When we first started looking for furniture stores to furnish our apartment, the same names kept coming up on internet searches and blogs. We were not very keen on the couches/sofas and beds we saw at IKEA, Home Center, Homes r US and any other large furniture stores, so we did a lot of research and visited many of the shops (online and physically). They all have furniture at different price levels and stuff that looked really good. Nonetheless, we wanted to make all our research available to YOU! The Dubai newbie, looking to furnish their place and not sure where to start.
The list below is in not particular order and we are in no way advertising for any of these stores. This is purely a list of shops you can look at when making your furniture decisions. If we have purchased from or interacted with any of these stores we will provide a note on this.
Important things to keep in mind
If you are visiting a smaller store’s website, don’t get excited by a piece and think that you will get it. These websites are often not updated with latest stock so often we would like something only to find out they don’t stock it any more, or they will have to order it from another country which can take anything from 3-8 weeks.
Of course if you like a piece and the shop has it in stock, go and check it out! Test it. Get a feel for it. Find out the warranty and guarantee available and whether it is valid internationally. Also confirm that they have brand new piece in stock that they will send you.
On warranty, if you get this response, “Don’t worry, if there is something wrong we will fix it”, then there probably isn’t any and you should be very sure that you want that product.
Its worth checking out reviews on Google Maps. Of course you will always see both negative and positive reviews, but try a get a feel for where other customers have had keys issues. e.g. faulty products, after-sales services, missing part with no corrective actions.
You can pick up some great deals during sales – and there are sales very often but also beware of some websites that always seem to have a sale price. They may be comparing the price of the original designer piece to their replica and advertising it as a huge saving.
We bought our low table and floor chairs from them and we love it. They are Japanese a store and keep everything from furniture to household products and clothing, all designed on the principle of simplicity.
They have some very nice designs on their website but they don’t have much of a showroom – its more of an office with some pieces displayed. They get their furniture made overseas so if its not in stock there will be a lead time. Prices seem affordable.
They have some very nice modern designs and prices are in the mid range. We bought our bed from them. Their service was professional and after sales services was good. There was some lead time on the side tables and headboard. Side tables were delivered exactly as promised and we expect the headboard in a month.
Very beautiful Italian furniture! We bough their cheapest 3-seater couch on sale but the service was still great. Hatim was our sales person and we would suggest talking to him. There was another lady there that assisted with invoicing who insisted that Farhaan did not know how to spell his own name correctly and went on spell it her way on the invoice! Prices are in the higher ranges.
We have only seen the website and there are no prices provided there. They seem to have both modern and classic pieces. They are also mentioned on other lifestyle websites as one of Dubai’s top stores.
On this day last year (23 June 2015) at 2 am in the morning we drove into #AlQuds (#Jerusalem) completing the #Joburg2Jerusalem leg of our #overlandjourney.
We didn’t know much about the city layout or where exactly our accommodation was located, just that it was in the #oldcity. Looking at the old walls that envelope the old city of #AlQuds, we realised that cars cannot go in.
We parked outside and found the Damascus Gate – the gate that would become our main portal between the outside world and the walls that had witnessed millennia of communities, trade, prayer, unity, conquests, hatred, bloodshed, peace, love, tears, laughter, bonds, rivalries and footsteps of prophets, believers, soldiers, priests, rabbis, imams and kings.
To know what it feels like to walk these old stone streets you actually have to walk them.
To feel the weight that the walls would have felt when Jesus (peace be upon him) rested his tired palm against them with the cross on his back, you actually have to put your hand on the indentations into the walls along the path to his crucifixion – called Via Dolorosa.
To imagine what it must have been like when all the prophets of God prayed together led by the last of them to be sent to humankind – Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him), you actually have to pray in Al-Haram Al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary).
To feel the constriction and the suffocation that a people feel when they are not free in the land they have called their home for generations… you actually have to live there.
This old city of Al-Quds became our home for almost 2 months and before we left, the locals started calling us “Qudsi” – those who live in Al-Quds. It was hard to hold back tears as I wrote this because the mark that this blessed land leaves on ones heart can never be erased. So we hope and pray to be Qudsi’s again very soon.
The fairly new tar road that we were driving on came to an end at the Abbasi Mosque in the village of Derawar. We were greeted by beautiful white minarets and domes invoking memories of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. A man walked out of the mosque courtyard and Farhaan went to greet him. He asked the man about the graves of the Sahaba that we heard were in this area. He told us to follow the same road towards the exit of the town and we will see water tanks. There we would see the mazaar of the companions of Prophet Mohammed (Peace and blessings be upon him).
Sukkur was the last town of the Sindh province of Pakistan that we were staying in. Next was Punjab. Everyone that heard about our travels up North had told us “Drive though Sindh in one day and get to Punjab”. The lack of speed in our car coupled with our enviable ability of getting delayed when leaving in the mornings meant that this would be impossible. We ended up spending three nights in Sindh stopping to see Kot Diji Fort and Mohenjo-daro. We also got the opportunity to cross the Indus river a couple of times.
While at the guest house in Sukkur we started researching points of interest near the next big city of Bahawalpur. We came across Derawar Fort which was some 170 kms before Bahawalpur about 70 kms off the main highway. We thought of leaving Sukkur and spending the night somewhere immediately after entering Punjab so that we could visit Derawar Fort on our way to Bahawalpur. After speaking to Farhaans uncle we booked a guest house in Sadiqabad.
The drive from Sukkur to Sadiqabad was a mere 170 kms and we planned to be there at around 3pm so that we could get some time to write a blog post. And 3 pm it was, when we entered the town of Sadiqabad and reached the point on Google maps marked with the golden star that tells you that you saved this location.
Nothing. Just a few old structures and empty pieces of land. We drove around a little in the streets off the main road but only saw more empty plots and private houses. Attempts to call Jovago and the guest house were met with a very calm lady on the other side of the line telling us that the number was not available. We asked a few men sitting in front of a newly built building and they said they do not know of any guest house and gave us directions to another hotel and offered us tea and food which we kindly declined.
Just a side note here, where ever we stopped to ask for directions or chatted to people at a filling station and they heard that we were travellers they would offer us a cup of tea, cold drink or food. Such is the hospitality of the people of Pakistan.
We then went to a shop further down the road to buy airtime for our phone. The man there informed Farhaan that the said Guest House had closed down and directed us to a new “very good” hotel. We decided to check it out and after a wrong turn ended up driving next to a very smelly canal. As we took the U-turn to track back a maroon Suzuki Jimny overtook us on this single lane road with richsaws and taxi’s coming from the opposite direction. A few meters later the said 4×4 suddenly took a sharp turn blocked the road ahead of us and came to a halt. Out came a man with an official rush in his walk to Farhaans window, introduced himself as an intelligence officer, announced that the rest of the team is on their way and asked to see the car papers. By his nervous nature, we knew he was bluffing about the team.
Now, over the 15 countries that we have travelled we’ve been stopped numerous times by all kinds of scary and official looking blokes and we are kind of used to this. So Farhaan casually asked to see his ID and after perusing it showed him the papers. He made a phone call to someone and then told us that it would be best that we leave Sadiqabad and travel to the next town Rahimyar Khan, which we did.
The next day we left for the city of Bahawalpur but with the firm intention of going to Derawar Fort along the way. We only took the turn off for Derawar around 3pm. We couldnt find it on our GPS so decided to use google maps which, for Pakistan, does not give you voice navigation but will provide the route. This meant that we had to watch our position on the map and take the correct turnoffs.
The plan didn’t work out very well when the very first turn was closed off. We looked at the map and found another route to the correct road. As we travelled further the vast green fields, the mustard plantations and desert sand that appeared in between them totally distracted us and very quickly we forgot about the map we were supposed to be keeping an eye on.
“Are we on the right road?” Farhaan asked waking up from the dreamy drive that we were enjoying so much. “Oh no”, said Khairunnisa, “we left our turn behind”. So we took a U-turn and drove back through the little village lined with fruit stalls, meat shops, samoosa and pakora (chilli bites) stalls and many more. We were quite hungry so Farhaan pulled up at the samoosa and pakora stall bought some snacks and confirmed directions to the fort.
A couple of wrong turns later, feeling satiated with the very tasty snacks, we were on the straight, fairly recently tarred road to Derawar. The road again was lined with bright yellow mustard plantations on one side and green meadows on the other. These would abruptly give way to desert sand with shurbbery and small dunes and that would suddenly turn back into alternating green and yellow fields.
The road took two bends and we saw a big sign across the road announcing our arrival at the Derawar Fort. We continued to drive and the road wound through a sparsely populated village with neat mud houses and a few grocery shops. The road ended at a spectacular but not huge white mosque reminiscent of Mughal style architecture with a courtyard that has 3 entrance doors. This mosque, also called Derawar Mosque is apparently built as a replica of the Moti Mosque in Delhi, India. The main entrance faces a body of water that according to some, was once a large river whose banks use to be quite close to this entrance. It enters into the courtyard of the Abbasi Mosque with the white domes and minarets greeting the visitor.
The sign that welcomes visitors at the only road entering the village.
Walkway to the masjid
A window in at the mehrab provides a view of the Fort.
The main entrance door exits out to a lake that used to have a lot more water in the old days.
This the entrance structure of the Abbasi Mosque
From the main entrance the while domes of the mosque greet the visitor.
From here we drove our car a very short distance through a large entrance gate and along a narrow path that led us to the Derawar Fort. The fort stood in front of us in its former glory but showing definite signs of ageing. Many of its forty bastions towered over as we stopped our car and took in this magnificent sight. There were parts where bricks had fallen off and the entrance gate was closed. We later learned that visiting inside is not allowed as the building is vulnerable to the elements given its age and lack of restoration efforts.
We now feel honoured and sad to have visited the endangered site that stands like a shining jewel in the Cholistan desert. If attention is not given to the restoration of the Derawar fort, future generations will not get to experience this piece of historical architecture.
A few photographs later, we went in search of the Sahabah that we had confirmed lay near by. We drove through a small patch of desert sand back on to the only tar road of Derawar and after a couple of minutes saw a white structure with green flags denoting the resting place of those close to God. We turned of the tar again and drove a few meters to towards the Mausoleum.
As we walked through the graves outside and came closer to the white building we were stopped dead in our tracks by the most beautiful sweet fragrance in the air. We stood there for a few moments just taking in this scent and then went inside. We spent a few minutes in silence and offered our supplications for the Sahabah that lay there and left feeling blessed and happy to have stood in their company.
The sun was starting to set as we made our way to Bahawalpur city but that did not deter us from stopping to take some photos of the mustard fields and the beautiful sunset.
It has become somewhat of a travel custom during our nine months of overlanding that we end up in the lesser known and perhaps even less enthusiastically visited places. So when Farhaan’s cousin Rahil bhai suddenly asked: “Gwadar chalna he?” (Do you want to come to Gwadar?) Farhaan automatically responded in the positive. We had only heard of Gwadar from Rahil Bhai as he is often there for business. We soon realised that there was much to see and even more about Gwadar that added to a new perspective on Pakistan’s development.
We drove from Karachi crossing a starkly contrasted densely populated metropolis towards the Makran coastal highway about a hundred kilometres away to an isolated semi desert. The drive is a roughly 650 kilometre stretch mostly along the Arabian Sea and runs through the Sindh and Balochistan provinces passing smaller port towns of Ormara and Pasni. What makes this drive most interesting though is that it passes through Hingol National Park, which is the country’s largest. It is mainly coastal semi-desert with the most intricate and unique rock formations that keeps your head moving constantly from side to side so you don’t miss any of it.
The rock formations intermittently give way to views of kilometres of unspoilt uninhabited beaches which reminded us a bit of Kosi Bay and surrounds in South Africa. At some points in the park one gets the sense that you are lost in a miniature version of the Grand Canyon. It is maze after maze of natural formations along steep and winding roads. Fauna includes a number of mammals, amphibians and birds including the Ibex, Urial (a sub species of wild sheep) and Gazelle.
Despite our best efforts, it was impossible to view any of the animals as the dunes and rock formations present ample opportunity to be furtive. Amongst the formations, some of the most popular include the well-marked “Princess of Hope” as well as another that resembles an Egyptian Sphynx.
The entire road is good tarmac with military check-posts and smaller villages spread about a couple hundred kilometres apart. The journey that takes 1 day today used to take 2 days a few years ago. The name Gwadar is made up of two words – ‘Gwa’ referring to wind and ‘dar’ meaning ‘door’. Thus Gwadar is the door of the wind. We were shown a deep cut in the hills of Gwadar which gave the city its name.
Located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, this small fishing village was owned by Oman until 1958. Since then it has grown into a port city due to its unique hammer-head shaped peninsula protruding into the Arabian Sea. It has been earmarked by the Governments of Pakistan and China as the coastal start of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is therefore destined to become both a business and tourist hub of Pakistan within the next 10 years.
Gwardar City – A strip of land in the sea.
The beach where all the fishing boats park off.
A street in Gwadar city
Unspoilt beaches not yet accessible from the Hammer-head.
On our weekend visit we were treated to a stay at the Pearl Continental Hotel, tours of Gwadar and traditional Baloch lunch followed by a fishing trip. Pearl Continental Hotel is built on the edge of the hill that forms the Hammer-head shape, seen in the picture below. It boasts views of the sea on one side and the city of Gwadar on the other.
One of the main projects of CPEC is the building of a road that will link Gwadar to the Karakorum Highway in Khunjerab. This will allow Chinese imports from the Persian Gulf countries to travel to China through a sea, road and rail network over only 2000 kms instead of the current ship journey of 12900 kilometres.
If like us you are the kind of overland traveller, that is looking for picturesque, out-of-the-ordinary places that are not frequented by many travellers then Gwadar is the place to visit. It is however important to note that there this region is known to be dangerous for foreign travellers so try to get a Pakistani friend or tour guide to take you.
As we get closer to Pakistan, we thought it would be a good time to tell you this story.
People respond with amused curiosity and mostly disbelief when we introduce ourselves as overland travellers. It seems that “brown” people are an unusual demographic in the South African overlanding community which could explain this reaction.
Farhaan however does have the land travel bug in his family blood from way back in the 60’s. His grandmother Zaynub Bibi, grandfather Goolam Rasool Mia and their three daughters Rabia Banoo, Hasina Banoo (Farhaan’s mother) and Mehmooda Banoo embarked on an epic overland journey in their Land Rover Defender from South Africa in 1964 to perform their pilgrimage (Hajj) and finally ended in India with the return journey being completed by ship in 1966.
Their journey was unique and we draw inspiration from it. We cannot speak of their experiences on their behalf as we fully understand that each persons journey has it’s own purpose. The challenges faced during that time would also have been vastly different. In short there can be no oversimplified comparisons.
Countries such as Iraq and Syria were definitely on our wish list, but given the geo political state of the region, were completely out of bounds for us. They travelled through East Africa, Middle East and Asia and recall fondly their travels through Iraq and the Sham region.
Navigation would also have been a completely different excercise on the road then – compasses and paper maps vs. Garmin GPS and iPads. Add to that the fact that in those days tarmac in Africa was as easy to come by as good South African chocolate in Kenya. A hand drawn map of Africa on the side of the Defender by a kind gentleman was the result of one such routing encounter.
On the return journey when their ship docked in Karachi, Rabia Banu (aged 13) and Hasina Banu (aged 7) were betrothed to two sons of Abdul Jabbar Khan, a family friend who hosted the travellers when they drove through Pakistan. These two unions not only resulted in a gang of rather good looking ‘real’ cousin brothers and sisters with roots in two continents but also serves to question our modern stereotypes around arranged marriages.
So there you have it, the short personal story of how brown people do overland and sometimes they even bring back extended family. Farhaan’s overlanding genes, combined with Khairunnisa’s love for change and new experiences made The Khan Playground inevitable and we look forward to many many more adventures to come.
Thinking about it now, R1600 (approx. 114 USD) for a room in a five star hotel is pretty cheap, but when you are an overland traveler counting every penny that you spend, bargaining (and in some cases begging) becomes a habit.
Our drive to the border began late morning, after we bade farewell to Ali Cemal (pronounced Jemal) – the owner of the little restaurant and campsite, that we had made our home base in Trabzon, Turkey. The Georgian border was just over 200 kms away so we thought a leisurely drive along the Black Sea would get us there in time.
Little did we know that while these thoughts ran through our heads and we settled into the drive, a very excited farmer, driving a red lorry with his wife and the load bay full of cows was eyeing our truck. What happened next was the subject of a Facebook post on our page:
“We are always a few hours late, but sometimes it has a hilarious and heart warming story behind it. We were making our way out of Trabzon to Georgia when a red lorry carrying about 5 cows kept driving up to the side of us. The cutest old couple would excitedly wave at us. The eccentric driver of said lorry followed us from a small town Macka into the city centre, pulled us off the road and literally whisked us to his younger brothers cafe – Cafe Aloha – for a tea and a chat. Davut Celeb owner of cafe pictured at the bottom”
Davuts brother had asked us to wait for him at the cafe while he quickly delivered his cows. We waited a while but then asked Davut’s leave as border crossings are always a stressful event. As we got close to the Sarp border crossing, we passed through the border town of Kemalpasha and experienced a feeling that was familiar to us from most border towns we had passed.
There is this sense of dodginess and desperation. You see people who are in a state of some stress, be it the urgent need to get across the border or the stress of not having the right papers or the worry of being caught out by Customs for the goods they want to take across and sell. Then you see the dodgy characters lurking around figuring out ways to take advantage of these desperate people. Don’t get me wrong, it is very seldom that an entire town gives off this eerie vibe but more the main road that leads to the border and most often than not, that is the only part of the border town passersby experience.
When we arrived at the border we saw a long queue of cars and I got confused about the process. Since it was time for the Maghrib prayer, we said our prayers and made our way to the border office on foot to try and figure out the process. Before we knew it our passports were being stamped and only then did we realize that the ‘foot queue’ was only for those who were crossing the border on foot and for passengers of the cars!
Panicked, we tried to explain to the Turkish officials that we want to cross in our car and in true Turkish fashion, without any stress (even with hundreds of people in the queue), they stamped us back into Turkey, told to us get in the vehicle queue and drive to the crossing. I remember thinking to myself, I should just listen to K!
We eventually got across the border – me in the car and K on foot – and met on the Georgian side. The process here was quick and efficient and we were in a country we had never in our wildest dreams thought of visiting (Read about that here).
By the time we had exchanged our money and started driving away from the border it was 8pm. At this point we had no idea where we would be spending the night. We thought we could find a hotel in the popular tourist town of Batumi. We had read that Batumi, the second largest city in Georgia, was a resort town, but didn’t realise that gambling is one of it’s main attractions.
We decided against sleeping here and found a campsite on our GPS about 60 kms out. As we neared the campsite the GPS told us to get off the main road onto a dirt road. We followed the directions along extremely dark roads, which did have houses but these were very dark too. We figured that this might be a holiday destination and the houses were most likely holiday homes that were not occupied.
When we got to the location, we saw nothing but an empty patch of land, adjacent to a double story house where the lights were switched on. We tried to get somebody’s attention to see if we could get some information on the campsite but were unlucky. We drove up and down the road, trying to find the right place and then decided to give up.
The GPS also indicated a B&B nearby and we thought this will have to be our accommodation for the night. Through the more dark streets we arrived in front of a house that had one light switched on outside and the flashing of a TV screen on the inside. We rang the bell, knocked and hooted until a silhouette of a person looked through an upstairs window at us. He motioned to us that B&B was closed. We were perplexed.
Out of options we decided to try Kobuleti, a town we had bypassed on our way to the campsite. The GPS indicated many hotels here and so we felt hope. It was already close to 10 pm and in our exhaustion were desperate enough to settle for the first hotel room we found.
The streets of Kobuleti were wide, there were street lights but roads were deserted. We came to the first hotel which was very quiet, almost shut down. After knocking on the door a while someone eventually emerged, smiled and invited us in. The reception was modern and well kept. This looked like a good hotel. He told us that the hotel was closed and tried to get hold of the manager to see if he could give us a room. No luck – he allowed us to use the bathroom and we continued on our quest. The second and third hotels were exactly the same, we rang bells at receptions, knocked on doors and hooted but there was no response. We realised that this may have been the off-peak season and hence there were no visitors in town.
We avoided The Georgia Palace Hotel on the GPS list because it sounded too expensive. At this point, our choices were rather slim. It was either, find a room or spend the night in the streets of a city and country we didn’t know much about.
The gates to The Georgia Palace hotel opened as the gates of any palace would. We drove down a long drive way and got to the 5 star reception. With knots in our stomach we went in and found someone there. They were open! We were tired, but gathered up the strength to haggle and bring the price down a bit before we accepted and paid.
We ordered a veg pizza, ate and enjoyed a good nights sleep. In the morning before continuing on our journey, we took a walk along the beach and wondered what this place would be like in the busy season.
We spent our first morning in Georgia on the tranquil shores of the Black sea. It is in stark contrast to the Mediterranean as there is no white sand and blue waters.
But this is what makes its beauty so unique. The horizon line is quite close so the setting feels intimate. There is not a soul on the beach and the silence is so intense that it feels like you are listening to the water breath. Calm deep breaths with no waves and dark glistening water. The sun never feels bright but lights the water to a perfect shimmer.
And then there are the stones on the shore. Their detailed beauty caught me by surprise. Millions of pebbles and rocks. Up close the colours, shapes, textures and patterns seem random, but from afar the clustering according to size is noticeable.
I was mesmerised by the pebbles, thousands of them all completely unique. How unfathomable it was that these stones, each of them subject daily to the same conditions, the same ebb and flow, the same wind would each turn out so unique and beautiful.
From dark emerald greens to soft pinks and everything in between. Dotted, striped, rounded, smoothed, jagged, squared and it went on. Just a pebble, definitely not just a pebble.
Three Customs officials, came to our car, started asking us where we were from and if we were here on business. We explained that we were on a safari all the way from South Africa. One officer explained South Africa to the others as “Waka Waka”. There was a quick search of our car, a dog sniff and with smiles we were welcomed to Georgia. We are still asking ourselves how did we end up in this small country in the Caucasus when we had never even thought about going this far north.
Our plan to enter Iran was completely different to the way it is turning out. While looking at the map and deciding on countries, we spoke much about going to Turkey but agreed that it was too far out of our planned route. But as our good friend Moulana Junaid Kajee always reminds us: “Things may not be going well in your plan but in Allah’s plan everything is going swimmingly well!”
And things were not going according to plan when we couldn’t drive our car in Saudi Arabia and then had to leave Jordan immediately after receiving it there. In Palestine, after mulling over our route for the next leg of our journey we realised that to go back to Jordan would be a dead end. So we looked at options and the only other country that was not at war and through which we could to get to Iran was Turkey.
A few emails and phone calls later, we had a shipping company that could ship our car, a customs agent to put it on the ship and a 30 day e-visa for Turkey that took all of 5 minutes to get and was free!
On 15 August 2015 we were in Istanbul, eagerly awaiting the arrival of our car to Istanbul.
Arrive it did, but 10 days late. This gave us an opportunity to spend some time exploring Istanbul and applying for our Iran visa. On the 3rd of September with the car in our possession and Iran visas in hand we started a slow drive east-ward along the southern coast line of Turkey towards Iran.
We still had 2 problems.
1. The delay in Istanbul meant that we would run out of our visa before exiting Turkey.
2. The Auto-mobile Association of South Africa (AASA) does not validate the Carnet de Passage for Iran.
After much research and visiting the Police Station and Department of Foreign Affairs we learnt that Turkey does not do visa extensions. We had to apply for a Short-term Residence Permit – called Ikamet. We completed forms and booked the interview in the city of Izmir.
In Izmir we were told that we cannot be given a 15 day residence permit, we should rather overstay our visa and pay the penalty at the border when exiting – problem number 1 resolved!
On the Carnet issue, research showed that it was both possible and impossible to get into Iran without a Carnet. We had no other option but to try entering Iran without a Carnet, hoping that we would be given an alternative option at the border.
Due to the political issues in Turkey only one border crossing out of three with Iran remained open. We were warned by many locals along our route that given the tense political climate, this border crossing was best avoided.
Other overland travellers we spoke to, were adamant that the crossing was far too difficult to get through and suggested we reroute via Georgia. Given that we were in violation of our visa period, as well as the impending end to our driving permit, we proceeded with uncertainty towards the much dreaded Dogubayazit border crossing.
On the 26th of September the alternative option provided by the Iranian customs officials and fixers or “companies” as they are called, was way too expensive for us and they expected us to drive across Iran to Pakistan in 10 days max. This after we had negotiated them up from their initial offer of just 3 days. After much discussion with Iranian customs, we decided to go back to Turkey.
We had previously read about a guy in Iran (www.overlandtoiran.com) used by most overlanders for Carnet services who could provide a Carnet for the period of the visa but only with entry from Armenia. We contacted him and he confirmed this option. Since Turkey and Armenia did not have an open border crossing, we would have to go through Georgia and being South Africans, we did not need visas for Georgia – Bonus!
We reapplied for Iranian visas, flew to Ankara for Pakistani visas, returned to Trabzon and started our journey to Georgia.
On 17 October we exited Turkey for the second time to enter the border control offices of Georgia. The border post looked like an airport terminal for passengers on foot and a high-tech toll plaza styled building for vehicles. The processes were quick and efficient and we were welcomed with smiles by Customs Officials and Police. One official even showed us the score of the latest rugby match between South Africa and Wales, which South Africa had won. More smiles and stamps and we’re in Georgia!
Fareed invited us to his home in Ramallah for Iftaar with his family, took us for a tour of the city and shared his wisdom and thoughts with us at a time when we most needed a reality check.
We met Fareed after South African Ebrahim Patellia, who followed our Facebook page made an electronic introduction and suggested a meet up. Fareed’s relationship with South Africa is a personal and special one that began when he befriended South African Anna Weekes while protesting the build of the Apartheid Wall about 15 years ago.
The connection with SA is also a result of the similarity between the Apartheid regime in SA and the Israeli occupation in Palestine with their similar practices and infrastructure. We delighted in Fareed’s stories of activism, friendship and sacrifice all of which would probably make a spectacular book.
In between mouthfuls of delicious traditional food, we lamented just some of the multi layered complexities of the Palestinian landscape and Fareed obliged all our simple questions. For example in Jerusalem while life went on uninterrupted during our stay, and while we foreigners continue to experience what we believe to be our most spiritually uplifting Ramadhan, the (temporarily) safe walls of the old city closes off the contrast of life that is West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian administered territories. We were reminded that just a few kilometres away are some of the poorest neighbourhoods and camps where people are living the harsh realities of the occupation and war on Palestine.
Before Iftaar, we drove to a checkpoint and got a glimpse of the intricate designs of checkpoints, the life it closes in, the level of minute control it is used for and how amidst all of this, Israeli settlement roads are designed to bypass all the eyesore.
We took a walk through the bustling city centre which reminded us of an upmarket tourist town not very different from Cape Town, with its boutique cafe’s and branded shopping. Ramallah he noted, like Jerusalem is home to a growing middle class. It is part of the multi faceted dynamics of a population under occupation. One where the middle class are being engaged in the economic system in way that leaves a distinct gap between them and the majority of the people more harshly impacted.
We know all too well how Israeli strategy has for decades isolated Gazan’s from the rest of the world by controlling borders, imposing sanctions and reigning terror. This isolation however has a more cruel consequence of isolating people within a population creating internal divisions and nuances that have long term impacts and are much more difficult to address.
Fareed’s direct no nonsense approach shed light on issues that others may not have shared quite so candidly. While we had the luxury of theorising the lack of distinction between the Zionist state and the civilian Jew amongst many Palestinians, we could not fathom the daily humiliation and torture, the face of which people have come to identify as simply the “yahuds” (Jews).
We walked through the vegetable market and noticed how the small trader often has no choice but to be part of the agricultural system whose produce originates from the occupier. We talked about the nature of BDS and how Palestinians unequivocally support the international campaign, but internally it is much more tricky. While the boycott is a priority for Palestinians it is not easy to distinguish Israeli products from Israeli products inside occupied territories. The subsistence farmer needs all the support they can get. Fareed runs a campaign where he markets their goods online.
We visited the mausoleum of Yasser Arafat and spoke about the dwindling resistance of young activists, and the weakening of mobilisation. We talked about the role of social media and electronic resistance and joked about the “we have no 3G in Palestine” billboard campaign during Obama’s visit in 2010 (http://wallwritings.me/2013/03/20/we-have-no-3-g-in-palestine/).
When the evening reached it’s end and we felt somewhat despondent about the situation, Fareed reminded us that despite the sense of burnout in the air, Palestinian people have a tremendous spirit and will never give up. There is an inherent irony in the growing middle class in areas like Ramallah, that despite heavy taxes and high interest rates, these communities are a sign of life, a sign of people not willing to simply give in and move out and on to other countries.
With support the people will continue and will be reinvigorated. Fareed summarised the most impactful kind of help the people needed from the international community and particularly South Africans as BVD i.e. Boycott Israel, Visit Palestine, and engage in Demonstrations in our countries back home.
On day thirty four of our travels, we started to make our way towards the much anticipated Tanzanian National Parks. We ate a traditional lunch at Bhaajia along the side of the main road in Arusha, bought some airtime and drove towards the Ngorongoro National Park.
We stopped along the way at lake Manyara National Park where we thought we would camp but the prices were too high. This part of the country with prices in dollars are discouraging to road travellers from the continent. A kind tour operator at the office overheard our conversation and suggested that we drive further to try out Haven nature camp-site. There were many viewpoints of Lake Manyara which we enjoyed along the way.
When we reached Haven Nature, light drizzle turned to heavy rain and the camp-site area rapidly changed to thick soggy mud making it impossible to camp. We had to stay in one of the lodges tented camps instead but enjoyed a restful sleep in our first tented camp.
The next day was spent sorting out administration fees and park permits in the small town of Karatu where we camped the night. We always seem to find ourselves in interesting places during interesting times. Tanzanian elections were under way and the streets were filled with young people from various political groups.
On the way to the camp site, as we took the turn a young man motioned a sign with his hand as if pointing a gun to the head while giving us an angry stare down. Naturally, this caused much stress and a night of restless sleep in the tent ensued. This is never good when you have a day of rough off road driving ahead.
At the gate of the Ngorongoro, we realised just what a tourist attraction this place was. The parking lot was buzzing with over confident tour operators clearly all on a mission and being dutifully followed by their tourists. We went to the toilets at the gate which felt like the bathrooms at a big concert. It rained most of the way but we barely noticed the rain amidst the incredibly magnificent views.
It was like we had entered an enchanted unearthly world. Thick lush green forests opened the way to a view to the crater. Without a word of exaggeration this was possibly the most beautiful sight we had ever witnessed. A vast and indescribable ‘hole’ in the earth with the most lush vegetation, hills and animals all compacted into one spot. A world within a world and we were looking in.
Many tourists came to the viewpoint and left and we still stood there taking our time since we had not purchased the expensive permit to drive into the crater. We were transiting to the Serengeti so we made the most of this view. A man rushed to the railing and excitedly looked out into the crater and then looked towards us asking: “have you spotted anything?” . We were confused about what we were meant to spot and only later realised that people seem to be in a constant mad panic racing against each other to spot wildlife. We wondered if he had ‘spotted’ the magnificent view in front.
A kind lady offered to take a picture of us with our camera. We stood in the rain like that for a while and in that time the view changed from a clear magnificent postcard panorama to a clouded contrast shot of a zoomed point. We eventually pushed ourselves out of this area to drive onward.
The road and terrain changed rapidly, sometimes winding green hills and sometimes flat yellow land as far as the eye can see. Every now and then in the distance you will spot a bright red dot, a Masai in traditional attire. We came across many red dots up close along the road until I plucked up the courage to stop and ask three of them if we could take their picture. One was not at all happy and made sure we knew this. The others acceded and I clicked quickly, eyes closed as I take all my pictures. Closed eyes and hoping for the best, hoping that the one guys anger would get captured. We paid all three as agreed and that seemed to be a consolation.
Animals are everywhere and in abundance which makes the “spotting” phenomenon even funnier because it is so unnecessary. There was no need to do the standard stop and wait in silence as one would in other parks. The animals came willingly very close to road. We stopped in the rain to reduce our tyre pressure as the road became treacherously corrugated.
I desperately needed to pee and was ready to do a bush style. I meticulously planned it in the car and then cautiously got off. The traffic was deceptively heavy as dozens of tour vehicles passed by. I stood there in the rain watching them, and they passed by smiling. These were ‘knowing’ smiles I thought and carried on standing there in the dirt road, rain pouring down istinja bottle in hand gazing longingly at what would be the only bush for the next hundred kilometres. Of all the reasons I had collected over the years to hate living in the proverbial man’s world, the practicality of this reason drenched me to the bone. I recalled the hundreds of times on the road I had seen drivers casually jump off and relieve themselves. I stood there looking at the smiles of the passers by, heard their giggles in my head and gave up, abruptly abandoning my master plan.
We stopped to photograph the Giraffes as well!
We continued to drive towards the Serengeti, the road being treacherous for two reasons. Tour operator drivers present the main hazard and are some of the worst drivers we have encountered flashing and hooting all other cars out the way. Even when out the way means you are now heading down a cliff. Speed limits are extremely necessary given the road conditions which can change dramatically within a few kilometres. Roads are narrow, uneven and rocky, sometimes winding up and down and sometimes climbing steeply, and most of the way you can add slippery corrugation and potholes to this. Speed limits are simply ignored despite and in spite of the regular sign posts along the way.
The second reason is the constant corrugation. This is not the mild lets jerk your head around till you fall asleep kind of corrugation. This is the “African massage” kind, where violent vibrations result in your ribs saying hello to your pelvis and every other type of vile introduction of body part to body part. The type of corrugation where you hear things rattle, break and snap and get that sneaky diesel smell burn in your nostrils, but know that you have to just keep going and motor on lest your stopping means you are unable to continue again.
The drive was made all the more worthwhile once we saw the glorious gates of the Serengeti in the late afternoon sun. Seeing the look on the faces of tour operator vehicle drivers when they noticed me getting off the drivers side of our car was priceless. The meek looking little girl kept up to them undeterred by their terror antics.
We got our Serengeti permits and enjoyed a conversation with the guards at the gate. We took a walk up to the Naabi Hill viewpoint which was our first view of the Serengeti.
If there was any space left, it filled our souls with awe, so much so that we (and by ‘we’ I really mean Farhaan) completely forgot about the hundreds of purple headed lizards that surrounded us up the path and at the lookout.
On the road towards the public camp-site , we observed how in just a few kilometres of crossing over from one area to the next, we were offered completely different sights. The Serengeti plains glowed in the late afternoon sun and animals hopped around us happily. There was a remarkable silence in the air that brought every picture we ever saw of that moment and gave it life. We passed many herds of buck, giraffe, antelope and many different birds and vultures until we reached our camp.
We set up camp amidst sounds of lions, baboons and hippo’s in the air. We dragged ourselves exhaustedly in the dark towards the kitchen common area which consisted of a large hall type protected cage or barracks. We did not want to think of the reason for such a set up.
As we tried to begin preparing our own supper, the chef of one of the larger tour groups insisted that we abandon our efforts, relax and allow him to treat us to supper. What a treat it was as we nibbled on a starter of popcorn, sipped on hot soup and bread and ended with a delicious main of vegetable curry and rice. We went to bed fully satiated, not being able to take in more but being given more anyway. We dozed off to sounds of lions and hyena and giggled at the improbability of getting ‘half bitten’ by a scorpion. I was convinced otherwise.
On Day 37, sans breakfast we set out towards the Namanga gate after taking route advice from one of the tour operators based at our camp. Farhaan’s instinct was on full steam and we took a road off the main road where we spotted a few hyena on the side of road.
It then led onto an unused service road which climbed up a hill that became progressively steeper and rockier making it rather tricky to navigate. At one point Farhaan got off the car to survey the road ahead and the car started to stagger backwards even with the car in gear and hand-brake engaged. I had to jump over and hit the breaks to stop it from rolling. We continued until we reached an opening to a viewpoint and stopped to take pictures of the beauty which the difficult drive was rewarded with.
On the drive back down the hill we found ourselves alone right in from of a herd of migrating wildebeest. We switched off the engine and hearts pounding we watched and listened in silence up close as they passed by in straight lines rhythmically beating their hooves and intermittently calling out to groups at the back. It was dreamlike and in a daze we continued towards the main road again.
Again, we were almost run over a few more times by wild tour guide drivers. Ironically a few minutes later we passed by a freshly turned over vehicle on the side of the road.
We spent the afternoon at the hippo pools watching hundreds of them bathing and congregating. We met a Czech and Slovak couple who were also over-landing (www.onoffroads.com).
We reached the exit to the Serengeti National Park shortly after spotting a dead zebra lying in one of the springs on the side of the road.
As we exited, we hoped to find a camp site near by as the tyre pressure was very low and could not be corrected in the heavy rains and mud we were driving. We turned off the main road after exiting the park to follow a camp-site on our GPS. We ended up getting horribly stuck in clay like mud. Farhaan was awesome in getting the max tracks under the tyres. Two locals helped us out. Many other passers by came and watched and so it was that we played our first game of stuck in the mud on this journey. “Silly mzungu’s” is what they probably thought.
We continued to the main road and stopped at the very first camp-site we spotted called Serengeti Stopover. It was dark and dreary looking with many hazy eyed drinkers at the pub. That night I washed dishes in the dark after having used the scariest toilet ever. I was startled by two heavily armed guards walking towards me which we later learned were hired policeman for our security. Brown sludgy water emerging from the taps in the toilet and now this, it just felt like too much. At three that morning, I got up startled and insisted we pack up the tent. Just as we clicked the last clip into place, it began pouring down. Now my instinct was in full gear we joked!