After a breakfast of bread, jam, omelette and tea at the hotel, Linda went to change some money at the bank while I went up to the railway station to ask if it was possible to pick up the Dar es Salaam train in Korogwe…which it was.

Back at the hotel, we met a man who said he could get us a lift up to Korogwe in a Tanzania Sisal Authority vehicle after lunch, so we hung around on the balcony all morning with Caroline who was also going up to Korogwe way to research a story she is writing about German aid to Tanzania.

Around 1:30,  a Toyota Land Cruiser arrived and we piled into the back. The road was in bad shape as we headed inland across the coastal strip then began the gradual ascent towards the distant hills. The predominant feature of the landscape was acres and acres of sisal growing in neat rows on either side of the road. Sisal is used for making sacks and rope, but the world market is depressed so the German aid money is actually propping up an industry which is more or less unviable.

We stopped for an hour at a small village where the  man who was escorting us had to pay his respects to the family of a dead relative, then we carried on along the battered road to Korogwe, a dusty little town in the heart of the sisal-growing area.

Caroline left us in Korogwe to go up to some factory that she wanted to visit, and Linda and I sat in the hotel for a while then went over to the dusty but interesting bus station. Three ramshackle buses were standing in the yard, the one with the Lushoto written on it leaning heavily to the right on broken suspension. We put our packs up on the roof then milled around with the throng of passengers goats and young hawkers selling milk, doughnuts, samosas, and eggs. The bus left at 6:30 p.m. and jolted out of town heading west along the foot of the range of mountains which rose almost sheer from the plain.

In all our travels to date we have never been in such a rattletrap of a vehicle. The road was a sea of corrugations, which were amplified by the completely non-functional suspension into a vibration that sent shockwaves to the roots of our teeth and kept the noise level at an ear-bashing pitch!

We arrived in Mombo at 7:30 and the bus driver told me we would be waiting until 10 p.m. before carrying on, so we joined the crowds on the busy street where little stalls were selling delicious meat kebabs with coleslaw and tomatoes for 60/- each.  We got to talking with a Canadian girl called Jayne who has been teaching in Arusha and the three of us went down the street to a Somalian cafe we we had a cup of rather nice tea flavoured with spices.

At 9:30 we began to walk back towards the buses and as we neared them, the bus with Lushoto written on the front pulled out to leave. We ran and jumped on board: Linda inside and me up on the roof to check on our packs. There was a whole lot more stuff on the roof covered with an oily canvas tarpaulin. But the bus boy assured me that our gear was underneath it, so I settled down with the cool night air rushing by as the bus began the slow twisting climb up into the hills. It was very pleasant sitting atop the bus in the cool air, with the brilliant carpet of stars above and the lights of Momba fading into the distance far below. However I still had a nagging doubt that something was wrong so after a while I climbed down off the roof and into the crowded interior of the bus. About 20 minutes later, when the lights were turned on, I realised the truth…we were on the wrong bus!

There was nothing we could do but hope that the other bus would still have our packs on it, and we spent an anxious half-hour in the Lushoto bus station until the other bus rattled into town with our packs still safe and sound up on the roof. The locals thought it was a hell of a joke that the Wazungu had gotten on the wrong bus, and we were a tad lucky to say the least.

It was cold –  well, relatively cold compared to the coast – as a young man led us up hill the Kilimani Hotel which turned out to be full, so we went to another place which was basic but clean and was a steal at only 300/- for both of us.  We were beyond caring about the digs anyway, and crashed gratefully into bed.



We were all awake at first light and took up positions at the windows to watch the green coastal hills, dotted with multi-hued tapestry of bananas, coconut trees, and crops, pass by alongside the tracks. All along the line, children came running from huts and tiny villages to screech for things to be thrown from the train. We ignored them, but some of the wazungu in the more upmarket section of the train didn’t, which explained the presence of all the screening brats –  it is obviously worthwhile!

The air was hot, sultry, an almost tangible thing, as the train crested the hills above Mombasa and began the descent to the town, with the azure blue of the Indian Ocean stretching away into the thunder heads beyond.

After departing from the train, we walked up into town and stopped at the first hotel we came to –  The cosy Hotel, which, due to the severe water shortage in Mombasa, smelled like an open sewer!

Later on however, when the water came on, and with a plentiful supply of cold water from the fridge, the place became almost comfortable. We contented ourselves with lying in the coolest room for the rest of the day.


WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER – IRON HORSE TO MOMBASA Along with Maria [I have no recollection who that was] we checked out of the New Kenya Lodge and walked up to Nairobi Burgers Ltd for breakfast. Maria had a room booked at the Iqbal so we left our gear there and I set off to find the office of the New Zealand Consul.  It took about 20 minutes to walk down Kenyatta Avenue, across Central Park, and up Nyerere Road where the consul’s office was located. It was a simple job to get two letters of introduction printed up by the consul’s friendly secretary.

By the time I got back to the Iqbal it was hot and I was damn thirsty so we walked round to the Terrace Bar at the 680 for a cold drink and while we were there we wrote a few letters.  

We spent most of the afternoon relaxing in Maria’s room at the Iqbal and about 6:00pm Lawrence and Gaylyn turned up ready to go. We hired a taxi to take us to the railway station (KSH15 each) and said goodbye to Maria. The taxi, a beat up old Corolla, took about 10 minutes to thread its way through the bustling traffic to the station where we selected the right carriage (neatly labelled “MR & MRS WORCESTER, MR AND MRS KEY”) and settled into our small but comfy compartment.

The platform outside the window was dark and hot, with people running to and fro in preparation for the imminent departure of the train. At precisely 7:00pm the carriage gave a slight lurch and we moved slowly out of the station, gathering speed out into the warm, dark blanket of the African night.

An attendant came round selling beers so the four of us bought one each along with some bottles of bitter lemon to drink with the vodka that Lawrence had brought with him. At 8:45 the gong rang for the second dinner sitting and Linda and I went along to the immaculately set out dining car which was complete with white linen table cloths and silver cutlery bearing the logo E.A.R&H – a relic of the old East African Railways and Hotels company. The meal was tasty and filling: soup, fish, curry, stew and pudding with tea or coffee to follow, all for the princely sum of 160 KSH (£3) each, a small price to pay for sampling the style of a by-gone era!

After a long conversation with a strange Australian over beers in the bar, we went back to our compartment and went to bed, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking and clatter of the train as it rolled across the darkened savannah.


TUESDAY. After changing some money at Barclays, we caught Matatu¹ Number 23 out to the suburb of Westlands where the Pakistan Embassy is located.  Westlands is a lovely, quiet suburb with large houses set amongst all manner of trees and flowering shrubs. The scent of frangipani in the cool morning air was quite exquisite, and the trees were tinged with the purple flowers of jacaranda along with a dozen shades of red, orange and white.

The staff of the the embassy were very friendly and helpful and even though a visa to visit Pakistan normally requires a return air ticket, a little bit of calm reasoning on our part with the diplomat assigned to deal with us, soon convinced him of that our intention to travel overland into India after we’d spent time in Pakistan, and that we had enough money for such a trip, was genuine enough to have our visas granted. The cost was only KSH45…we had expected to pay US$50 each!

Back in the city, we went round to the Iqbal where we had arranged to meet two Americans who wanted to share a four-berth cabin on the train to Mombasa. The four of us walked over to the train station and joined the queue at the ticket office. The two Americans, Lawrence and Gaylyn, had done the trip before so they knew the ins and outs of buying the tickets and we were soon in possession of four tickets aboard the 7:00 PM departure tomorrow.

After that, we went to the Post Office to check the mail again (nothing this time) then we went back to our hotel to rest up and pack. At 1:30 I caught a matatu out to Westlands again and picked up our passports, and then, finally, back at the hotel, we crashed out for the rest of the day.

In the evening, Neil, Linda and I went round to the Terrace Bar at the Six Eighty [readers will remember the Six Eighty as the place we stayed prior to our overland departure back in ‘89] for a cold Tusker, then to Nairobi Burgers Ltd for a snack.  

¹A matatu is a minibus for conveying passengers, as many as you can cram in, around Kenyan towns and cities. The name matatu is Swahili and means “one more”, a reference to the fact that they can always find room for one more passenger.


MONDAY 4 NOVEMBER The flight was uneventful and passed quickly. The aircraft, a Boeing 767, was old and tatty, the food was unremarkable, and the in-flight movie, Home Alone, was funny but in such eye-straining colours and ear-splitting volume that it was hard to sit through.

We touched down in Nairobi just as the sun crested the horizon, shining across the fog-shrouded savannah around the city. Along with our new friends Marina (NZ), Linda (Oz), and Neil (NZ), we caught a black London cab into the city for KSH60 (Kenyan Shillings) each. It was rather incongruous to be sitting in a brand new Hackney cab with open savannah speeding by outside the windows.

In town we booked into the New Kenya Lodge, four of us in a room for KSH75 each. It was early in the day so a whole bunch of us set off to walk over to the Post Office to check for our mail. Linda got 3 letters: two of them from her mother and one from her friends Jennie and Lydia. Once the mail was collected, Linda and I set off in search of a cheap flight to Pakistan. It took us most of the morning and a lot of hassles before we finally were able to secure tickets from Gulf Air for US$252 each. We ended up putting the cost on my Visa card as the rigmarole involved with changing exactly the right amount of money and supplying copies of our currency declarations was too much effort.

After that, we went back to the hotel and crashed out along with most of the people we had arrived with. At five o’clock, it began to rain heavily and the downpour lasted for an hour and a half. When it stopped, Linda, Neil, Marina and I walked up to the Iqbal¹ for a cheap meal of beef and potato stew with rice.

¹The Iqbal was a Nairobi institution among the backpacker fraternity. Lovingly known as “The Dog-Bowl” it was a scruffy, bug-infested shit-hole…but it was cheap, accessible and you could get an inexpensive feed there.


SUNDAY 3rd NOVEMBER – CAIRO AIRPORT. Chaos! The only way to describe the scene at Cairo Airport. CHAOS. The sort of chaos that makes a mockery of security procedures. The sort of chaos that epitomizes the chaotic and mind-bogglingly stupid systems of a chaotic and mind-bogglingly stupid country.

Getting to the airport was a simple matter. We walked up to Midan Tahir where a tout grabbed us and popped us into a brand new minibus which took us all the way for one Egyptian pound each. We were just putting on our packs after getting out of the van when the dirty brown tendrils of a sandstorm began to drift in on the rising wind. By the time we had dashed into the shelter of the arrivals hall, a howling gale was lashing rain and sand across the airport, pummelling the trees and sending pieces of debris racing past.

The storm was short-lived, however, and after sheltering for 10 minutes we were able to walk along to the departure hall. We hung around in there for a couple of hours watching with amazement the total shambles going on around us as sloppily-dressed guards smoking cigarettes tried to control the crowds of package tourists surging through the x-ray area.

Nicky and Melissa left us at 3:00Pm to check in for their 5:00Om flight to Athens and we settled down on the nasty yellow plastic chairs and waited…

Boarding the aircraft was a speedy affair and by the time the call came to board we had teamed up with four other Kiwis and an Australian.


SATURDAY We beat a hasty retreat from the filthy, overpriced slum which is the Hotel des Rosas and ensconced ourselves in the Oxford Pensionne across the road: a far cleaner, brighter and more opulent place which was far cheaper (E£6 each) and was complete with wall graffiti and an assortment of friendly cats.

Linda and I treated ourselves to a surprisingly tasty meal at KFC then spent an hour browsing in the second hand book stalls around Ezlekia Gardens. The collection of books was amazing with everything from Mills and Boon romances and primate endo morphology to Erazmus, Butler and Dickens. The prices were, however, grossly inflated especially as many of the books were obviously cast-offs from western schools. 

We dined well at the Falafel Gardens in the evening then spent a sleepless night as Cairo’s taxis played the Let’s-See-Who-Can-Honk-The-Loudest game.  


FRIDAY 1st NOVEMBER – RETURN TO CAIRO In the heat of the day we trudged down to the bus station, stopping on the way to buy a rotisserie chicken which we devoured sitting on the ground in the shade of a breezeblock wall.

The usual bunch of rag-bag kids gathered around us while we ate and began to give cheek and throw things at us and so Nicky sauntered over and slapped one of them around the head. The kid fled screaming and then a few minutes later a hail of rocks flew over the wall at us. I thundered off after the little cunts and could have caught both of them if they hadn’t collapsed, streaming, in the middle of the street. So I left them to the locals to sort out.

The bus arrived late and was packed to the gunwales with old men and women  dressed in white [Hajjis en route to Mecca]. The luggage compartment was full and the aisles and back seats were stuffed with baggage and strange pink quilts. Nicky and I sat up on the luggage in the back while Linda and Melissa squeezed into seats further up the bus. I relieved the boredom of the journey by listening to a Guns ‘n’ Roses tape lent to me by Nicky and watching the light recede from the western sky behind a jagged range of mountains.

Around 9:00 PM we drove into the vicinity of the Suez Canal. The lights of a line of huge ships could be seen waiting out in the Gulf of Suez for their turn to enter the canal and the air was heavy with the cloying smell of hydrocarbons from the numerous oilfields, refineries and storage facilities. In places, gas flaring off from roadside wells lit the desert for miles around with a flat orange light.

The bus reached Ramses Square in Cairo at 11:00 PM and we got a taxi up to Maidan Talab Haab for E£4. We checked into the Hotel des Rosas (a better name for which would have been the Hotel des Cockroaches) and the four of us slept in the same room – Linda and I on the floor.  


TOMBS AND TEMPLES We were up at 5:30am and ready to leave at 6. After collecting our hired bikes, Linda, Nicky and I cycled down to the Corniche and caught a ferry across the Nile to the western bank. The three kilometre ride up toward the Valley of the Kings took us through the fertile, irrigated farmland bordering the river where fullahins [peasant farmers] were busy at their work: cutting forage, herding their stock and tilling the earth in the hazy morning sunlight. And ahead of us, bathed in a golden haze of light and shadows, the Temple of Ramses stood like a sentinel guiding us forward.

At the ticket office we tried to wrangle student discounts for the temples and tombs using our YHA cards but they were wise to that scam so we had to pay full price, which still wasn’t a great deal! Our first stop inside the temple complex was the Rammessium, the enormous temple built by the egotistical pharaoh Ramses II in honour of himself. Much of it is in ruins these days (probably much to Ramses’ eternal chagrin but, hey…easy come easy go eh Rammy?) and the huge statue of Ramses himself lies toppled on the sand, its 200 tonne head staring forever at the sky where Ramses no doubt assumed he’d be eternally rubbing shoulders  with the Gods. Its state is apparently the fault of the Romans who obviously took a dislike to Ramses and his egotistical pretensions of greatness by lighting fires against the base then pouring water on the heated stone causing it to shatter.

As if that wasn’t enough to erode Ramses’ immortality, 2000 years later the English poet Percy Bysse Shelley wrote Ozymandius, a schathing poem about the great king’s obvious mortality:















After the Ramessium, we cycled up to the Temple of Hatshepsut, a tourist-clogged disappointment, most of which could be seen from the road without paying to get in. Back at the ticket office we bought tickets for two of the Tombs of the Nobles: Sennofer and Rekmine. These small tombs of unknown royal hangers-on were set into the foot of the vast cliff which backdrops the entire Thebes necropolis.

The first tomb, that of Rekmine, featured two adjoining chambers adorned with paintings of giraffes, leopards and humans leading to a long third chamber with a roof slanting up to a height of 10 metres. Next door, so to speak, the tomb of Sennofer, a royal gardener, was accessed via a steep set of stairs hewn into the solid rock and leading steeply down to an ante-chamber decorated with grape vines.  The tomb itself featured paintings of Sennofer and his sister in amazingly good condition.

Back out in the fresh air we walked back down to the main road through a cluster of filthy shanties then cycled back to Luxor where we spent the rest of the day asleep in the hotel.