All posts by Jasper Harms

Sudan :: Out of Africa

We did not know very well what to expect from this once ‘terror state’, but we had heard Sudan was safe and the people were friendly.

And they were, right from the start. Just after crossing the border the people from the Sudan immigration office were about to start their break for breakfast, and invited us behind the counters to join. So, not sure if we could both mix in with the men only Jasper joined. But soon they brought Stephanie some foul as well, and offered both us a cup of tea – with loads of sugar of course.

Giving it a good push we reached Khartoum later that day, just when it was getting dark. Things got a little exciting as with the city in front of us the engine heated up. Apparently a small leak in the cooling system, but after adding some water we made it to the youth hostel where we camped in the court.

But, boy it was hot! At the end of May the temperature soared at highs of well over 40 degrees Celsius, and in the nights it cooled under 30 only for a couple of hours. To make things worse, the hostel was suffering from a power breakdown and could not provide electricity or water. And as we learned the next day we would have to wait for our Saudi transit visa for at least four days, we found an alternative in staying at the German Guesthouse. Quite pricey, but equipped with air conditioners, a pool, and a generator to provide these without interruption.

From there we went around town. To have our car fixed (we replaced the water pump as it was leaking from the seal) and to experience some of the Sudan-Arabic culture.

Interesting passenger in the back of a car in Khartoum.
Curious passenger in the back of a car in Khartoum.

Of course we visited the so-called confluence of the White and Blue Nile. Unfortunately the smog and desert-dust in the air shielded us from a potentially nice view. And we went to the biggest souq of the country – in Omdurman, which is one of the three towns that make up Khartoum. Again we were invited for tea, and being white we mostly were an attraction for them, rather than the other way around.


Friday is the holy day for Muslims, and life mostly revolves around family. There is however one exception which are the “whirling dervishes”. In the afternoon several thousand people gather at the tomb of Sheikh Hamed al-Nil (a former Sufi leader) in Omdurman to watch or take part in the ritual Sufi dances. The ritual starts with two men chanting and walking in circles. Then the group collectively marches to the tomb before forming a large circle and the drums set in to provide an ever-increasing rhythm, driving the participants in a trance. Some of the ‘whirl’ of into the circle, spinning around – alone on their religious path.


On the next day we had a strange moment, as we had to say goodbye to each other: as the Saudis are not too fond of unmarried women travelling through their country Stephanie would fly directly to Amman in Jordan, while Jasper would cross the Red Sea by ferry and drive through Saudi Arabia with the car.

On Saturday morning -with the Saudi transit visa ready- we organised a ticket for the ferry, which would leave on Tuesday. That meant we would be separated for almost a week.

With Steef on the plane, in the afternoon I (Jasper) set off towards the Meroe pyramids. A nice stop on the way to Port Sudan. And a good place for a wild camp. As I arrived late, it was already getting dark and hard to find the exit from the main road, let alone the designated area for camping near the pyramids. But with not a single person or light for miles around I chose to camp right in front of the small ticket office near the entrance. And when I visited the pyramids early morning apart from a camel with driver there still was not a soul – let alone someone to sell me a ticket.


My next goal was Port Sudan, which was about 600 km away. But with some music on the car stereo and smooth roads through the desert I was making good progress. Until I heard a strange sound. Pufffff….

At first I thought it was part of the music. But then I felt the engine had lost some power. That must have been the turbo! But a quick look under the bonnet, in the soaring desert sun, did not reveal any obvious problems. And as the engine temperature and sound were normal, I continued my way. Only at a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Still pondering whether the sound could be a broken turbo, I also started counting whether this new top speed would be sufficient to make it through Saudi Arabia with only three days of transit allowed.

And then -still in the middle of nowhere- there was a fuel station. Not a desert mirage, but a true service station with diesel and -more importantly- some shadow. There another look in the engine compartment learned that the loss off turbo pressure was not due to a problem with the turbo itself, but with the intercooler hose which had come of partially. One of the many small problems we found after having repairs done to our car. Luckily this was an easy fix for me, and -after letting the engine cool off a bit, quite relative in the midst of the desert-I was underway again in minutes. With full diesel power!

On my way to Port Sudan I would come past Suakin, the port from where the ferry to Jeddah would leave. I decided to stop there for lunch, and have a look. And then things took a turn, and went into overdrive. Before turning into the village I was stopped by a guy asking me if I came for the ferry. “Yes, I do,” I replied. Leaving out that it was due only in two days. The guy happened to be from the ferry company, and immediately took me to their office to complete the last paperwork. Then he asked me to take him back to the road and send me of to the port. Was this really happening?

At the port I called the number of a contact I had been given to help me with the paperwork, and quickly stuffed some fruit and cookies in my mouth as a way of lunch. The whole bureaucratic circus at immigration and customs took a few hours, walking from one counter to the other – and back. But then, after an intensive check of the car and our luggage, I had my stamps and was summoned to the ferry. I parked the car and got aboard. So I was leaving today, two days earlier than scheduled!

And then there was the moment of really leaving Africa: from the deck I saw our car coming forward from the lines of waiting cars and being loaded onto the ship. After little over six months and 30.000 km we eventually left the continent. Bye Africa!

Our car being loaded onto the ship - leaving Africa.
Our car being loaded onto the ship – leaving Africa.

Kenya and Ethiopia


After a few days in Nairobi where they had lovely bread at the Art Bakery and we had the mounting of our Malawian brake caliper checked, we decided to proceed to Ethiopia as our visa are running out mid-May. So we left crowdy Nairobi and headed north.

Mount Kenya, the highest mountain of the country.
Mount Kenya, the highest mountain of the country.

On the next day, quickly after passing the equator and mount Kenya, we saw the confirmation of reaching the northern part of Africa: the first camels (well, dromedaries, or Camelus dromedarius to be precise). And during the day we would see many more: large herds along and on the road, sometimes guided, mostly by children.

Camels in/on our way.
Camels in/on our way.

As both the scenery and roads were brilliant we made good progress and reached the border with Ethiopia at the end of the afternoon. As there was no possibility to camp in the bordertown Moyale we stayed in a Arabic-style hotel.

Beautiful scenery (and road) in northern Kenya.
Beautiful scenery (and road) in northern Kenya.
Omo valley

The border crossing the next morning went relatively smooth and one of the two ATMs on the Ethiopian side of Moyale actually worked. The first 200km of road was mostly good tar, until turning left at Yabello onto a 100km rocky gravel road with a few water crossings. All in all it took us a good three hours to reach Konso. This town, itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the  Omo valley west of it are home to many of the ancient tribes in Ethiopia, many still living in much of their traditional ways.

On our way to one of the Mursi villages (the Mursi being the people famous for women decorated with big discs in their underlip) in Jinka we ran into a German overlander we met before at Jungle Junction in Nairobi. He shared us his experience of the Mursi village (“a zoo with people”) and that there was a weekly market in another village we had just passed, Key Afer. So we changed our plan and went there.

After the market we headed straight for Arba Minch where we camped on a lane in the Paradise Lodge as their formal campsite did not accommodate for cars to be driven onto the grass. The next two -weekend- days we spend along Lake Langano, relaxing and cleaning before going into Addis Ababa.

Our schedule in (and around) Addis was dominated by administrative bureaucracy: first our visa for Egypt (three working days, embassy closed on Monday because of Orthodox Easter), then our transit visa for Sudan (one working day, but ran over the weekend so another three days of waiting). So besides visiting the National and Ethnological museums, a few markets and some restaurants we also opted for two get-aways.

The first was to Awash NP, about three hours from Addis, which was mostly dry prairie along the Awash river.

Our second get-away was a visit to the Blue Nile gorge, also around three hours from Addis. There the river cuts more than 1 km deep through the surrounding highlands.

The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana and cuts deep through the Rift mountains of Ethiopia, sometimes as deep as 1500 meters.
The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana and cuts deep through the Rift mountains of Ethiopia, sometimes as deep as 1500 meters.

And then when we had our visa on Tuesday we left Addis, just in time to visit a few more sites before our Ethiopian visa ran out. Our first stop on the way to the border were, of course, the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela.

The last of the eleven churches: Bet Giyorgis.
The last of the eleven churches: Bet Giyorgis.

This incredible site with in total 11 monolithic churches was chiseled out of rock by King Lalibela himself in the 12th century, to make “the second Jerusalem” (after the first was captured by the Muslims). According to the legend he got help from angels, so I guess that makes it a little less of a miracle 😉

Before leaving Ethiopia we also wanted to village the Dutch-run Kim & Tim Village campsite at Lake Tana where some of the country’s oldest monasteries are to be found. With Uwe, the German overlander we had met before in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, we made a relaxing boat trip over the tranquil waters of the lake with me (Jasper) jumping out at each of the monasteries to have a look inside.

One of the castles in Gondar.
One of the castles in Gondar.

The afternoon we spent in Gondar, visiting the Camelot-like castle before setting off to Sudan early the next morning.

Rwanda :: our hour with the gorillas


Now that we were ‘in the area’ we obviously had to visit Zanzibar. And that proved to be wonderful – even in the rain season. So we left the car with Jonathan (thx Judith!) as it needed some maintenance and off we went! We were recommended to stay in the north (again thx Judith) as there is less tide there so we choose a new small lodge named Warare Beach. This place was a true little heaven! We also visited Stonetown with a guide and although the city is old and a bit worn out, you can still see the beauty and the richness it once had. Unfortunately the place isn’t well looked after and some places are about to collapse.

Breakfast view from Warere Beach lodge on Zanzibar.
Relaxing at Warere Beach lodge on Zanzibar.
Dar to Kigali

After this (self-proclaimed) well-earned break for ourselves on Zanzibar while our car received some well-deserved maintenance on shore we left Dar Es Salaam to go west to Rwanda. The first day soon became a tough ride on deeply rutted Tarmac full of slow-going trucks and heavy rains. But we managed to reach our goal, the little inspiring political capital of Dodoma. Difficult to see how this could be the political capital?

The next morning, as we were well underway and the conditions of both the road and the weather had improved dramatically, we received a reply from the Rwanda Immigration Office that we had to change our application and re-apply. Aaargh, that could take another three days (or more, as the few days to get our East Africa visa (a prerequisite for entering Rwanda) issued, we opted to take a detour and stay a few nights in Mwanza. A great choice, as we could camp right on the beach of Lake Victoria!

Capturing sunset over Lake Victoria.
Mountain gorillas

In Kigali we went to the RDB, the organisation that issues the permits for the gorilla trekkings, and informed whether they had any left in the coming days. That turned out not to be a problem at all. In fact, due to it being low season we could go the next morning! So off we went, straight to the Volcanoes National Park where we camped on the parking of thee Kinigi guest lodge right next to the park entrance and headquarters.

We woke up early, the morning still being dark and quickly did our things (shower, breakfast and fold the tent) to report at 7am the park head quarters. There we found it was really quiet, and the two of us would be the only ones to visit the Hirwa (‘Lucky’) group with guide Edward. This group of mountain gorillas was formed when the young male Munyinya broke away from the well-known Susa group (studied by the late Diane Fossey) and managed to snatch a few young females from other group to form his own. The group now consists of nineteen members, of which two sets of twins born from the leading silverback.

We knew we had to bring our own 4WD transport to drive to the start of the actual trek, but did not realise we would have to bring the guide as well! So we left some of our aluminum cases and for the first time actually used the rear seats we’ve made on top of the water tanks. After a bumpy ride of about half an hour we parked the car and continued by foot. First through the fields of the local people, until a low wall with thick forest behind it announced the ‘real’ forest. By then it was still mostly dry.

At the wall where we met with one of the trackers who would lead us to the gorillas. We now walked on a muddy track through the bamboo forest and then it started to rain. We made a quick stop to get into our rain clothes and moved along. The bush got thicker and thicker and the trackers sometimes had to cut a way through with his machete. After about an hours walk we met with the other trackers. This meant we were very close to the gorillas now!

These trackers had followed the group the previous day until they made their nest and recorded that location (nowadays using GPS of course). They are familiar with the group and would stay with us during our visit while keeping us to the one-hour time limit that is strictly enforced to ensure the gorillas maintain their natural behaviour.

So around 9:30 we left our bags, got out the cameras (keeping them under our ponchos as it was still raining) and followed the trackers to the group. And suddenly, just around the corner, there they were! Like lone statues sitting in their nests, scattered over the low bushes.

Even just this was already a very special encounter. Similar to humans gorillas don’t like rain and they were curled up, alone or against each other, to protect themselves. They sat still and we could walk right past them and get a good overview of the group. But luckily the rain then stopped. And the gorillas got into a bit of action.

The mothers started to groom their little ones.

Removing ticks from your face is not always pleasant.
Getting ticks removed from your face is not always pleasant.

And the youngsters started to play.

Young gorilla playing on the nest of the silverback - the young ones like to be around him.
Young gorilla playing on the nest of the silverback – the young ones like to be around him.

The young mature male (‘blackback’) was the first to move from his nest and after some rumbling sounds -after all, he is the next man in charge- moved to some higher bushes and started to feed. While slowly some of the others were following his example one of the younger males made a playful move in our direction and gave both of us a kick with his rear legs. Although generally the gorillas seemed to pay very little attention to our presence and we -being only with the two of us- were allowed to come up to less than two meter, we were warned that the younger gorillas sometimes like to play with the humans and touch -or kick- them.

A young gorilla walking closely past us. In general they paid little attention us, except for another young gorilla that playfully kicked us when passing by.


And then Munyinya decided it was time to show off he was still the one and only silverback in the group.

Munyinya charging,  giving us a good ‘rumble’.


And just when the gorillas had all left their nests and prepared to move further through the forest while eating our time was up.

The whole group feeding, underway to another night spot.
The whole group feeding, underway to another night spot.

But there was one mother -carrying the youngest of all baby gorillas in the group- who stayed behind, laid down on her back and let her child play on her chest: showing her baby off to us. And she gave us a wonderful goodbye.

The youngest baby in the group saying goodbye to us..


Tanzania :: rare sighting of African Tiger!

Today we drove the last stretch towards Dar Es Salaam. On our way we made a small tour through Mikumi National Park and found ourselves lucky: we caught a glimpse of an African tiger! Though we still haven’t seen the endangered Black rhino, this animal is seen even less.

African tiger walking past
African tiger walking past

A great moment for us, and a good time for us to have a little ‘holiday’ on Zanzibar the coming days 🙂

Nambia, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique :: back on the road

We left Swakopmund in the afternoon of February 11th and headed for Spitzkoppe, a mere 200 kilometer away and a nice startup for our renewed vehicle and crew.
The ride went smooth and after a good two and half hours we arrived at the quiet and beautiful campsite right underneath the mountain. There we slept wonderfully, back in our rooftop tent after almost six weeks.
The next day we drove a long stretch on the good Namibian tar roads, via Windhoek all the way to Keetmanshoop where we camped on the Garas (Quiver tree) Park, just before the town itself. Just after we had put up the tent the sun set leaving us a beautiful view – see the picture above this blog.

Saturday we headed for the Ariamsvlei border post where we completed our VAT refund claim with an obligatory inspection of the goods (i.e. all the parts we bought in Namibia to get our car back on the road). Although this border crossing was listed as one of the few that could handle refund claims Customs people were reluctant to cooperate, and fortunately after helping them with some arguments the Enforcement people forced their way around their bureaucratic colleagues and provided us with the required stamps and the address of their department in Windhoek that will eventually decide on our claim [to date we have not heard back anything]. Back in South Africa we used the remaining hours of daylight to drive to Upington and find us a spot on the municipal campground.


As we had decided to drive back to Jo’burg we choose our route over Kimberley and see the (‘the’ seems more appropriate here than ‘her’ 😉 “Big Hole”, one of the remains of the intensive diamant mining in the area and acclaimed to be the biggest hole made by man. This should have been an easy drive, but got a bit exciting as about 80 kilometers before reaching town the engine temperature started running away. A quick view under the car learned that the bottom radiator hose was not properly refitted and got worn through by a pulley. Well, nothing a bit of ducttape and a pair of cable ties can’t fix! And soon we were back underway, be it with only sparkling water to drink as we had to use the rest to refill the cooling system.
Checking liquid levels every 20km we made it to Kimberley were we found that the Big Hole caravan park was indeed situated right across the street from the town’s one and only attraction, but it was unattended and looked run-down. In what could be seen as a romantic strike we decided to skip camping and stay in the hotel across the street (and right next to the Hole). Really, we didn’t pay much attention to it being Valentine’s day, until during dinner I (Jasper) was asked to hold the phone of the guy at a table next to ours. Looking puzzled at the phone while it seemed to be on video and already recording I saw the guy kneeling down at his table. And then I go it: he was proposing! Afterwards he explained the restaurant at the hotel was one of the more posh in town, and therefore suitable for the location.
The next day the people at Silverton radiators couldn’t get their hands on a proper sparepart and fixed the radiator hose with a piece of pipe while we arranged for our VAT paperwork to be send to Windhoek. In the afternoon we finally went to see the Hole, which was indeed really Big and was accompanied by a museum on the history of diamants and mining in the area which happened to be really good.

The Big Hole in Kimberley, now in the midst of town
The Big Hole in Kimberley, now in the midst of town
Adventure Rovers (again!)

Monday we drove the final stretch to Jozi. When stopping to refuel the Silverton workaround couldn’t stand the pressure built-up in the radiator resulting in the pipe snapping out of the radiator hose draining our cooling system. Relying on a bit more than just ducttape we decided to refit the pipe into the radiator hose and put the hose clamps real tight. That brought us in a similar situation as the day before, making us check fluid level and leaks every so many kilometers. Time to call in help, and head straight for Adventure Rovers! Marc had helped us out nicely before and returning to his place was a bit like coming home. He could get his hands on a proper spare radiator hose quickly and yes, he had time to fix it during our intended stay in town as well! Such a relieve when there’s experts to rely on.

Marc and his men fitting the new coil springs
Marc and his men fitting the new coil springs

In Johannesburg we stayed a couple of days in a lovely small apartment via AirBnB and ticked of our little wishlist: lunch and dinner with friends of Stephanie, enquire about visa for Mozambique and of course some shopping and sightseeing. The highlight we found the Maropeng museum and the Sterkfontein caves in the Cradle of Humankind, just north of the city. On this UNESCO heritage site at various places remains are found of what scientist believe to be the earliest ‘homoids’, the apemen that evolved into our current Homo Sapiens species. Very informative and entertaining.

With our car fixed and -as a bonus- fitted with stiffer rear coil springs we headed for Swaziland. Not far from Johannesburg we had to slow down on the motorway to pass an accident that clearly had just happened and caused another of the annual 13,000 traffic fatalities in South Africa. Apparently the victim was one the many people strolling along the highway and got caught by a passing car.


The rest of our trip was smooth sailing into Swaziland. Arriving at the campsite we immediately saw a Landcruiser with a dutch license plate. It turned out to be Nico and Joska whose blog we just found, and used for inspiration when planning the rest of our own trip. They have been travelling southern and east Africa for nine months and were slowly on their way back to Cape Town. It was really nice catching up on each others adventures and we also spend the next, drizzly, day together. The night we spend in a little reserve called Mlilwane were we enjoyed wine, snacks and more stories around the fire.

With Nico and Joska enjoying the campfire at Mlilwane.
Goodbye pic with Nico and Joska.
Goodbye pic with Nico and Joska.

Driving into Mozambique from Kosi bay border post proved a nice litte adventure: 10km of sand roads without signposting. Guided by our GPS we arrived into the little village of Ponta do Ouro about three quarters of an hour later, and then found our way to the lodge where we camped following the signs.

In Ponta we enjoyed the lovely beach and went diving to one of the many reefs in the sea in front of the village. We also spent some evenings with Penny and Brian, 2 lovely South Africans (thx for the chats and the wine!)

Steef diving at the Anchor reef in Ponta do Ouro.
Steef diving at the Anchor reef in Ponta do Ouro.

Unfortunately our second dive was cancelled due to bad weather, so we decided to move further and conquered the 120km of muddy dirt roads to Maputo. Just above town we camped at Jay’s Beach Lodge, beautifully located next to Indian Ocean.

Fishermen hauling their net at the beach just above Maputo.
Fishermen hauling their net at the beach just above Maputo.

Johannesburg :: Adventure Rover


From the Amakhosi Lodge near Pongola we first went to the dreary municipal campsite of Bethal and the next day to Johannesburg to meet with Lorna, a former colleague and friend of Stephanie’s.

As our GPS navigation system was behaving weirdly we were sent through various suburbs including Benoni -next to where Stephanie did her work experie Greatnce twelve years ago- and the (in)famous Hillbrow downtown. This was or first Jo-burg ‘adventure’.

With Lorna we went to the up-and-coming Maboneng Precint, an area where food and art culminate in the midst of Jo-burg.


After spending some great days with Lorna and David (also a friend/former colleague of Stephanie’s) we went for an overnight trip to Pilanesberg. This National Park is only a few hours ride away from Jo-burg but captives a large density of game.

There we had a great campsite with some of the (less-dangerous) game running past and a fabulous game drive in the morning showing us four out of the Big five, including three lionesses on the hunt. Great adventure!

AS on the way to Pilanesberg we heard a funny rattling from under the car, we decided to have it looked at as well as get the slave cylinder of our clutch fixed. After trying many of the official Land Rover dealers (which come up first if looking for a Landy repair shop) we found “Adventure rovers” not too far from Lorna’s place. So there we went and met Marc who did a great job changing the clutch cylinder and our front propshaft (which happened to be worn after less than 6.000km  🙁

Pongola :: Amakhosi lodge (photos)

9-11th December 2015

Stellenbosch and Franschhoek :: fluids

We had a great time visiting the  wine capital of South Africa, Stellenbosch and its surroundings. With great weather the views were fantastic, as were the wines 😉

As we heard many of the best restaurants in SA are in this area we set out on a mission to visit some of the top-ten. However, naive as we can be, it turned out that most of them were booked for weeks in advance especially with the festive season coming up. Fortunately we managed to book a few for lunch and combined that with some wine tasting before and after.  Oh, the great spirits!


At the same time we noticed our Landy kept leaking oil, apparently from the transfer box where we had a seal changed just before shipping our car. In search for a garage we took a left turn into the centre of Stellenbosch and happened to pass an original Land Rover-Jaguar dealer! The friendly people over there made room to have a quick look at our car and confirmed the oil level in the transfer box was sufficient to continue for a few more days.

Our Landy at the Stellenbosch dealership, next to the 'last and latest heritage' the new HUE 166.
Our Landy at the Stellenbosch dealership, next to the ‘last and latest heritage’ the new HUE 166.