In these pages we let you know what happened at home before the actual
departure. All the preparations, the hours of staring at the tool box to
see what's missing, the fiddling with the food box to see how we can fit
it all in, the last minute rushes. When the idea of this trip arose we
were lucky in that we have a very good friend who is in Africa six months
on the year, so we had some help in what to plan. So maybe this can provide
an insight for you.
The entries were made on these days.
Use your browser "BACK" button if you want to return to the top of
this page after reading each entry.
26th November 1998
All the car modifications were done. You can see them on the list on
page. The roof rack is HUGE and makes the car sound like it is in a
gale force wind when driving along the highway. With our garage being only
2.1m high, and the car nearly that on it's own, we had to park in the street
to take it off. Anyone who has been to Madrid will know that parking in
the street is no easy matter where double parking is the rule with cars
whizzing past. Anyway we got it off and we had to carry it a block and
down two floors to get into our parking bay. This is now our "official"
workshop. When we are not working on it we have everything stacked against
the back wall. The joys of living in a city center. (Though to be honest
it's great fun - Visit Madrid, you
won't want to leave. ;-) )
gracias a la gente de Desert Track por su ayuda. Vicente
15th January 1999
Finally finished modifying the roof rack to suit our needs. We added marine
ply wood to some parts of the top and added fixing points for the 10 jerry
cans and two water containers. Also we added another cross bar from side
to side at the center so the rear jerry cans and water containers could
be locked to something.
9th February 1999
Tonight we go to South Africa for a while. Scott to do some work and then
to learn how to fix the car and Renee to learn how to fix people.
13th February 1999
Mechanics course for Scott. I spent a day with the Senior Mechanic at a
Land Rover dealer in Alberton, Guateng - South Africa. It was very very
useful. I advise that whoever plans an "overlander" to get to your local
dealer for tips, hints, and loads of good info. They are the guys who see
ALL the problems and know ALL the fixes. I now have more confidence in
the ability of the truck and myself to keep it going. The guys at the dealer
really helped me a lot and if you are from that part of the world then
contact them too. A nicer bunch of people you will never meet. (A serious
bunch of off roaders too!)
Alberante Land Rover
William Scott - Sales
Bruce Proudfoot - Senior Mechanic
I must also thank Barry and Hilda for allowing me to "play around" under
the bonnet and the chassis of their Discovery's as ours was tucked away
safely in it's garage in Madrid. Without it the course would have been
useless. Thanks guys.
1st March 1999
Well, here we both are back in Spain after a busy couple of weeks in South
First Aid Course for Renèe. While I hope that none of the first
aid training I did will be required, at least some basic knowledge helps
to give us confidence about how we will handle emergency situations. I
went through all the standard stuff - CPR, bleeding, broken bones, treating
shock, snake bites etc.
While in South Africa, we also arranged travel insurance (emergency repatriation
if required), a complete set of vaccinations and malaria prophylactics
as well as extensive amounts of insect repellent! After some discussions
with our doctor, we were recommended to take along some broad spectrum
antibiotics which we now have as well - after taking advice from a number
of people our first aid kit looks pretty comprehensive! In addition to
the items listed on our Equipment Page, we
did buy some basic sterile equipment - needles, syringes, drip sets and
sutures. We are not planning to use this equipment ourselves but rather
to hand it over to medical personnel if we should need that level of medical
Also we found a malaria test kit (of the do it yourself variety) which
we will be taking along as well as some treatment from our doctor (quinine
and antibiotics) if we do come down with malaria. This is only intended
to tide us over until we get to professional medical help.
So, as far as first aid and preventative medicine goes, I think that is
it. Generally we have now reached the stage where if anyone asks if we
have considered something we can say ‘Yes’ but I guess there will always
be something one hasn't thought of!
12th March 1999
If you have not recently visited the "route" page,
do so. The maps were updated today and they give loads more details on
both an overview and a detailed country by country level. Thanks to
for doing this who will also be keeping them up to date as we go.
Frustration on the paper work is showing. We need a holiday to get over
planning for this holiday! We will add the information of the paper work
required with the next update. Some words of advice on papers - photo copy
ALL papers, even application forms (even if it means leaving the place
of application and doing it) - check ALL numbers required, i.e passport
numbers on all documents relating to the particular application and check
that the issuing authority has them right too. Errors occur with long numbers
such as those found identifying vehicles , chassis and engine numbers.
We now plan to leave our home in Madrid on the , this gives us 3 full days to get to Marseilles
for the ferry. Plenty of time as it is about 1000 km of highways.
30th March 1999
Another month has come and gone. The next one brings us finally to our
trip. We can safely say that right now there is nothing on our minds except
this trip, it is even being dreamt of. Tomorrow we go to Switzerland for
two things. The first one is a big step in our trip preparation and that
is to get the visa and permissions to travel through Sudan. There is no
embassy in Spain so we have to go elsewhere for it. It is possible to get
in Cairo but that's like leaving it to the last minute and as always that
just adds stress. Anyway the journey to Geneva is not purely for the trip.
The second reason being that some good friends of ours, Robert and Regina,
are getting married this week so it's like killing two birds with one stone
- congratulations (they run some of the best photo and trekking expeditions
in East Africa known to mankind). We will do some skiing too so hopefully
we will have something else to think about instead of all the things that
can go wrong on our adventure. But to add to the pain all European flights
are suffering severe delays due to the crises in Yugoslavia - NATO is restricting
air travel. So tomorrow will be another test of nerves for us. Good practice
I hear some of you overlanders saying.
Some information then on Visas. Remember we have South African passports.
Africa is quite favorable to these now so check for your own countries
details. Prices are in Euros which is about 1.1 US Dollars today.
Egypt we received in one day and without charge.
It is valid for three months from date of issue or date specified. Visa
extensions in Egypt apparently cost very little and can add months to the
visas. No problems there. The car needs a Carnet De Passage which we are
still working on.
For Tunisia we
had to send an application and proof of our residency in Spain via the
embassy here to Tunis for approval. This took one week. You are supposed
to supply a letter from a hotel or something to validate your visit but
as we were going to be traveling all the time it was not required. Scott's
was approved today but Renee's not yet. Renee's full name is Renee St John
Pattle and the authorities in Tunis wanted to know what the "St" stood
for. So the embassy had to send a fax back today saying it stood for "Saint"
but is never written "Saint" just "St" - Odd to say the least. Renee's
will be approved next week and then both of us will go to the embassy to
get them put in the passport. The good thing is that they do not want to
keep your passport while waiting for approval. Price is 6 Euro's each.
Libya requires an Arabic translation of your
passport. In our case it was written in the back and duly authenticated
in less than 30 minutes at a price of 18 Euro's each. Not bad. We will
apply for them when we return from Switzerland but have been told it takes
a week and is no problem. More information on that in the next update.
Sudan we start tomorrow but here's what you
need to do, hopefully it works. There are two forms, one for you and another
for your car. For your tourist visa you need a letter stating what you
are doing and where you are going. You also need yellow fever vaccinations
and a letter from a contact there. When I spoke to the embassy in Geneva
they said that as I was "traveling" all the time a letter may not be required.
For the car you need to deposit 1000 Swiss Francs per person in a bank,
to be held by that bank for the Sudanese government until you leave Sudan.
A letter of proof is required. This is to cover any "mishaps" you have
along the way. Besides this you need third party insurance (Try buying
that in Europe and I'll give you a T-Shirt) for Sudan. We have Green Card
that does not cover Sudan but we will give it a go. Our aim is to buy insurance
in Egypt or at Wadi Halfa. Anyone know if we can? Nobody says a Carnet
De Passage is needed but that's not clear yet, we'll let you know in the
That's it so far, we will also need visas for Ethiopia
and Uganda but should
be able to get them on the road. We aim to get Ethiopia in Cairo and Uganda
in Addis Ababa, both are possible and fairly simple, Robert - the one getting
married this week - had done this many times. The rest of the way we, apparently,
do not need visas.
Some notes on our alternative route visa ferry to
Djibouti. So far it's not as easy as it looks, Messina lines, famous for
this type of thing, does it's south bound journeys from Genoa in Italy
and does not stop at Suez on the way down. So to take this option you have
to place your vehicle on the boat in Suez and wait two weeks as it first
goes back to Europe and then down to Djibouti. I have news of this costing
1500 US Dollars, not to mention your own transport to Djibouti and staying
in one of the most expensive countries in Africa. Well it's an option if
we can't get the pontoon at Aswan. The news on the ferry from Aswan to
Wadi Halfa is that the passenger boat is running regularly but this is
not for any vehicles. The vehicles have to go on a pontoon which is run
by the Sudanese - not as an official service - and has no regular sailing.
This takes eight vehicles which is the good part. The bad part is we could
wait for two weeks or more for the thing to turn up. So we are holding
thumbs for that.
car is packed, believe it or not, and ready to go. Well not quite, the
roof rack is still on the garage floor. We packed the truck with all the
boxes full of everything we are going to take today and went out into the
mountains to do some testing. Besides the fact that it's good fun, we did
learn a few things. Our stuff is packed in 6 metal boxes (see
here for details) and weighs 280 kilograms. These are well fixed into
the back and do not move, though we will add some more tie downs to make
sure. Every hole is filled with something like oil bottles or tow ropes
etc. The tool box and first aid kit can be got to and opened with ease
from the rear passanger seat (one is removed) and the two most used boxes
with food / cooking materials and sleeping equipment are on top and can
be pulled out in seconds. The
roof rack has been fitted with everything listed in our equipment
lists and without the ten jerry cans being full or the fifty litres of
water the whole thing weights 130 kilograms. All in all we are carrying
410 kilograms without the extra fuel. Phew that's a lot - anyway the trucks
limit is 750 kilograms. I am glad we are fitting double shock absorbers
and stronger springs to each wheel
We bolted a safe behind the drivers seat for keeping of things like money
and passports when we are in the car or in the tent. Those are thing that
we do not want to go missing.
Our first night on the road is booked. We have over the years been using
the Parador hotels in Spain. These
are a great chain of hotels which are governement run and are really unique.
Each one is built in an old historic building, some dating from the 17th
century and even before, for example one is in an old Moorish castle. Anyway
they are very luxurious and as we have some "points" for these we decided
to spend them and we are staying in an old palace on the Andora border.
Last of the clean sheets and warm showers?
Well, here is the long awaited Visa update. First the good news - both
Tunisian visas are now in hand.
Now for the not-so-good-news….
We arrived in Geneva with ALL the requirements listed in the last update
plus even some official translations from Spanish to English added in for
good measure just in case. The friendly lady at the front desk seemed to
think all was OK and when we asked her how long it would take to process,
she went around to office in the back only to return and tell us that the
responsible person had told her, as we were resident in Spain which has
no Sudanese embassy, we have to go to Rome, Italy which is accredited to
Spain for our visas!
To say we were stunned would be an understatement. After THREE phone conversations
with the embassy in Geneva and them sending the applications to us in Madrid
only to find out that they refuse to issue the visas. Well, we begged and
pleaded and did what we could but had absolutely no luck with them. We
did receive some ‘unofficial’ information telling us that they had for
the last 8 weeks or so issued no visas and were extremely reluctant to
do so at all but that did not help us out of our predicament in any way.
We then proceeded to call the embassy in Rome. They told us that all visa
applications had to be dealt with through a travel agent and that they
could recommend one. Are alarm bells ringing? Anyway, the agent proved
to be very friendly until he realised we did not want to book a tour through
him At that point the message was that he could try to get us a visa but
that there would be no assurances. We took this as a polite ‘No way’ and
decided to pursue some other avenues.
The first of these is to try our luck with the Middle East overland route.
It seems to be pretty tricky but also we have heard that it is possible
- it requires visas for Jordan and Yemen at which time Saudi Arabia MAY
grant you a transit visa to pass through their country. From Yemen it is
apparently fairly easy to find a pontoon to take you through to Djibouti.
We have no idea how feasible this really is but decided to start the process
anyway, especially when we realised that the Jordanian Embassy in Madrid
grants visas the same day at no charge to South Africans. What a bonus
- opportunity taken and now another visa is in hand.
We also visited the Libyan embassy in Madrid. They were very friendly and
there seems to be no problem with the actual issuing of the visa but the
validity rules are fairly strict, the visa permits entry into Libya for
a period of 30 days after the date of issue and then it is valid for a
stay of up to 30 days in Libya. This means that applying too early is a
waste of time. We have completed our application forms which are lodged
at the embassy but we were recommended to return on the 19 April to apply
for the visas which we will be doing. Remember to check requirements in
your country - some citizens require a letter of invitation which Libyan
travel agents will willing issue at a pretty steep cost of 100USD!
We are still exploring further avenues for Sudan as well but will have
to give you more information on that in the next update - hopefully within
the next week.
At the moment, our car is at the garage getting double shocks and stronger
Also, during this next week our application for a Carnet de Passage will
be done. We have already got the background work done - money deposited
in the bank a bank guarantee to hold the money until they receive permission
to release it, hopefully back to us or other wise to RACE (Spanish version
of the AA). This apparently takes 5 working days to do.
So, that’s it for now, still great uncertainty on the route through or
around Sudan but we are trying to keep as many options as possible open.
Champagne was opened yesterday - our passports WITH Sudanese visas in them
arrived safely back to Madrid last Thursday. From what we are hearing on
various Internet message boards (like the Thorn Tree from Lonely Planet)
is that Egypt and Ethiopia are not issuing these, and as we know from experience,
nor are Geneva or Rome. To us they are worth their weight in gold. As mentioned
in previous updates this has not been easy and even the Bonn application
had it’s problems, though not at all with the embassy. UPS, who delivered
our passports to Bonn, would not collect them again because the United
States has an embargo against Sudan and UPS, being American, just refused.
DHL were only too pleased to help and collected and delivered them in one
day. So we opened the champagne. It seems as if our route through Sudan
is becoming clearer, we will now have to see what happens when we get there.
Two options are to go to Aswan and wait (who knows how long) for the pontoon
to Wadi Halfa, this is the first choice, or to get a ferry from Suez to
Anyway the passports did not stay in our possession for very long. On Friday
morning we were at the Libyan embassy to get their visa. That we can pick
up on Monday - another really pleasant surprise because they normally take
7 to 10 days. After that no more visa applications until we get going.
We will need Ethiopia and Uganda - Ethiopia we will get in Cairo and Uganda
when we knock on the door at the border post. Phew - we always knew the
paper chase would be long and hard but who knew just how hard. Still outstanding
papers are the Carnet De Passage which we collect next week and the third
party insurance for Eastern Africa which will arrive, from Uganda, next
week too. We are also waiting for our ferry tickets for the crossing from
France to Tunisia. After that it’s too late, we hit the road.
The weekend was spent working on the car. It was collected from the garage
last week and we are already impressed by the way the double shocks are
working. It doesn’t move at all when you get in it and is as solid as a
rock. One draw back (though very very minor) is that the turning circle
has been increased. Still, we will only be able to see if this "investment"
has paid off once we get to the rough stuff. Our friend Robert broke three
springs on his last trip in Ethiopia and other friends of ours damaged
suspension in Kenya this year too. We aim to get through with no problems
and this set up certainly promises to work. (We will send details to anyone
interested in how the suspension was done but you will have to be patient
because we will only do it after the trip now, which should be September.)
We invaded a friend or our’s garden on Saturday. We needed space to work
and a basement garage is not ideal. We added six fixing points for the
trunks in the back and slightly changed the layout from the photo posted
above. Everything is now firmly tied down. Today we went to the car wash
and gave the truck a good scrub. This is the last one it will get for a
long time but we decided to start off with it clean. We also went to the
park to do a repack and add the small last minute purchases we had made.
Our friend Robert made us an audio tape, which we have been listening to
while working on the car, of what he did in Ethiopia with tons and tons
of information on it. This included hotels, road condition, where to get
fuel, even down to the guides names and how good they were, how much to
pay for things, etc. If anyone is going to Ethiopia I suggest you mail
Robert at PhotoAfrica because he is the present expert on
Some more information on Libya - We are looking at taking a guide and tackling
the great sand seas to the South. We have heard that this is really wonderful
and plan to take 4 or 5 days in the deep South of Libya. Guides are about
$70 per day, which is expensive for East Africa terms but not too bad for
Libya which charges European prices for everything. Regardless of the price
it is not possible or wise to venture into that area without one. One Sahara
handbook we read says quite simply that if you break down in these parts
and cannot get going you will die. No rescue, no water, no nothing. So
there!! Though what the guide can do to prevent that I am not sure. We
will give some more details on this when we get it. The travel agent will
also meet you on the Tunisian side of the border to help with the formalities,
mostly they are in Arabic so help is definitely required. This costs nothing
if you take the guide from the same travel agent.
It seems like our next update will be the last from Madrid and the last
for the Pre Trip Diary pages. From Wednesday 28th April we will have finally
moved onto the Diary pages of this site. In our next update we will list
in one table all the documents we have managed to obtain before leaving.
That will make it easier to find the information than having to read through
all of these notes.