Four Wheels Around - A Road Trip from the UK to South Africa

In February 2009 we are setting off on the trip of a lifetime from Brighton, E-Sussex, UK to South Africa. Furthermore, we are raising money for the British Red Cross along the way. This blog will cover our preparation until we leave and our adventures whilst we are on the road.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Crazy Cairo

We are still in Cairo. Well I say in Cairo, our campsite, rumoured to be the only campsite close to Cairo is 10 k out of town, in Giza. It is a lovely little refuge, a sanctury away from the hustle and bustle and extreme craziness of every day Cairo life. However, it is a pain to get to. We like to leave the car at the camp and make our own way into town. Via taxi was proving to be a bit of a dent in the budget so Alex and myself have been experimenting with public transport. In the last few days we have joined the locals on mini buses, tuc tucs, VW camper vans converted into Mini buses and metro trains. The first day it was great fun getting involved with it all, but now the novelty has worn off it is becoming a bit of a hassle! There is major road improvements taking place around the area of town we are staying and it plays havoc with the traffic. It took us two hours to get home from Downtown the other night. We finally got back to camp to find we were locked out! Needless to say a random wondering man who let us in (who I had not seen before and who I have not seen since) was not best pleased with us.

We have been trying to make the most of our time in Cairo, but on a budget. We visited the Dashur pyramids instead of the Giza Pyramids. Going inside a pyramid is very strange. Definately not for the claustrophobic! We had to climb an almost vertical ladder 65 feet down through a tunnel into the centre of the pyramid. The Dashur pyramid site was great. You need your own transport to get there so there were very few tourists. There are two pyramids there. The red Pyramid which is open to the public to enter and is extremely well preserved. Also the Bent Pyramid which as its name suggests, is rather an odd shape. This one is not very well preserved but still worth a look.

We have also been to Coptic Cairo which is also known as Old Cairo. This area predates Islam and has a number of churches. Most famous the Hanging church which is still used today as the Christian and more specifically Greek Orthodox centre of Worship in Cairo.

visited the Egyptian museum. Full of anciet Egyptian relics apparently there is so much to see there that even if you allowed 1 minute for each exhibit then you would be there for 9 months. This is according to the Lonely Planet. As it was we amused ourselves for 2 hours or so, but as we are not really museumy people this was more than enough for us. What frustrates me the most and has done throughout this trip. Is the lack of information at museums. I went into theEgyptian museum, yes to admire the relics and artefacts but I would have found it far more interesting had there been a little bit more information about the history of them. There is a number of rooms dedicated to Tutunkarmun which is fantastic but there is no information bout who he was!

We are currently waiting on the arrival of some car documents from the UK to our campsite. It is taking longer than expected, hence why we are still in Cairo. Hopefully the mail will arrive soon and then we can get back on the road!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Some piccis!

Here are a few pictures from recent excursions in Egypt! I am having some serious issues with computers and the internet and memory cards so sorry it is not many pictures.

The River Nile, Cairo

Getting some welding done in Ras Sudr

Me and Alex feeling pretty tired after watching sunrise on Mount Sinai

Sunrise from Mount Sinai

Alex paddling in a lagoon near Dahab.

Dahab beach
Ahmed giving Carol a facelift in Dahab.

Jacques, Mandy, me and Alex enjoying a celebratory bottle of vino after getting into Egypt!

Carol and her Egyptian number plates!

A visa mission in Cairo

There are a few things which we always dread doing on this trip. Crossing borders and obtaining visas! We have taken the philosophy after research that it is best to apply for our visas en route in the capital cities of the preceeding country if we cannot obtain visas at the border. There are many embassies in Cairo so it seemed like a good place for us to get both the Ethiopian and Sudanese visas in anticipation of the next month.

The Sudanese and Ethiopian visas are not without their problems. We had heard that to acquire the Ethiopian visa we would need proof of onward travel in the form of a plan ticket for example. The Sudanese visa process is meant to be extremely difficult. Letters of recommendation from embassys, sponsors from Khartoum we had heard horror stories of the process taking weeks.

It seems we were lucky on both accounts. The Ethiopian visa process was relatively simple. We filled in the form, paid 30 US dollers each, left our passports over night and hey presto we picked them up this morning with the visa inside.

We headed straight for the Sudanese embassy in the Garden City part of Cairo and were informed there that we would need a letter of recommendation from our embassy. This seems a complete waste of time as surely our passport alone is adequate proof of our identity and needing a further clarification from the British Embassy is just a joke! Despite our views we had little choice in the matter so we set off to the British Embassy, literally next door to the Sudanese Consulate and spoke with them. It seems they are used to this request from Sudan and as it is a common overland transit from North to East Africa. Acquiring the letter was a quick process. They have a standardised letter for this purpose of which they just printed us out a copy of and sent us on our way. We used one letter for both of us which Sudan seemed happy with. The catch: The letter cost 240 Egyptian pounds which equates to about 30 GBP. Alex was not impressed and has spent the afternoon grumblingto me: "What do we pay our taxes for!?''

Back at the Sudanese embassy, once we had the letter the process was extremely well organised and quick. We filled in our forms, provided the necessary photo copies and passport pictures and left our documents with them. We went off for lunch and headed back at 2.30pm to pick up the visas. They were very friendly and helpful at the Sudanese embassy, far more so than at the British embassy. The only drawback was the cost. It was 1oo dollers per visa which has crippled us! The visas for Sudan are valid for one month from today, supposidly when we reach Wadi Halfa within the month, immigration will stamp us into Sudan for one month from date of entry.
So far so good.

Cairo seems like a nice place. Unlike some of the big cities we have visited it has greenery and despite the hectic traffic the pace of life is quite relaxing and pleasent. The river Nile separating Cairo from Giza is beautiful and far more tropical than the river Thames! Yesterday it was obscenely hot, with temparatures reaching 38 degrees (according to the good old BBC) today it is overcast (horray!) and a far nicer temperature!

Yesterday Alex and I needed some more passport pictures. We got them taken in a Kodak shop in Giza. No photo booths here. We were sent upstairs to sit on a stool whilst the photographer took our picture. It reminded me of having my school picture taken when I was a kid. We then watched as he uploaded it onto his computer and magically airbrushed us to perfection. He neatened up Alex's facial hair and removed the sunburn from his nose. They tidied up my hair and removed any blemishes from my facee I don't think we have ever had such flawless pictures taken of us. I am quite sad that I will have to part with them for visas.

Next stop is the Pyramids tomorrow. We can see the tip of the big one from our campsite so we will attempt to walk there tomorrow.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Dahab and beyond....

We have finally left Dahab! It was difficult, and even 4 days on I am still hearing pretty much daily echoes of resentment from Alex and Jacques, along the lines of 'I miss Dahab...' or 'This campsite is no Dahab is it?' As nice as Dahab was, it was time to go and so we set off in the direction of St Katherines Monastry and Mount Sinai on saturday.

We reached Mount Sinai with a cunning plan. We decided to try and grab a few hours kip in the car park before embarking on a hike up to the summit at 2am to reach the peak for sunrise. We were dismayed that we had to have a guide to accompany us the 7km or so up the mountain. This rule I believe has only recently come into practice after a German guy just wondered off the path and over the edge of the mountain a few months back. We didn't need a guide, to be honest the path was pretty obvious and there were a number of other tourists taking the same route (the camel path) up to the top for sunrise so it was near impossible to get lost. Unfortunately we had to pay for this compulsory guide and he didn't come cheap! We reached the 2285m summat in good time, and waited for sunrise. I can safetly say that I haven't seen bvery many sunrises and although the trip up Mount Sinai is a bit of a cliche it was cool to see sunrise as it was pretty spectacular. We hiked up and down during the night and early morning, thus avoiding the scoorching daytime heat and we were back at the carpark by 7am ready for our next destination.

There is a lot of religious significance associated with Mount Sinai which is also known as gebel Musa (Moses Mountain). Different religions placing the occurance of different events here. There is very little information about this at the site. All we were aware of is that allegedly the 10 commandments were recited to Moses here by God.

From St Katherines we drove in the direction of Suez. Wedidn't expect to make it all the way there that day, it was quite a distance and we were all pretty knackered from our long hike! We ended up in a small town called Ras Sudr. We found a camp where they initially quoted us EGP10 per car per night (around GBP 1.25) then after some consideration decided to up that price to EGP 100! We weren't having any of that and promptly hot footed it away from the camp to motorway services where we spent the night instead. The camp wasn't even that nice. The Womens toilets looked as though they hadn't been used for years (probably because the beach is a bit of a no go area for Women) and there were no showers. There was very loud and repetitive Egyptian music pumping from a DJ booth and lots of chicken bones and litter on the beach! The service station was far nicer! Indeed, that night we were so tired after being up since 2am that we slept from 9pm until 8am the next day!

In Ras Sudr we deiced to try and get a few things fixed on Carol. She was in need of some welding and our leisure battery was playing up. We managed to get a lot of welding done. The water tank had a leak and the jacking points at the back of the vehicle were rusted through. The lack of health and safety was incredible. Spark and fire were flying all over the place and there was no protective clothing being worn, not even protective glasses. The guy doing the welding only had one thumb, we didn't ask if it was a welding accident or not?

We got back on the road to Suez. To reach Suez we had to use the tunnel which allows you to cross the Suez Canal. The Suez canal severs Africa from Asia and allows for transportation via water between Europe and Asia without having to detour around Africa. It was opened in 1869 and it is still extremely well used and important today. Crossing the canal signified reaching Africa proper for us. We stopped in Suezto make a few enquiries about reaching Sudan. We had heard that there is a ship that sails from Suez to Port Sudan. We knew it was a long shot but we wanted to double check that Aswan to Wadi Halfa is the only viable route for us into Sudan. We drove to the port and asked the guards where we could sleep. They directed us to a car park, it had some shade which has become a determining factor for us these days, as so we went for it.

We went to boat spot by the canal and at once become celebraties. People, mostly children, were fascinated by us. They followed us, poked us, took pictures of us (mainly of Mandy and I) from all angles and wanted as much attention from us as possible. It got frustrating after a while as all we wanted to do is relax and it was difficult as were suddenly the talk of Suez. We watched a few ships and even saw some dolphins which was far more interesting than boats!

Our make shift car park/camp site in Suez seemed to be a bit of a sketchy area! We noticed a few syringes strewn around and even some weith nneedles. We were told that these were from the drug users. Nice! The manager of the car park was very concerned by us. We were recieving quite a lot of attention from passing locals and he seemed keen to protect us from that! Suez was a very strange place or at least downtown Suez where we were camping. There were people just pissing in the street. Walking along they would lift up their robes and go there and then. Others were sleeping, just in the middle of the pavement or under some bushes.

Suez to me, has a lot of potential. It is a nicely set out city. It has the crystal clear waters of the canal, a lot of green areas and nice promenades. Unfortunately it has been destroyed. The locals leave litter everywhere. The green parks are covered in crap, dirty nappies, the remains of picnics from the previous day etc. It does seem to be a trait common to much of the Middle east but it seemed especially bad here.

Now we are in cairo. It is chaotic and very hot. We are camped up outside of town in a pleasant enough if mosquito ridden campsite. We are on the visa trail today trying to secure visas for Ethiopia and Sudan and then we will explore Cairo properly and obviously visit the Pyramids. The drivers are insane. I understand why our Carnet cost so much for Egypt now. The drivers cut each other up, they over take and under take, drive three abreast on a dual carriage way and they seem to have no concept of space, speed and distance. The Cairo ring road was mental to say the least. There is no use of lanes it is more of a free for all. At one point there was not even any lane markings let along lane use! We got a shared taxi into town this morning which was pretty scary!

Anyways, many things to do today and we currently don't really know where we are exactly let alone how to neagotiate our way back to camp later on today!
Photos to follow soon...I promise!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Dahab and more Dahab...

Despite my last post where I praised the gorgeous weather of the Red Sea Coast, as sods law would have it the next evening there was a massive wind storm which disrupted the peace! We were innocently minding our own business in a rooftop bar overlooking the sea, drinking beer with a random Dutch guy and an even more random English guy when sand started flying around and we could no longer see more than a few metres ahead. Needless to say we had a hard time getting back to camp walking against the wind. We got back to poor Carol who was rocking around and noticed that our washing was no longer drying on the line. Hmmm...we hunted around looking for our clothes when we saw Mandy and Jacques battling against the sand storm with most of our clothes bundled in their arms. The next morning we woke up to find the last few items scattered around camp, hanging from trees etc.

After that the wind has been more frequent which has actually been quite nice as it cooled the place down. We spent the rest of our time in Dahab relaxing and trying to sort out all our paper work problems re Carol. At one stage we had to contemplate that if the vehicle paperwork could not be amended then we would have to turn back to the UK. It would be a massive shame as now we have got this far I am itching to see more. Luckily for us Alex's Parents, Sandra and Ian were on the case and I am pleased to say that we have had conformation from them this morning that our new documentation matches up and the show will go on!

With that worry behind us we can press on today. Getting back on the road is exciting. We expected to stay in Dahab for only 3 nights. This turned into 5. Yesterday we flipped a coin and heads was in our favour. We stayed another night. This is the longest period that we have stayed in one place on the trip so far. We could easily stay here for longer but we still have quite a way to go to Capetown so back on the road we go! Another day of numerous police check points!

So today we head North through Sinai to Mount Sinai and St Katherines monastry. We are debated climbing the mountain in the traditional 3am excursion to see sunrise from the top. Alex feels this is a bit of a cliche and I am inclined to agree with him. However, we are only here once and a night hike could be quite fun so I think we will do it anyway.

I am getting very frustrated by the weakening internet options that we have. Often it is now dial up which is painfully slow after becoming so used to high speed broadband back at home. I just left one internet cafe and have come to another one as the first computer froze up and I could no longer carry on. Hence why this blog entry is probably lacking in continuity!

Just before I go here are a few more pictures from the Middle East. I am having trouble uploading to Facebook so you will have to make do with a few snippets on here.

Ok so thats not working either, bloody slow internet and old crappy computers. Pictures to follow soon.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A 24 hour border crossing....

Hello again. Greetings from sunny Egypt! In Dahab on the red Sea coast where we are currently camped up, rumour has it that out of 365 days per year, 300 are windy! I think the story was similar in Aqaba, Jordan where for the 3 days we spent there it was extremly blustery! However, when we finally arrived in Egypt the sea was calm and the wind was minimal! It is beautiful here, gorgeous clear blue sea, blue sky and temperatures around 33 degrees at present!

So to summarise our recent adventures. I last wrote when we had spent a good few hours trying to sneak into the back entrance at Petra. As I explained this failed and the next day we tore our budget to shreds by paying the extortionate entrance fee of GBP 20 for one day at Petra! Needless to say Petra is pretty stunning. Many of the rock cut tombs, some of which date back to Naebatean times are miraculously preserved. It is difficult to justify the high entrance cost as although a beautiful place and supposidly the '8th wonder of the world' it cost so much to get in, I wouldn't really consider paying that much to get in to a museum in the UK let alone in a poorer country where you would imagine costs to be lower. Here are just few piccis from our time in Jordan:

Above, left to right: Roman Ruins in Jerash, swimming or rather floating in the dead sea and pictures from Petra.
Petra to Aqaba:
From Petra we headed South to Aqaba. Aqaba is a strange city. It lies just 2o km from the Saudi Arabia border, from the coast line you can see the town of Eliat in Israel and just 70km across the water lies Egypt. For many reasons security was quite high around the area. We passed a number of check points en route. It was nice to chill out in Aqaba before we made the journey across to Egypt. We got our Egyptian visas, made enquiries into transport across the water and found a Safeway supermarket which was fantanstic. They sold mostly local foods but I found a cheeky cadbreys chocci bar and got very over excited. Especially as it was just a few days before Easter!
The Israel Problem:
We would both have been really keen to visit Israel. We have met a few people who have and given the current issues in Israel it would be a real eye opener to go there and see for ourselves what is going on. Unfortunately some of the Countries that we have yet to visit, namely Sudan, like much of the Middle east will not allow you into the Country with any indication of a visit to israel. There are a number of ways around getting the infamous Israel stamp but for us it was not worth the risk. We have to travel through Sudan. We have no choice it is seemingly the only way to where we want to go! This situation has meant that the ineviatable and obvious route to Egypt from Jordan which is through Israel is a no go for us. Instead we had to get a ridiculously expensive ferry from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba in Egypt. This ferry run by AB Maritime cost $60 per person and $210 per jeep on the slow boat. There is no competition for AB Maritime so we had to go for it. The sailings are throughout the day and we had enquired in advance as to which sailing wouyld be best for us. There is a frequent night time sail which between Alex and I and the other couple we have been travelling with, Jacques and Mandy we came to a consensus that this was the sailing that we wanted to avoid.
The Boat!
We turned up on saturday ready for the 4pm sailing which surprise surprise, didn't exist. The next boat was scheduled to leave at 12 midnight. It was currently 2pm! We decided to make the best of it. We were psyched up and ready for Egypt. We set up camp, cooked ourselves food and waited in line with 1000 other people. We had heard that this service is not reliable. That it is usually delayed and the boats are not particularly nice to travel on.
At midnight....vehicles and people began to board the boat. We were metres away from it when we were kindly informed that as we were high vehicles we had to wait for one more hour and board right at the very end after the millions of coaches.....2 1/2 hours later we get on board. We were not allowed to sleep in the car and it was now 3 am. We dealt with passport control and looked for somewhere to get a few hours kip. The whole boat was strewn with bodies. People were snoring, tannoys were blaring throught the night. Peoples phones were going off. At 5am all around us people started to stir for morning paryer. Some people had the call to prayer on the mobile phones (high tech) and it was also announced over the tannoy. We have been woken frequently by the 5am calling throughout the middle east but this was a new experience!
I woke up to find our quite little spot in the family section of the restaurant was now full of sleeping men. I could see Egypt and even the tug boat pulling us in to port but the staff insisted we had another hour to wait. By this point the boat stank and the toilets were over flowing. It was not pleasant!
The Egyptian border....
When we reached the border things took a turn for the worse. Without going into too much detail there is a discrepency between all our documentation and the chassis number actually on the vehicle. This discrepency has not been picked up on by the previous owner and bearing in the mind the vehicle is 24 years old, this error is pretty long standing. It was only discovered at the nortoriously hard to cross Egyptian border where they check EVERYTHING! It means that all our paper work to date is potentially invalid and does Carol really even exist? Through the skin of our teeth, some gentle persuasion and an MOT certificate charting the correct chassis number, 6 hours, a few tears, and many coffees later remarkably they let us through! We couldn't believe it. Being Easter sunday we couldn't contact any UK departments and be had been regretfully informed by officals that under no circumstances were we crossing the border with the car on that day. We, well Alex refused to give up andwith the help of a lovely Syrian guy called Dodo and the moral support of Mandy and Jacques we managed it. We were elated when we got onto the Egyptian roads, despite only having had 4 hours sleep and a 24 hour long journey from when we arrived at the port in Aqaba we were pretty happy! In an added bonus the costs at the border had worked out at about $250 rather than the $350 we were expecting. These costs included insurance, customs, random bits of unspecified paper work and Egyptian number plates.
We filled up a thirstly Carol for 0.13 GBP per litre and we set off for Dahab. That brings you pretty much up to date. We will probably spend a few more days here. We have a number of things to sort out regarding the paperwork for the car so our time in Egypt may well be longer than expected whilst we wait on amended documents to arrive.
Finally we have arrived in AFRICA!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Petra, Jordan - Dahab, Egypt, via Aqaba.

Hello everyboday. Sorry we have been offline for far too long. This is a brief post, yes I know I always say this and end up writing pages and pages, but today it really is. Just to let you all know we have had a hectic couple of days which resulted in us nearly not being allowed into Egypt. I will go into what happened on the fateful journey from Aqaba to Nuweiba via a horrible smelly boat, in more detail soon. As it goes, remarkably and by the skin of our teeth we are in Egypt (Horray!) in a coastal town in Sinai called Dahab. It is not too far from Sharm but it has a few less tourists. It is beautiful weather and absolutly stunning water. There are people waiting outside the internet cafe now to go for dinner so I have to go but more news to follow soon!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Madaba to Petra - Jordan

So here we are in Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is a small town that has sprung up next to Petra to inhabit all the tourists. There are hotels galore, eateries, shops etc. It is quite nice to be near to other tourists but as always the novelty of meeting fellow travelers wears off after a while as you all fight to get into the same attractions and to the same restaurants.

We traveled down here from Madaba with Nadine and Nick the New Zealanders whom we convinced that it would be a great idea for them to hop in the back of Carol all the way to Petra. It was nice to have the company as the journey was rather lengthy due to the extremely hilly Kings Highway that we decided to drive down. En route we stopped to give Carol a much needed oil change causing a bit of a stir at a roadside garage.

We are staying at a hotel/hostel called Saba'a Hotel. Now we were actually recommended to stay there by some other travelers so we were quite surprised by it. It is possibly the most ridiculous place we have stayed in so far. Yes it is cheap. Possibly the cheapest one going in Wadi Musa but seriously, at best it is Fawlty Tower's-esque and at worse it is a complete hole! The showers don't work, windows are broken, there are many mysterious light switches that don't seem to do anything, the kitchen is grimy, the rooms smell, things are falling off the walls and if any of the rooms have television then obviously, they don't work! It is massively disorganised and crazy. Also, this afternoon one of the employees there told me that he has 'a special place for me in his heart and that he loved me'. I thought that was a bit forward as he only met me yesterday and had said about 2 words to me.

Petra is kind of a must see. Apparently. I am keen to see it and I suppose I am unlikely to be in Jordan again with this opportunity. We even watched Indiana Jones the last Crusade last night in anticipation! The entry cost is high. Something like 21 - 31 GBP depending upon which ticket you get. We wanted to avoid this cost and so Mr Pegram convinced not only me, but also Nadine and Nick that we should try to get in the back entrance that we have heard rumours of. Petra is a hidden city you basically can't see it until you are in it. It was built into a canyon within rocks and the entry and exit points to the city are limited and difficult to find. Allegedly there are just 2 main entrances. The back entrance is accessible only by a good 10km walk or so from nearby Little Petra. But rumour has it that it is worth the mission as you can get in free round the back. We asked around and some local Beduins informed us that it is possible via a 'secret way' which apparently only the locals can find..... yeah right... We set off into the desert in the direction of Petra! It was all going well, we had found the right path and even spotted some other tight tourists trying to avoid the entrance cost up ahead. Alas our plan failed. It seems that word has gotten out re the 'free back entrance' and security has been stepped up a notch or two. Infact as the security approached us he informed us proudly that today was his first day on the job checking tickets at the back entrance. Gutted. We considered our options. We tried a bit of bribary but no this guy wouldn't budge so feeling a little dejected we turned back. Although our plan failed, it was good to get some exercise, the scenary all around here is pretty spectacular and it was an interesting way to spend a morning so all is not lost.

Tomorrow rather than try again to defeat bureaucracy I will just go round the front and grudgingly pay!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Turkey - Syria - Jordan 10 days worth of adverntures in one post!

Hello! It seems like forever since I last updated so once again I am at a loss as to where to start with what has been going on during the last 10 days or so.... Unfortunately Syria, where we spent a week have some real issues with censorship and thus Facebook and Blog speech...FORGET IT!

I am on a communal computer in a hotel in Madaba, Jordan so I have limited time and thus the update may skim over recent adventures.

I last updated when we were in Capadocia. We spent a cold but interesting few days exploring the 'Fairy Chimneys' and rock caves before bashing out 200 or so miles to get close to the Turkey/Syrian border on 27/03. We had a few issues at the Syrian border, mainly the shock when we found out that we had to pay a 'diesel tax'! We were not prepared for this at all! Infact we didn't believe it. We requested that contacts back home double check this tax was legitimate. Alas, it was and $100 later we were through the border and in the unknown entity of Syria! We were looking forward to the premise of cheap fuel at UK equivalent cost of 30 pence per litre. However, with the added cost of bloody diesel tax we ended up paying around 1.20GBP per litre! The most expensive fuel cost yet! Luckily everything else in Syria is pretty cheap.

We had heard a lot of rumours about Syria and indeed it was very hard for us to spend much time in the Country. The diesel tax was payable on a weekly basis so we had to ensure that we were into Jordan by the 7th day to avoid another $100 charge on exit. Furthermore, the visa process and general day to day tribulations of being a foreigner in Syria make it not the most tourist friendly country. Nevertheless we had heard rumours of secret police who follow your every move and frequent police checks on the road. We suffered with nothing like that. The people, like the Turks were exceptionally friendly and we didn't get stopped by the police at all.

Once in Syria we headed for Aleppo. It was late by the time we arrived and we really couldn't find anywhere to stay for love nor money. Talking of money. We couldn't get any money because they only have a few cashpoints in the Country. That first night in Syria we were not happy. We ended up parked up in an industrial site and slept there. Unbeknown to us the Syrian daylight saving had fast forwarded the clocks by one hour 3 days prior to Britain. We had no idea we had lost an hour crossing the border and woke up late the next morning surrounded by sheep and very confused looking Syrian shepherds.

From very traditional Aleppo we headed for the cost. We spent two days in Latakia where the sun shone and for the first time we ditched the coats! The transition from winter in Capadocia to intense sunshine and 20 degrees plus was instant and we were so not prepared! Latakia is a very laid back city. The women more often than not wear western attire and gone are the traditional dress of Aleppo. I have been trying to wear loose fitting clothes, not draw too much attention to myself buy still the men stare. It was in Latakia that i really first noticed it...
'Tsk tsk tsk' Men were actually hissing at me! The Syrian women on the other hand, even though they are wearing skin tight jeans and t-shirts, not to mention the thick layers of make-up and 80's style bright red lipstick seem to get very limited attention from the men. I have started to get used to it now. The fact that I can't seem to hide that I am western. Where ever I go, however modestly I dress and cover myself I will get hassle from Middle Eastern men. Today I saw it on a whole new scale....but more about that later.

From Latakia we set off for Crac Des Chevailers near the Lebanese border. An extremly well preserved castle/fortress dating back to 1031 AD. We camped up close to the sight where we met some fellow overlanders. Not only that, but we met a group who are travelling a very similar route to us to South Africa. Mandy and Jacques are a little behind us but hopefully we can catch up again and overcome some potential problem areas like Sudan and Ethiopia together. From Crac we headed for Damascus where for once luck was on our side. As we headed towards the centre of the capital tensions were running high. Alex hates driving through city centres and I just wouldn't stand a chance so we always keep our eyes peeled for an out of town campsite. So far we have not managed to find many that are conveniently placed for our excursions but that day was different! We found a great (if a little pricey) spot just 5km out of Damascus. Transport into the centre was easy and we were set. Damascus is a big city. It was very hot, maybe around 25 - 30 degrees and the pollution was horrendous. It is a pretty city but just extremely manic and crowded. We explored some souks and the old town, we figured we would regret it if we didn't go as we have heard such glowing reports about it. To be honest with you, it was not all that it was cracked up to be. Expectations were high and although it seems an interesting city I have visited better places in the last 7 weeks.

Alas after Damascus our Diesel tax was running out so skipping Palmeria and Bosra we hot footed it straight to the Syria/Jordan border. The border crossing was far less problematic than the previous one and although we still incurred a fair few charges in the form of departure tax for us, departure tax for the vehicle (from the Syrian side) and the insurance, road tax and visa costs from the Jordanian side we didn't have to fork out for diesel tax again. Horray! We set off in the direction of Jerash in northern Jordan. A fantastically preserved Roman city reminiscent of Pompeii. We at once noticed the expense in Jordan. After Syria had been so refreshingly cheap Jordan was back up on a par with Turkey and European prices. :( We refused the offer of a 20 pound a night campsite and drove 100 metres away from it and parked up off the road.

One thing we have noticed about Jordan in the last few days is that they love to picnic. On every road side, every field or rock there will be an extended Jordanian family having a picnic. It is a bit like the British and the seaside. On this particular spot it was no exception. In one hour we had a late lunch with a Jordanian man, his 2 wives, friend and 4 children. We then drank tea and coffee with another family before spending the evening with some Jordanian men who offered us Sheeisha, coffee and shared falafel, humous and bread with us for dinner. We planned to stop there for the night but these guys seemed concerned about this idea. They prewarned us of danger in the form of 'big dogs'. This peice of information failed to deter us as we sleep inside Carol. They then became quite panicky. A few car headlights shone passed and they informed us about 'bad men who drink beer and fight' up at this spot and that it definately would not be a suitable spot for us to sleep. They said we could park up in their village and even offered us to sleep in their house. We declined this offer but figured if they said it would be ok then maybe staying nearer to civilisation may be a good idea. We followed them to the village of Suf and after a cup of tea and prayer lesson (that is another story all together) we hit the hay.

A couple of hours later we hear a commotion outside of Carol. Raised voices. We drifted in and out of sleep when suddenly we heard tapping. 'What you want?' 'Why you here?' Uh oh. We lay silently hoping they would go away and after an hour or so of seemingly intense discussion they dissapeared almost as quickly as they had appeared. We breathed a sigh of relief and settled back to sleep. Then the locals came back with a vengence. Next thing we knew there were more of them, tap tapping all around the vehicle. Then we heard 'Polis Polis Polis. Open up!' We figured the game was up and after demanding to see their id we surfaced. Our friendly Jordanians with whom we had dined were there too apologising prefusly as we were instructed to follow the Police to Jerash police station. By this point is was pushing 3am and the whole debacle had been going on for 2 hours. We were very worried on that drive. Were they going to lock us up, chuck us out of Jordan, fine us, we just didn't know. We got to Jerash and they requested our passports. They asked why we were sleeping there and we explained that we had been told it would be ok. They handed back our passports and the main guy said to us, 'Inshallah, Welcome to Jordan, you sleep here now.' That was that. Far from being in trouble they simply wanted to welcome us to Jordan and for us to sleep somewhere safe! It was a pity they had to wake us up and 3am and move us to do that!

After that we decided it was best that we seek refuge in a hotel for a couple of days to get some peice and quiet and here I am. We are in Madaba which is just south of the capital Amman. It is a good spot for exploring some of Jordan attraction. Today we set off with 4 New Zealanders that we met at our hotel to the Dead Sea. It is the lowest land point on earth with a high salinity in the water which accounts for you not being able to sink. We went to a free beach which inevitably meant it was full of locals. This further meant that there were no women swimming which thus meant we had been in the water for just 5 minutes before e gaggle of testosterone fuelled adolescent boys surrpounded us and followed us wherever we went. It such a frustratingly repressed society and being a western women visited you really see it. We had to leave as the attention really was too much for us. We kjumped in the car and drove half a kilometre down the road to a more secluded beach where we spent the afternoon floating around. It is such a bizaare feeling. There is a cork like effect everytime you try to lower your body towards the floor. It is also very difficult to swim in as you just end up bobbing around aimlessly. On that note we have just got back from the beach via Mount Nebo where Moses apparently live out the latter of his 12o years and died and I am covered in salt despite rinsing off in the natural springs by the beach. I am completly covered in a layer of salt and there are people waiting for the computer.

I have so much more to say about Syria and Jordan so I will try come back to this soon.The middle east has been the most welcoming place I have ever been too. I never met such friendly people and been welcomed into a society so openly. Keep reading everyone, i will try not to leave it so long before the next update!