was slipping.  We fixed it last time by topping up the gearbox oil – I added some oil by the roadside which seemed to fix it for a while but coming onto Khartoum it was really cranky.  A job for tomorrow.

We are staying at the almost new 5 star Corinthia Hotel, a Libyan investment in Sudan.  Our tenth floor windows overlook the confluence of the Blue and White Nile Rivers and we’ve just enjoyed the best shower ever.  We had a vague hope that a 5 star hotel may have a way around the no alcohol rules but were told we would have to perform an illegal act by visiting a shebeen – and risk the 40 lashes.  Maybe we can handle a few more AFDs.

Thu 18 Oct  Khartoum, Sudan

A free day in Khartoum so time to take a look at some of our car problems.  Three of the cars head off for a local garage but I decide ours can be fixed in the hotel car park.  The car is parked in a nice shady spot and the temperature is only mid-30s when I start.  Unjamming the driver’s door seems like a good place to start so I repeat the exercise of pulling off the door seal by crawling in from the passenger’s side and then removing the door trim to get access to the lock mechanism.  The only catch is that a very important UN meeting is starting shortly in our hotel so there is a steady progression of very important UN delegates walking past where I am working wanting to know all about the car and whether I need help.  Despite all the assistance, an hour later I am back where we got to in Addis.  Both the exterior and interior lock mechanisms refuse to budge so it all goes back together again.  By this time the temperature is up to 40 deg again and Cherie has rescued me by bringing down a couple of litres of cold water.  A few of the others have moved to the underground car park so this looks like a good place to tackle the overdrive problem.  This morning I phoned the chap who overhauled it before we left Melbourne and concluded the problem was serious and we needed to find the local overdrive expert to strip it down again – that idea isn’t going anywhere in this part of Africa.  Alternatively he suggested by-passing the overdrive controls so the car could be left in overdrive for all forward gears – sort of like having a 5 speed car with no 1st gear.  The re-wiring was all fixed within an hour and fingers crossed we may make it out of Khartoum in the morning.

A sleep in the afternoon to make the most of the comforts of the Corinthia sounds like a good way to wind up the day.

Fri 19 Oct  Meroe, Sudan

Today is supposed to be a short drive, around 200 km, heading North on the road parallel with the Nile to our overnight stop at a tent hotel near a large group of pyramids from the Meroe period – 2500 – 350 BC.  Our guide, Murtada,  is an archaeologist who has lead various digs so quite an expert in this area.

But first we have another duty to perform.  Dave has met someone from the Sudan Motorsport organisation who coincidentally has a rally starting this morning from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa, our last stop in Sudan before putting the cars on the Aswan ferry to Egypt. A few km from Khartoum we come to a large sporting arena where we park near their well decorated cars – mostly Toyotas ranging from Camrys to Cruisers along with a couple of Skodas.  Our group is invited to join the official party in the grandstand to hear all the speeches from the Minister for Investment and other dignitaries.  Dave also makes a nice speech but doesn’t try a Rudd – he sticks to English.

Around 10 we are flagged away following the rally cars with a police escort out of town.  This is easy, it doesn’t matter what colour the lights are, we just drive straight through.  All good until we get to the outskirts and the neat cavalcade has become somewhat diluted with dozens of ring-ins all enjoying the free ride.  And the overdrive refuses to play so each time I lift off the car loses drive and I need to slow to a walking pace to get it to lock in again.  Very frustrating for me but even moreso  for the people behind.  Finally we are out of town but then the cavalcade slows down to shoot video of each of the competitors as they drive merrily along.  The chap in the Land Cruiser with ‘Crazy Driver’ scrawled down the side is standing on the left hand running board waving with both hands.  We assume it must be a right hand drive but a few moments later his co-driver also gets out and does the same, all at 80 km/h.  Weird. And even weirder that one of the event sponsors is the Department of Road Safety.

Finally we shake them and maintain a steady pace.  We are out in the desert on a reasonable road and I can manage to leave plenty of space to the car in front and take a run passing the many trucks without having to lift off too often.

We learn that this part of Sudan along the Nile which is now barren desert was heavily forested until the late 18th century.  Some bright spark had the idea of starting a steel industry and all the trees were chopped down to make charcoal for the furnaces.  The region was known as the ‘Birmingham of Africa’.  Unfortunately the trees never grew again and the once fertile soil turned into dust .

Our tent hotel which we reach early afternoon is just that, about twenty tents in the dunes surrounding a thatch covered dining area.  It is located about 4 km from the highway so we get to play in the sand.  Mike gets bogged, again.  Around sunset, our guide takes us to the nearby group of pyramids dating from the Merowe period 2500 – 350 BC.  The Sudanese like to point out that they have more pyramids than Egypt although perhaps not quite as grand.  Dozens of small boys appear with handfuls of souvenir pyramids.  We are pretty sure they are the front men for a pyramid selling scheme.

Sat 20 Oct  Karima, Sudan

We start the trip today along the same road heading North battling the same trucks but then take a left turn on a new road which cuts across to Karima.  For nearly 300 km  there is nothing but sand each side of an excellent bitumen road.  Almost no trucks but a challenge for drivers to stay alert.  Fortunately the gravel verges don’t have the 30 cm drop offs on each side like the main highway but they roll off within a couple of metres so anyone why strayed off the bitumen would be lucky to recover without rolling.  16,000 people die on Sudanese roads each year which is pretty amazing considering how few people own cars.  It is also surprising considering how good the the truck drivers are compared with their counterparts further south.  They drive fairly slowly – probably to conserve tyres judging from the large quantities of shredded tyres along the frequently used roads.  They also leave space between trucks so faster moving traffic can overtake easily and they never pull out when a car is approaching from behind.

Close to our destination of Karima, we rejoin the Nile and drive past groves of date palms.  Karima is our guide’s home town so he takes us to meet his beautiful wife and children.  The rally boys are also in town so we say hello to them before they continue their journey.  We offer to swap cars but get no takers.  Crazy Driver does his party tricks again by doing big broadslides in the sandy car park and burying our cars in dust – still standing on the running board.  There is a sudden bang and we all look up thinking he has rolled it but he had just jumped in and slammed the door.

Our accommodation tonight is the Nubian Guest House in Karima.  This was another project by the Italian Tourism Company who were also responsible for the Tent Hotel last night.  This time we are surrounded by an Italian designer’s interpretation of Nubian architecture – about 30 separate rooms facing into a central lawn.  Each room has a domed ceiling about 6 metres across formed by small clay bricks.  And the best thing, each of the rooms has aircon so we can get some relief from the 40 deg temperatures.

This is nothing like Melbourne when we have the occasional 40 deg day.  Everything here has been baking for months at this temperature so there is no relief.  Our camera gave up today which I assumed to be due to dust but after a couple of hours in the cool room it is back to normal. Maybe if I parked the car in here it might come good too……

This is all a good training exercise for the next week when we tackle the northern part of Sudan on the road to Wadi Halfa and the 16 hour ferry trip across the Aswan Dam.  Laurel is confident it will all be good because we have booked first class cabins but she missed the review in Lonely Planet saying that the cabins are stiflingly hot and everyone ends up on deck seeking some relief from the heat.  All this to look forward to!

Sun 21 Oct  Dongala, Sudan

Our journey is just over half way through Sudan on a route generally following the Nile.  Not that the Nile is very evident for most of the journey because the landscape is barren desert right up to a few hundred metres from the river itself.

Karima, our overnight stop is the hometown of our archaeologist guide Murtada, and he was keen to show us more of the archaeological ruins.  Firstly to the pyramid erected to the Sudanese King who took on the Syrians and lost.  This was in the period when Egypt was ruled by the Nubians from the area we know as Sudan but after the loss he was too embarrassed to put his name down for a pyramid in Egypt and skulked back to his hometown.  We learnt that the pyramid building commenced shortly after the start of a King’s reign so it would be close to complete by the end of his life.  We also learnt that by agreement with the priests, the King would agree for his life to be ended by poisoning or more painful means well before his natural term on the basis of guaranteed reincarnation.  There could be a lot of seriously pissed off spirits floating around somewhere still checking the fineprint on that deal.

On the way to our final stop at the former temple we drove to an area in the dunes where in a depression were the remains of dozens of what were once large trees, now petrified.  They appeared to have cracked neatly into short lengths suitable for throwing on a fire but after some debate it was agreed this was the action of temperature cycles and not a pre-historic  cross cut saw.

Around noon, we left Karima and took another of the Chinese built roads to short cut the meanderings of the Nile and 180 km later arrived in Dongola.  Our GPS was no help in locating the hotel so a tuk-tuk was engaged to take us into town.  His first attempt had us standing in front of a very rundown hotel but he was quickly corrected by a by-stander who gave him a new set of directions and we were off again around the back streets to the marginally better hotel.

The Chinese built roads are an interesting story.  They were constructed as part of an agreement for access to Sudanese oil before 2009 when South Sudan broke away to form a separate country.  Unfortunately for the Chinese, South Sudan has 75% of the oil deposits and there was a tense period before UN intervention when they were going to deny the Chinese any rights to the oil.

Mon 22 Oct  Wadi Halfa

A 5:30 am start so we can cover the 400 km to Wadi Halfa in good time to catch the car ferry across the border to Egypt.  We have the choice between the ferry route which meanders along the Nile but takes forever or the new road.  With some guilt we take the latter and arrive around 10:00 am feeling that we had missed all the interesting bits.

Our customs agent is waiting for us at the hotel and immediately starts processing the vehicle carnets for the border crossing to Egypt but it still takes until nearly 3:00 before we get the all clear to load the cars onto the ferry.  Describing it as a ferry is a bit grand, it is actually a barge but the good news is that it is all ours and we can load the cars ourselves and lock them.  The loading was a bit of a challenge for many of the cars because of the steep ramp.  With the sump guard removed, CH2LON just cleared the hump nicely but there was much huffing and puffing from the loading crew when they had to raise the ramp about a metre for some of the cars with less underbody clearance.

The barge pushed off immediately because it needed to get well away from shore before sundown – it will take around two days to make the journey along Lake Nasser and with luck will arrive about 3 hours after our 16 hour trip on the passenger ferry.  Lake Nasser is about 500 km long and 110 km wide which makes Eildon look a little modest.

Just as we are walking back along the pier, a couple of old Land Rovers appear and we jump in for a ride back to the hotel.  A bit knocked around but they did the job.  We are hoping that the Cangan hotel will look better on second acquaintance but it doesn’t.  Tiny rooms which haven’t been cleaned too well, no running water, a squat loo, no towels and the aircon has run a bearing which makes it too painful to bear for more than a few minutes.  Hard to think of any redeeming features at all but at least if we get on the passenger ferry tomorrow we will only have one night there.  Unlike some Swiss back packers who were recently stranded in Wadi Halfa for eight days when the ferry stopped running.

We are sitting around the front of the hotel when a traveller on an off-road Honda motor bike arrives.  We start chatting and find that Fernando has been travelling solo for two years.  His first leg took him overland from his home in Madrid to Melbourne via Broome and the Tanami track.  After touring Australia, he airfreighted the bike to Buenos Aires and then rode to Miami via Alaska – definitely the long way around.  Another airfreight to Cape Town for the leg to Cairo and then home to Madrid.

Just yesterday he had a near death experience due to a misunderstanding in the northern part of Sudan.  Someone suggested a 15 km off-road route which after 45 km turned into serious sand dunes.  He came off the bike in the deep sand, couldn’t get it back upright in the midday heat and passed out.  With incredibly good fortune some people came along about 4 hours later, prodded him back to consciousness and helped him get his bike turned around.  Turns out the route adviser meant 500 km off road, not 15 km!  He had to go back nearly 1000 km and stuck to the sealed road after that.

It’s now 10 pm and we have just got back from eating out on the street, literally.  The tuk-tuks were driving within a metre of our seats outside the best restaurant which sells a plateful of excellent falafels for 50 cents and half a chicken and salad for less than $4.  Would have gone down even better with a beer.

We’re both looking forward to a shower so I stand under a dribble for a few minutes and then it runs out….. Lorraine is not impressed.

Tue 23 Oct  Wadi Halfa

Slept fairly well and thanks to our silk sleeping bag liners which work well as a defence against bed-bugs we don’t seem to have suffered too much.  The tap in the hand basin broke off – if we think all the cheap Chinese junk is exported to Australia then think again.  The really cheap junk is exported to poor countries like Sudan where the average wage is 200 Sudanese Pounds per month.  At the current rate of 5.7 to the A$ that works out to a little over A$1 per day.

An early lunch before heading to the ferry terminal to allow plenty of time customs and immigration formalities.  We farewell Murtada and his driver who have become good friends and are now in the hands of the customs agent cum fixer who is taking care of everything.  He is making sure all the paperwork is filled in and handed to the right people.  There is a process but it appears random and full of holes.  Each piece of paper needs to be stamped by the responsible person whose stamp has no ink and there are no checks to see that the process is followed.  We inadvertently managed to get our bags past the customs man with the blue stickers so he left his post and came over to put stickers on all our bags.  No questions, no obvious purpose of the stickers and no-one checks to see they are there.  All very confusing.   The ferry was scheduled to depart at 5 pm but time ticks by and the processing and stamping continues for the 300 or so passengers.  We are now strategically located near the single exit door to the wharf and the crowds are massing around us, many with what looks like all their worldly possessions with them.  The sun goes down in a red blaze through the filthy window and just as it is getting dark the door is opened and we are off.  Miraculously the first class passengers are allowed to push through and walk the 400 metres to the end of the wharf where the ferry which looks like a rusted hulk in the picture on the front of the ticket turns out to be even more dilapidated.  In the darkness, Cherie puts her foot down on what appears to be a step up leading to the gang plank but is actually a 20 cm gap in the wharf and her leg disappears from under her.   Lorraine helps to extricate her leg and we help her back to her feet feeling shaken but luckily with no breaks.

The conditions on the ferry are well described in Lonely Planet.  In a word, yuk……

Wed 24 Oct  Aswan, Egypt

A beautiful sunrise over Lake Nasser and we are now in Egypt.  The 5 star treatment arranged by Ros and John for the Egypt leg is something we are all looking forward to.   Amazingly, the ferry docks at Aswan just after the scheduled 1 pm arrival right alongside the car barge with its precious cargo of MGs still on board.  We are rushed off the ferry so we can drive the cars off the barge and out of the dock area before 2 pm when everything is closing for the week long religious holiday.

First we have to negotiate driving over the bunker oil pipe which is waving in the breeze about 30 cm above the road.  One of the dock workers stands on it to bring it closer to the roadway and we each bump over it as gently as we can.  We wonder if anyone has thought of digging a small trench and securing it properly.  Carnets are checked and signed fairly quickly but then we need to wait over 3 hours while someone goes to find temporary Egyptian plates for the cars.  Fernando, the Spanish motorcyclist is also going through the same process so a few of us fill in the time helping him diagnose a clunk in the front suspension of his Honda.  It turns out to be a worn front wheel bearing.  He tells us the Road from Hell was the worst road he has experience anywhere in his travels and even his 10 year old off-road bike was challenged.  Peruvian roads were bad but Kenya even worse.

Just as it is getting dark we make it to the Iberotel – 5 star and everything is good!  What a change 300 km and a border crossing makes.

Thu 25 Oct  Aswan, Egypt

The first of our tourist days but first we have a few hours to check over the cars.  The pistons in the front brakes are still sticking occasionally but come good after a couple of good pumps – plenty of pad material left and with Lorraine’s help pushing the pedal I can see each piston is operating freely.  I check there is 12 volts at the overdrive solenoid but it seems to be jammed – a job for tomorrow when I can drain the oil and dismantle it.  Everything else is good – the car still hasn’t used any oil or dropped any coolant despite the extreme temperatures.  Daytime temperatures in Aswan are around 35 deg and humid but it feels reasonably comfortable after the extreme heat of Sudan.

In the afternoon we catch a motor boat across the Nile to walk around the Filae Temple on Elephantine Island.  The entire temple was dismantled into 40,000 separate blocks of granite and relocated to higher ground after the first Aswan dam was constructed in the early 1900s.  When they re-erected one of the colonnade sections they found a 2 inch error so everything was dismantled and re-erected.  A remarkable achievement.  There were a few other tourists viewing the temple but when we got back to the dock we could see hundreds of similar tourist boats tied up with no customers.  We learn that tourist numbers are down by 90% since the Arab Spring and close to 4 million people have lost their jobs.  I asked whether the recently elected Muslim Brotherhood  are concerned and he put his hand to his head in the shape of a pistol.  Apparently not.

Reg had a bit of excitement in town this evening.  He was being hassled by a couple of young boys  selling papyrus prints and then realised his wallet was gone.  He grabbed one of them by the neck and hoisted him up against a car.  After some kicking and squealing from the young boy, the wallet mysteriously reappeared over the heads of the crowd with everything intact – nice one Reg!

Fri 26 Oct  Aswan, Egypt

The first day of the religious holiday and the roads are almost empty.  We walk across to the bank of the Nile and find a Felucca to take us to nearby Lord Kitchener’s Island for a walk around the Botanical Gardens.  There are a few indigenous species like Sycamore but mostly imports from all over the world including Mahogany, Ebony and a few River Red Gums from Australia.  All beautifully maintained despite the shortage of tourists but hard to understand how their economy can sustain this for much longer.

After lunch a few of us want to service the cars while the main group visits a Nubian village.  We have found a well equipped service centre only a few kms from the hotel and they are happy to sell us oil and loan us their service pits.  There are 3 bays so in a short time we have drained oil, replaced filters and greased 6 cars.  We even found API SF grade oil for pre-cat converter cars like our MGs and the whole exercise cost less than $20.  Our overdrive has started working again so I decide not to drain the gearbox oil and remove the solenoid – everyone warns against doing this unless you are experienced and in a good workshop because of the risk of losing the tiny ball bearings which seal the hydraulic pressure.   Fingers crossed it will keep working.

The Libyan option is still looking doubtful but fearless Dave has already worked out a plan to get the cars to Turkey and do the long drive.  A few more days before we need to make a final decision but at least we have a workable Plan B

Sat 27 Oct  Aswan, Egypt and Abu Simbel

Another tourist day – we are booked to fly back almost the length of Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel, a magnificent monument built to glorify Ramses II, the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt’s history.  There monument consists of two temples, the larger for Ramses himself and the smaller in honour of his first and favourite wife Nefetari.  Obviously a man with a clear sense of direction, he went on to have many wives and father between 100 and 200 children depending on which historian you believe and if the wall paintings of Nefetari are accurate the other wives would have had some serious competition.  Apart from the amazing detail and beauty of the extensive wall paintings, two factors make this monument  even more significant. The first was that it was almost completely buried by sand for centuries and only discovered in 1813 by a Swiss historian, Johann Ludwig Burkhardt, in amazingly pristine condition.  The second was that it only just survived the rising waters of Lake Nasser after the high dam was built in the 1960s.

Construction and filling of the dam had already commenced before the Egyptian government with considerable encouragement from the international community agreed to relocate the entire monument measuring 40 metres high by 40 metres wide and extending at least 30 m into the original cliff face.  Carved entirely from soft sandstone, it was sawn into more than 1000 blocks each weighing 30 tons and then reassembled 100 metres to the west and 70 metres higher, well above the new water level.  An amazing technical achievement and the sand and resin filled joints are virtually invisible.

Tonight we are going to brave the local market with passports and credit cards left in the hotel safe although we are fairly confident that the reputation of ‘Reg the enemy of all pick-pockets’ will by now have spread throughout the town.

Back on the road tomorrow for a new week as we wind our way down the Nile towards Luxor and Cairo.  Can’t wait….

Sun 28 Oct  Luxor, Egypt

Today we’re off to Luxor and the seriously touristy parts of Egypt.  Think Valley of Kings and Giza. This will be a fairly short leg of 220 km along the East Bank of the Nile stopping at two temples along the way.  We’re promised that the ratio of tourists to desperate sellers will improve a little as we head towards Cairo so the constant hassling should become more manageable.   It can be heart breaking turning down the hoards of sellers of postcards, scarves, clothing and souvenirs, mostly made in China, but our cars are already packed tightly so there is no room for more stuff.

Everyone starts well but a few km down the road and Mike’s MGA is playing up again. Fuel is leaking from one of the carbs but the misfiring still persists after this is fixed.  The new set of distributor points fitted yesterday have closed up for no apparent reason – maybe the accumulation of dust has prematurely worn the fibre cam follower.  After a quick adjustment we are off again enjoying the views across the fertile fields towards the river.  This is where you start appreciating the enormous wealth the Nile brings to Egypt.  The only downside is the rubbish everywhere you look.  It seemed to be more under control in Aswan where there were plenty of bins around but out here in the countryside it is a major problem.  Don’t know where rubbish collection fits on Maslow’s hierarchy but the Egyptians don’t seem to have got there yet.  They are however seriously into speed humps.  Even minor lanes leading onto the highway are an excuse for a series of humps which every vehicle from buses to MGs needs to slow to a walking pace to negotiate.  The good news is that our overdrive has got over its hissy fit and is now behaving perfectly.  Maybe it was just having a good sulk over the high temperatures of the past few weeks.  Daytime temperatures are still in the mid 30s but much more bearable than the 40 deg plus in Sudan.

Tonight we’re off to the sound and light show at Karnak, the temple complex down by the river close to the centre of Luxor.

Mon 29 Oct  Luxor, Egypt

An early start to get to the Valley of the Kings before the crowds arrive and while it is still fairly cool.  This was the burial place for Pharaohs, or Kings, from 1570 BC after they realised that pyramids were a pretty obvious beacon for tomb robbers.  Desperate to retain their wealth so it was still available when they came back to life, they hit upon the idea of deep tombs dug into the sides of the limestone cliffs of Qurna, around 30 km by road from Luxor involving a drive back upstream to the bridge and then downstream again on the west bank to a spot directly in line with Karnak as the crow flies.  The entrance to the valley is right on the edge of the fertile river flats but once inside, the steep walls hide any views across to the river and you could be hundreds of kms away in the desert.  A perfect spot for long term storage; warm, dry and well concealed.

Over 60 Kings were buried here including Tutunkhamun.  Each tomb has either a sloped or steeply stepped entrance leading up to 50 metres from the cliff face entrance to the room where the sarcophagus was placed.  The sides and roof are richly decorated onto the white plaster walls with coloured images of the Kings and Gods along with rows of hieroglyphs telling his story.

Back on the bus and we are taken around to the other side of the limestone cliffs in the Valley of the Queens facing towards the river, directly above the Valley of the Kings and in line with Karnak.  The Queens were more interested in a good view than preserving their meagre wealth so they could afford to be out on show.

The last challenge for the day is to find some fuel for the drive to El Minya tomorrow.  For reasons the guides aren’t able to explain, Egypt and especially Luxor suffers from fuel shortages and there are long lines of cars and buses waiting at the few outlets in the hope of being first in line when supplies arrive.  We get the word to be ready to go at 7 pm because the guide has located somewhere where fuel has just been delivered.  A mad dash through the back streets and we arrive at a dodgy looking place with a pump which needs to be kicked into action and has no price counter.  Fuel is so cheap here that it’s not really an issue so for about $12 we have a full tank of something – hopefully not the basic Egyptian 80 octane fuel.  By the time our cars are fuelled, all the locals have got the news too and the place is swarming with motor bikes and vans all wanting their share.

Tue 30 Oct  El Minya, Egypt

Today will be an interesting drive because no-one, including Hemesh our guide, seems to know the distance to El Minya, our last stop before Cairo and also where we might get fuel along the way.  We have a couple of temples to visit along the way at Dandara and Abydos as we gradually absorb the Phaoronic history.

We are going to take the Western Desert highway for part of today’s drive so we are given a police escort and we also have a black suited security guard with a large bulge covering the fairly lethal looking weapon stuck into his belt.  It seems there have been a few hijackings on this highway in recent months and no-one wants any trouble.  Leaving Dandara close to the Nile we take a series of rough tracks between huge piles of rubbish with the police car in the lead.  Definitely not the best part of town but it appeared to be the only access between the Nile Valley and the highway.  Only about 20 km but it took nearly an hour to negotiate the rough roads, frequent speed bumps and police check points.  Once on the well surfaced highway it was plain sailing with the only excitement being how many trucks could fit abreast what was nominally a 2 lane road.  We were passed at one point by a Mercedes semi who passed our entire convoy of 13 cars including the guide and the police car in one go travelling at around 120 km/h completely undeterred by blind corners and crests.  There seemed to be some sort of agreement with oncoming trucks that they would move into the emergency lane with 2 wheels almost in the gravel to give him space.  We thought he might use some discretion when passing our police car but they waved him through and he was on his way.

The many heavily loaded mini buses also scored highly on the bravery score.  With 12 or more passengers and luggage piled high on the roof there was no way they were going to pass the elk swerve and recover test.  Fortunately we didn’t come across any elks.  Two mini buses passed us doing at least 120 km/h slipstreaming with less than a metre between them.  Shortly afterwards we spotted a crashed car at one of the toll stations.  It seemed to be complete but had been compressed roughly into a sphere about 1.5 metres in diameter – a fairly major mishap.

Our hotel in El Minya was back on the banks of the Nile so we had to repeat the whole exercise of driving over the speed bumps and through the police check points again.  Fortunately we had found an open fuel station after travelling close to our limit of 450 km.  As we got closer to the centre of town the traffic became crazier.  Through Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan I was able to work out the driving etiquette which basically meant that everyone left space for other drivers even if it was only just enough space and right at the last moment.  Less than a metre clearance when passing was quite acceptable and no-one ever got upset.  El Minya was a different story.  Being completely cut off and left with nowhere to go in the dodgem traffic seemed to be all part of the game.  I pulled up alongside a young bloke in a Mitsubishi Evo replica who had just carved me up big time and gave him a gentle serve.  He gave me a grin and took off to terrorise someone else.  Where was the respect for our old MGs.

Tired and sweaty after 14 hours on the road we finally pulled into the hotel to be greeted by the Governor who was keen to tell us how important tourism was to his area and encouraged us to tell everyone back in Australia that El Minya was a safe and rewarding tourist destination.  The hotel manager echoed his message telling us that he had been convinced to return after 30 years in France to invest in El Minya under the new Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Wed 31 Oct  Cairo, Egypt

This was to be a big day as we complete the last leg into Cairo.  Driving out of El Minya in the daylight we saw what we missed last night.  Mile after mile of new apartments and commercial buildings still under construction with not a tree or green growth anywhere to soften the desert.  Someone is planning for some serious growth but it wasn’t clear who is funding all this.  Very reminiscent of new cities springing up all over China.

We again have the police escort for the first part of the journey and the 2 lane highway has become a 6 lane toll way carving its way through the desert.  The plan was to drive directly to Giza on the outskirts of Cairo to get some pics of the cars parked near the Pyramids.  Cairo is a mega-city of 20 million people and fortunately for us it has a pretty good elevated freeway system to keep traffic moving.  Well at least until you have to get off the freeway and then it quickly becomes obvious that the growth in cars and trucks from less than 500,000 ten years ago to 5.5 million today has overtaxed the road system.  We finally arrive at the Giza car park and meet Mahmoud, the organiser of the Vintage Wheels Club in Cairo.  Mahmoud has been following our fortunes since the start of the trip and was keen to see the cars and offer us any help we might need.  True to his word he managed to find a replacement coil for George’s car within an hour.  George was having a good day because the parcel of replacement parts for a number of cars finally arrived and it included his new front springs to replace the ones he destroyed in Ethiopia.

But first we had to get the all important pics of the cars so our cars were lead past all the tourist buses to a spot overlooking the pyramids.  Handshakes and hugs all around, this was a pretty emotional moment for everyone – none of us had really expected to get all 11 cars to Cairo but we had done it!

The only downer was the news this afternoon that the Libyan embassy in Cairo was unable to process our visas because their computer system was undergoing an upgrade which was not scheduled to be completed until Sunday at the earliest – too late for us.  The latest n a long line of excuses, it was pretty clear they didn’t want us to go there.

At a group meeting this evening it was agreed to pursue the only alternative option – a roll on/roll off ferry service which had just resumed between Alexandria and Turkey.  Dave had been told that the next sailing would be on Sunday 4 Nov so fingers crossed this will happen – we had worked out that containerisation was not really an option because of the extra time required at each end.

Thu 1 Nov  Cairo, Egypt

Yesterday’s visit to the Giza Pyramids was just a trial run to photograph the cars.  This morning we have the tourist visit and the overcast skies have been replaced by blue or what passes for blue in a city of 20 million people with most cars still running on leaded petrol.  I was prepared to be disappointed knowing that the Cairo suburbs now encroached the Pyramids but the reality is very impressive.  Cheops pyramid is 167 metres high and its smaller brother 164 metres both built on a plateau overlooking the city which disappears into the haze behind them.  Contrary to popular belief, the archaeological evidence does not support the view that they were built by slaves.  Remains have been found of dwellings, cooking utensils and other possessions to show that as many as 200,000 farmers were employed to build the pyramids while their farms were inundated by the regular floods and that they ate much better food than they could afford as farmers.  They were also promised a better afterlife so a good deal all round.

It isn’t hard to be impressed by the technologies employed to build the pyramids but there are also many reminders of the early Egyptian’s project managements skills.  Every stone was individually cut and polished to fit in its allotted place.  Where were the drawings or CAD files to communicate and check the correct dimensions and how did they manage the complex material flow through the manufacturing and installation processes?

The next visit was to the National Museum where the treasures from Tutankhamen’s tomb are on show.  A rather beautiful old building but seriously in need of renovation and something better than open louvres to control temperature, humidity and dust.  The display stands may not be as impressive as those for the replicas recently on show in Melbourne but the actual objects were.  The jewellery and other artefacts were exquisitely detailed – 5,000 pieces were stored with his mummified body discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 and most were made from scratch in the 7 months it took for the mummification process after his premature death at the tender age of 18.  The discovery of his tomb by Carter is interesting.  Carter had enjoyed Lord Carnarvon’s generosity for some years but his time was running out and he was given the ultimatum to find some treasures or look for a new job.  Within three days he announced the discovery of Tutunkhamun’s tomb, became an instant hero and kept his job.

Fri 2 Nov  Cairo, Egypt

Our last day in Cairo and we begin with a visit to the Mosque followed by the Coptic Orthodox Church for a little religious balance.  This was followed by the Stepped Pyramid at Sakkara, the first stone building erected anywhere in the world.  A very conservative design with an entrance hall featuring a row of granite columns, each supported back to the wall rather than self standing.  No text books to follow so the architect played it safe.

This was our last evening before some of the group were leaving so Laurel organised a celebratory dinner at a farm on the outskirts of Cairo.  A great evening with everyone in good spirits.

After we got back to the Oboroi Mena House, Lorraine and I were taking a last look around the shops in this famous hotel which dates back to glory days of the late 19th century when European tourists discovered Egypt.  The duty manager saw us admiring the framed photos of Montgomery who stayed there during WWII and invited us to come and see the room where he and other famous guests had stayed.  Even more impressive than our room, we sat on the couch where Jimmy Carter had sat with Anwar Sadat and at the desk where Monty had sat.  A memorable finish to the evening.

Sat 3 Nov  Alexandria, Egypt

Mike and Neil had both put their cars into containers yesterday and farewelled us along with Margie, Dominic and Guy who were all leaving today.  No dramas with the remaining nine cars driving out of Cairo and along the Nile Delta to Alexandria.  As we approached the city, Raf came over the CB radio warning us that Alexandria drivers were very aggressive and we needed to match their aggressiveness by not letting any other cars break into our convoy.  A big ask considering nearly every car in Egypt features 360 degree dents and our cars were still relatively pristine.  It actually wasn’t that bad but we all felt a bit drained after the long drive along the Corniche dodging the taxis and minibuses.  Alexandria looks like a rundown Italian Riviera with a continuous line of 10- 20 storey apartments and hotels overlooking the beautiful harbour for the full 35 km length of the Corniche.  We finally arrived at the Sheraton Hotel– but first we needed a picture of the cars with the Mediterranean in the background to show we had arrived.  The gardens of the former palace of King Farouk on the headland just across the road from the hotel looked like a good setting so in we went.  Other visitors joined in the fun and moved their cars so we could get the MGs lined up together.  Another celebration!

On the way back from a visit to the very impressive new library of Alexandria, Dave travelled with Hemesh , while they made calls to the ferry company trying to confirm their sailing dates.  We got back the hotel where Dave gave us the good news and bad news.  The good news was that the ferry is running fairly regularly between Port Said and Iskenderum in Turkey but the bad news was that the paperwork for customs clearance would take a minimum of two days – no way were we going to make the Sunday evening sailing.  Another two days in Alexandria before we would leave for Port Said to complete the paperwork and catch the Thursday 8 November sailing.  This was obviously going to put even more pressure on the time available to get to the UK by the deadline of 22 November.  A planning job for tomorrow…

 

Sun 4 Nov Alexandria, Egypt

Still cooling our heels in Alexandria after getting the news that there was no way to get the customs paperwork for the cars in time to catch the Monday ferry sailing.  The Thursday evening ferry would be the earliest opportunity so the plan was to spend another couple of days in Alexandria then drive to Port Said giving two full days for the customs process.

This was to be our last day with Raf, our Egyptolgist, before he returned to Cairo so he had planned a half day tour of some of Alexandria’s historical sites.  First off was Pompey’s Pillar.  A single pillar erected on the site of a former temple overlooking the city as an expression of gratitude to the Roman Emperor who took pity on the Egyptians at a time of famine.  He generously cut their contribution of grain to Rome by half so they wouldn’t starve.  One supposes they needed to be grateful for any mercy under the Roman rulers.  Next stop were the catacombs – an underground rabbit warren of burial chambers carved into the soft limestone.  In the centre was a large banquet hall where the Romans would lie around on benches consuming vast amounts of food to sustain not only themselves but more so for the recently departed.  To give them a really good send off they would throw up the excess food into the corners of the hall and then break the plates and throw them over their shoulders.  It must have been a delightful mess by the end of the session.

At lunch it was thanks all round to Raf who had educated and amused us for the past two weeks.  He asked us to tell all our friends what a wonderful time we had enjoyed in Egypt and recommend they come too.  Hesham had told us that Raf had continuous work with more than 20 tours a year before the Arab Spring but this was only the third tour he had lead this year.

Mon 5 Nov  Alexandria, Turkey

Overnight, Dave had planned a route through Turkey and Europe to try to please as many people as possible.  Most had opted for time in Turkey rather than repeating the coastal drive through Montenegro and Croatia so his proposal was to take 2 days driving to Ephesus along the southern coastal route, then to Gallipoli and on through Sofia, Belgrade and Zabreb to Venice where we would stay 2 nights before a quick run back to the UK.  Hesham had negotiated the package of costs for the ferry, customs clearance and extra nights in Egypt so he needed a large wad of cash by the next morning.  The ATM in the hotel was down and the next closest was rejecting my bullet proof Visa card so the only option was to walk about 500 metres past some pretty shady looking places at 10 pm trying to look like someone who was out just enjoying the evening air.  A big sigh of relief when I made it safely back to the hotel with pockets bulging with Egyptian pounds.  Egypt is still very much a cash society which works largely on relationships and trust.  Written records of transactions are rare even with large sums of cash by Western standards – in a country where the average monthly wage is around $100 and tertiary qualified professionals earn about double that, these are huge sums. But it all seems to work.

Another surprise was to learn that almost every Egyptian family has a weapon or two in their house and yet the incidence of violent crime is very low.  Disputes between families are the most common social issue rather than violent crime.

Tue 6 Nov  Alexandria, Egypt

This was supposed to be our last day in Alexandria but Hesham had negotiated for our cars to be customs cleared here where he knew the right people rather than in Port Said.  This meant an early morning trip in our cars to the offices of MTS Logistics at the other end of the city and then on to the Port itself to get the cars inspected.  We are all starting to gain confidence driving along the Corniche but there are still many close calls.  George found himself jammed between two buses and lost his mirror but the bus driver recognises his plight and gets out to pick it up for him.

After a few hours preparing paperwork at MTS assisted by the drop dead gorgeous Selma we head off for the Port around noon.  There were several large cruise ships in town so the traffic of taxis and buses around the entrance was fairly frantic.  We somehow managed to squeeze our cars into illegal parking spots without incurring the displeasure of the traffic police and then learnt that we were not allowed to drive our cars into the Port area ourselves.  Much protesting but to no avail, we were assured that the Customs drivers were very capable and would look after our cars.  I explained to the chap who would drive our car that he would need to get in through the passenger’s side and also take care when closing the aluminium bonnet so the safety catch didn’t hang up.  An hour passed then two, then it started getting dark and we had to find protection against the cooling sea breeze.  Finally, Hemesh got the word that the cars were ready to be picked up on the other side of the Port.  We jammed ourselves into three taxis and headed off through a maze of unlit, potholed and grotty lanes before arriving where the cars were parked.  One by one we headed for our cars and a few minutes later many of the group started discovering panel damage.  Ken’s car had a badly damaged bonnet which must have blown back against the windscreen.  John and Nigel’s cars were both scraped along the sides and Dave’s car had a dented grille.  Lots of raised voices with the customs people ducking for cover and Hesham very upset.  How could we get all the cars through the entire route from Cape Town to Cairo unscathed to have nearly half of them damaged in a few minutes of irresponsibility.  Everyone with damaged cars needed police reports to make insurance claims so it was a very late night for many.  Hesham came back to the hotel in my car and was still upset.  All the hard work the American Express guys had put into making our trip enjoyable blown away.  He assured me that the 5 guys responsible were all given the sack on the spot.

Wed 7 Nov   Alexandria to Port Said, Egypt

Late last evening we had a call from Mohammad, the boss of MG Egypt, saying he had just heard we were here and was about to get into his car to drive to Alexandria to meet us.  When we came down for breakfast he had already arrived with his entire team of directors and country managers.  His group has the franchise for North Africa and the Middle East and they already have dealers in Egypt, Morocco, Dubai and Qatar with further dealers planned in Libya and Tunisia.  They had brought their modern Chinese assembled MGs including the MG3, MG5, MG6 and the older 750 based on the Rover 75.  Lots of pictures of their cars interspersed with ours, them sitting in our cars and interviews with the journalists they had invited along at very short notice.  Mohammad outlined their localisation plans starting next year to assemble MGs at the same plant which assembles Mercedes Benz in Cairo.  The huge numbers of Peugeot 404 and 504 models still on the road are testament to Egypt’s  long history of vehicle assembly and draconian import tariffs ranging from 45% on small vehicles up to 270% on luxury models.  Looking at the newer cars on Egyptian roads it would appear that Hyundai are one of the larger players along with a range of Chinese brands including Chery with their Speranza brand which has obviously secured a good contract with the police.

Mohammad and his team kindly invited us to an excellent lunch at the hotel and then farewelled us for our drive to the port at Damiatta, about 40 km from Port Said.  Our departure was a bit of a shambles, some of the group missed the first turn so we had to regroup and then Ross’s car died so it was late in the afternoon by the time we really got going.  We had handed in our individual Egyptian registration plates by this stage so needed to stay in convoy with the lead and tail cars identified by special plates.  The plan was to drop the cars off inside the Damiatta Port where they would be impounded overnight and then pick them up the following evening to drive them on to the ferry.  This turned out to be another long drawn out bureaucratic process with us driving the car from one area of the Port to the next where our passports and cars were checked before finally parking them under the noses of the Port police where we hoped they would be safe.  Then into the minibus where our wives had been patiently waiting for the drive to the hotel in Port Said.  The staff there were all waiting for us and a bit disappointed that we weren’t up to an evening meal or room service at 1:00 am – we were all pretty exhausted.

Thu 8 Nov  Ferry to Turkey

A day to explore Port Said and check out the Aida Diva cruise ship moored at the entrance to the Suez Canal only a few metres from the memorial commemorating Ferdinand de Lessops, the man responsible for the original Suez project.  The area around the Port is fairly up market with clothing and jewellery shops vying for the dwindling tourist trade.  Somehow the whole group ended homed in on the Pizzapino restaurant where the Egyptian/Italian owner successfully charmed our wives – his pasta and coffees were pretty good too so we came back for an early dinner before the pick up time to head for the Port.

On the drive back to Damiatta, we were entertained by streets lined with 5 metre tall blow up figures looking a bit like oversized tele-tubbies.  “Shotgun Pete”, today’s security man, explained that this was to celebrate a big wedding and sure enough one of the figures had a sign saying” Mustafa loves Sara”.  We hoped Sara knew what she was getting herself into.

The other entertainment was an electrical storm lighting up the sea beyond Damiatta.  By the time we arrived, the rain started coming and persisted for an hour or so while we waited for more paperwork to be sorted.  Fortunately by the time we headed around to the other side of the Port to pick up our cars the rain had stopped so we could sort out the stuff we needed to take with us into the cabin without getting soaked.  The only catch was that we had to drive a few kms through the Port along roads now a slippery quagmire of wet greasy, oily mud.  By the time we arrived at the marshalling area, the underside of the cars were covered with the stuff – probably good for rust proofing but someone down the track is going to score a big steam cleaning job.

The good news was that the ferry looked very impressive.  For many years the Nisson Rodos operated on services in and out of Greece before their economy tanked.  It is now operated by Kadmar lines between Damiatta and Iskenderun Turkey for trucks by-passing the normal routes through Syria.  We were the only cars in the entire marshalling area and surrounded on all sides by huge trucks all jockeying for position.  No-one wanted to get their shoes caked in the mud so we waited patiently in our cars for another hour or so before getting the call from Hemesh who was working with Ahmed from MTS Logistics to get us on board.  Finally the word came to move and we were directed up the ramp and into gaps between the trucks – we won’t be the first off as we had hoped but nor will we be the last.  There is a sinking feeling as I start the engine for the run up the ramp.  The key turns and nothing happens. Everything has worked perfectly since Addis Ababa when we fixed the starter and here we are now, the last of the MGs to be loaded and we’re stuck in the middle of the night surrounded by trucks on all sides unable to start.  I turn the key again and the starter cranks us into life – phew!  In we go and are directed to a gap between the trucks to park for the voyage.

The circus didn’t stop there.  We made our way up once impressive stairways now caked in greasy mud from the shoes of hundreds of truck drivers to the 8th level where we expected to pick up the keys to our $550 a night cabin.  No luck.  The first problem was that the ferry staff had no record of our payment so a few calls to Hemesh who was waiting on shore to get that sorted.  The next challenge was that the cabins were still being cleaned.  “Ten minutes” we were told but that turned out to be Egyptian minutes so another hour or so later we finally took matters into our hands, made our beds with the clean sheets provided, borrowed some cleaning spray and spare towels and cleaned out the bathroom as best we could.  One of the cleaning staff was a bit concerned we wouldn’t do a good job so he came into the room with his surface spray and began randomly squirting the walls, roof, carpets and beds before I convinced him his talents would be better used elsewhere.

Finally into bed around 1am with our polystyrene chip pillow and off to sleep while the last trucks were loaded.

Fri 9 Nov Still on the fery to Turkey

Woke around 8 am to a beautiful clear morning with all the rain clouds blown away.  We thought we should be well into the journey after nearly 4 hours of sailing but the engines were silent and the ship was at anchor facing towards Port Said, visible on the horizon about 20 km away.  No clues from the ship crew who spoke no English but a little later we went up on deck and saw the anchor chain coming up and smoke from the stack.  Finally around 10 am we were pointing North again and according to the GPS heading towards Iskenderun at 32 km/h.  A few quick calculations suggested an arrival around 7 am the next morning so another full night on the ferry – not a bad deal, we’ve saved ourselves a night’s accommodation and should be able to start driving as soon as we arrive and cleared by the dreaded Customs.

Later in the day I take courage and go down to the deck to check the car.  It wasn’t all a bad dream, the starter is only working intermittently.  No way to work on the car there so it’s either going to be a jump start or a push start.  Fortunately our car is with 3 of our group and needs to be the first one out so it won’t be hard to get help.  I check who has the jumper leads and then ask Ken if it would be possible to jump start from his car parked alongside.  The MG battery is located under the car behind the driver’s seat.  I can get to mine after shifting all the gear but Ken’s is buried under his storage racks so that isn’t going to work.  Let’s see what happens when I turn the key to start it tomorrow.

Sat 10 Nov  Iskenderun, Turkey

Sunrise is much earlier because we have sailed a long way East during the night.  We dock around 8:30 am after a second breakfast on the ferry of fetta, cucumber, tomato, olives and now very stale bread.  The bonus was a big bowl of the tattiest pears we have ever seen.  Tiny and heavily marked but great tasting.

By sheer good luck the car started at the third attempt so we could get out of the way of the trucks and down to the wharf where we were directed to park.  The plan was to clear Turkish immigration and customs in an hour or so to get a good start on the run towards Ephesus.  A good plan but it didn’t take account of their plan which was to keep us as long as possible by the wharf twiddling our thumbs.

The day dragged on and the wharf started filling with cars, trucks and lots of people with large suitcases.  We got chatting to a few of them and found they were all Syrian refugees escaping to Egypt.  Iskenderun is only 40 km from the Syrian border and about 100 km from Aleppo.  We trusted they had good friends in Egypt who would look after them and their beautiful children when they got there.

The day dragged on and about an hour after dark we finally got the car documents back.  $50 per car on top of the $60 per person for the visa made for an expensive start to Turkey.  We were then free to drive to the customs gate where we learnt that there should have been no charge for the car documents.  Scammed again!

Too late to drive on, we decided to stay the night in the western end of Iskenderun to make a quick exit in the morning.  We stopped at a fuel stop to fill up with fuel at close to $3/litre – almost 10 times the price in Egypt – and met a motorcyclist who kindly offered to lead us to a hotel in the pouring rain.  Not a good move.  His bike was only good for about 40 km/h and when we finally got there he demanded a very generous tip for his services.  First rule of accepting generous offers – always ask the price before committing!  Still he did guide us to an excellent restaurant around the corner from the hotel so everyone came out a winner.

An entertaining start to the Turkish leg and hopefully it will be even better in the morning.

Sun 11 Nov  Isparta, Turkey

After last night’s heavy rain there are just a few clouds on the hills behind Iskenderun for the start of our drive through Turkey.  CH2LON needs yet another push start because the starter has now given up completely.  I keep thinking how lucky we were that it got us on and off the ferry before giving up the ghost.  Someone up there is looking after us.  No fixed destination today, we just want to get as near to the Aegean Sea and Ephesus as possible without driving too late into the evening so our target is to cover at least 700 km.  The days are much shorter as we head into a European winter.

We manage to find the excellent 4 lane toll road and play games going through the different toll booth lanes to see how many alarms and flashing lights we can set off.  Just like City Link, there are no signs of human activity and we couldn’t find anyone to tell us how to buy the toll passes.  After a while we come to a gate where there is an office across 12 lanes of traffic so we casually park in the middle of a lane behind a local van going through the same process.  In fact there are quite a few locals parked there – it turns out there is a new tolling system and no-one has the passes so we are in good company.  For the grand sum of 35 lire or about $20 we get a chip to stick on the windscreen and head back to the car.  Just as I jump in, the van starts reversing towards me.  Lots of plaintive tooting from the MG doesn’t deter him so I throw it into reverse but Reg is just behind so we only gain a few metres before the crunch.  Luckily just a dent in our bumper and paint off his van but he loses it so there is a bit of a moment before he cools down.  I didn’t have the heart to demand cash for repairs.

The road heads up into the mountains and the rain starts coming down in buckets.  Somewhat disconcertingly, the car is pulling to the left under power and then to the right when I lift off.  Something isn’t right but this isn’t the place to fix it.  When we stop I find the U bolts securing the axle to the spring have loosened off a few turns – easily fixed and the car is steering perfectly again.

Bypassing Ankara, we turn off the main highway at Aksehir and the road becomes more interesting.  We start climbing on a new piece of mountain road and then take a detour down a muddy track down the other side of the range.  Dave reminds us that these were similar tracks to those used in the European rallies in which MGs competed successfully in the 1960s so the cars are in their element.  Lots of fun sloshing around on the muddy tracks before getting back to the sealed road and a great drive along the shore of a Lake Egirdir.  The sun’s rays are shining through gaps in the cloud onto the lake surface – breathtakingly beautiful.

Mon 12 Nov  Ephesus, Turkey

A fairly short drive from Isparta into Ephesus, the remains of a succession of cities on the same site dating back to pre-Roman days.  In those days, Ephesus was an important trading city located at the mouth of the river right on the Aegean Sea.  A few thousand years later, silt deposits have buried the remains of the earlier cities and the mouth of the river is more than 10 km away but what remains is remarkable.  A partly reconstructed Roman city with roads, an amphitheatre, magnificent library, terraced houses with beautiful frescoes and floor mosaics.  There are also remains of the water supply system, central heating, drainage and even the communal loos where the blokes could gather each morning to discuss important matters of state.  Why were Europeans were still building cold, draughty castles with no plumbing more than a thousand years later.

Rose, our excellent guide, suggests we stay at a hotel right in the centre of nearby Selcuk run by a Turk married to an Australian.  This was a great find because he was also able to recommend a local repair shop to fix our starter problem in the morning.

Tue 13 Nov  Canakkale, Turkey

Just as promised, the auto electrician arrived on his moped at 8:30 complete with a huge battery you and jumper cables.  He quickly confirmed our diagnosis and suggested we follow him to his nearby repair shop.  No messing around, we had the car up on ramps and within a few minutes the starter was out and on the repair bench.  His accomplice, the starter motor expert, had it in bits with the help of his young apprentice who managed to produce the right tools in response to a series of grunts from his boss.  Another small heap of dust was cleaned out, windings and brushes checked and it was all back together again for a successful bench test.  Total bill of less than $30 and we were mobile again heading along the coast to Canakkale on the eastern side of the Dardenellles ready to catch the ferry to Eceabat and Gallipoli in the morning.  A beautiful sunset was a bonus as we climbed away from the coast and over the headland of this touristy part of Turkey.

Wed 14 Nov  Sofia, Bulgaria

Some of the group made an early start catching the ferry across the Dardenelles to Gallipoli at 7 am.  Along with some of the others who had toured Gallipoli on our China trip two years ago, we caught the ferry a little later and met them at Anzac Cove.  Always a moving experience to see this famous site but also to read the words from Ataturk exhorting his troops to not just fight for their country but to die for their country – and they did, in unbelievable numbers.

Great roads through to the Turkish border where we experienced their excellent border control system by being greeted by name as we drove through the various checkpoints  – how good is that to recognise a foreign number plate with a strange mix of letters and numbers like CH2LON!  The Bulgarian side was a little more complicated because we only had a photocopy of our insurance cover and not the mandatory Green Card.  John was finally able to negotiate our way through and off we went by-passing the usual 2-3 kilometre long line of trucks waiting to cross.

We were now on the main road from Istanbul up through the Balkans to Sofia and Belgrade but it quickly deteriorates to a bumpy 2 lane road with long lines of cars and trucks.  By nightfall we were still battling the tough driving conditions along with drizzly rain.  What would you give for a modern car with good washers and intermittent wipers under these conditions.  After about 400 km we reached a 4 lane freeway for the last 150 km of the trip and breezed into Sofia and our stop at the immaculately clean Astra Hotel.  Not the greatest location in the light industrial part of town but the good restaurant and excellent service more than made up for it.

Thu 15 Nov  Belgrade, Serbia

Two of the cars need attention this morning.  George and Cherie’s car has been running on 3 cylinders for a while and the diagnosis suggests a burnt exhaust valve just like Ken’s car earlier in the trip.  Their starter has also failed.  Ross’s car also needs work on the starter so both cars elect to stay in Sofia until repairs can be made.  The rest of the group take the opportunity to walk around this beautiful city before driving the 400 km to Belgrade in the afternoon.  What a change from the balmy Turkish coast, the weather is cold, around 7 deg, and overcast so we rug up in our few warm clothes and check out the local sites and street markets.  Sellers outnumbered buyers 10 to 1 but we didn’t have the heart to haggle too much for their beautifully embroidered tableware.  Life looks pretty tough for these folks.

Fri 16 Nov  Zagreb, Croatia

Ross caught up with us fairly quickly yesterday after fixing his starter but George’s car took a lot longer so he and Cherie will have a long drive to catch up.  We stayed last night at the Hotel Serbia not far from the centre of Belgrade.  From the outside it had the appearance of a Tito era disaster but the inside had recently been refurbished and quite ok.

Belgrade is built right on the Danube where the Sava joins so in the morning we take a tram ride into the centre and walk around the old fortress and shopping centre.  No shortage of up-market shops but again very few tourists.  Somehow the whole group arrives at the one coffee shop so we pool all the available dinars to avoid having to go to an ATM.  John seems reluctant to part with a couple of hundred dinar until he realises it is just a little over $2.

Another 400 km in the afternoon along ever better roads to the next overnight stop in Zagreb.  I’m beginning to regret the amount of insulation we installed inside the transmission tunnel and under the carpets – the heater is really struggling to keep us warm in these conditions so we pile on coats and gloves to keep out the chill.

The Hotel Luxembourg is right in the centre of Zagreb and our GPS is completely unable to find a way through the one way streets to the car park.  As we drive around and around, the crowds of people are growing by the minute.  We are pretty impressed by the welcome until we find out from one of the locals that they are celebrating the release today of two Croatian Generals after being acquitted of war crimes during the Balkan War.  Everyone is making for the square in front of our hotel waving flags and singing patriotic songs.  A bit like a soccer crowd but without the booze and violence.  Lorraine and I later walk up to the old part of the city and arrive at the cathedral just as the celebration service is finishing.  We find ourselves right in the middle of the crowd only a few metres from the cameras and security folks as the generals are driven away.  Everyone is in high spirits but we’re glad not to be back in Belgrade where the mood tonight is not so bright.  The Serbs are pretty pissed off with the Hague Court decision.

Sat 17 Nov  Ljubljana, Slovenia

Another chance for a city tour, this time being educated and entertained by Martina, our first guide who knew about MGs.  Her Italian father once had a Rover and for some strange reason the family was partial to British cars. Maybe he worked out they rusted slightly more slowly than Fiats or Alfas.  In the afternoon another easy leg to sleepy Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.  Another week over and all 9 cars are running well although George and Cherie’s car doesn’t sound terrific despite the many hours spent on repairs in Sofia.  We all hope it is going to make it to Abingdon.

Sun 18 Nov  Across Italy

Our overnight stay in Ljubljana was at a Conference Centre on the outskirts of the town.  Slovenia feels very European in every way and Africa seems a million miles away.  Last evening we downed a few glasses of gluhwein before tucking into comfort food which betrayed Slovenia’s strong Austro-Hungarian influence.  Anything to build our cold weather resistance as quickly as possible.

We have been following the weather reports and decided to bypass Venice where there is over a metre of water covering Piazza San Marco. Luckily the rain has blown through and the expected fog covering Northern Italy isn’t too thick so we make good time through Verona to Milan and Turin enjoying the light Sunday traffic.  Didn’t fancy the stop-start experience from our last trip when we spent hours just driving from Brescia to the Formula 1 circuit at Monza.  No hot laps around Monza this time (assuming a 3 minute lap time could be very loosely described as a hot lap) so we make it to the Hotel Sport in time to destroy their entire stock of 1.5 litre bottles of rough red before dinner.

Mon 19 Nov  Chateau Longsard, Lyon, France

A sunny morning – brilliant!  We can take the minor roads through the Alps along the Italian-French border totally ignoring the signs requiring all cars to carry snow chains after the 15 November.  The road is mostly dry with snow piled high on each side and there is little traffic so we have a great drive with a few photo opps along the way.  We cross the border and make it to Gap roughly half way along the Route Napoleon by late morning and grab a coffee.

The N85 Route Napoleon must rank right up there as one of the best driving roads in the world, starting on the Riviera near Cannes and winding its way through the mountains to Grenoble.  Not sure whether Bonaparte had this in mind in 1815 when he escaped from Elba and set off for Paris to depose Louis XVIII.  Somehow he managed to escape detection and make it beyond Gap to Le Mure where a statue commemorates his confrontation with the regiment sent out from Paris to meet him.  He boldly walked towards them proclaiming “If any man would shoot his Emperor you may do so now”.  That seemed to get a pretty good reception so they all trooped off together to Paris to complete his mission.

Our destination tonight is the Chateau De Longsard on the outskirts of Lyon.  The chateau was built in the 18th century by Jean-Charles Le Brun, councillor to the King and Master of the Rivers and Forests of the Province of Beaujolais – not a bad bunch of titles and he probably got to enjoy the local wine too.  Our hosts are Count and Countess Olivier du Mesnil du Boisson who in real life are the refreshingly down to earth Olivier and Alexandra.  They met in Lagos Nigeria where he was selling Dubonnet and she was working in a family business.  They then worked a further twenty years in all corners of the world before rolling up their sleeves and tipping all their hard-earned into the restoration of the chateau.  We were all in awe of their hard work and the challenges in keeping it all going.  They were also generous hosts and we enjoyed Alexandra’s roast duck washed down by the 3 day old nouveau Beaujolais.  Good thing we didn’t arrive a week earlier, we would have had to drink last year’s drop.

Tue 20 Nov  Lyon France

The last rest day so we drive into Lyon for a look around this beautiful city, a former capital of France well before the little encampment on the Seine became popular.

On the way we call into the Musee de L’Automobile.  In contrast to the Schlumpf museum in Mulhouse there isn’t a Bugatti in sight.  Henri Malartre was an enterprising car wrecker working in the 1930s who came across collections of old car bits in sheds around Lyon and amused himself by putting them all back together.  Lyon had a flourishing auto industry around the turn of the 19th century with over 100 small factories turning out cars with names no one remembers so he would have had plenty of raw material.  The restored cars were all locked up in sheds until 1960 when, with the support of the mayor of Lyon, the museum was opened in the magnificent Chateau Rochetaillée.  The pre WW1 cars are all exhibited in the individual rooms of the restored chateau – 3 or 4 to a room so it is a more intimate display than the usual open floor plan.  And what an exhibition of early technical innovation!  Ross and I fell way behind the rest of the group and had to be dragged away to do the boring stuff like looking at cathedrals.  Definitely somewhere I would go back to for a longer visit next time.

Wed 21 Jan  Calais, France

Our last long drive of 700 km to Calais to get an early start for the Channel crossing.  We get away early but just a few km down the road Nigel sends out a distress signal that the usually reliable Tango has stopped.  The root cause was another triumph of British automotive engineering.  The heater water valve has started pouring coolant onto the ignition distributor which pretty effectively put out the fire.  Pretty clever really to have such a safe failure mode, maybe they were thinking about it after all.  Dave did his usual trick of digging into the boot of RIP and fished out a brand new  heater valve.   20 minutes later it was all back together and water from a friendly neighbour’s tap was being poured in to top up the cooling system.  No dramas for the rest of the trip apart from the serious dent to our financial position having to subsidise the French autoroute system at frequent intervals.

Somewhat foolishly, we had left our bookings for the Channel tunnel until the last moment so we found that as soon as the first couple of people had confirmed their bookings online, the prices started increasingly alarmingly.  What started out as a not unreasonable 98 Euro fare suddenly became 228 Euro for the same trip.  Whoops, they’ve been learning from the airlines!  The easiest solution was to book a couple of hours later at the cheaper price so we did, deciding that we would work out a way to catch up.  At least we had a booking.

Thu 22 Jan  Abingdon, UK

The morning for the Channel crossing and the early birds were at the train just after 7.  A few minutes later they called suggesting we got down there as soon as possible because they were letting cars go on the first available train rather than waiting for their booked time.  What a racket, the trains were almost empty of cars.  A good lesson for next time.

The Channel tunnel is a great system.  You drive your car in through a door in the side of the rearmost carriage and then through the entire length of the train where you park, 10 cars to a carriage on two levels.  You have the choice of sitting in your car or standing on the walkway alongside having a chat with who ever happens to be around.  At the scheduled time, the train silently glides away and disappears into the tunnel, reappearing about 30 minutes later in England.  And you don’t even feel a little bit sea-sick.

This left us with a 3 hour drive from Dover up to the freely flowing M25 (no roadworks!) and on to Oxford and Abingdon arriving just after the first group at Kimber House, the home of the MG Car Club.  The faithful were all there to welcome us – it was great to catch up with so many familiar faces from our previous trip from China in 2010.  One of the faces belonged to Roy Locock, another MG adventurer who has has driven his MG Midget to most corners of the world, solo.  His most recent trip covered virtually the same route we had just completed but in the reverse direction.  Somewhere in Ethiopia his windscreen was shattered so badly that he decided to truck the car along the Road from Hell to Nairobi where he would try to get a replacement.  A good plan but he didn’t count on the car being dropped from a fair height during the loading process and having it almost break into two.  A major rebuild in Nairobi to temporarily repair the damage got him going well enough to continue the journey to Cape Town but it wasn’t a happy car when he got back to the UK.  Ever resolute, Roy is now rebuilding it again for a trip through Russia and Mongolia to Vladivostok next year.  As always, we look forward to reading about his experiences.

A big party this evening at the Dog House Inn, the favourite drinking hole of Cecil Kimber, the father of MG.  Dave lead the proceedings in his usual style and Sue followed with her nicely balanced slide show and stories from the trip – about this point Dave’s achievement in pulling off the impossible started to sink in.  None of us ever expected that all the cars would make it – well, almost, poor old Casper called it a day about 25 km from Abingdon disappearing in a big cloud of smoke and Dave had to drag out the tow rope again.  George generously offered Casper to the first bidder at Kimber House at no cost and it was snapped up quickly.

Fri 23 Nov  The last day

The last official day and a bit of an anti-climax after yesterday’s celebrations.  Dave was determined to put in an appearance at the MG Design Centre in Longbridge to show the new owners of the brand what MGs are capable of.  The ever cheerful Ian Pogson, engineer in charge of just about everything including manufacturing engineering, service training, warranty and dealer technical queries was there to welcome us but all the bosses had more important things to do.  Not really surprising, the new owners of the MG brand appear to be struggling to understand what it is that they have really bought and how it translates into a product which will appeal in a very competitive market.  An interesting challenge for them!

Roy Locock had offered to introduce us to someone who has come up with one solution.  Near Abingdon, there is a small operation called Frontline Developments where we met Engineering Project Manager, Ed Braclik.  They have been building the business for 20 years specialising in mechanical conversions, mainly MGs.  Their most recent venture is to undertake a build of 50 reproduction MGB GTs – just like our car on the outside and the interior but this is where the similarity ends.  They start with a brand new Heritage body shell which is seam welded and modified for installation of all new front and rear suspension and big brakes to handle 160 kW from a tuned Mazda MX5 motor.  Ed kindly offered me a drive – what a blast!  More than 3 times the power of our car and the instant throttle response of a highly tuned engine with individual throttle bodies for each cylinder.  Lorraine appreciated the aircon and heated seats too.  Maybe we’ll forgo the South America trip in 2015 and buy one!  Very tempting.

So now it’s all over.  Everyone is feeling a bit worn out but still elated by the experience.  Dave Godwin’s deft leadership has successfully taken us all through another adventure with memories to last a lifetime.  Sure there were plenty of minor breakdowns and a few close calls but how amazing to consider that we covered nearly 250,000 km between us without a major incident.  The cars also were amazing.  On roads that have destroyed suspensions of Land Rovers and broken the bodies of lesser cars we had no structural failures and most problems could be traced to electrical systems designed for a service life of less than 10 years in much easier conditions than this.

Thanks to Lorraine for sharing the journey with me and being such a wonderfully supportive companion – the heat and the dust will be quickly forgotten but all the good memories will linger on. Thanks also to family and friends for their support and feedback – it’s been great to hear from you all and glad you enjoyed the story.

Now for the next adventure!

Ian

 

 

 

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