Day 1: 14 June 2009

Dover, England

 

87 miles

 

Q: I suppose that this is not going to be the most exciting entry over the next 4 months, but before this adventure begins, we would like to thank everyone for dropping in on Friday night to say goodbye. We had a great night and it was a wonderful way to be sent off on our journey.  

 

We also want to say thanks to Paul, Stuart and Nick and the rest of the guys at Foley (www.foleyoverland.com) for being responsible for the creation of the most important member of this journey. We've named your handy work our Donkey as she will no doubt prove to be a dependable and faithful beast of burden working hard everyday and keeping us safe.  

 

We would also want to thank whoever arranged for a single white dove to fly out from under the front wheels as we started our journey from Angela's sister's house in Hampton Court. Quite unbelievable but very true.   

 

We arrived pretty late into Dover but managed to find our first campsite ok - good choice Si and Max. We did learn an important lesson though  … find a flat spot to park Donkey otherwise you will find yourself sleeping on an awkward slant which could end up being most uncomfortable. This could also become a huge inconvenience as you will probably have to leave the comfort of your duvet to to climb down from the roof in your pants to find a new spot in the middle of the night that would make bedtime more bearable.  

 

Pity there is no hot water …

 

Otherwise, everything is just dandy and we are looking forward to getting on the ferry tomorrow.

 

Day 2: 15 June 2009

 

Regensberg, 642 miles

 

Q: Who needs to travel thousands of miles to find wildlife when it is right here in our back yard. The common English black crow will wake you long before dawn from a perch right above the roof of your tent with its unique combination of crying and heckling. Sleeping on a resting donkey can be quite comfortable as long as you've put it in the right place.

 

Late arrival and not hot water equals a free place to sleep according to Angela. Not sure if we are going to get away with that again.

 

On the ferry through to Calais we met up with Peter Foley … that of FoleyOverland. Peter was on his way back from the workshop in London to his home in France with a 1970's campervan which is to be used for a 4 week tour of Europe. After a few words of comfort explaining that the whining noise coming through the steering column when steering left whilst moving slowly was absolutely nothing to worry about we were on our way to get lost in Calais and then turn into the oncoming traffic.

 

Then it rained. It rained hard the whole day. It rained so hard that all the water being thrown up from the front right tire made its way into the drivers foot bay and at one stage there was enough water to make a cup of tea with. Angela's stint from Luxembourg through Germany was horrible but we plodded on with a blanket over our knees as Donkey has had all her cabin heating components removed. Never saw this one coming.

 

Made it to Regensburg just before 10pm and stumbled across the only campsite in town. The campsite office was closed when we arrived. We found a quick bite to eat at what looked like the only place open and set up in the parking lot across from the entrance to the campsite. Another free night …

 

Day 3: 16 June 2009

 

Belgrade, 625 miles

 

Q: The rain keeps falling. Falling so hard that Angela was left soaked as she tried to get our passports and cash out of the safe while I explained to an officious Austrian toll man that I was unable to read a small warning sign in torrential rain requesting that all persons who arrive in Austria (from a toll free Bavaria) to please pay an 8 euro fee. Given that we disobeyed this rule, we were now obliged to pay 120 euros for the pleasure of driving through Austria. Not great … that's a whole tank of diesel or about a two thousand pencils from the pound shop.

 

The blizzard continued through the Austrian Alps and we had moments of asphyxiation in the 10km long tunnels cut through the mountains. As with rainwater … so with truck fumes for our Donkey.  We both perked up when we crossed the Slovenian border to 30 degrees and sunshine.

 

Slovenia is a pretty place. The road winds through some lovely countryside and small villages in amongst the pine forests. Croatia is flat ... with straight highways, but at least the sun shines here too. Pity we did not have the time to make a stop along the Mediterranean coast as the temperature throughout the afternoon went up to a high of about 35C. As with the heating, Donkey has no air conditioning, so this was a good teaser - although tame, of what we are sure to feel in the next few months.

 

We were hoping to make it all the way through to Sofia in Bulgaria today, but that would have been a stretch. Our travel agents in London .. Simon and William were kind enough to SMS an alternative destination for us to spend the night just outside Belgrade on the banks of the Danube. Who needs books and maps when you have a mobile phone and a friend with google.

 

Tomorrow Istanbul and our first proper border experience.

 

Day 4: 17th June 2009

 

Istanbul, 635 miles

 

A: Its 13:30 and we are well on our way to Sophia in Bulgaria. We just had a quick fuel stop and noticed that on removing the fuel cap, Donkey made a whoooshing sound indicating that there wasn't  any air entering the tank as we added on the miles. After a few reassuring words from the boys at Foley and a little adjustment to the fuel cap (duct tape my new best friend) ,we were again back on the road.

 

We spent the first half of the morning on the same monotonous roads  however now we find ourselves winding through some spectacular scenery of huge boulder rocks and tunnels chiseled out of the side of enormous mountains. The road is narrow and  the odd cyclist with a death wish makes the driving a little hair raising at times!

 

Q: Angela dribbled on her pillow (fast asleep) as we made our way through Bulgaria and towards the Turkish border. Everything was going well until it started to rain again which slowed us down and flooded the foot well once again. The Bulgarian tourist authority and the people from the Garmin mapping corporation need to have a chat about the very confusing phantom roads that are common throughout the eastern part of Bulgaria. We reached Svilengrad around 9pm and crossed the border without a hitch. Everyone at the border on the Turkish side were wonderfully helpful.

 

Our first plan was to find the camping site in Edirne, fill up on some Turkish dinner and get an early night. Plan one did not work out so well as after 2 hours of driving around this delightful town lost and confused we finally managed to find the campsite just off the old Istanbul road (thanks to the kids selling baklava just underneath the ottoman). Unfortunately, the campsite was closed and there was no sign of wakening the keepers so we decided to make for Istanbul which was a good 1.5 hour drive away. Not ideal, but if we got there for 2am we would miss the infamous traffic and hopefully find a camping site near the airport.

 

According to the Lonely Planet, there are a few such accommodation options in Florya and Yesylkoy which are right on the beach close to the airport … however, the Lonely Planet can be very wrong. We could not find these places which according to many local people have not existed for a few years now. So … we had to rough it in a secured car park where the security guard kindly offered us food, water and a place to wash.

 

I like Turkish people. They will take all your money if they could (in a friendly sort of way), but at least they will feed you and keep you safe before doing so.

 

Tomorrow we are going to take a break from the hours of relentless driving and explore Istanbul.  

 

Day 5: 18 June 2009

 

Istanbul, 0 miles

 

Q: As we got in so late last night and were both shattered so we did not set up the tent and decided to sleep inside. It was around 9 when woken up by the gardener cutting the lawn. I could have slept longer but even with the windows open it was baking. We had not done that badly on the selection of our parking spot as it overlooks the Sea of Marmara and a beautiful park.

 

There was a new security guard this morning kindly offering us the use of his washroom. He also wanted us to stay in the car park for the rest of the week if we liked. We had to decline so we set off to find somewhere to stay close by. 

 

A: Is now 4pm and we have spent the afternoon exploring the sights of Istanbul. As we were walking toward the Grand Bizaar we came across a beautiful shop selling pretty lights and candle holders. The owner befriended us and insisted he took photos of his shop using our camera. This continued to entertain him for almost 10 minutes but the outcome was good, lots of great pics and a recomendation for the best kebab shop in Istanbul!  

 

As we left the Grand Bizaar, we bagan to look for a place to relax, unwind, put our feet up and write our blog. Boy did we stumble upon the most fabulous place. Tucked down a narrow walkway and opening out into a courtyard we discovered a traditional Turkish coffee/shisha house which was draped with grape vines and candle lit lanterns. The smell of shisha pipes is strong and the air slightly misty. Turkish music plays quietly in the background and two young girls opposite read eachothers fortunes through the residue left in their coffee cup. Tea time!!

 

On arriving back at the autopark, we were greeted by the security guard that let us in from the night before. We traded some baklava for a glass of tea. Things livened up when an encourage of sleek black BMWs arrived followed by a host of policemen. It was the arrival of the Iraqi deputy foreign minister who was having a very late dinner at the local restaurant along the beachfront. I thought that we were going to be asked to leave but instead, the policemen were extremely friendly and we made a new friend in Joseph.

 

Joseph was so very kind to us and offered for us to stay at his home for the next evening even wanting  to cook for us.  We told him about our travels and the funds we were raising for SOS Children's Villages, he was so touched by our efforts. We have experienced nothing but kindness here in Turkey from as early on as the the border crossing from Bulgaria. Everyone wants to chat and the hospitality is like nothing I've experienced before. We stop for a coffee and its free, we walk past a bakery and we get given pastries, its just amazing. The difference from one neighboring country to another is quite vast in respect of friendliness and kindness. I'm a big fan of Turkey forevermore .

 

Day 6: 19 June 2009

 

Goreme: 520 miles

 

Q: It was a very early start this morning as we wanted to get out of Istanbul and onto Cappadocia before the open air museum closed at around 5pm. Just before I settled into having a doze we crossed the Bospherous bridge taking us from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side. Just before running out of fuel we found the right highway and were happily on our way. Goodbye Europe … hello Asia and only 2 more countries before we reach Africa.

 

On the way towards Cappadoccia we stopped at a pink salt lake (lake g … something) for lunch. Here we met an intrepid lone cyclist from who had left Spain a few months earlier and was making his way (slowly) to India through Iran. When I think of him riding through the heat doing about 100kms a day all alone with all his belongings I have much respect.     

 

We arrived in Goreme at 5 and found the camp site that looks over the open air national museum of Cappadocia. Entering the museum on closing time was a good idea as most of the tourists had left for the day. We were not entirely alone but we did manage to enter a few of the chambers and churches that have been chiseled out of the sandstone without the drone of a tour guide followed by a bus full of tourists.

 

We spent the evening walking through the village and we both especially enjoyed spending time in the most incredible carpet shop ... 17 rooms with wall to wall Persian and Turkish carpets.

 

A: This really was the most impressive shop we had ever seen, and it rendered us speechless when we walked in. The carpets were brightly coloured  and were covering every inch off the wall and ceiling space there was The 17 rooms were decorated with various tapestries and woven artifacts from baby cots to clothing to carpets and antiquities which are apparently often sent to Christies  of London. The shop attendant was an interesting man … he had studied English literature and he has decided that the credit crisis in Britain was set to get worse.

 

Back in the campsite we had a much needed wash (!) and went to bed early after a dinner of tuna pasta.

 

Misc Facts about Turkey

 

1] There is no camping in Istanbul but you can stay at the Autopark in Floryia for 5tlr and a piece of baklava

2] Diesel costs about 2.25 tlr per litre

3] Bottle of water is 2 tlr

4] If you spend more than 15 tlr on a meal then you are spoiling yourself

5] Apple and mint shisha is the best … strawberry is not so good

 

Day 7: 20 June 2010

 

Aleppo: 413 miles

 

Q: The sunrise over the Cappadocia valley is an incredible thing to see when the sky full of hot air balloons. There were about 20 brightly coloured balloons hovering high above the valley and it was quite calming to watch as they floated through the still morning.

 

The toll road network in Turkey is really good with 2 or even a 3 lane carriageways. It makes crossing the country in 2 days easy. As we moved closer towards the Syrian border the temperature slowly started the rise …

 

We arrived into Antakaya (major town before Syrian border) at lunch time so decided to stop and make something to eat. One of my lasting memories of Turkey will be this stop … as we got out of the truck we were asked to join a young man (Erman) and what looked like his father at their table in the shade.

 

A: We were shown to what looked like a pretty basic canteen by Erman, The lady behind the counter served up our food which was delicious chicken stew with potatoes. We polished it off in a little under 5 minutes and Erman was delighted we enjoyed it, offering us more. Erman also showed us where to cross the border into Syria via a different route than what we had planned as that route was unsafe due to the poor quality of the roads. Fed and happy we were on  the road again and headed for the border.

 

Q: The Turkish border is a clean and lovely place. The Syrian is a little different. You are not too sure what to expect each time you get to a border but this one is notorious for having to make kick backs to border control to ensure that your passage is smooth sailing. Even though you don't necessarily need a carnet de passage to go through with your own vehicle, it seems as though the guys working at the Syrian border control have not been told this. In addition to the carnet, there was $100 fee for diesel tax and $56 for the insurance plus a random $6 fee for road tax … which we never ended up paying to anyone. Only snag was at the insurance desk we were almost fleeced for $15 extra dollars. I was happy to pay so that we could just get moving ... but no way for Angela. After much questioning and arguing, we were on our way with our $15 still in the wallet.

 

The change between Turkey and Syria is quite dramatic. It seem that life here is harder and  it is HOT. Traffic coming into Aleppo is something to experience … all lanes are for anyone to use in any direction and indicating is by honking your hooter as you brush past the car alongside. After a few laps of the center of the city we eventually found our hotel. To find a resting spot for Donkey was interesting. The first suggestion from the hotel manager was not a great idea as we almost lost the roof rack and tent as the ramp into the arcade was too low. The open air parking lot across the road was a much better idea.

 

After settling into our room we headed off to the souq. The souq in Aleppo feels very different to that of Istanbul … no tourists, just Syiran's going about their day to day business. It's a labyrinth of stores selling anything you could possibly imagine from wedding dresses to toilet seats. One of the dresses caught Angela's eye for our wedding day next year … not sure?

 

We got lost many times in amongst the busy streets as roamed around looked for the Citadel where we had hoped to find something to eat. Dinner was tabouleh, humous, baba ganoush, 2 liters of water and a big chunk of watermelon.

 

Tomorrow we are off see the ruins in Apamea and the crusader castle Karac des Chavaliers.

 

Day 8: 21 June 2009

 

Hama, 218 miles

 

Q: Into gear and no movement when lifting the clutch can equal trouble … mmm. Yesterday when we had to back up out of the parking arcade I engaged 4WD which in my vigor may have caused a problem. In low range, we had movement … in high range there was nothing. This is not ideal as driving to Cape Town in low range would be painfully slow.

 

I could not fix the problem so I had to wake up Paul at Foley at 8am UK time for a little advice. Sorry Paul … It ended up being nothing hectic as the leavers that engage the high/ low 4WD ratio's in transfer box were not working correctly. A few minutes later and with greasy hands we were on our way out of Aleppo.

 

Diesel in Syria is cheaper than water … it costs less than 25p per litre, so we filled our tanks for less than 30 pounds. I'm slowly getting used to driving just like a Syrian. Their system seems to work well as you don't often have to slow down for anyone … a flash of your headlights plus a hoot nudges the slow moving offending car out of your way.

 

We stopped for an espresso on the side of the road on our way to Apamea … which again came free but this time with jasmine flowers for Angela.

 

Apamea is one of the many Roman archeological sites that are a must visit while in Syria. It is quite an impressive place with towering columns along what was once a 1 to 2 km marble paved street. Its deserted now other than for a nut and drink guy selling his wares at the entrance to the site. The three of us (including the shop keeper) … were the only people around which was nice.  I did like how local Syrians have taken to using the odd thousand year old priceless artifact as a chair or table leg for their drive way furniture …

 

Our next stop was Karac des Chaviliers. This is a castle. A real castle. Edinburgh castle has nothing on this place. It sits on the top of a hill looking over all of the Orontes Valley and right into Lebanon. We arrived 30 mins before closing and it was a mad rush from the top to the bottom to see everything. It is huge and we could have stayed for hours but I think we saw all the good bits before being chased out. Even though it is a few hundred years old, the area once used for ablutions seems to continue to carry the same smell that you would expect from time past.  

 

The drive to Hama was quite entertaining. Roads and Syrians are very scary at times but we managed to find our place to stay for the night in Hama … the Cairo Hotel. Not a bad place .. there is hot water and the owner knows a great new restaurant not far away that we should try. We did try it and it was good and reasonably priced. We learned whilst eating that it belonged to our landlord's brother! Biased recommendations are always the best.  

 

A: We had a little trouble finding the restaurant in the evening and upon asking a kind shopkeeper where to find it, he beckoned his young son who must have only been just 7 years old to accompany us to the restaurant so we didn't get lost. On the way there, he motioned to his friends that he had the important task of taking us there and they too came along. They were much entertained by repeatedly saying "Hello" and "Welcome" to us. They were very sweet and all they wanted in return was a hand shake from the foreigners as a thank you.

 

After supper we headed to the famous site of Hama to see the Norias, huge water wheels dating back to the 13th Century. We sat on the river for an hour or so drinking tea and watching the bats disappearing in and out of a nearby cave.

 

 

Day 9: 22 June 2009

 

Damascus, 149 miles

 

Q: The landscape changed as we headed south towards Damascus. There was not many green things out there to speak of but through the black diesel fumes thrown up by the many trucks and buses it was still quite beautiful to see.

 

If driving in Aleppo was exciting … driving in Damascus is on a whole different level. It is absolute chaos and to make it just that little bit more entertaining … the street names are incoherent. After asking countless people where Souq Sarooja was (an area where our hotel was supposed to be) we lucked upon two old men that said we should follow them in their clapped out old Peugeot to where we needed to be … it was funny to watch the two of them argue about which direction to take as we slowly made our way through the madness.

 

My only advice to anyone who is thinking of driving in Damascus is to do it between the hours of 4am and 5am. Another must is being able to speak Arabic as all directions you get will only be in Arabic. Even so, everyone we stopped to ask directions was incredibly helpful (one guy even called his English speaking friend from his mobile to try help us out).

 

A: It was an early start from Hama and Andrew got stuck in to writing the blog while I took myself to the shops to get us some breakfast....the Syrian version of a chocolate croissant and a kilo of fresh cherries (mum if only I could bring some home for you!) Once again, my order came with a free biscuit and I always feel obliged to eat it in front of them as a sigh of my appreciation...Yum!

 

The drive took us approximately 2 hours and as Andrew said, a further 2 hours spent getting lost in the city itself. En-route we came across a sign, left for Baghdad and right for Damascus, Andrew clung to the right hand side of the road just to be sure not to take a wrong turn!

 

Once we had got within the vicinity of the hotel, we parked up in what turned out to be the most expensive park in Damascus ($9). The attendant was the proud owner of a Hawk which he had perched on the top of a high table. He disappeared for a moment and came back with the sweetest little fluffy yellow chick........you guessed it...feeding time, and live chicky chick was on the menu!

Once we found the Hotel and dumped our bags we set off into the Old City for some supper. While walking toward the main attraction of Damascus , the Umayyad Mosque, we passed by a typical Syrian Coffeehouse and unbelievably, I got a tap on my shoulder and to my surprise turned around to see an old colleague of mine from Silverjet, Gary.

 

We continued to wander through the old souq until we'd had enough......sat down for a shwarma and headed back to the hotel.

 

Day 10: 23 June 2009

 

Damascus, 0 miles

 

Q: In the panic of getting lost we agreed to pay 500 Sp to park in what looked like a well run safe parking lot. When we walked past it in the evening it was abandoned so it would have been silly to pay that again for another night. This would mean facing the Damascus traffic again to move our donkey to the street where our hotel was. 500 Sp can buy you 10 lunches plus a few glasses of tea … It was successful only because we made our move at 745am before breakfast. Less chaos to deal with.

 

A: Breakfast was included today so served up was a tray divided into small sections with cherries, olives, yoghurt, jam, cheese a boiled egg, some fresh local flat bread and of course not forgetting Syria's staple drink...Tea.

 

After getting lost in the vastness of the souq yesterday, we were determined not to make the same mistake again so we followed an advised route from the Lonely Planet. The route took us into the Old City and through parts of the souq and on into the Christian Quarter. This part of the City was especially beautiful with Huge Roman archways and Churches.

 

We landed up by the Mosque and for us to be able to enter Andrew had to don a full length skirt to hide his ankles and I a robe with a hood to hide my hair, slightly resembling Darth Veda.

 

The cities fumes and smog make you feel instantly dirty and I've taken to scrubbing the soles of my feet with a nail brush to get them back to a flesh like colour, I think Andrews given up, his remain black, clean or not!

 

Q: Dinner was a so good tonight. We had passed this local street food place close to where we were staying that serves up a variety of humous/ chickpea type plates. It looked so good that we decided to try it out. It was very good. The owner and his young son were managing the place (farther barked instructions and son hopped to it) and we were made to feel very welcome with tea and coffee once again included for free. Fresh homous, hot chickpeas all the bread you can stomach and water for 150Sp (that's about 2 pounds). After eating we moved to the tea/ coffee house next door so that we could play chess and smoke apple shisha just like the Syrians do all day and night ... but when we sat down we ended up chatting the night away a few of the guys that were siting next to us. Oh and the restaurant owner carried on sending us free tea …

 

Misc facts about Syria

 

1] Syrian's have an incredible sense of distance. When giving directions it is absolutely precis sometimes to the nearest meter. 53 meters straight, 209 meters left and then straight again for 3 to 3.2 km.

2] Syrian diesel (20 Sp) and getting food on the street must be the best value thing in the world

3] If driving in Syria, expect to be frightened most of the time

4] You drink 8 litres of water per day

5] No beer price this time as we did not find one to buy …

 

Day 11: 24th June

 

Dead Sea (Madaba) 237 miles

 

A: We headed out of Damascus as quickly as we could so we didn't get caught in the crazy traffic once more. Today we aiming to see the ruins at Jaresh and get to the Dead Sea for a swim before sunset but before we can even attempt any of that we have the challenges of crossing the Jordanian border.

 

Border crossings have all been relatively pain free so far but at the Jordanian border we found ourselves in a particularly slow queue and all the cars ahead of us had both their bonnets and boots open for inspection by customs.

 

I could just imagine what the poor chap was thinking when he pulled up in the queue behind us!! There was an exceptional amount of things we had to purchase before crossing, visas, insurance, road tax, the list was endless. At one counter we were asked to pay a 20 Jordanian dinar as a customs fee for donkey!! We hadn't been asked for this or for that matter heard of it before and assumed they were trying to pull a fast one. After asking around and causing a bit of a stink, we discovered it was a genuine charge and had to apologise for our mistake...ooops!

 

Once through the border we headed for straight for the Roman city ruins at Jaresh which was once on a main trade route up to Damascus. Next stop the Dead Sea, as we got closer the humidity increased along with the temperature. We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare before the sun set.

 

Q: I like floating around in the Dead Sea. My exceptional floating ability may have something to do with the steady reduction in my back fat which has made me even more buoyant than before. It was a great to watch the sun setting whilst floating in the Dead Sea but we were not fully prepared for what followed. In the heat you dry off quickly which leaves a pretty thick film of salt all over your body. As we had just stopped on the side of the road and hopped into the water to catch the sunset whislt bobbing along, there was little chance of we having a fresh water shower to wash the salt off. It was not very comfortable for the hour driving (including lost time) up to Madaba which is about 30km away in the mountains above the Dead Sea close to Mount Nebo.

 

There is not much for to say about Madaba.

It has much history as it is the town close to Mt Nebo where Moses spent the last days of his life. When we arrived, we once again got lost in the town but the tourist police kindly called the owner of Lulu's Breakfast Hotel who came find us and guide us to the front door. Nice place … you make your own breakfast in the mornings plus they have showers strong enough to wash the thick layer of salt off of your body.

 

Tired and glad to be clean it was easy to fall asleep without airconditioning.

 

Day 12: 25th June 2009

 

Wadi Musa (Petra): 176 miles

 

Q: I woke up very early this morning … perhaps it was the heat but I think it was also because I was very hungry. We had a quick shower, coffee, pita with cheese and jam and then set off for Mount Nebo. Last night we went over the top of Mount Nebo to get to Madaba but did not stop. The view to Israel across the Dead Sea is something worth seeing. I can see why Moses liked it here.

 

We had decided to drive to Petra all the way along the Kings Highway which winds through the mountains, but thought that it would be nice to drop down onto the Dead Sea highway for part of the journey so that we could have another 20 minute float in the sunshine. After driving almost the full length of the Dead Sea we stopped in a remote spot and went down to the waters edge. Before leaving Turkey we filled up the water tank which was going to now be used as shower water for the portable shower … pure luxury on this trip. First we tested the shower and it worked so off with the kit and into the water to float about with absolutely no one else to be seen …

 

Angel showered first and had a great scrub and wash down … desperate to get under the shower shower I managed to only wash the salt off of my face before the water in the tank ran out. Nice …

 

The road from the Dead Sea to Petra on the Kings Highway winds through the mountains and is a pretty special thing to see even though it was about 40 degrees in the car. My right arm is darker than the left as always travelling South means that for half a day the drivers side is in full sunlight … trick is to swap driving at mid day to even your left side.

 

We made it through to Wadi Musa around 5pm and found a room at the Valentine Hotel. Within a few minutes of arriving we had tea, Petra by Night tickets and both dinner and breakfast booked and paid for. The owners husband even offered one camel and a few goats for Angela. I was hoping that she would have fetched a higher price than that … maybe the Egyptians will pay a higher price.

 

A: The Hotel was a real find and the owner was super helpful. We relaxed in the room for an hour or so then went downstairs to have supper. Supper was very traditional Jordanian food in a bedouin style tent looking over the town. The views of the sunset over Petra were very special.

 

As we emerged at the bottom of the Valley, we were confronted by the most magical thing I have ever seen. The Treasury is one of the most beautiful and well preserved buildings in Petra  and laid out before it were hundreds of candles lighting up the facade. I believe its something that everybody must do once in their lives and it is truly breathtaking. Unfortunately once the singing and flute playing is over you dont get that much time to walk about and the organisers chase you out of the canyon.

 

Day 13: 26th June 2009

 

Wadi Rum: 86 miles

 

A: We woke very early this morning so early in fact, we set an alarm!! Something we haven't done for quite some time now!!

 

Petra opened its gates at 06:30 so when we arrived at just before 7, it was thankfully still deserted. We made our way down to the bottom of the valley which opens up to the Treasury and even a second time around it was just as spectacular as last night. We did an exceptional amount of walking, first up the side of a mountain face to Sacrificial Hill where we saw the very area where the Nabethean's sacrificed animals to their Gods, then to another spectacular building called the Monastery. The scale to which the Nabathean's made these facades is quite amazing, you feel very insignificant stood in front of them. They have been wonderfully preserved due to their secluded locations. We spent the best part of the morning trekking from one site to another feeling pretty lucky that the buss loads had not yet arrived.

 

When the Government learned of what money could be made from opening up the site to tourism, they moved the bedouins out of Petra and rehoused them in a village close by. They were given rights to set up little stands selling scuffed silver jewelry and refreshments along with donkey and camel rides up and down the pathways in the mountains to where the best of the sites are. I refused to put such a burden on these animals however some folk didn't think twice about having their oversized rears carried up the hill while these animals backs were on the verge of breaking. I bit my tongue and continued to climb muttering under my breath disapprovingly as they overtook us quite happy while their donkey does all the hard work. By about midday we had seen most of the major sites and the temperature was soaring well into the mid forties so decided to head back to the car and press on to reach Wadi Rum.

 

Q: Jordan is not cheap … plus I get the feeling that Jordanians anywhere near a tourist road or town are out to rip you off at any given opportunity. After we left the Petra site, we updated the website (per hour more then London) and got some food and provisions to get us through the night in Jordan's Southern desert region called Wadi Rum.

 

Wadi Rum is an unusual mountain filled desert and was made famous as this was one place (of many I am sure) where Sir Lawrence of Arabia washed his feet in an oasis during his campaigning.

 

On the way to Wadi Rum we stopped to fill up with tap water for washing and cleaning … which again became another opportunity for some joker Jordanian shopkeeper to try fleece us. First attempt in a village just outside of Petra ended swiftly when the shopkeeper who was washing his pavement wanted 6JD to fill the tank with his hose + another 6JD for a couple of bottles of mineral water. No way … thankfully about 20m past this thief we found kind gentleman who happily filled the tank for free. I can't blame the shopkeeper for trying it on as we were on the main road leading out of Petra and I am sure that on many occasion they have got away with charging prices like that before.

 

The Wadi Rum desert is a protected area and is not a long drive from Petra. We were looking forward to getting into the reserve, finding a place to camp and watch the sun go down … well, it was close but we almost missed the sun setting. Driving a heavy landrover with tires that are not deflated enough in a soft and sandy place may end up in a little digging. We got very stuck about 100m from the place we had to watch the sun set and camp for the night. After about 30 minutes of digging combined with a few small backward and forward movements we realised that the sand ladders were the only things that were going to get out us of this tight spot. Seeing our desperate position, a bedouin in his toyota landcruiser stopped to give us some help. When he arrived he proudly announced … “this is my forte … you are no bedouin”. With the tires deflated and the ladders in place … donkey had no problem getting out of the hole.

 

Covered head to toe in red dust and just as the sun was setting we parked up at the camping spot, opened the fridge and had a cold beer as the sun set. All the effort to get to this place was worth it in the end. Watching the sun setting all alone over the desert mountains was beautiful.

 

Dinner was tuna and tomato pasta with sage tea. After looking up at the stars for about an hour and absolutely exhausted after a pretty physical day we climbed into bed and were asleep in no time.

 

Misc facts about Jordan

 

1] Jordan is not cheap. Everything is expensive in areas where you find tourists. One day we were buying six 2 litres of water for 2JD and the next day the price was 6JD. Always ask how much anything is before eating or drinking as you will get an inflated tourist price if you don't.

2] Petra by night was an unforgettable experience and was only spoiled by the fact you are chased out when the show is over. 

3] The price of a beer ranged from 6JD (if you don't ask how much before drinking it) to 2.25JD (if you do ask). Also, check the label on the can … finding out that you actually bought non alcoholic beer to enjoy at sunset in Wadi Rum may be a little bit of a let down.

4] No fuel price this time as we did not have to buy fuel in Jordan given we stocked up on so much in Syria.

5] Not all Jordanians are are trying to scam you and there were many people who were lovely to us … but the friendliest person we met living in Jordan was from Italy. 

 

Day 14: 27th June 2009

 

Dahab: 132 miles

 

A: Waking up this morning watching the desert sunrise was very special. The sun came up behind the mountains where we had camped and lit the desert a mat red colour all around us. Breakfast was flat bread (slightly stale), cheese and pineapple juice. We made our way back tentatively through the soft sand to the main road trying not to get stuck as spending the morning hanging out with the camels was not the most exciting prospect and we needed to get to Aqaba for the ferry.

 

The Lonely Planet is not clear on what time the ferry leaves from Aqaba to Nuiweba in Egypt (could be 12 or 3pm) … so we quickly made our way through to the port arriving at 11. There were already 70 or so cars waiting to board the ferry and we rushed through immigration and customs to make sure we were ready for the 12 departure. Everything was going well until we had to deal with the ticket office for the ferry … UK registered vehicles don't seem to pass these shores all that often. The dopy ticket officer was really slow and we received our extortionately priced ferry tickets as the ferry started to load. 210 USD for the car and 120 USD for us. Before paying I ran around the other waiting passengers asking if they too were forking out 210 dollars for the ferry … they were, so we had to just accept it.

 

Not surprisingly the 12 o'clock ferry only left Aqaba at 4pm. It was very hot on the upper deck but we passed the 3 hour journey playing cards and reading about what had to look forward to when travelling around Egypt completely unaware of what we were heading towards. We had to hand over our passports to the Egyptian immigration to get our visas sorted which we were told we would receive back in Egypt on arrival.

 

The ferry arrived at the port in Nuiweba about 6 hours behind schedule. Then the craziness of the whole Egyptian customs and immigration system hit us. For an ancient sophisticated civilization the process of clearing a vehicle through customs is possibly still the same as at the time of the pharaohs.

 

On arrival you need to clear the health department where you are asked if you have felt ill in the last week … if anything you were most likely going to catch something on the ferry from using the toilets … if you could stomach it. If anyone reading this wants to cross from Aqaba to Nuiweba by ferry in a car … this is the process that will take over 5 hours to complete …

 

1] Make sure that the pink slip you receive from the ferry operator registering the arrival of your vehicle has the correct chassis and plate numbers as if this is wrong then the whole process to get through customs falls apart. PS everything is in Arabic.

 

2] Park up and watch as all the other passengers who are travelling in their own vehicle start to unload their possessions in anticipation that customs officer will want to see what they are bringing into the country. Now what a regular car can carry is impressive if you can pack like an Egyptian. Some of our fellow passengers had brought what looked like everything they owned with them and somehow still managed to fit their entire family in the car. We did not unload anything and decided it would be best to only do so if asked to.

 

3] Go to the Alexandra Bank behind passport control and change enough money so that you can (i) pay for entry visa in your passport – 15USD each, (ii) pay for insurance for 1 month – 515EP, (iii) pay for vehicle tax – another 510 EP, (iv) keep 20EP ready for the thieving customs guy who does the rubbing of your chassis number and gives you an official looking piece of paper, (v) 25EP to pay for the photo copies of your documents that will be used by the traffic department and finally (vi) another 10EP for being a foreigner driving a 4x4 (? I know … what next). In addition, before going to the traffic department where the documents will be processed, you must somehow get the attention of the fire department and a luggage inspector to give to you a random slip of paper which indicates that they are happy that you have a working fire extinguisher and are not carrying anything illegal.

 

4] All these bits of paper get stapled together in a file and shuffled around at the traffic department office by a number of different individuals who seem to be happy to drink tea and smoke cigarettes while a sea of desperate travellers urge for the return of their papers so that they can continue with their journey. 

 

Once this is all done and you have received a temporary number plate and vehicle license … you are on your way.

 

Manners and standing in an orderly line is the last thing on anybody's mind. If you don't push, extend your hand through the booth with all your documents you will never leave the port until the following year. The frustrating part of this whole affair was not so much of what documents are required from you or even the cost involved … it was more the manner in which all the information you provide was being registered that causes all the chaos. There was not a single computer to be seen … just piles and piles of paper being scribbled on by an army of bureaucratic Egyptians scattered across fifteen dusty rooms on opposite ends of the port.

 

We finally left the port at 130am over 12 hours after getting onto the ferry in Aqaba. As we headed out of the port, there were still many poor people fighting over each other trying to get the attention of anyone who could help them on their way.

 

Someone should make a documentary of this madness. It would be a hit on the discovery channel.  

 

A: We decided to spend the night in Nuiweba but at 01:30 am I can't say there is much accommodation to choose from so after a short debate we decided to head for Dahab. I was completely shattered by this point and failed to keep my eyes open all the way there! We arrived at about 03:00 and found a place called Bischibischi, so good they named it twice or not! The owner was a young guy with the biggest attitude I have ever come across so come the morning we were out of there despite his efforts to find us a nicer room!

 

As soon as our heads hit the pillows we were gone, and glad that the chaos of the day is over.........for now!!