KEEP ON DRIVING ALONG THE NILE
Cairo to Ethiopia, 21 October to 5 November
Cairo has 15 million inhabitants and they say every year another
million is added. Every third household has no electricity, no water
and no drainage system. The worst thing of all is the traffic, an
infarct, putting Los Angeles in the shade: The traffic asks from
you phlegmatic coolness, skill and the capability to react promptly,
plus a good pinch of trust in God.
It is helpful to completely ignore roadmarkings, (not really easy
at first), and in any case press the horn instead of flashing. In
general as you set off, it is best to sound the horn unscrupulously
and without reason.
make it a little more amusing: because of ramadan, in the afternoon
the drivers are already pretty hungry and dehydrated. With an extra
helping of good nerves and thanks to GPS I get through Cairo within
4 hours. Later on, the XT has a break to cool down, the oil thermometer
having shown 130 degrees in the shade!
now the big moment, when "thousands of years look upon you"
- hopefully not in a double meaning - and with my motorbike I reach
the pyramids of Gizeh! A small moment for humanity - a big one for
Nothing keeps me in Cairo and after a bit of trouble I find the
famous route via the oases, leading on 1200 kilometers through the
Libyian Desert and finally to Luxor.
On my way lies the White Sahara with its bizarre white formations
of rock - and quantities of mud. Yes, in the middle of the Sahara,
the motorbike nearly slips over in ankle-deep mud, where water
has been sprayed on a building site, to prevent dust formation.
There are about ten military controls a day, for safety reasons
of course, and these are always carried out very correctly.
For reasons of safety - of course - the journey from Luxor to
Assuan is only possible in a police convoy with siren blaring
and at breakneck speed - for safety? - through the villages
along the Nile, the river that I will drive along for the next
In Assuan a jolly group gets together: Mike from Scotland on a BMW,
Jan from the Netherlands on his 47 liter tank Africa Twin (we call
her the mothership) and me. Together we get hold of the very last
tickets for the M/S Scrapheap, bringing us over the Nasser Artificial
Lake to the Sudan. This saves us from waiting a week in Assuan.
XT celebrates 50.000km on the clock, when I mount the touring tyres.
I send home a parcel with excess equipment and I go to the harbour.
The loading of the ship reminds me of hand-to-hand fighting; it
makes me shiver to see what the carriers have to bear. Now it is
clear how they managed to build the Pyramids. The motorbikes are
loaded on a separate cargo ship and filled up to the handlebars
with beds, sacks of onions, and many undefinable pieces of luggage.
and Arno are travelling with their Pajero, of which nothing can
be seen any more. The second class is similar to a slave transporter
and is not very comfortable for a journey. How lucky we are to travel
first class, where it is still more or less bearable.
next day our motorbikes arrive. Unloading, paying duty and entrance
fees takes until early evening. On the third day we can start at
last. Through the desert, over sand, across gravel fields, through
villages where time seems to stand still and Nubian women wave to
meet Uli and a Japanese on their way to Cape Town by bicyle! We
are already suffering from the 48 degree temperature and have the
utmost respect for their achievement, to tackle this difficult route
on unmade roads with uncertain possibilities of supply just using
sleep happily and cheaply in a 1000-star hotel and strengthen ourselves
with bread, sardines and cookies. Consumption of water per head
and day: about 5 liters. This area is certainly not a tourist region.
GPS is really helpful, especially when the wind is blowing so hard,
that you cannot see more than 20 meters ahead. Normally I prefer
to navigate with maps and compass: here, for the second time during
this trip it is indispensable supplementary equipment.
meet Marion and Arno again, we camp with them right on the shore
of the Nile, and they invite us, the dusty and sweaty bikers, for
ignore all reservations concerning crocodiles and before dinner
jump into the Nile to get clean. Should there have been any crocodiles,
I would have frightened them away.
After 500 off road kilometers without traffic signs, traffic lights
or such, we reach Dongola. Mike's BMW is finally loaded on a pick-up.
Driving through the sandy area was good for neither her nor him.
When we get to Dongola the 5 bank institutes inform us, without
batting an eyelid, that the government in Khartoum has forbidden
foreign money exchange, irrespective of our hotel bills and the
need of gasoline for the motorbikes. But the manager of the Hotel
Lord rescues us and changes enough money for getting through to
Khartoum. Before this though, Jan and I drive to the pyramids of
On our way back, already in the direction of Khartoum and after
hundreds of kilometers off road, we finally get to a relaxing asphalt
bit too relaxed. Behind a bump there is a hidden pothole. Actually
more like a trench. It is long and above all deep, and the edges
are sharp. What happens next makes up for all the potholes that
I had previously sped over in happy ignorance.
Later I am informed that I am not the only one by far to come to
grief at this spot. After a mighty noise I let the XT roll out,
she is a bit lower at the back and makes nasty noises. The rim looks
more like a pentagramm and I am afraid that I have sent the valuable
rear shock to that great scrapyard in the sky.
I screw up the spokes as best as I can but nevertheless drive to
Khartoum in slow motion, where, late that evening, we do not find
the campsite. Of course nobody knows where it is, but they confidently
point us in the opposite direction that the previous person had
And once again - one of these African Mr. Make-it-possible
helps us find a garage. Alhamdulilah - the damper seems to
have survived, part of the frame did not, however.
guys here certainly know how to weld! They treat the sledge
with the help of discs and hammer - until she runs round again
and gets a new last life.
all expectations, the journey continues the next day. But I change
from "Knocking-on-Heavens-Door" modus to "We have
all the time in the world" and that evening I reach the pyramids
of Meroe, the old capital of the Upper-Egyptian kingdom of Kush.
very idyllic place with hardly anybody there except me. In the nearby
Italian Camp I get a guestbed in the servant's house, and one guest
even has some cold beer (alcohol is prohibited in Sudan). As he
would rather drive along with me than go back to his office, he
gives me a Carlsberg. From him (an employee of the Embassy) I hear
that the 130 NGOs have contributed immensely with their capital
to a dramatic rise in prices in some fields, especially to a massive
income gap among the population. No donor is informed all of this,
East of Wad Medani we see half a dozen of Russian one-motor Aeroflot
airplanes, with strings meticulously attached to the ground. They
have certainly not been in operation for 30 years. Their coverings
hang down from the wings. As nothing seems forbidden to a pilot,
I climb up into the cockpit of one of these planes and simulate
to be Lindberg. Unfortunately I am unable to start that thing, besides,
there are no pretty stewardesses around. Just some goats are chewing
the bit of grass they find in this bushy savanna.
I have already left the Sahara behind me; sometimes I can even see
a bit of green in the middle of the yellow region.
can see more and more villages with round thatched huts, herds of
cattle - sometimes decimated by trucks that seem to have no brakes.
The last 100 kilometers before the Ethiopian frontier are characterized
by knee-deep skidmarks and stones sharp as knives.
before leaving the mobile telephone net, I get an SMS by Gerdi:
"Mass.revolts in Ethiopia with hundreds of dead people - DON'T