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.

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 Updating....free 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!

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