Archive for June, 2011

Mount Sinai!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2011 by nornironafrica

We left the comfort of Dahab and headed north to the Monastery of St. Katherine at the base of Mount Sinai. We had prepared ourselves to camp out again the desert as we had heard the town of Katherine is mad with tourists but when we got there it was almost deserted. We have the pick of the hostels and settled on one called Bedouin camp! It’s £2.50 a night! The accommodation is basic but its more than what we need. We set off to the Monastery were we were informed by the Tourist Police that we were required to have a guide. So we set off at our standard tabbing pace and before long the guide was hundred meters behind us asking for a break! We had only just started! After a few short breaks we dragged him up to Elijah’s basin which is just 750 “Steps of Repentance” short of the top. The guide elected to stay at the basin and let us finish the rest of the climb ourselves. We got up to the top just in time to watch the sun set behind the mountains. Was a spectacular view.  We descended and found somewhere to eat, winner, winner! chicken dinner! From Sinai we’re heading North to Alexandria in the next few days, we’ll hopefully keep you posted!


The Delights of Dahab!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 by nornironafrica

We decided we deserved a holiday and drove down the Red Sea coast in search of somewhere nice to lay up for a few days. When we arrived in Dahab it didnt quite seem to be our kind of place. The first hotel we saw was the Hilton, followed by the Swiss Inn and a number of other pricey resorts. We turned to the dog-eared and battered lonely planet guide to find a budget option. We drove away from the resorts and we ended up in a small row of shops and houses with locals everywhere. Things started to look up. We found a place called Sea Soul Hostel and Dive Centre and they put us up for £8 a night. We were just glad of the air conditioning, we failed to notice that the back of the hostel led straight onto a small beach and the water. We had struck gold. Dahab is a long stretch of ocean side restaurants and bars with a really relaxed atmosphere. There were hardly any tourists about at all, it must be the off season. We had half a mile of beach to ourselves one morning. Which brings me to the most spectacular thing about Dahab, the snorkeling and diving is incredible. The corals in the area have some of the most amazing varieties of fish. We spent an entire day duck diving and exploring the coast. Jack’s tan line’s are immense. Thats what happens if you pull your shorts up too high while swimming. We decided to treat ourselves and spent two nights in Dahab, chilling out, dodging the sharks and eating the local seafood! We toured a few of the local bars, karaoke from a few holiday makers was the highlight! 

Crossing from Aqaba to Nuweiba

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2011 by nornironafrica

We had difficulty finding any accurate information on how this service works so we decided to put our experience up. So we arrived in Aqaba town and found a hostel. From there we set about trying to find the AB Maritime office which sits on the ring road on the edge of town. However, this is not were you buy tickets! The services available to us in June 2011 included one fast ferry leaving at 12 noon for $75 UDS per person and $235 for our 4×4 and a slow ferry leaving at 12 midnight for $65 USD per person and $225 for the 4×4. The reason we had to take a ferry instead of driving through Israel is that if we got an Israeli stamp on our passports Sudan would refuse us entry, thus we had to pay $140 each to get across to Egypt. Feel like writing to the Israeli government for compensation. We went to a travel agents called Orbit travel which is on the southern end of Aqaba’s waterfront. Sadly the fast ferry was booked up and we had to take the slow ferry. We went down at 9pm despite the boat setting sail at 12 midnight. Trust me you need the time. We arrived down at the Passenger Terminal which is a big white building. There were around 600 people milling about the terminal. First step is to go into the ground floor and pay your 8JD departure tax. If you have a vehicle go through a door on the right of the departure tax window towards customs. Get your Carnet de Passage stamped for the vehicle and then you can go back out to the front of the terminal building. On the right hand side of the building is a set of stairs, you go up these and turn left and this is were you get your exit stamp for Jordan. Once all this has been done you can return to your vehicle to clear Jordanian customs, this was a fairly quick once over of the car and our paperwork and we were allowed to board. Once onboard you need to begin your Egyptian immigration procedures. They took our passports at this point and gave us receipts for them and said we’ll get them back in Nuweiba from the immigration building. A situation we werent happy with but there you go. The slow ferry itself was rammed with people. We found ourselves some chairs and lay down anywhere we could to get some sleep. Thats hard when you’re in a room of nattering wives and crying kids. The ferry was supposed to take 4 hours but 8 hours later we were still on the boat. When we eventually got off there was the insanity of Egyptian customs. The immigration compound is a dilapidated and run down area with no signs in english or arabic labeling the different offices/sheds. Luckily we got help from two tourist police officers who really helped us out. First things first, passports and visas. Once they have been secured and stamped you begin on the vehicle. Insurance needs bought, Arabic license plates need bought, the vehicle needs searched and the carnet de passage needs to be processed. This all cost us in the region of 700 Egyptian pounds and everything needs photocopied. We were carrying about 30 different pieces of paper and a fire extinguisher at one point. Without those tourist police officers there was no way we could have got through in 3 hours. The biggest hold up we had was when the customs official said our fire extinguisher wasn’t big enough. We then needed to go and buy one from a random shed on the edge of the compound. Weird. Once cleared to go we set off out into the Sinai peninsula. Our first footsteps on the African continent!

The overlander’s guide to getting into Syria!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2011 by nornironafrica

At the current time of  writing western Syria is quite hairy. There are lots of military patrols and stacks of refugees on the Turkish side of the border. Its not the best place to cross and the Syrian’s are unlikely to let you enter for fear that your a journalist. Our advice is head a few hundred kilometers east to Akcakale, Karkamis or if you really want to visit Haleb go to the crossing at Kilis. Arrive at the border as early as possible as the process can take several hours, and join the right queue, we joined the one for freight and ended up right at the end of the normal vehicle queue. Get cleared out of Turkish customs and get your exit stamps. Now the fun begins. We had gone to great lengths to hide our electronic equipment. Camera’s, laptops and our satellite phone were all hidden away. This was a mistake, the Syrians search your vehicle rather thoroughly and they found everything we wrapped up and stashed away. This just made us look like we had something to hide. There is a difference between hiding things and keeping them out of sight. Keeping things in bags and just out of the way is normal, just dont bury your laptop in 3 tshirts and throw your smelly boxers on top. You’ll look like a journalist. We were carrying two laptops on the trip and when the Syrians discovered this they took the laptops and their owners into the police station to further document the fact that they were carrying laptops. They simply wrote it down in our passports beside the visa that this individual was carrying a laptop. We said the laptops were for keeping and editing photographs and that we couldnt connect to the Internet. They laptops did cause quite a stir at the time and we started to think we would get turned away. If you have something really sensitive keep it on your person, they rarely search people unless you look like you are a proper smuggler. The guy in front of us had his back seats ripped out and then half heartily replaced. Then comes the questioning, a high ranking official asked us various questions like who we were, what are we doing here, where do we plan to go and when do we plan to leave. We had to show our route out to the official and where we planned to stay in Syria. He had difficulty with our nationality, about whether we were British or Irish as our British passport says “Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. (This came up again when we were entering Egypt.)  Once he was satisfied with our answers he let us go on to the normal border processes of visas, entry stamps, car insurance and the like. They key to getting through many borders is just keep things simple, all sing of the same hymn sheet and speak in slow simple english. The amount of times things got lost in translation is incredible. While in Syria you’ll come across check points on the entry and exit of every town and you simply need to stop, answer a few questions and show your passport before you can move on. Dont take pictures of the security forces, our camera memory cards were checked for pictures of the military on our exit to Jordan. Apart from that, enjoy yourself! Syria is a fantastic country with the friendliest people I have ever encountered. There are plenty of old Roman ruins and crusader castles doted about the country and since this is pretty much the off season for tourists you have the place mostly to yourself. Food is cheap and so is fuel, the only problem is how to get it easily. We spent 3 hours every time we went to the petrol station to fill up. You simply need to queue up and wait your turn. If you have jerry cans you can go up to the hose and add them to the jerry can queue the locals are using. Its pure insanity but once you do it once you’ll get the drift of how it works. If youve any questions drop us an email! Happy overlanding!

Welcome to Jordan!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 23, 2011 by nornironafrica

Wadi Rum SunsetA Quarry In JordanJiat CookingDead Sea sunset (with salt)Chilling in the Dead SeaAqaba SunsetDoris in Wadi Rum“Welcome to Jordan” If we had a Jordanian Dinar for every time we heard this phrase we could probably afford to stay in Jordan a while longer! We weren’t expecting Jordan to be on the tourist trail but the locals have jumped on the tourist bandwagon and tourist prices are rather prevalent here. Hence we cutting our stay slightly short. However, we’ve really enjoyed ourselves. We left the busy and stressful streets of Amman for a more relaxing float in the Dead Sea. We had it made, a beautiful shady spot overlooking the southern end of the Dead Sea and Israel in the distance. We had a perfect spot to camp for the night when suddenly a 4×4 came rumbling up the track. Two Jordanian soldiers jumped out and after a quick chat insisted that we move on for the night. Apparently we were too close to Israel and our camping spot wasn’t allowed. They then added “Welcome to Jordan”. So we moved on to camp in an abandoned quarry not far from Petra. When we arrived to our horror the tour guide told us it was 50JD for entry! He then added “Welcome to Jordan”. 50JD is 50 quid and that could easily feed all four of us for a week! No deal!We then went on to Wadi Rum, a protected wildlife reserve in southern Jordan. To get into the Reserve would again cost us, while we were checking different guides for prices one said “Welcome to…China” much to our amusement. Someone has clearly instructed people that Welcome to Jordan is the phrase to use on foreigners. We dodged the protected area and drove of into the “Free Zone” it was our first real desert off-roading experience. Thankfully Doris didn’t get stuck but we did get our first taste of corrugations and decided the soft sand made a better track. We’ve now arrived in Aqaba where to be honest feels like we’ve opened the oven door and our pizza is burnt. We regularly seek out the shade to stop our skin cells from bubbling off! This ends another part of our trip, tomorrow we set foot on the African continent and the next chapter begins.

Turkey! Not just for Christmas!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2011 by nornironafrica

We left Istanbul at 6am just to make sure we got over the bridges without too much delay and without the stress of traffic. The drive to Ankara was fantastic with amazing views of mountain ranges and the countryside. Turkey has fantastic roads and it was quite a change from the windy and narrow roads of Bulgaria and Romania. On the advice of Orhan, a fella from the Agora hostel we travelled to Cappadocia in central Turkey. This is where Christians sought refuge in the 11th Century from persecution and built cave houses and churches into the soft rock of the Cappadocian region. We went to a town called Goeme were we paid a taxi driver to take us around a few of the caves. He took us to a Turkish carpet workshop, were we had an explaination on Turkish carpets, some of which took a year to make and cost around £7000. We found ourselves a cave hostel on the outskirts of town and set about researching and planning our strategy for the Syrian border. We woke late the next day and set of for Alcakale, if we were refused entry we would simply work our way back towards were we knew the violence was worst. We had hoped to make the most of Syria’s cheap fuel but decided we should cross the border with a decent amount to make sure we had a decent range if we ran into trouble. After we filled up half a tank in Sanliufa we stopped at some traffic lights. A street kid came over and started asking for stuff, we said we didn’t have anything and right when the lights changed he swung his hand in the window and tried to punch Jack in the face in an attempt to make a grab for something. Lucky Jack has lightening reflexes and blocked his attempt. Suddenly no longer impressed with Turkey we spent 2 hours trying to find a suitable camp site for the evening. We eventually settled on the edge of a field about 4km from the Syrian border. This was it. The make or break moment of the trip, if we didn’t get in we had very few options left.

Syrian Sand

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2011 by nornironafrica

We decided that the crossing from Antakya to Haleb was a bit too kinetic for us and headed further east to the border crossing of Alcakale. We showed up with every expectation to be told a simple no or worse be interrogated about being foreign journalists or spies. Images of hanging by our thumbs in a dungeon did cross our minds. When we actually got to the immigration building we were greeted with bewilderment, they didn’t quite know what to do with us. We were shepherded by a police officer to an office, with another uniformed man. Grab the jump leads and shackles I thought, as we all readied ourselves for an interrogation. Not quite. He asked us a few simple questions like, where are we going in Syria, why are we going through Syria. Standard stuff. Before we knew it we had bought our insurance, and had all our visas stamped. We left the immigration hall elated only to forget that we hadn’t cleared Customs. Before we knew it most of our personal kit was strewn all over the ground at the back of Doris. We had taken care to hide most of our electronics, cameras and especially laptops as we had heard of others having theirs confiscated. Bad move, we had hid Johnnys in a t shirt at the bottom of his kit bag, the official in charge was called over and he said “We’ll let you off with that”. Phew. 5mins later they found Adam’s laptop. Johnny, Adam and the two laptops disappeared into the Police Station. 45 mins went past and I was starting to flap. They appeared and Johnny’s face said it all. We’re boned. We’re being thrown back into Turkey. Johnny came over and said “Get in the car, I’ll tell you on the way”. Johnny then began to tell us that we now needed a police escort to a regional police station in Haleb to get the laptops cleared. That was in the danger zone. Crap. Then Johnny started laughing, he was having a wind up. It worked brilliantly. The laptops were fine. We were now in Syria. Syria is absolutely stunning, beautiful desert landscapes, old ruins, deserted castles and best of all friendly people. Strangers would come up and chat away to us and there was never any feeling of being under threat. Even the Security forces dressed in jeans, shirts, chest rigs and AK47s were friendly and waved and gave directions, never hassling us or questioning us. Until Damascus, security forces there change into stern well dressed and well equipped soldiers posted ever kilometre who question everything and eventually turned us around when we tried to enter the capital. We had a fantastic time in the east of Syria in the desert and at Palmyra where there is a spectacular collection of Roman ruins. Syria was a major way point in the trip in terms of being able to continue, if Syria had turned us away our next option was Iraq, and that wasn’t really an option. We survived and are currently sitting in Amman with tea and medals, well, chai and a packet of crisps.