You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

Alan pressed the button, Bun & Iso did the torch writing. Taken in Wadi Rum in Jordan. We are off for a desert safari this afternoon. We put in a order for a leg of lamb to be cooked over a fire when we’ve finished driving around the dunes.

We had breakfast and opened the presents that we have had hidden away since we left London.

200 kms of almost dead straight desert road and we have arrived in Siwa, our base for Christmas. We got a faint glimpse of a town against a backdrop of sandstone with the desert rolling in the background set amongst palm groves. We rubbed our eyes and new we had arrived.,25.519399&z=13&t=h&hl=en

The 23rd was spent travelling from Cairo to Alexandria. We camped on the roadside after a few fruitless efforts trying to camp behind closed gates in hotels along the coast.

On the evening we arrived, we camped on a small dune outside of Siwa before booking into our hotel the next day. We got stuck in the sand for thirty minutes as we dug ourselves out. We let out half the pressure in our tyres and got going straight away; t made a huge difference. We awoke the next morning to a fantastic setting of pure sand.

Siwa was originally settled by Berbers making it stand alone from mainstream Egyptian society. It remianed independant till a few hundred years ago and was a stopping point for caravan traders. It was also visited by pilgrims searcihng for the Oracle of Amun.

It feels like Timbuktu, being on the edge of the Sahara. There are some really good routes down to the Great Sand Sea, Gilf Kebir plateau and the White Desert from here. 18 days notice is needed to get down there and it’s a 15 day round trip to somewhere like Gilf Kebir. Our Sahara Overland book talks in detail about some of the routes.

The afternoon we arrived I trip around town trying to get some sand ladders. I was taken to a family running tours who had a set. I might have to go back before we leave to get them. I’m sure we will need them from now on.

On the 27th, we have permission to follow another 4×4 vehicle to Bahariya Oasis, a 400kmm sand track that will take us south east from here. We are not allowed to go without having a satellite phone so the timing has been good for us.

Photo of Bun waking up on Christmas Eve. That was before she fell out of the tent and I had to try and catch her as she fell!

Looks like we might miss the first white Christmas in years!

We are in Cairo for a few days to get our Sudan visas sorted. A visit to the British embassy to get a letter for a rip-off £33 and then straight up the road to the Sudan embassy to fill out forms and some photocopying before handing over $200 for 2 visas. We’ve since picked them up. Easilly done and it beats the two months it normally takes in London to get them issued.

Being the only campsite for overlanding vehicles, there are five other overland vehicles here at the Salma Motel. Everyone seems to be in in Cairo to get visas sorted and whatever else before going their different ways for Christmas.

We are also on the search for some pork for Christmas! Craving levels are also running high. We haven’t managed to find any yet despite Cairo being well stocked with almost everything else. The search continues.

It is a 40 minute taxi ride from the Salma Motel, where we are staying, to central Cairo. We have been spending all day in the city exploring. The first day we were here we left our useless Lonely Planet guide behind and relied on the our pocket sized guide.

Cairo’s traffic is at bursting point; I’ve never seen traffic like it. The drivers compensate for long periods held up in traffic jams by making it up on the next clear section. It makes for a fun ride when we’ve got in taxis to get around the city. The picture I took was whilst we were stuck in one of the jams. The taxi driver made time to put on his sunglasses after he saw the first picture of him without them on. Like most buying experiences in Cairo, we had to haggle him down for this taxi ride.

My brother mark put us in touch with Reda, a man who lives in the islamic area of Cairo. We had a great afternoon exploring some of the less visted sites and shops in this area.

We got in a visit to the Pyramids of Giza before heading out fo Cairo Tuesday morning.

We will be in Siwa for Christmas in a few days. We are looking forward to visit to a hot spring in the desert.

After a daytime drive from Mount Sinai, we moved towards the Red Sea. We knew we couldn’t make it to Cairo before dark so set out to find a good camping spot for the night. A man we met the day before recommended stopping at Hammam Fara’un, a natural spring right next to the coast.

We sussed out the area for a while, noticing two young men looking at us through binoculars who turned out to be in the army. They were monitoring that stretch of the coast and it only became apparant later in the night that they were looking out for boats smuggling drugs.

We also met a German man called Stefan who turned up just after we found a spot to camp. He is also travelling to South Africa, solo on his motorbike, and we enjoyed the evening with him. We have to thank him for supplying us with all the GPS maps we were missing for Africa, which we were planning to buy later on our trip.

Saturday morning we spent in the caves known as Hammam Fara’un or Pharaoh’s bath. Used by bedoiun men as a cure for ailments, we used the natural sauna before jumping in the sea to cool off. The heat coming off the rocks was intense.,32.950083&z=16&t=h&hl=en,33.975467&z=15&t=h&hl=en

We stayed in Dahab, north of Sharm el Sheikh for two nights after entering Egypt. We wanted to avoid travelling too far south as we intended to visit Mt Sinai the following day. We enjoyed warm weather, snorkelling and good bread from the German bakery!

Something new for our trip through Africa. I’m adding maps to show where we stay for the night.,34.509383&z=16&t=h&hl=en

We have  made it to Egypt!

One hell of a day on Sunday leaving Jordan and entering Egypt. The two days before we spent in Wadi Rum driving and camping on the reserve. It was fantastic driving in the sand, only getting stuck once! Good practice for the journey ahead.

We met up with our friend, Hamza, from Petra who drove down to meet us. We spent the first night with him and his friend who drives tourists around Wadi Rum in his battered Toyota. We experienced some first class sand driving.

Aqaba is only 40 kms from Wadi Rum, so we drove there Saturday morning to find out about getting tickets for the ferry. We decided it wasn’t worth hanging around Aqaba for more than the day so went back in the afternoon to buy tickets.

It worked out as expected with the tickets being $70 per person to cross and $220 for the car. There is a fast and slow ferry to Nuwieba in Egypt. The fast one leaves at midday and everything I had read said go for that one due to the  formalities at the other end.  We had arranged  our visas for Egypt in London before leaving so we were ready to go!

The Landcruiser’s odometer hit 6000 miles since leaving London on the hill down into Aqaba.

We met a 70-year-old South African the day before we entered Wadi Rum who was on a real mission to get going and make tracks for Sudan before his visa expired. He had shipped his vehicle to Germany, where he is from originally. He is making his way back south through East Africa.

We were surprised when we met him again in Aqaba the day before we left Jordan thinking he would have been well gone by then. He was waiting for his Egyptian visa before catching the same ferry as us the next day.

On Sunday morning, we headed into town to get supplies before racing to the ferry terminal in good time to sort out customs and immigration. Luckily there was only one car ahead of us (see picture). We were wondering if he paid for a car or 4×4! There was another car behind us owned by a couple of men from Abu Dhabi who were travelling in the same model Landcruiser as us heading for Morocco.

With formalities sorted, we saw the South African man turn up with a rush on to sort out his paperwork. As expected the ferry was running late and we were ready to board an hour later. All seemed ok, then just as we were about to board, they turned all the vehicles around and said we all needed to have our vehicles inspected by x-ray. So off we went, all lined up in a building near the ferry to have our cars inspected. We were handed a piece of paper and then proceeded to board without any further problems!

2 hours later we arrived in Nuwieba. An hour after that we were allowed to leave the ferry. We were not sure what caused the delay. Staff on the ferry had to lock some of the doors to stop passengers escaping! it was funny watching the scene when they had to open the door to let staff out from time to time. Hundreds of faces waiting to escape. There was also a man in a wet suit wandering around. We somehow managed to find a quite corner in first class, near the exit, with about fifty other people!

I had been reading for the last 6 months about how entry into Egyptian works. However prepared I thought I was, it was still a mystery as to what to do next when we finally got off the ferry. Trying to race ahead of the South African, we followed the two men from Abu Dhabi thinking that they must know what they were doing.

We eventually caught up with them when we saw their vehicle parked over an inspection pit. We parked behind them thinking that we are next when we were told we had to start a customs file before anything could commence. I had this in my notes and yep the first charge, 30 Egyptian pounds (EP) for a few photocopies and a file, which I was handed to keep safe.

Having a tourist policeman at the port really helped and he guided us and the South African to stage two where we had to hand over more money. Customs tax was a hefty 510 EP. Then came insurance; you have to pay for the whole year regardless of how long your staying in Egypt – another 520 EP.

Whilst this was being done, Bun and Iso were by the car having that checked over. Four men, all interested in the tent on the roof, asked  us open it and they checked inside. They asked if we had an fire extinguisher. We showed them and they gave us a receipt and that also went into the file.

They made a kind of brass rubbing of the chassis number which only included half the letters and numbers. They were ok with this when I could prove that the chassis number was correct!

The South African man travels with a rubber snake in his car, which seems to quicken up border crossings. The officials were in fits of laughter when they were checking things over under the bonnet whilst playing with a toy snake! I might have to adopt this form of communication to help us next time!

I was handing over bits of paper so quickly I was getting lost as to what to do next. I went off again with the South African to sort out the carnet to get it filled in and stamped. Only two things left to do now. We knew that we had to get Egyptian number plates fitted, so I handed over another 220 EP for these and half an hour later, we were handed some number plates with more holes in than a sieve. We got the cable ties out and on they went.

We were ready to go after three hours of sorting out the formalities. I bought a local phone card and we headed off in the dark with the South African who was happy to follow us so we could show him a place to sleep for the night. The GPS is back! We turned it on and within minutes the route to the camp was set up and we were ready to go. We were directed straight to the door some 10 kms later.

Despite all the warnings, we felt that the entry into Egypt wasn’t as bad as we had expected. All the fees added up and there were no hidden charges.

We have travelled from Nuwieba to Dahab down the coast. It is good to be back at sea level and the return of some warmer nighttime temperatures. We want to have a snorkel here before heading to Mount Sinai.

As I update the blog, I have just had an email from our friend, Mr Salah, who owns the ferry company. We have been told to be at his office on the 9th January 2010! The ferry leaves on the 11th for Wadi Haifa in Sudan.

Anyone needing his details for the journey into Sudan. They are Telephone number when in Egypt 0020 183 160 926

Here we go. The mile long natural gorge known as the Bab as-Siq leads into the city of Petra, emerging dramatically in front of the Treasury ( as in picture ). It is an incredible journey that lasts an hour from the visitors centre at the top of the site. It is a combination of natural wonder and civilisation which could vanish tomorrow if you rubbed the sandstone hard enough with your hands. It’s a wonder how it has survived for so long. Other tomb faces have vanished from exposure to the weather.

The rest of Petra, aside from the 800 steps we took to get to the monastery on top of the mountain, was lost in endless requests for camel and donkey rides (no thanks, for the hundredth time) and endless cruise ship tourists on day trips from Aqaba! Most of Petra seems to be lost underground, so we’ll have to come back one day.

We made the most of it for two days, with Bun and Iso getting in horse rides near Petra and a night at a Bedouin camp before moving back North. We bumped into a group of Air France air crew who were on day leave and were sampling Bedouin life before visiting Petra the next day. We camped whilst we were there, a few miles up the road from Petra, only venturing to the Movenpick for ice creams!

I’ve been joking how I haven’t spoken to any women whilst travelling in the Middle East. We meet a lot of men who are full of themselves. One being a man who called himself  ‘Dangerous’ who owned the camp site we stayed at. I hope one of the others didn’t give him the blog address! They seem to like saying ‘lovely , jubbly’ when they discover we are English and must think Only Fools and Horses is still on TV  in the UK.

I have been getting slightly stressed about the two big ferry journeys ahead. One I am less worried about ( from Jordan to Egypt) and the other longer one from Egypt to Sudan after the New Year. Having read a few blogs from overland trips three or four weeks ahead of us, this seems to be ok if we speak to Mr Salah who runs the ferry company in Aswan. I was looking forward to getting to the capital, Amman, to make a few phone calls to sort this out.

It is a 250km journey from Petra back north to Amman which took about three hours, with only one early stop for a falafel. We took the desert highway, one of the two major roads from north to south in Jordan. Imagine the M1 with speed bumps and police checks every 20kms. Luckily they wave us on before we have to slow down to much.

We had four days in the South with the temperature in the mid-twenties to be greeted with rain in Amman. A massive ‘thank you’ to Ashley for  treating us to a lovely meal on Monday night and meeting us again for cocktails on Tuesday. Fortunate timing being in Amman at the same time!

I’ve been trying to download all the TV shows, films and audio books for our journey at our hotel in Amman. I’m finally up to date with everything. Thanks to the hotel reception for looking after my laptop overnight to get this done. We can finally watch the next three episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Yesterday we ventured into downtown Amman after a slow start. We wandered the back streets and the souk before getting some lunch. I finally got some sugar cane juice. The board outside of the hole in the wall shop boasted the benefits of sugar cane. Top of the list was ‘sexual supporter’. Bun and Iso tried milky custard topped with coconut shavings. I don’t think that offers the same benefits!

Our taste for real coffee has vanished. Hopes of making coffe like we do back home has now turned in to drinking vending machine style cups of Nescafe 3 in 1 sachets. I’ve got a real taste for it and am buying it by the jumbo pack.

The Landcruiser is performing well after approximately 6000 miles and has finally had a few ventures off-road as we try and find camp away from the road. Detailed mileage to come when we hit Cairo. Thinking it was time to start changing filters before we hit the desert in Wadi Rum and Egypt, we stopped at a local garage in Petra after we filled up with diesel. After chatting under the bonnet for a while, the mechanic  reckoned we didn’t have to worry about that for a while.

We are heading to Wadi Rum on Wednesday afternoon for three days in the desert. We’ve got the firewood on the roof rack and the car is full of supplies.

December 2009