|We arrived home safely last Saturday having left Cairo just before the latest protests started there. So now it is time to wrap up our trip and select our best or most representative photos.
During our trip we had some extraordinary wildlife experiences in southern and central Africa, were surprised by the culture, landscape and life in Ethiopia, saw some of the amazing history of ancient Egypt and were fascinated by the diversity of Morocco. We agreed that the best experience was the visit to the mountain gorillas in Rwanda - a truly awesome experience to sit less than five metres away from a 200kg gorilla blithely chewing on bamboo seemingly oblivious to our presence but not in the least threatening us in any way. But after the gorillas, the choices were more difficult.
The animals (and birds) in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in Tanzania were amazing and Neil would have happily turned around and completed the safari all over again. But we had difficulty in comparing that experience with the Temple of Rameses at Abu Simbel - an amazing feat of ancient science, art and engineering leaving aside the modern engineering marvel to relocate the temple almost perfectly to avoid being covered by Lake Nasser. Also in the mix was the absolutely splendid mask and coffins of Tutankhamen - so old but in such wonderful condition and such superb workmanship.
We were wowed by the perfection of nature in sculpting sand dunes with razor like edges both at Sussusvlei in Namibia and Erg Chebbi in Morocco. And the mountain scenery in both these countries was a surprise and delight - the drive through the mountains to Marrakech was most spectacular. On the other hand we were surprised by the landscape and culture in Ethiopia. Here too there was magnificent mountain scenery but the intensive, productive agriculture on every square metre of arable land was astonishing and probably reflects a perception/expectation that Ethiopia is a barren, famine-ridden land. In addition, there were the wonderfully decorated churches including those carved out of the mountains at Lalibela.
The game parks in southern Africa provided a wide range of experiences. Etosha was the best for rhinos but there was plenty of other game particularly elephants and lions. Chobe had so many elephants and the river cruise enabled us to get up close to the animals. Then our self drive around Kruger allowed us to do our own thing and brought us close up to lions and buffaloes which held up the traffic. We enjoyed our days around Livingstone seeing Victoria Falls from all angles including the air and the better view on the Zimbabwean side. As well our elephant ride was an interesting experience.
We would have liked to have spent some more time in the Eastern Cape and up the east coast of South Africa. But the coastal scenery around to Storm’s Bay was grand and dramatic and the wildflowers along the garden route, particularly the ericas, were very colourful and made the drive worthwhile.
Ultimately we have not been converted to become Egyptologists although we can see how people become fixated. The sphinx and the pyramids at Giza are so well known that we almost take them for granted. But standing next to them provided us with a much better appreciation of their magnitude let alone the engineering skill and effort required to build them in 2500BC. As well there was so much to see in the various temples and tombs that we visited that it was hard to take it all in.
In contrast, Morocco was much more like Europe particularly southern Spain with the Andalusian style of tiling and decorated plaster reflected in many of the buildings including the huge new mosque in Casablanca. We were lucky to be there in the holiday for the sacrifice which meant we had a terrific visit to the medina in Fez with its myriad of shops and souks teeming with people doing their last minute shopping before the holiday - the shopping including many live sheep being taken home to be sacrificed.
Overall we had an excellent if tiring trip. We did not get sick which was a great relief but it meant that in the end we were very cautious about what we ate and the water that we used.
However we discovered that travelling through Africa is a fairly sedentary experience and we have gone from being fit to quite unfit. We not were allowed to walk around while we were on safaris and in most of the cities we were not inclined to want to go outside the hotels. It is not that we felt unsafe. Indeed we never felt threatened anywhere in Africa. However we never seemed to have the energy or the inclination to add to our schedule by going for a long walk to keep our fitness up.
Almost everywhere we went the accommodation and food was good and so the travelling was not tough from that perspective. We were surprised at the extent of mobile phone coverage - we were standing on the rim of Fish River Canyon in the backblocks of Namibia and someone’s mobile phone rang. In addition we had internet access in most areas although speeds varied significantly - the cruise boat on the Nile had some of the fastest upload speeds that we have experienced anywhere.
In general, there were few irritations on the trip. Everybody talks about African time as if everything runs very slowly. We found that most service providers were punctual, unfailing friendly and helpful. Yes there were several times when the service failed like when it took an hour and a half to produce two bowls of soup in Rwanda or the hour to produce an omelet and bowl of pasta in Marrakech but in both instances this seemed to be a failure of kitchen management rather than poor service.
People also commonly complain about the persistent sellers, particularly in Egypt and Morocco but we didn’t really have any problems. Then again we did not stop and pick up the goods or engage with the sellers.
About the most irritating people were the “staff” in some of the sights in Egypt who would pop out and ask to have a photo taken or want to show us something special (for a price) but they could be ignored.
In retrospect, we would probably make some different choices. While we enjoyed our truck trip from Cape Town to Livingstone, we think that it would be better to do short tours out of Livingstone, Windhoek or Swakopmund and Maun rather than the long drive from Cape Town.
And as we were tired when we finished perhaps we are getting too old for such long trips or perhaps we needed to have a “holiday” along the way in somewhere like Zanzibar.
Anyway we are home and safe and it is time to start thinking about the next adventure. We hope that you have enjoyed travelling with us and can catch up with you some time.