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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: July 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wadi Halfa

There isn’t much to like about Wadi Halfa. For some reason, I liked it anyway.

Not to say that I’d ever want to spend any significant amount of time here. We got here Monday afternoon and are leaving today (Wednesday) on the ferry around noon. Monday, we just came in town to buy some food, check the internet and look around for a few hours – then we went back outside town and camped for the night. It was our fourth night of camping out under the stars. No tents. Just sleeping on top of a tarp, looking up at a full sky of tiny lights. Not bad.

Yesterday, they had to put the two overland trucks onto the cargo ferry, which leaves a day before the passenger ferry, so we were in town all day and spent the night at the Nile Hotel. It was the same hotel that Michael Palin spent the night (going the other direction) when he was in town on his “Pole to Pole” series. It hasn’t changed much in the fifteen or so years since that was filmed.

There is no overland road that connects Egypt to Sudan; the only way to get between these two countries is to take the ferry between Aswan, Egypt and Wadi Halfa, Sudan, down the length of Lake Nasser. This town is a bit of a transportation bottleneck in the region.

As a result of the ferry, Wadi Halfa is a two-day town. The ferry is the reason for its existence. The original small town that was here was flooded when the Aswan dam was built and this town emerged at the south side of the lake. The ferry arrives here (when its working and on time) from Egypt on Tuesday afternoon and leaves to go back on Wednesday afternoon. The train from Khartoum arrives here on Tuesday afternoon and goes back to Khartoum on Wednesday morning. Therefore, the town has people on Monday and Tuesday. I feel fairly sure that I’d be correct in saying that the other five days of the week that this town could be accurately described as sleepy.

Hell, it’s pretty sleepy even with the influx of people on Monday and Tuesday.

Spending the night at the Nile Hotel, at least in the summertime, was perhaps the most unique night I’ve yet spent in a hotel. In fact, you don’t really sleep in the hotel. The rooms are too hot and stuffy to sleep in, so everyone pulls their beds out to the courtyard area and sleep there. Yet another night sleeping under the stars – though this time, with about 100 other people around.

Once again, pictures are better than my words: (SLOW upload -- pics later apparently).
From Wadi Halfa

From Wadi Halfa

From Wadi Halfa


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Brief update before I lose internet for a week

I've been a bad, bad blogger. Horrible internet in Ethiopia sapped me from blogging. And basically in the 3 days I've been in Sudan, I've just laid around and done nothing. Problem is. . . tomorrow morning our overland truck leaves Khartoum to head to Wadi Halfa on the Sudan/Egypt border. We will be on the road for 4 or so days, camping in the desert. Then two days in Wadi Halfa and then one day on the ferry to Egypt. Pretty sure there isn't going to be internet at all for that week.

So my laziness the last couple days is likely to mean no blogs for a while, which is the best way to lose readers. Damn it. Will try to write a bunch while traveling, but likely to have a similar problem -- no way to recharge the computer. I've heard about this pen and paper thing, but it seems way too new-fangled for me to deal with.

Sudan has been quite nice, at least in comparison to Ethiopia. For the most part, no beggers, especially no children begging. That was one the many things that really got me down on Ethiopia: constant begging by kids for money. The power works here. The internet has been quite good. Normal bartering and such with taxi drivers, but not too bad. The food has been pretty good and it is a completely safe city -- something to do with it being a totalitarian, Islamic, police state.

But damn, it is hot. Africa hot. 43 celcius a few days ago (that's 109 to us back in the States). Only 35 or so yesterday. I'm assuming it will be 40+ every day in the desert coming up. I probably should go get another buzz haircut this afternoon. I won't be taking a shower most likely for a week and its much easier to deal with little hair in that situation.

I am hoping to just sleep beneath the stars. I don't think mosquitoes are going to be a problem out there and I'd rather not sleep in a stuffy tent, if I can avoid it. I'm hoping for some amazing star-filled nights in the middle of nowhere-land. And some small pyramids and ruins that few others visit.

We'll see in a week or so. Then it will be Egypt, where I assume I can much more easily upload pictures and such. My friend, Dave Roberts, is flying down from Germany to meet me in Luxor on the 31st for a whirlwind tour of Egypt -- he's flying out of Cairo on the 5th.

O yea -- I should add this. The route we are taking goes pretty much right up the Nile. Totally and completely safe. The unsafe region is Darfur to the far west (you might have heard of it in the news. . .). I will be far from there. In fact, you can't even get government permission to travel anywhere near it -- not shocking, considering what this government is doing over there.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More videos

now that I see this works. . . here are some various safari videos

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Call to prayer video

OK -- this is an experiment. Trying to link up a video I took from my Facebook page.

If this works, this is the call to prayer in Stone Town on Zanzibar island at the mosque right next to the hotel I stayed at. It was around 5:15 every morning and it was the most fabulous sound to wake up to. Even at that hour.

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Many (late, late) thanks

there is a very informative website that deals with all aspects of travel -- -- he and I have swapped some emails about my blog. He gave me a number of great tips to make it a better and more read website.

and the above is a mention he made of my blog on his site. If you get a chance to shoot him a note of thanks, please do. Also, his website is well worth bookmarking for anyone that does any amount of traveling. He posts multiple times a day, with incredibly good information.

my only problem is that reading his site takes up too much of the time I should spend writing and seeing stuff myself :)

p.s. my thanks are late, as most of you know, because my internet connections have been so bad that I couldn't even access my blog for a while.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Arusha, Tanzania to Kampala, Uganda

After I finished my hike up Kilimanjaro, I went back to Arusha, in order to sort out my next move. I had intended on going on to Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater to do some more wildlife viewing, but changed my mind after getting a couple prices quoted. I opened up my guidebook, took a look at what sort of time I had available, and spontaneously decided to go to Uganda. I’d heard great things about how beautiful it was and I also wanted to make one last effort at securing a permit to go and see the mountain gorillas in Brindi Impenetrable National Park.

There have been a lot of long bus rides on my trip. I have gotten quite used to them, and in many respects to quite enjoy them. But this one was brutal.

By the look of my map, the distance between Arusha, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya is less than 200 miles. The road goes around Mount Meru, the second tallest mountain in Tanzania, up to the border crossing and then straight up to Nairobi. There, the bus would drop off and pick up some passengers and proceed due west to the Uganda border and then onto Kampala, which is 660 kilometers (((((MILES)))))).

To give you an idea of how bad the road was -- using road in its most liberal definition-- between Arusha and Nairobi, it took about eight hours to transverse those 180 or so miles. We made less than 25 miles an hour. Until we got to the outskirts of Nairobi, not an inch of the road was paved. Gravel. Potholed. Pretty brutal.

The bus to Nairobi was completely full. I had the good fortune of sitting on the side of the bus where there were only two seats – the other side of the aisle had three seats. I had the misfortune of sitting next to a woman that must have weighed close to 300 pounds. She boarded the bus with her dinner, a large container of fried chicken. Lest I forget to mention, there was to middle arm rest in our row for the convenience of some separation. At least she exited the bus in Nairobi.

The bus left around 5 p.m. from Arusha. It was supposed to leave at 3 p.m., so in ‘Africa time’ it wasn’t that late of a departure. As I said, mid-way on this leg of the trip, we had to go through the border formalities between Tanzania and Kenya.

Exiting Tanzania was simple. I’m likely to jinx myself, but exiting every country so far has been easy. My slight complication on entering Kenya was that I needed a double entry or multi-entry visa to Kenya. I was merely transiting through Kenya this day on my way to Uganda, then I’d be reentering Kenya a few days later to come back to Nairobi and head north from there.

When I got to the counter, I explained to the guy working there that I needed a double entry or multi-entry visa. He said that wouldn’t be a problem and that although the normal fee was $50 U.S., he’d ‘do it for twenty-five’ as a favor to me. Well, wasn’t that nice? I thanked him and he shuffled off with my passport and my $100 bill to do his paperwork.
He came back with my passport and showed me the visa that he’d pasted in there. He also handed me back $50. I said, “I thought you were only going to charge me $25?” He said, “yes, its $25 for you, but its also $25 for me.”

Now that is a guy that should be employed on Wall Street to do some creative accounting. Actually, given some of the revelations of the past few years, that is where he might have gotten his training.

The money part was fine, but I was much more worried that he’d given me the wrong visa. The visa was clearly labeled “Single Journey Visa.” I’d been clear that I needed a multi-entry visa. I asked him a couple times if this visa would allow me to enter more than once and he told me that it was a multi-entry visa and that I could enter Kenya as many times as I wanted for the three months it was valid. There was absolutely nothing on the face of this visa that indicted that – I figured that he’d just charged me the multi-entry visa price, given me a single entry visa for his internal accounting procedures, and pocketed the difference in price.

But he did it with a smile.

We got to Nairobi around midnight and shortly set off for Kampala. I had made a horrible strategic error in what I brought, or didn’t bring, on board the bus. I’d forgotten to take my sweater out of my backpack. I really don’t know what I was thinking. It was quite hot when we left Arusha, but I knew that the bus was going to be an overnight bus. I also knew that we were going to be going to higher elevations in Kenya and Uganda, which meant for cooler temperatures.

The good news was that the bus was more than half-empty on this second half of the journey, so I could use both my seats to squish in a fetal position to try to sleep. The bad news was that the windows on the bus didn’t all properly close all the way. It was cold. Not freezing cold like the air conditioned bus I took from Capetown to Windhoek (so cold on that bus that I was wearing a sweater, jeans, wool socks and boots and couldn’t sleep), but still pretty damn chilly, especially in a T-shirt.

Add to that a crazy bus driver, who apparently received some monetary bonus to drive as fast as humanly possible – much faster than the road conditions would warrant a sane man – and it wasn’t the best night I had spent on a bus.

Side note: You remember that I’ve said that one of the ways I rate a country is on how many pictures of its President adorn the walls of businesses? You can add a much, much more basic measure – the state of the roads. How the hell some of these countries think they are going to make any economic progress with roads in these conditions is beyond me.

Twice, I got thrown out of my seat. I think in an earlier blog, I’d mentioned that you generally don’t want to sit in the front of the bus, because that is the most dangerous place to be in case of a wreck. On the other hand, if the roads are really bad, you don’t want to be in the far back of the bus (where I was this time), because you are going to be right over the back axle and subject to the biggest bouncing effect. It was like a trampoline in the back of this bus.

The first time I got thrown out of my seat, I was tossed up into the air as the bus braked as hard as it could. So, I went up and the bus slowed down rapidly. Me up. Me forward. Me into the metal seat back in front of me. Then me falling to the ground between the seat in front of me and my seat. The second time, I almost made it over the seat in front of me. I managed to wake up in the middle of my unintended high jump and grab the top of the seat back in front of me, so that I didn’t vault over into my neighbor’s lap. Not sure which one of these exercises imparted the bruise that I got on my left bicep, but it was quite a nice one.

Getting tossed about occasionally was one thing, but the roads on this second part of the journey were actually much better than the first part. The ride was mostly smooth enough that you could get some sleep in occasionally – and that’s where the cold part kicked in. Like I said, it wasn’t really cold, but between the breeze coming in from the windows that wouldn’t close properly and the temperature, it was tough to sleep.

But there were some newspapers lying around the floor of the bus. Time to improvise. I’m not sure what movie I’d seen this in, but I saw the newspapers and knew it was time to pull a hobo trick. My movie addiction does have some useful purpose after all.

Time to use the newspapers for insulation. And as blankets.

So I added a couple layers of newspaper insulation under my T-shirt, laid back down, and then pulled some of the papers over me as pseudo-blankets, to partly cover up my exposed arms. They kept blowing off me, but I eventually came up with a solution that involved sleeping on my side and holding the newspaper in place between my back and the seat. If I didn’t move too much (or get tossed about because of the road), the papers would hold in place long enough to let me catch a few winks.

I got to Kampala Sunday morning, took a cab to a nice hostel mentioned in my guidebook with two things I needed: a bar and internet. I’d made the decision I was going to take 24 hours off, drink too much, and waste time on the internet. Recuperation time.

In my book, I’d deserved it.

Postscript – the Kenyan visa did end up being a multi-entry visa. I didn’t get charged again a few days later when I reentered Kenya from Uganda. Suppose I should have more faith in bureaucrats. . . well, now that I think about it. . .

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

internet hell

I have no idea if this is going to work.  A friend of mine gave me instructions on how to try to post blogs via email -- so I'm giving this a try.
Why by email, you ask??  Let's talk for a second about Ethiopia.
The power here is only on every other day.  One day on -- one day off.  The three internet cafes in the town that I'm at right now, Gondor, don't have generators.  When there is power, it sometimes will cut out, right in the middle of you doing something (like writing a blg) on the net and you've lost all your stuff.
Speaking of the blog -- I simply can't load it.  For about a week now, anytime I've tried to load it, the page just sits blank for an hour or so.  NOthing loaded.  No way to post.
And the internet here is slower than dial-up back home.  Yes.  Its that bad.
I'm really, really sick of everything not working.  A food example might be best here.  Breakfast yesterday morning (a no power day, but the cafe had a generator, so it shouldn't have been a problem).  They have wonderful fresh juices in this country.  This place had the following on the menu: guava, avocado, pineapple, mango and mixed.  I asked for pineapple.  "No.  Only mixed."  OK, I figured that they had premixed and blended up some juices and used all of them.  Ordered a mixed.  It came out -- 4 juices -- in layers.  They had obviously just poured all four of the juices into one glass and served it.  Why couldn't you get just one of the four juices seperately?  No reason, of course. 
"Could I have some coffee, please?" 
"No coffee.  Coffee with tea."
There was an item on the menu listed as "coffee with tea."  One could only assume they brewed the coffee and tea seperately and mixed them into one glass for some reason. 
"But could I just get coffee?  No tea?"
I drank my mixed juice and watched as another server brought 2 glasses of what were obviously coffee past me to someone else.  Then another guy from our overland truck at a seperate table got coffee from another server.  My server came back and I said that I'd seen others get coffee -- could I get some as well.  "No.  No coffee today."  I had the guy from our truck hold up his coffee glass and told me server "can I have that, please?"  "O'.  Yes.  Of course."
Hot coffee arrived 3 minutes later.
I never, in dozen years never, would have thought I'd ever say this in my lifetime.  I can't wait to get to Sudan.