Saturday, January 19, 2008

To Yemen or Not to Yemen that is the Question

We managed to land on our feet the day we were homeless, the kind owners of the internet cafe let us pitch our tent in their back yard, it was no Hotel British Consulate but more my style I think plus it saved a walk to the internet everyday, we are living here now! And the place has aircon which is a welcome relief from the hot days.

The Cold Spot Internet Cafe, our new home.

Thats my tent, well sleeping spot on the right, my blue mat!

Everyday we have made the walk to the embassy of Yemen only to be told tomorrow, tomorrow, it became beyond a joke, so yesterday we pitched up again, no sorry no visas, what this is crazy! Atleast there was one man on our siad an Arabic chap by the name of Riad, he told us the consular was on his way, we waited and waited and then Riad tells us the consular is not coming he is staying home today, "NO" I said we need our visa today as there is a boat to Yemen and we are going to be on it, so he said lets go, I took him on my bike to the consulars house in the heart of the city, and boy was it a shit hole, I expected it to be nicer but we climbed a grubby staircase in a block of units with washing hanging about on lines strung about like a spider web, Riad knocked on a door and a lady opened it, Arabic was exchanged and in we went, down a passage, through an empty room to another and there sitting on the floor watching TV wearing nothing but a towel and a peice of tissue on his face from a shaving cut was a tiny little man, the Yemeni Console, I entered sat beside him shook his hand and gazed at the TV, he was watching bloody Gilligans Island!

Whilst Riad explained that we desperatley needed a visa I sat there not beleiveing the scenario I had ended up in, In Djibouti, in the Yemeni Consoles house, who was all but naked only wearing a towel watching Giligans Island, get me out of Africa my mind screamed silently. So Riad turned to me and said "lets go we get the others", back we road through the hectic traffic to the Embassy, got the others, there was now another person in the equation, Michael, an American also aboard an Africa Twin going the same way as us, Rene and I had our passports on us but Micheals was with the two other office men known as Tom and Jerry, go figure Gilligans Island, Tom and Jerry, a naked Consular and we need to find the Skipper for a boat to Yemen, I sure hope its not the SS Mino this is all becoming a bit much. When Michael asked for his passport they refused, well Jerry did, Tom seemed to be on our side, after asking again Jerry gave Michael his passport but proceeded to rant in Arabic and tare up his visa apllication, strange, we all then rode back again to the Consulars house.
So we all now sat on the same floor as I was sat before watching Gilligans Island but this time the Consular had put on his long Muslim dressing gown but still wore the tissue stuck to the side of his face. Proceedings began, began slowly, lots of talk between the other various men that had gathered in the room, Riad, the Consular and us, then proceedings were slowed by the Consular finding out that Jerry had ripped up the application form of the American, visa proceeding did not just slow they stopped and phones were dialed, they were ringing the Foreign Affairs Minister of Yemen here in Djibouti, "come on guys we just want our visa" I thought. But they were all on our side and it looked like we were going to get the visa it was just going to take time, which we were well a custom to now. So then the consular handed Micheal the phone and he had to tell the whole story to the Foreign Affairs Minister, Riad suggested Jerry was in it up to his neck with his little act. Now the Consular wanted Tom there in the house to assist with the visas, so back Riad, Rene and I went on two bikes to the embassy to collect Tom, this was out of hand now, if the little important man had just come to the embassy we would not be moving the whole embassy to him bit by bit or person by person, aarrggghhhh. And whislt there Tom was to bring Rene and my visa applications with him to the Consulars house, which he forgot! So all again in the house with Tom and another chap who appeared from nowhere who was the Captain of a boat leaving for Yemen tomorrow, great thats that sorted then. Things got under way again but first we all had to fill out a compliant about Jerry and sign it, so the conclusion I came to was to get a visa for Yemen you need an application form, a photo, a photo copy of your passport and a complaint letter about an angry man called Jerry!
The ball was rolling agian after the complaint letters, Rene and I had to fill out new applications and I had to run down the street to get another passport photo to go with the application, we all sat on the floor watching closely as finally the visas appeared from the Consulars pocket, we had waited 11 days for these preciuos stickers, eventually they were in our passports and our passports in our pockets, ready to say our goodbyes and leave this comic strip the Consular then insisted we now stay for lunch, well no boat today why not, I dont think we had an option it was manditory to eat lunch with him and about 6 others. It was a feast we all sat on the floor and shoveled food down with our clean right hand, you know what he left hand is used for, delicious Yemeni dishes of meat, soup, spaghetti and something like a stew, traditional Yemen food, we had made a new best friend. After feasting like 18th century Kings the Consular gave us his brothers number who is head of Police in Yemen and wished us farewell.
Gilligan with his visa to Yemen, FINALLY!!!!
Once back at our home, the internet cafe, we learned that Al Qeada have just gunned down 2 Belgium tourists in Yemen, in cold blood, road block set up and they just opened fire, right in the area we need to pass, so last night and this morning we have tried to come up with a plan B, maybe routing through Saudi Arabia to UAE, but depends on if we can get a Saudi transit visa, fancy that hey, having to go through Saudi Arabia to avoid trouble in Yemen, I dont know what may be worse.
I have started to question is it all worth it now?? It has been of course thus far but from here on?, how long does one keep saying to oneself, it will be ok, so far it has but I guess I need to really take a look at the situation and make a sensible decision, I am not bullet proof, quite literally. I will cross to Yemen and reasses things there, the boat leaves this afternoon sometime, which also we have been warned about, they are over crowded, sea worthy is questionable, they get done for smuggling goods, pirate attacks and of course to top it off they sink! Shit.
So whats your weekend been like then???

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Road Ahead

Its been a week now that we have sat in Djibouti, everyday making the unenthusiastic trip to the Yemeni Embassy to ask if the Visa stickers have arrived from Yemen, knowing that the answer will always be “No”………now we are starting to think that they are just making excuses up, but that’s been the pessimist I suppose!

Its given me a chance to research about the journey ahead or should I say the logistical nightmare that awaits and given the current frustration of waiting in Hell on Earth the spirits are taking a battering, oh and plus Hotel British Consulate came to an end, we are homeless in the most expensive African City I have encountered, great!

I have been trying to find a way into China for some time now, of course I can go, anybody can go as a tourist but when one wishes to ride his own motorbike through China it becomes impossible, I was in contact with an agent who was arranging what was needed to enter China but I forgot a very minor but major detail that only came to light after about 2-3 emails back and forth, the fact that it’s a motorbike, then the last email from the agent was saying if it was a car, truck, van, anything but a motorbike it would be possible but it is impossible with a motorbike, should of told him it was the mother ship, then he may have understood. So that’s one hurdle of considerable height I have to get over, my options are to try and team up with other travelers in 4WD’s and go in with them, now this the agent says is OK its just a solo motorbike is the problem, but to find other people in Mongolia wanting to go my direction I think is trying to find a needle in a needle stack!!! The other option is to try and cross the Stead into China illegally by means of what is called the ‘Truck Method’ this is were I find a Mongol and his truck, load the Stead onto the truck, we all cross the border together, I stamp in of course and we drive into China a ways, unload the Stead and Bon Voyage, cross China shitting myself every time I see a cop or customs official! And to exit well I am open to ideas….anyone??? Sitting here in Djibouti I am all for the later idea but time will tell and first there are other quite large hurdles to jump before I get that far.

And they come in the form of the Stans, what an expensive paper trail it may turn out to be, these are Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and finally Kazakhstan, yes the home of Borat! There is a detour to go around them but it would involve about 5000 k’s, also this area of central Asia is said to be beautiful and I do want to visit here. The problems are all the visas require Letters of Invitation to the countries and therefor waiting time for these "letters", which could mean waiting time in some very non desirable cities. But first there’s Iran as well and I am yet to get a visa for there and at the moment the man himself George W is touring the Arab countries trying to pick a fight with Iran, that’s how I see it anyway, that’s the last thing I need Mr. W. bloody hell!!

Its a funny thing, people ask “how does one plan for such a thing to ride a motorbike around the world?”, well I didn’t it just happens, just like you plan a weekend trip away that’s what I do, bit by bit its just one plan after another and although I have all these obstacles in my way they will all be over come in time one way or another, the further I go the more I will learn and solve each dilemma as it comes, I hope anyway, after all it is an adventure. But one thing is for sure and that is in the next 6-8 months it takes me to reach Australia its going to be quite the challenge and there are many factors that have to go my way so I can make it.

First lets get the hell out of Djibouti, after a call to the Djibouti Port today the word is Saturday, there is a cargo ship leaving this Saturday so that allows three days for the visas to arrive, but Friday is the Islamic day off so really two days, so stay tuned everyone and enjoy the ride I think its only going to get more interesting.

Monday, January 14, 2008

So Close But Yet So Far!

Still in Djbouti........5 days on, we waited til Monday to go to the Yemeni embassy and joined all the familiar faces of two days previously all waiting for a similar result but Rene and I are the only "tourists" the rest are local people of Djibouti and others from Somalia, we waited again and waited, finally again to be told that the stickers have yet to arrive from Sana by plane, "tomorrow 10am they be here" beleive it when I see it.

Djibouti City!

Before the embassy visit we took a visit to the port to check out the situqtion for a boat to Yemen, news was bleak, one left last night which was of no use anyway as we are yet to get a visa and the next is maybe Wednesday, maybe Thursday! So our request for 2 nights at Hotel British Consulate has turned into 4 and will be stretched to another 3 atleast, Africa is hanging onto me for a little longer just to test my patience, it will not win!

Rene and I at Lake Assal.
So our day consists of waiting in the Yemen embassy, going to the internet and eating tuna sandwiches, anything else is to expensive to touch. Yesterday we did take a trip to Lake Assal, the lowest point in Africa, 161 meters below sea level, the landscape of Djibouti is one big lava field spectacular to look at but good for nothing else. At the Lake you can see were the earth is actually splitling apart to which one day this portion of Africa will actual become an island!

161 meters below sea level, no life down here!

The Pans of Lake Assal.

Hotel British Consulate, not bad at all!

So tomorrow at 10am we are ment to have our visa then to the Port again to see a man about a Boat, I will be out of Africa when I am unloading my Trusty Stead onto Yemeni soil.

Another Day in Africa

From Addis its just one small stepping stone out of the continent, that stepping stone been Djibouti. With the end of this crazy continent in sight Africa had to remind me one more time that its unforgiving, Malaria. I met Rene a Canadian guy on a BMW 650 going to Yemen also so we teamed up and departed Addis a week after I had arrived and instead of feeling rested I felt tired and warn out, thinking I would shake it we bushed camped the first night and I went to bed straight after a quick feed, waking in the night drenched in sweat, then the next day we stopped early after a short ride and got a room each which I climbed into the bed in mine and tried to sleep the day away, at around 3pm I woke drowned again in sweat, mustering what little energy I had I took the thermometer from my first Aid kit and sat on the bed watching sweat drip from my nose to the floor with the thermometer in my mouth, outside the call to prayer for the Islamic world blurred over the speakers, I was back in muslim country, 39.6 degrees! Hmm I had a problem, I need a doctor I am going to self combust in a minute, that’s how I felt, I found a clinic after a ride in a three wheeled taxi mobile and waited awhile for the doctor wondering what the hell is it this time?? he took blood and I waited, positive for Malaria, great just what I wanted, back to the hotel and into my treatment tablets I had from Senegal and ride out the storm.

Africa is almost done!

On the day I came good we decided to hit the road early for the final 300 k’s to Djibouti city, the road turned out to be better than anticipated and we made good time, the scenery was spectacular as we went, arid, dry and inhospitable but spectacular with clouds appearing in the sky for the first time in a long time and the air staying slightly cool we passed close by the Somali border encountering the remains of many old tanks beaten and blown up from a past battle. Departing Ethiopia was a simple process and then came Djibouti or the nation of qat chewers, qat (chat) is a leaf they chew which gives them a high and also rotten looking teeth.

Engira, why not one last bout of Earth Shattering Flatulance!
Our timing was out as maybe we should have gotten to the border before the officials reached their waisted state or maybe it was a good thing as it turned out. I entered the customs building after getting my passport stamped, now this has always been the concerning part for me as I don’t have the official bit of paper the ‘Carnet’ that allows you to bring your own vehicle into the country, I have not had it since South Africa, opting not to renew my old one. But thus far I have managed to come this far without a glitch only one more country to enter, in Africa anyway, "Carnet Carnet" they asked, "I don’t have one" was my answer, they looked puzzled whilst a delirious acting man beside me demanded he see my vaccination book, I passed it to him, “No Carnet”, they were confused and had to actually start using their minds but the day had entered the qat induced high stage already but what happened next made me feel like a Jedi Knight from a star wars movie, the delirious man was pointing and screaming at something in my vaccination booklet, I looked at him and said “my friend that’s my birth date you are looking at’ turned to my customs guys and placed my Tempory Import Permit from Kenya (which is completely useless) in front of them and said” just stamp this please it’s what I use” they stamped it, the mad man gave my vaccination book back and I exited the old run down building a free man to enter Djibouti, I’d made it all the way up East Africa without a Carnet and with minimal fuss, so many people told me it would be impossible to do such a thing, nothing is impossible with a little improvisation hey!
Somebody had bad luck, or somebody had good luck

Djibouti, well what to say, its only a place to use as a stepping stone not for a holiday that’s forsure. The road into the city lined with plastic bags, trucks waiting to haul fuel to Ethiopia, goats, people, donkey carts all jostling side by side for position in society, all chewing qat, all just surviving.

On the road to Djibouti.
Still again more reminders we are still in Africa, to the Yemeni embassy we went for a visa, "come back tomorrow" was the outcome, so then the dilemma of cheap accomadation which does not exist in this country, prices driven skywards due to it been only a port town and the large number of French Military here, so we thought to try our luck at the British consulate after given a tip we may be able to pitch a tent on the grounds. We had to wait for the Consular himself to finish his afternoon nap but once aloud in we me Alian, a French Lawyer living here in Djibouti who acts as the British representative for the consulate as well, and yes he said we could pitch our tents but then his wife I think took pity and moved us into the Gueast house, its five star, pool, TV, shower and a maid that washed our clothes! So this is the story-we are in French speaking Djibouti, staying at the British consulate run by a frechman, waiting to get our Yemeni Visa and in search of a boat to take us to the country Yemen itself!

The view from my room where I stayed with Malaria.

Day 2 saw us wait in the Embassy from 7 in the morning til 2 pm only to be told that they had just run out of visa stickers!! So a little embarresed to tell our amazing hosts that we need to stay til Monday we returned home a little dejected to give the news or ask to stay, its just so nice…..

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Omo Valley, Ethiopia

From Nairobi the plan was to take the less traveled route to Lake Tukana route into the Omo Valley of Ethiopia to visit some of the most primitive and unique tribes on the face of the planet but the biggest problem of this route is that I would require support for fuel and simply another vehicle for safety not so much from bandits but more for the remoteness of this region, little to no water and 1000 k’s. So resting up and servicing the mothership in Nairobi gave a chance for my needed support to arrive as I waited at the camp site, it grew in the form of Spanish couple Anna and Antonio and also a Dutch couple Ilja and Ilvy.

The Dutch and Spanish, Northern Kenya.

Well stocked up with food, water and fuel we skirted mount Kenya and headed north, watching the country side became more barren and scattered with thorney accia trees, it was a far cry from the nice well stocked supermarkets from Nairobi. With civilization far behind us we entered the tribal area of Samburu people wearing beautiful bright beads around their necks and wrists. The bush tracks were rough and rockyand the going slow but it gave good oppurtunities to enjoy the scenery of the Rift Valley.

Samburu man.

Looks like I am in central Australia!
I rounded one corner and there standing in the road were about half a dozen boys with machine guns, now if they were soildiers it may have made sense but when I say boys I mean boys, as I found out later on one of them was only 12! I stopped a little hesitant dismounted and held out a hand to shake, they reciprocated and I broke the ice by offering one lad to put my helmet on as he was very interested in it, they told me they were warriors, I believed them no arguments about that but the reason for the machine guns was to fight against cattle rustlers from other tribes.

Check out Darth Vadar on the left!

The young lad on my bike is only 12, what were you doing at 12??

The beads worn by the Samburu tribes.
The further north we traveled the more barren it became and the more amazing the people became, living in a world that only they can survive, no water, little food, harsh harsh conditions, they only asked for water and nothing else, I had a slow leak in my tire so stopped in the middle of nothing to quickly pump it up and before long they just start to appear, tribal people from nowhere, how they survive out there is beyond me, its just so so hot!

This is what they live in.
Now imagine the footage of the mars probe well that is the closest way to try and describe the landscape around lake Tukana, a sea of volcanic rock surrounds an inland ocean, Tukana is salt water but what life that does exist has evolved enough to drink the water, donkeys, camels and people. The further north along the Lake we headed the tribes changed by ways of dressing and ornaments worn over the body or patterns shaved into their hair, mo hawks popular with the young boys and of course the common trate by all AK47’s!
We managed to exit Kenya in time to escape the chaotic post election rioting and killings but some how that corner of Kenya is another world and a far cry from modern day Kenya in Nairobi and it will be nice if it stays that way, unspoilt forever! Been so remote saw no border post between Kenya and Ethiopia just a few more interested tribal people in a small village where the border was ment to be.
Hammer girls.
With a new country bought new cultures, new tribes and new food in particular a local dish called engira, spicey meat or veg served ontop of a huge bread like pancake which also bought with it earth shattering flatulence, boy was it nice but such an unsociable dish really! The Omo valley, a place I had seen on TV once and dreamed of and never thought I would ever be there aboard my motorbike in search of these amazing tribes. We timed it as to coinside with the different markets held by different tribes, first were the Hammer people, with animal fat and red Oche rubbed in there hair and on their bodies.

The welts and blood from the whipping.

They rub a white milk solution in it to numb the pain.
We managed to witness a cow jumping ceremony were the males go from boys to men by jumping about 6 cows lined up side by side. But first the females in the boys life, sisters, cousins and alike work them selves into a trance like state blowing horns and whistles and beg other men to whip them and show much joy once whipped, their backs open up with huge welts and gashes pouring with blood! Then the boy takes the leap over the cows. All a bit strange really but that’s what they do. We had Xmas in this area, celebrated with a coke and pasta, last years was in Mali and the next I hope will be at home in Australia.

Hammer lady.

Young boy making his run over the cows, he did it 6 times!

Then the Mursi people were the other amazing tribe we encountered, the women wear the plates through their lips and in there ears whilst the men wear nothing at all and I can tell you if I was one of these guys I would wear nothing either, my god!! Oh of course an AK slung across their back.
Young Hammer girl.

Mursi girl, the most interesting of them all, with the plate lips!
I managed to run out of fuel for the first time in 60 000 k's, usually I would ride out in front of the 2 slower 4WD's and wait at the next intersection to make sure we all headed the same direction, the Dutchies passed and waved then I waited and waited for the Spanish but nothing, eventually I turned around and rode back to see if they were OK, I rode 20 k's back to whereI last saw them and nothing, by this stage I was worried I had not enough fuel but what could I do, I turned and headed to where we were going, I rode and rode and still never saw them, going onto the fuel reserve I calculated I did not have enough fuel to make it to the next town so all I could do was keep going and wait for the bike to chugg§ I got close but with 1à k's to town the bike gave a ghugg and two more marked the end of all my fuel, even after tipping what fuel I had in my stove in did not help. Knowing atleast the Dutch were infront of me I started to push, I pushed for an hour in the blistering heat wondering why they had yet to come look for me, no one would stop to see if I was OK, my only option was to stay with the bike, push it and wait. Eventually they came in search of me, both 4WD's, the Spanish said they did not see me at the intersection, nor did I see them, a truck must have passed at the exact moment they rounded the intersection. They all haad been in the next Town having coffee and breakfast dicussing where I was, saying he will be fine, he'll be here soon!! Mean while I was pushing 250 kg's of metal down the road! Atleast they guessed and bought 5 litres of fuel for me. Thanks guys.
After a little over 2 weeks we rolled into Addis Ababa on New Years Eve and all celebrated conquering the challenging route and a new year, for us anyway as Ethiopia has its own time and Calender, its only the year 2000 in Ethiopia!
This route and experieince would have to be one of the highlights of Africa for me, there are so many and are all really unique in their own way. After having a tough time of it from Malawi to Kenya, with getting sick and been robbed it was great to travel this part to get my spirits back up and look forward to the next part, leaving Africa and entering Asia, a new beginning and nex adventures.