Sunday, October 31, 2004

Hot new Jordan pics gallery

Well, we'll get our Google hits higher with a title like that if nothing else...

The following galleries are now up -

Wadi Rum
Aqaba & Amman

We also have a new poll containing Banz's selection of "jokes" that he's thought up about Jordan.

Tuesday morning we're flying out to Istanbul, where we'll spend a couple of days before rejoining Europe and getting on the bikes again as we head to Bulgaria.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Amman for all seasons

The above title is more than just a rather poor pun because Amman has done what southern France, Italy, Greece and Egypt could not; it has given us some rain! On Thursday night, as we sat sampling the delightful middle-eastern dish of cheesy chilli topped fries, the clouds gathered, the thunder flashed, the lightning rumbled (or something) and first small, then large, drops of rain started falling. It was very exciting as the last rain we'd seen was over 170 days in Troyes. It didn't last but we got a second shower yesterday. It was wonderful to get a lungful of that 'after rain' smell we in England associate so readily with cricket, Wimbledon and Bansey BBBQs.

Earlier in the week we visited the amazing site of Petra. The rocky valley contains around 800 tombs, the most spectacular and famous of which is the Treasury. For us this tomb was the highlight of the Big Trip so far and no pictures or words can do justice to catching a glimpse of a column or piece of facade as you approach through the high-sided sandstone canyon. The teasing approach leads to a natural courtyard with the massive tomb at the far end, beautifully preserved and truly awe-inspiring.

I went back for a second day to tackle the 800 step climb to the monastery, a similar structure to the Treasury, which suffers for being viewed second. It was an enjoyable walk up and the views were magnificent.

In the evening we had tea (lots of tea) with the man over the road from the hotel who makes sand pictures inside glass bottles. He was a lovely bloke and showed us the mysteries of his art and gave us the chance to make our own. Vic was first up and made an excellent camel, hills and stripey patterned affair which will take pride of place as soon as we're back in the mantlepiece owning business. My attempt was going swimmingly too; camels were a bit mis-shapen but charming, the hills had character, my yellow sun had passers-by reaching for the factor 15 and the clouds were an absolute triumph. You can only imagine the scene when our friend's brother decided to try to tidy up one of my camels and succeeded in making it worse. I was absolutely furious - it was as if Da Vinci's flatmate had strolled in, grabbed a pain brush and slapped a black 'tache on the Mona Lisa. Frankly, I almost cried but maintained enough dignity to sit in a moody huff. To be fair to the shop owner, he took it all in his stride, stoppered up the travesty and popped on the shelf with the others.

Our journey to Amman was notable for our first experience of a sandstorm. One moment the sky was clear, the next we were plunged into a thick 'lentil-souper' of dust. Yellowy-orange light and visibility of between two and ten metres gave everything a strange unreal feeling. Our driver was of the opinion that the sooner out of there the better and kept his foot down which resulted in one very near miss as a stationery Merc appeared ahead of us. A screech and a swerve sent us perilously close to the car in front and the side of the road but thankfully all was OK.

Amman is a nice town built on a number of hills - there's barely a flat spot to be found - and it has things we'd almost forgotten existed like taxis with metres and shops with prices. Jordan is much more expensive than Egypt but the standard of living here seems much higher.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Censorship of Jordan

After the horrific ferry journey mentioned by Banz below, we were happy to finally be in our hotel room, air-con and the telly on as we searched for some english language programming.

Imagine my delight when I saw that Gone With the Wind had just started on the Jordan Movie Channel. I sit back and enjoy the film as always until we get to Rhett and Scarlett's first kiss. Its cut! Next kiss. Also cut! But they don't just cut out the kissing, they take out the entire section of film between any/all kisses which means that any dialogue or plot is lost. Luckily I could still follow Gone With The Wind, but it made me wonder what the Jordanian censor's scissors would do to a Tarantino film.

I guess 1939 Hollywood morals are still too much for Jordan in 2004.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Plenty of Rum but no Jungle

The Dahab escape committee finally got their act together on Monday and sprung us out of the lounging area outside the Morgana restaurant. The journey to the port of Nuweiba was not quite as smooth as we'd hoped as our cab let us down when the other people we didn't know were meant to accompany us failed to show up (if that makes any sense). Once at Nuweiba things got marginally worse. The check-in procedure was a bit of a farce which meant I ended up having to dash from the brigadier's office (a very nice man) to passport control with a uniformed guard in tow in a bid to get stamps to say we've left Egypt. It was a mad rush to get aboard the ferry for 2:30 but luckily we managed and with only two and a quarter hours to spare! (We think the ferry was due to leave at 3ish but, in Egypt, who knows?).

The ferry was crammed with people by the time it left, all armed with bags of grub, electric kettles(!) and cookers, on full alert for the moment the day's Ramadan fast ended just after 5 o'clock. I discovered a hidden EP50 note which allowed us to get cold drinks and chocolate from the snack bar which we wolfed down when everyone else started eating. Our respect was rewarded with 2 lots of dates from our fellow passengers.

I'd like to try and forget the fact that we landed in Aqaba at 7:30pm but didn't get off the boat for another 3 hours. One day that may happen but only hypnotherapy will erase the memory of the on-board toilets (why is everyone rolling their trouser legs up? Ah...)

Aqaba feels very different from Egypt; the streets are cleaner, the roads have markings, the drivers are less toot-happy and the traffic lights seem to be there for a reason. However, Jordan is a lot pricier than Egypt but nowhere near as bad as Western Europe so 25JD (about 21GBP/47 AUD) gets us a nice hotel room with air-con and a great view of the harbour but no turn-down service or choccy on the pillow.

Yesterday we went to Wadi Rum, Lawrence of Arabia country, and spent a day bumping around in the back of a pick-up truck marvelling at the desert-and-sandstone-mountain scenery and stopping to ride a camel (which did an awesome Chewbacca impression) and take lots of photos. It's a fantastic place and, despite the fact that there are plenty of other groups in jeeps knocking about, one that really feels big and empty. Our evening was spent tucking into a delicious Bedouin meal of chicken, spuds and rice in a big tent made of blankets and watching the stars. (Galleries will follow when we find a place to upload the pictures.)

We are now back in Aqaba and head off to Petra on Sunday with a bit of luck.

Blimey, I managed a whole Jordan post without mentioning Winston Churchill and the back of a taxi.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Gravitational Pull of Dahab

Well, we're still in Dahab. We did mean to leave earlier this week, but, well, you know....

To be fair, I have had a job this last week. The 880-odd pages of The Count of Monte Cristo aren't going to read themselves. Believe me, I've tried. I've been lugging it around (front left pannier) since picking it up from Martina Franka in Italy. I'm up to about page 500, but Banz is starting to get nervous as he knows it will soon be his burden to carry.

On Tuesday we did actually manage to rouse ourselves away from sipping fresh mango juice and reading the great works of literature to take a day trip to the Blue Hole which is a popular snorkelling spot near here. Although full of curious fish, I was disappointed to see that a lot of the coral was dead. I also had to admit to our French snorkelling colleagues, Nicholas and Xena, that the Great Barrier Reef was much better for snorkelling opportunities.

It was fascinating watching the scuba divers float about 10 metres below us and send their silver jellyfish bubbles of oxygen up. We're both keen to learn to scuba dive, but money and time constraints have made us decide to add that to the to do list when we get back home.

We have decided that we are definitely leaving on Sunday. It will be a short hop to Nuweiba, from where we will get the ferry to Ataba, before making tracks to Wadi Rum (Lawrence of Arabia's stomping ground) and then heading to Petra to try and recreate the closing scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (minus the galloping horses of course).

From Amman, we will fly to Turkey (Syria - you don't know what you're missing!), before re-joining Europe and taking in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Poland.

Our original plan was to head straight through from Poland to the Baltics and then Russia. This original plan did not take into account that we would be getting to Russia in approximately January. It didn't work for Napoleon and Hitler to invade Russia in winter, and somehow we don't think it will work for The Big Trip.

So bearing this in mind there are two simple facts. One, we have some fantastic friends in Warsaw (thankyou Beatre and Gerry and to Sandra for arranging) with whom we can leave our bikes and two, Easyjet now fly from Warsaw to Luton. So, for 70 pounds round trip, we have decided to return to England for six weeks to visit family, friends and see Boro play Partizan Belgrade in the Uefa Cup.

It also give us the opportunity to satisfy the food cravings that seem to stick in the mind soon after the question, "If you could have any food right now, what would it be?" is uttered. I've never wanted bacon more since I've been in a country where you can't have it.

We arrive on December 9th and are heading straight up to Teesside (trains are stupidly expensive the week before Christmas) and will be back down in London for about 10 days before we return to Warsaw on January 31st. Its not cold in Russia in February is it?

We hope that the Jaflong, Wagamama's and the Parmo retailers of Teesside are now on high alert.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Lazing in Dahab

As ferry veterans we were looking forward to the short hop from Hurghada to Sharm el-Sheikh but the reality was somewhat different to our expectations. A genuine attempt at security (x-raying all our stuff before and, somewhat bizarrely, after the journey) bookended the sort of ride more suitable to Chessington World Of Adventure than the world of mass passenger transit. We had wondered why passengers were not allowed on deck during the crossing but after 10 minutes, when the boat started pitching, yawing and doing other weird things from "The Dictioanry Of Maritime Terms", we understood why. It was at this point a member of the crew started handing out wax-paper bags. I can only think it was because it was too rough to put our litter in the bins.

Against the odds we bumped into Andre again and we arranged a taxi to take us and a Swiss chap the 80 or so kilometers up the coast to Dahab, a laid-back traveller haunt. The atmosphere here is very different to the rest of Egypt and much needed it is too after 5 weeks of bartering for everything from bottled water to souvenirs and being lured into papyrus shops. There's coral reef to explore here but as appealing are the beach-front cafes where you can lounge all day drinking pop, nibbling snacks, reading and musing on life's problems with closed eyes. We managed to stretch breakfast out until 6pm the other day but we're not proud of it.

From here the plan is to move on to Jordan where we expect to stay for a couple of weeks before flying on to Turkey.

Oh, and tomorrow it will be 6 months since we set off from Stockton Town Hall!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Just to let you all know we're safe...

From our last blog you should know that we are currently in Sinai. Fortunately we are not in Nuweiba or Taba, but in a place called Dahab which is about 70 kilometres away from Nuweiba. Dahab is very safe and you would not have known that the blasts had happened. We are going to hang around here for a few days before we head north to Jordan. Obviously we will wait to see what the situation is before progressing, but everything appears that this will be an okay route to take.

Our thoughts are with our two Israeli friends from the feluca trip, Ohad and Hagar, who from discussions with other guys from our feluca, we think were in the area. Hope you are both fine and please let us know that you got home okay.

There is a lot of info at the BBC website here, if you want to read more as well as a map of Sinai here.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Big Blog

As you can see from our gallery updates quite a lot has happened since our last proper blog. We finally left the desert oases for the Nile courtesy of a dusty 9 hour train ride. The carriage was pretty basic but quiet and the bikes got to ride in the same level as comfort as us. The journey may have been hot and slow but it was made for us by the staion masters at Kharga who saw us arrive on our bikes and insisted on getting us seats, making us tea and letting us use the phone to arrange our accommodation in Luxor.

We had been advised that Luxor could be a bit hectic so we arranged a tour from Cairo. This involved us getting the train to Aswan, sight seeing there and at Abu Simbel before felucca-ing down the Nile to see more temples.

There are two dams at Aswan, a charming little one built by the English and a monstrosity of Russo-Egyptian construction. Sadly for us we spent our time at the High Dam which has to be the least photogenic and most dull touristattraction in the world. If only we could have spent more time at the smaller one which looked interesting and atteactive... Our other attraction in Aswan was the temple of Philae which was one of the many moved to avoid being swamped by Lake Nasser. Philae reached by boat and is pretty spectacular. Much of it seems in good order but it was unclear if that is due to the reconstruction or not. Definitely a good place to visit.

Our stay in Aswan was whistle-stop as our only night's stay was interrupted by our 3am alarm call for Abu Simbel. All those wishing to visit Rameses II most blatant (and successful) attempt at being remembered need to be in the 4am convoy for the near 3 hour drive. This temple was also moved piece by piece and I think anyone who has blearily heard the alarm going would second our mate Doug when he asks, "While they were moving it, couldn't they have moved it closer to Aswan?". Saying that, the massive four figure fronted structure, carved into the rock face and looking out across the water, is an amazing sight. The boy Rameses certainly made the most of his 60-odd years of Pharoanic power.

We'd packed a 9 hour day in by 1 o'clock when were shuttled off to meet our felucca. We'd heard a few bad things about them but had decided to book something with people we trusted in Cairo to avoid the pitfalls. When we arrived on the boat there was already some tension in the air as a few of our fellow travellers had been hanging around since mid-morning being told various things about the departure time. When we set sail though the problems melted away as we tacked serenely across and down the Nile. The huge steamers sailed past every now and then but we didn't regret our decision for a moment as we chatted to Myka and Andre (our boat had us 4, the other, 10 or so others) and lazed about reading while the palm trees slid by. An unexplained stop to take on an extra crew member caused brief tension ('5 minutes' is Egyptian for 'I'll see you when I see you') but all in all we had a good first day aboard. After dinner we bonded with the other crew by playing an excellent murder/mystery card game.

Day 2 was meant to involve a camel market in the afternoon but we backed out when we learned the transport to would be at rip-off prices. This threatened the good humour of the boat once again but things soon calmed down once we were back on the water. This was a defining feature of the felucca ride: when we were sailing, all was good but when we weren't... The problems were minor but avoidable and while they didn't make the 2 night journey something we regretted, they certainly created an atmosphere of tension between customer and crew which could have been avoided.

Day 3 involved an early start, temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu and mini-bus ride to Luxor. The next two days saw us visit temples at Karnak, Luxor, Valley of The Kings, Hatsetshput and Valley of the Queens which has left us slightly burned out from the sight of obelisks and statues. They are all interesting in their own way but I think time and distance is needed for us to fully appreciate them all.

We needed a few days relaxing in Luxor after our temple visits and we went back on our principles and paid a few visits to The Kings Head pub. The atmosphere was relaxed, they had English footy on and had mashed potato on the menu. What more could you ask?

We are currwntly in Hurghada with many a German ("Do your Jimmy Cagney")but we get the ferry to Sinai tomorrow.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Another mass gallery update...

Between fighting with feluca captains and seeing yet more temples (sad, but if I never see another Egyptian Temple, it'll be too soon), we have managed to do an update of our time in Luxor, Aswan & Abu Simbel, Feluca Ride and back to Luxor again...

They are -

Aswan and Abu Simbel

The Feluca Trip


Andre's Feluca Collection

Blog to follow shortly...