3rd  to   9th   November 2009 – Damascus to Cairo

By the time we had updated the web and moved to another hotel, the sunny morning had changed to rain but we donned our waterproof gear and set off to explore the old town and the souq.  The traffic is as bad during the day and no one takes any notice of zebra crossings, so we just waited for a group of locals and joined them to cross.  The souq here is a maze of colourful, noisy shops with everything from cuddly toys to belly dancing outfits – definitely not for me.  The strong smell of cardamom reminded us that it was well passed lunch time so we joined the locals in one of the small street cafes where JC had swuarma  (not sure how you spell that) and I had falafel sandwich, followed by great ice creams from Café Barkash, where the ice cream is made on the spot.  We were a bit nervous about the ice cream as, the last time we were here, we ended up with “delhi belly” and wondered if it was the ice cream BUT it was too delicious to resist.  The place is always full and even the staff eat it as they work.  Tomorrow will tell!!  After seven days of just sitting it was great to get out and stretch our legs in this , one of the oldest cities in the world.


Finding his way in the traffic....            Damascus Souq............                      Not quite my style.....            Fancy a smoke..................


Christmas Decs Syrian style......           Lunch on the run............                    The Mosque............             Just for you belly dancers.....


What a choice............                       Was it the ice cream????       You can leave by bus or...........           Join the rest of us leaving Damascus..


Good news – it wasn’t the ice cream and we left Fardoss Hotel early to try and miss the early morning rush hour.  A couple of de-tours for road works confused the nav but eventually we were on our way South to Jordan and arrived at the border around 1030am in SUNSHINE (wot – no rain!!) .  A smiling Syrian policeman, offered JC some pomegranate and then waved us through to do our exit paperwork before we entered Jordan.  Here, despite the heavy security, we were also welcomed warmly – strange how Rooney is the name they all now relate to England and not Beckham!!!  We drove over a pit for an inspection and then waited in the queue for the vehicle search.  Again, a friendly customs officer – simply asked JC is he was carrying any guns, bombs or drugs!!  When he answered “no” we were welcomed into Jordan and I was told that I was very lucky to have a husband who was such a “diplomat” – John Cox – a diplomat?????  He must have made a good impression, because even at immigration he was waved forward into the diplomatic lane, whilst I had to wait with the “foreigners”.  So far the border crossings have been a pleasure compared to those we had to face in Central America last year.  In Jordan, we are heading straight for Aqaba and the ferry to Egypt.  Sorry folks we have been to Petra and Wadi Rum on another trip so no pics for you!

Again, the nav lost the plot around Amman and we ended up going straight through the city centre, directly into the busy traffic and the souq area.  Our limited map in Lonely Planet gave me us no idea how to get out of the city but we just kept on heading South and following the compass until, whilst stopped at a traffic light, a very kind gentleman said “follow me” when we asked for help.  Not easy when everyone else is trying to get in front of you but we managed and after a while our escort stopped and to point out the directions.  We thanked him profusely – we could have been in the centre for much longer – as it was my mistake had cost us a couple of hours driving time and we didn’t arrive into Aqaba until after the ferry office was closed – would we manage to get on the ferry the following day??  This had been our first day without rain and we enjoyed a beer and a great supper sitting outside that evening – hopefully that’s the last of the rain for a while.


Welcoming us to Jordan........                                          The "nav" got a bit confused we where here when we should have been here in the desert!!!!

As you would expect we were at the shipping office by 0815 the next morning where we were told we could get tickets for ourselves there and then but would have to wait until 0900 for the Captain of the catamaran to confirm that we could take the vehicle on board.  We spent this time having a great conversation with Dr Khalaf Al Orainert, who worked at the office and also happens to have a PHD in English Language.  We heard all about his family and his studies with the University of Huddersfield.  He even invited us to supper, despite the fact that I could not sort out something on his computer for him – should have had Jo or Margi with me to help out.  Sadly we could not accept his invitation as the Captain rang and we were on our way!

The Captain obviously has strict control over the time table too – we should have left at 11am but finally started boarding 1230.  As we mounted the steep ramp the foot passengers were loading their luggage – from bags to wide screen televisions – onto a trailer. There were only two other private vehicles on board and when we got to the other end the luggage was simply strewn all over the ramp in front of us.  With everyone scrambling  find their bits and pieces as we disembarked in Nuweiba, Egypt it was safer for us just to sit there until they had all finished.  On board, we had met a group from Costa Rica – travelling by bus - goodness knows what they thought about this scrum for baggage! 


Denise helping out at AB Maritime...      We waited..........................    and          they waited........


They loaded their luggage......              We waited while they unloaded their luggage....... We travel light as you can see..

The system on arrival in Egypt is very complicated, apart from the usual insurance and importation of the vehicle, we also needed an Egyptian license and number plate.  Thankfully for us Ashraf of the Tourist Police, who is mentioned on many other people’s website, approached us and promised to help us once he had got the other groups organized.   Once again we drove over a pit for inspection and then as we waited for further vehicle checks Ashraf, as good as his word, appeared and whisked JC off to do the business.  Whilst he did the rounds, I watched in amazement as the other travelers queued with their mountains of luggage to clear customs – what appeared to be chaos to me was probably very organized for them???



The other arrivals in Egypt................................................                           We got our plates................             Finally time to relax......

Ashraf was fantastic, and as it was already dark as we left the port, he rang a friend of his to arrange for us to camp that night not far away – and all of this with no requests for money!!  He even refused what we offered him.  Although it was only 5.30pm when we left the port it we were glad to know that we had somewhere definite to stay and that we would not be driving around looking for accommodation.  At Camping Bawadi on the beach Asraf’s friend made us very welcome. He made us tea on arrival and we joined him and a couple of French honeymooners for a simple dinner of pasta and bread toasted over the open fire as we sat on the beach eating from low tables with the stars twinkling above us before being rocked to sleep with the sound of the sea lapping on the shore.  All of this and our gentle host would take no payment, wishing us a “safe journey” as we left in the beautiful sunshine to start our adventures in Egypt.

We drove into the mountains, very dry landscape with few villages, to visit St Katherine’s Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai.  The monastery chapel was built in the 4th century beside the burning bush from which God allegedly spoke to Moses.  The burning bush is still there and surrounded by tourists waiting to have their photographs taken. Inside of the chapel, which is Greek Orthodox it was very very beautiful with golden icons, centuries old, adorning the walls.  It was a short walk from the car park to the Monastery but the usual taxis and camels were plying their trade to carry the old, infirm and simply lazy the half a kilometer to the gate.  JC reckons if he took the storage out of the back of the Toyota he could have made at least 100$ in a few hours as the gullible tourists were paying 1$ a head each way for this short trip!


Around Sinai................................................................                                                 At St Katherine's Monastery..........


The Burning Bush...........       Wind Tower..........              Morgy at Morgenland in the glasses!     Will we stay there?????


There are many police stops along the way, some want to see our papers, but some just want to know where we are going.  When we stopped for lunch we were approached by three young boys, who were more interested in the vehicle than ourselves – all was going well until they started asking for “feloos” – money – that spoiled it all for us, we smiled, said no and quickly left.

The nav is supported now by Gloria Garmin and Tracks4Africa, which is a fantastic set of maps uploaded to the GPS showing campsite, ATMs, fuel stops, and supermarkets as well of sites of interest of course!  Gloria got us to our planned camp site for that evening to find that it had been demolished and replaced with a road junction!  The few hotels along the beach looked a bit run down so, like other travelers, we simply asked if we could park our vehicle in their car park, use their loos and have dinner whilst camping in our roof tent.  My belief is that even if the tent is a bit dusty or dirty at least it is our dirt and not someone else’s.  The Sudr Beach Inn were happy to help – anything for a few $ - except a beer – fortunately JC had bought some in the duty free shop at the port in Aqaba.

After a surprisingly good dinner and breakfast – loos were a bit dodgy and no shower we headed North for what will probably be the last time for some time.  As we headed for the Suez tunnel, the coast was full of Beach Resort complexes – all of which, whether new or old, appeared to be empty. Hundreds of apartments for whom we wondered.  

Over the “Tyre Killers” and through the Suez tunnel, we found our way, with Gloria’s help, through the smog and over the Nile to Motel Salma Camping – a favourite stopping place for overland travelers like ourselves.  Already there were Robert and Anna in a VW Camper, Helen and Marcus on motorbikes and Lutz in a Landrover Defender – all from Germany and all heading South like ourselves.  The campsite itself needs a lot of TLC but the helpful owners have a contact with a Taxi driver – Ali who knows where all of the Embassies are, how long it takes to get the paperwork down, where to get your vehicle serviced, how to get some laundry done and any other important things you may need in Cairo – a godsend we discovered when we went with Helen and Marcus in his taxi the following day to start the paper trail to send us on our way into Sudan and Ethiopia. 


             Welcome to the Suez Tunnel..................................                           Down we went.............


A wide load on the other side.....            The veggie man in the dust...               Definitely not the Sheraton........

The most important document required by the Sudanese  Embassy is a letter of introduction from your home Embassy.  After dropping Helen and Marcus at the German Embassy, we went with Ali for a coffee whilst we waited for them.  He took us to a small coffee/shisha place – no women at all  - I have to admit I felt a bit uncomfortable especially knowing that these are usually “men only” places.  At the British Embassy we paid around thirty pounds for a letter to say that British Embassy does not issue a letter as the passport is considered to be sufficient to prove our nationality!!!!  As you would imagine there were very strong security checks – no cameras nor mobile phones allowed, baggage xrays and huge steel barriers all around.  At the Sudanese Embassy we simply walked in through a small incongruous door – no questions asked – just lots of queuing and waiting around.  Once we had handed in the necessary documents, we waited two hours before we were asked to pay and then told we would have to come back the following day to pick up passports with visas.   

By this time, what had been a lovely breezy morning had turned into a hot midday in the city and we headed for the Egyptian Museum and the Tutankhamen Exhibition to escape from the sun and catch up with some culture.  Amazing the stuff that the Pharaohs had buried with them for the next life, magnificent golden chariots, boats, jewelry beyond belief, bows and arrows, golden beds and much much more, fascinating stuff, particularly the beautifully decorated masks.  Sadly no photographs allowed inside here folks.

The traffic in the city is absolutely unbelievable.  At crossings they have a flashing, running green man to indicate when it is allegedly safe to cross.  Believe me you would have to be an Olympic gold medal sprinter to cross on green.  Basically everyone just ignores the signs and dodges their way through the mass of cars and people.  We made our way down to the Nile to take a look at the famous Corniche and the feluccas – small boats which can be hired for trips or simply used to cross the river.  Here in Cairo, almost everyone who speaks to you is trying to sell you something or misrepresent themselves as a guide/government official/ lollypop man to get you across the road.  After trying very hard and getting a smiling “no” from us the usual question was “Where are you from?”  JC’s standard answer became “from a small country called NO….”  The noise, traffic and the constant hassle from vendors makes Cairo a very tiring city to visit but our visit was brightened by a bunch of very colourfully dressed young girls who tried to chat and then came over all giggly when I asked if we could take their photographs.  They would have had us there all day if we had let them!!


At the Egyptian Museum        Feluccas on the Nile...........                 Meet the girls...........


What another one......           Glad of a rest and yes that is tea!!!      Glad we didn't have to squeeze on here....


 Downtown Cairo....                JC choosing shoes.....                   Back at camp Helen keeps JC amused with her tight rope act!..

Looking for some respite from the heat and the noise we found shelter in a coffee house where we relaxed until Ali came back and took us “home” to our tent  On the way he stopped and got us some eggs and bread telling us that we would pay twice as much and more if we went into the local shop ourselves – what a help he has been so far and he has even arranged for JC to take the Toyota to a local garage for an oil change tomorrow.  She might look a bit dirty at the moment but she is still very cared for!!  Back at camp the water in the showers was HOT – that is about the only good thing that can be said for the facilities here but it serves a purpose and has surely seen many overlanders over the years.

The following day, we successfully collected our passports and visas and together with Helen and Marcus, Ali took us to the Ethiopian Embassy for the next visa.  Here there is a little hatch in a large metal gate – the only way that you can tell it is an Embassy from the road are the colours of the Ethiopian flag painted on the police guard box outside.  We knocked on the hatch, were presented with application forms, sat on a bench outside to complete them and passed them back through the hatch with our payment and were told to come back at 11am the following day.  I now have a little time to type this lot up whilst JC off with the Toyota.  Thanks for all of the messages, glad to see you are all still keeping up.  Apologies to anyone who is constantly getting emails from our SPOT tracker.  We set it up last trip and forgot to make changes before we left.  Warning though – once we get out of Sudan the tracker may not work. 

Special message for Gerry from JC  -“ Yaris, steaming away up the mountains and no black smoke – hope you have had a good sump guard and windscreen fitted to that old jag for Ruta 40!!!”

That's it for now folks - not sure when next update will be but will do my best to keep you all informed.  Keep the messages coming.....