December 02, 2009 GMT
Petra



'Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time.'



Those words, and these photos, will have to suffice. There's not much I can say, other than it's a magnificent place, huge. We visited over two days and only saw maybe a third of it, the best being the climb up to the monastery and the ambience at the top.
While I was up there, sitting in the teahouse opposite, two young women entering the monastery were obviously struck by the acoustics inside, and sung Barber's Agnes Dei in two-part harmony. Magical. And the something else afterwards that I didn't recognise in the way of an encore.
Amazing, as that's the second time that's happened in this sort of place. The first was at the Roman amphitheatre at Leptis Magna, Libya, where a young female visitor wandered onto the stage area like all visitors, but decided to sing a complete opera aria then and there. I was lucky enough to be up in the seating at the time. Amazing!


Anyway, the Petra guide leaflet suggests other climbs are even better, but more days are needed.
And, having seen the place, my photos and all the postcards on sale don't do it justice.
For me, a much better impression of the city and its atmosphere is conveyed by the 1839 lithographs by David Roberts, many of which were on sale in the teahouses and are often seen in art shops back home.



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Entrance canyon.


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The elephant in the room. Wind-carved rock shapes in The Siq, pointing the way to the Treasury.


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Inside a Petra room-with-a-view.


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The Treasury.


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On the climb up to The Monastery, a souvenir seller takes a break to make a phonecall.


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The Monastery.


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Inside The Monastery.





P.S. Further confirmation of our rate of progress.
While in Dalyan, south-west Turkey, a young Dutch couple stayed at our campsite. They were hitch-hiking to Egypt, taking almost the same route as us, and using buses where hitching was inadvisable.
Well, firstly, five minutes after our arrival at our hostal at Petra, Bertrand arrived on his bicycle. Followed five minutes later by the afore-mentioned Dutch couple. And what's more they had made the considerable detour to visit Cappadocia in Turkey as well, which we had missed.
So another official statistic - we are travelling more slowly than hitch-hikers right across Turkey, Syria and Jordan.
- I'm just glad that we haven't yet met anyone walking our route....... Or has he/she already overtaken us and is just crossing into Sudan??




Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:04 AM GMT
December 05, 2009 GMT
Wadi Rum



Again, the grandeur and atmosphere are difficult to adequately describe.
But it draws you in incessantly.



We camped in Rum village, and I intended firstly only to walk to the end of the tarmac at the edge of the village. No camera, water or anything.
Here, there's a gentle slope of large boulders at the base of the massive rock edifice to the right, which I climbed a little way to get a better view into the desert wadi ahead.
Magnificent, but the view ends at a low ridge in the distance. Two camels carrying visitors and led by a child on foot go past, and after a while reach the ridge and disappear. It didn't take long to get there so I follow, into the sand which varies between soft and difficult to walk on, and hard and easy.
I arrive at the ridge, and a different massive rock outcrop has risen on the right which I climb a little way.
Now I can see in the distance a group of Bedouin tents, some camels with tourists, and a couple of 4WD pickups. I arrive there a while later and find this is the site of 'Lawrence's Spring'. So I've walked about 4 kms, only having intended to go to the end of the tarmac.


I get tea in one of the tents. "One dinar for one cup, two cups, however many you like. Where you from?"
So I have three cups, the vendor looks pleased and explains that the spring is next to a solitary tree visible a third of the way up the cliff side. After observing it a while, I'm drawn on and climb up to it.
The spring is a pool of water held in a large horizontal crack in the cliff. Lots of greenery around as well as the tree. It's impossible to see any flow, as the water just soaks into the surrounding vegetation, so it's not possible to judge how much water this spring produces. But two steel pipes run from it, down the cliffs into the area of the tents below.
So my tea must have come from this spring.


It's quite high up here, maybe two to three hundred feet, and the view further into Wadi Rum truly stupendous.
I'm lucky enough to have the thought: When you've seen the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, and this view of Wadi Rum, there's not much more to see in the world.
Definitely a bit fanciful, but I'm definitely struck by the similarities, and stark contrasts between the two places. Ten-mile-wide rivers of sand between bare angry mountains here, ten-mile-wide rivers of ice between bare angry mountains there. The sun hanging above glowing amber sand here, above glistening ice there, imparting subtly different colours onto the sky above.
Seemingly endless, and barren. A strange human-like groan from the wind, no whispering here, as it fills the bare crags and pinnacles, the only sound to be heard. Sand dunes here, glaciers there, leading on and up to infinity, distant mountain peaks, endless sky, all desert.
Lawrence and Scott, they both must have felt the call of these landscapes, calling you to continue on and on through the barrenness up to the hidden horizons.
So after quite a while of contemplation I turned back to camp, specially when I found the tea-seller had gone, no longer to be seen.
No tea seller - just like Antarctica.



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Approach to Wadi Rum.


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Camp at Rum village. "The walls were precipices, like all the walls of Rumm."


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"Shall I ride on this time, beyond the Khazail, and know it all?"


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The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The Three Motorbikes of Madness.


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The Leaving of Wadi Rum.





Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:36 AM GMT
December 11, 2009 GMT
New Numbers Please



And a new continent.
The Dark One.



Crossing the land border into Egypt with a vehicle has become a thing of legend in overland-traveller circles. Its notoriety spreading far and wide.
Specially when crossing by sea on the ferry.
One thing for sure, it's expensive.
Adding everything together, import carnet, ferry ticket, insurance, customs, photocopying, and things we can't now quite recall, for a cheapish motorbike it adds up to maybe 700, roughly. The single biggest expense, the carnet, is related directly to the valuation of the vehicle.
But as it turned out for our border crossing, its bark was worse than its bite and it actually had quite a bit of entertainment value.


And some quirkiness.
For instance, you come out the other end with a brand new, credit-card style plastic Egyptian driving license. But, in a process where you end up with two separate files of papers (hence the photocopying bill) to be shuffled and juggled by dozens of officials, at no time were any of us asked to produce or show a driving license, British, international or otherwise.
And of course, you get those legendary new shiny (or not so shiny) Egyptian number plates.


So Caroline is now the proud owner of registration number 75,


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me of number 88,

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and Beau of number 92. Wonderful!
(The photo I took of Beau's bike had the sun right on the number plate. But you get the idea.....


So briefly, I hope, other entertaining moments in the process - skip this lot if boring:
We opted for the cheaper ferry, which nominally leaves Aqaba at midnight, and nominally arrives in Nuweiba, Egypt, at a time unspecified the following morning.
But you have to leave Jordan first, before buying your ticket. Which involves the usual passport stuff, checking the temporary import paper and insurance for the bike, paying departure tax on both bike and person, buying ticket and having the whole lot re-checked on entering the vehicle holding area.
There, we were entertained by an endless procession of tour coaches doing a tight U-turn in the small space in front of us, to get into the right position so they could reverse onto the ferry once loading started.
It was a pretty tight U-turn, lots of tyre squealing, and one coach couldn't manage it. Although they were all modern coaches, pretty similar in size and layout, this one reached the halfway point in the turn then seemed to get stuck. Even though there was no obstruction. The engine revved, it lurched and lunged, but wouldn't complete the turn.
Then the command was shouted, all the passengers got out - and pushed.
That did the trick, and it was pushed all the way to its alloted holding spot.
What the problem was we'll never know. The engine was definitely running.
All these coaches - there were quite a few dozens of them, had only a half-load of passengers, sitting in the front half. The rear half was full of luggage, mostly, as far as I could make out, soft furnishings, bedding and childrens' toys.


With the waltz of the coaches completed, the few cars and us three bikes were ushered forward to within sight of the ship's loading ramp. Which we could see was broken.
It was wide enough for the biggest of trucks, made in 5 sections. One section was completely missing, a huge gap down into the Gulf of Aqaba.
A little way inside the ship's hold some serious welding was taking place, lighting up the whole interior, sparks bouncing around everywhere. Followed by deafening hammering and a complete firework display of more sparks as someone got to work with an industrial angle grinder.
Then the missing section was pulled along into view by three strapping dock workers obviously fed on Weetabix judging by the weight of this massive lump of steel.
Persuading it into place, with sledge hammers, crowbars and grappling irons took maybe a half hour, followed by half an hour of inspection, and half an hour of congratulatory handshaking all round by workers, supervisors and assorted men-in-suits.


While all this was going on we could see further into the vehicle deck, where yet another team of welders and grapplers were attacking one the internal car ramps, lighting up the deepest depths of the ferry with their welding torches.
This was one of those ferries where they load the big stuff (dozens of coaches) onto the deck at ground level, then lower a couple of ramps inside the hold so smaller stuff (cars and us bikes) can drive in and up the ramps to the upper vehicle deck.
But one ramp was stuck.
They had started to lower one of the two ramps earlier, but instead of it descending gently into place something broke and the whole thing came crashing down, but fortuitously into the right place. It made a pretty loud and thunderous racket, echoing round the deck, with all the support stays and struts quivering and wobbling. Now the ramp next to it was jammed solid and the welders were at work.
That took another chunk of time, followed by another congratulatory round of handshaking lasting maybe 15 minutes.


And at last it was time for the coaches to start reversing on. Pretty boring really, until one got stuck on the loading ramp. Maybe it was the same coach as before, I don't know, but it revved and lurched and wobbled and its rear tyres refused to go over a raised joint in the ramp. Even though dozens of coaches had driven over before.
All the coach passengers had by now left and made their way on board, so no help there. Instead, a couple of dock workers manfully stepped up to the front of the coach and pushed.
Now these coaches have engines of maybe 400 horsepower, so what difference two men thought they could make I don't know, but more joined in including the policeman who had chatted to us earlier. It was a mystery to me why this particular coach, empty of passengers, couldn't get over the bump, but about half an hour of revving and huffing and puffing and lurching saw it eventually get inside the boat.
And so it continued until us riders had our day, right at the back, and were last on.


We were well looked after. Being, I think, the only westerners on board. An official escorted us from the bikes to the passport checker on the passenger deck, who said to return to him after we had seen the Egyptian immigration officer. So we did, after noticing that just about every bit if seating and floor space had already been taken for the night.
"I have special place for you," said the passport checker as he took us to a door behind his desk labelled 'Crew Only'.
So there we were for the voyage in a large lounge area, completely empty except for the occasional official who came in to rummage for a few minutes in a small office in the corner.


We arrived in Nuweiba after about three hours actual sailing time. And we learned that another bit of folklore about this crossing was true; when the ship arrives, nothing happens. For over an hour.
The ramp is lowered, a rubbish cart taken away, then nothing.
After well over an hour, at some secret signal, passengers dissembarked and we were collected and escorted on the circuitous route back to our bikes. We would never have found them without assistance.


We rode onto African soil and immediately an official directed us to a pyramid-shaped building "for check, then go to Arrivals Shed." The pyramid is empty except for a solitary official at a solitary desk in the far corner. He wants to see our passports. Not inside them, just to see that we have one each.
"OK, continue to Arrivals Shed."
Puzzling.
On the way we saw an ATM so stopped to draw out the 1000 Egyptian Pounds that the next few hours would cost. Next door was the Tourist Police office.
The universal mantra nowadays for arriving in Egypt is "Straightaway, find a Tourist Policeman to take you through. You'll be ripped off with bribes and backhanders without." And it still seems true. A recent aquaintance, travelling the same route as us, went through a few weeks before us. Without, we think, the help of the police. He emailed us to warn he had been the victim of one of the classic carnet scams, which we thought he would have been aware of and wary of.
The insurance man had asked to see his carnet, which is OK, but tore off the lower section of the first unused page, which is not. He then stamped the top section of the next page, which is even worse, and later demanded a big sum of money for the return of the lower section previously torn off, which is the final sting. The carnet is rendered useless without this section being returned and the official knows it. Our friend paid, but didn't tell us how much. We hope it wasn't a lot. Other victims have written that they eventually get the section back by making a continuous fuss at the insurance window, elbows and shoulders spread wide to prevent other drivers completing their business so that the angry queue grows so long that the official is eventually forced to relent.
Not a pleasant business.


Anyway, we dived straight into the tourist police office and asked for assistance.
"Drive over to the arrivals shed, get parked, come back and I'll have someone ready," says the boss.
So we did, and he did. He collected all our papers including some we received on the ferry, checked everything was there and introduced one of his officers.
"Make good use of him, he'll see you through right to the end."
And over the next three hours he did just that. We've lost count of the number of officials we saw, the number of offices we marched in and out of, and the size our entry files grew to. But we stood at hardly any windows, usually going straight into the office and up to the person required, jumping all the queues.
This enabled us to observe other drivers a little, going through the same process. Mostly professionals, or regulars, coach drivers, lorry drivers, businessmen and so on. And it was obvious to us that each time a transaction in the process was completed at a window, and a file of papers handed back with all the stamps in the correct places, a banknote was handed in the other direction.
Obviously our personal policeman was saving us a lot of money, for no charge, and word on the travellers' forums is that a reasonably generous tip is in order at the end of the process. But our policeman was so keen to get to his next job that he dashed away before we really realised we were finished and we had to run after him to give him his well-deserved Christmas box!


So all in all it was not the horror story we had come to expect, but horrendously tiring nevertheless, if not an interesting educational experience. We arrived at the docks at Aqaba at around 9:30 in the evening, and finally left the docks at Nuweiba, onto Egyptian roads, at midday the following day.
We found a laid-back beach-hut mini-resort a little way north, one of many on the Sinai coast, so now we rest!




Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:59 AM GMT
December 13, 2009 GMT
Workshop Update



Don't want to tempt fate in any way, but mechanical problems have been pretty small to date.
Here's a summary for those with a mechanical bent who may be interested:
(A bit boring for everyone else)



First off, Beau's petrol tank started showing the first signs of a pinhole leak way back in Germany, or thereabouts. From the rusty patch where the front of the seat rubs against the rear of the tank.
We fixed that with some proprietary tank repair glue but it didn't last.
Not to be beaten, in Romania Beau performed some spectacular theatrics (reported elsewhere) just to get a free permanent repair to this problem. Good ol' Araldite was used this time and has been permanent so far.


Not to be outdone, a tiny pinhole leak appeared in Caroline's tank, also repaired with Araldite, in Palmyra, and still good so far.


There have been a couple of oil leaks on Beau's bike. A minor one from a bolt on the cam-box cover which is set in a large rubber grommet. Cleaning and refitting this had no effect so a little silicon was needed.
More inconvenient was a leak from the clutch cover joint next to the oil filter which eventually covered Beau's right boot in oil. At least it should be waterproof!
We had two options here. To remove the cover, (we have a spare gasket) which would require removal of the exhaust, oil cooler and other stuff, with the chance of finding abused screw threads in the process and the old gasket requiring a day of careful scraping to remove. Or, apply a little two-part epoxy to the leaking area after cleaning. So we did the latter and it worked. It will need cutting if the clutch cover ever does need removing.


Beau's older and less-prepared TTR has had two roadside problems requiring the rapid location of a place to stay for the night. Both in Turkey.
Firstly, during a day's riding, the tickover became faster and faster until it became a serious danger to the engine. Closer roadside examination showed that the position of the throttle spindle in the carburettor no longer bore a direct relationship to the engine speed - something inside had come adrift. Fortuitously we found a good campsite nearby, with room to remove the carb. I suspected the little screw holding the throttle slide lever to the spindle had become loose and hoped it was nothing worse.
Removing the carb meant removing:
All luggage
Rack and panniers
Seat
Tank
Airbox
Subframe strut
Not a small job like the 'old days'.
Dismantling the carb revealed with some relief that my guess was right, the screw just needed tightening, with some Loctite for peace of mind.
But there was evidence of some earlier butchery in there, a float support had broken at some time and been repaired with Araldite which had damaged the seal on the outlet of the accelerator pump. The gasket itself was also broken. There had been a damp patch of petrol there for a while, and after fitting the carb back twice the best we could do was to fix the leak at the pump, but leave a leak on the lefthand side of the float bowl. This only makes a damp patch if the bike it leant on the sidestand with the petrol left on.


Not long after that we had the problem with Beau's rear tyre going flat, for no reason that we ever found. Must have been some dirt stuck in the valve when it was pumped up.
At the end of this piece we'll leave a couple of questions that we'd appreciate answers to - please.


Caroline's Serow is running too rich, OK at sea level and thereabouts but a problem at 3000ft and we have higher to go.
We lowered the needle in Palmyra (removal of carb a similar job to Beau's TTR), but only a small improvement resulted. And we have little chance of finding a main jet of the required smaller size. But we have stranded copper wire and a mini gas soldering iron. Info needed, see below.


Tyres: a perennial subject for discussion on these sorts of journeys.
I have Continental TKC80s, regularly recommended. After 5500 miles on tarmac both are less than half worn, a bit surprising, and I'm carrying a spare rear. When I fit that in southern Egypt the existing one will probably be good enough to go on Beau's bike, saving a bit there.
Beau has Trelleborg front and rear and as far as I can see they have nearly as much tread now as when we left Dover. They seem to deserve their reputation. So the front may last right to Kenya.
Caroline has Pirelli MT43 on the front, pretty worn at the start and now, marginally, an MOT failure. So it will last to Cairo or southern Egypt no problem. But will need changing before Sudan.
The rear is MT21 and is still OK, more tread than Beau's rear tyre, and may last a long time yet. Will have to decide in Cairo whether to change it or not.


Chains:
As expected, entirely dependant on how religiously you oil them, and we have been travelling part of the Holy Lands.
So mine hasn't moved at all (without actually using a ruler to measure the free play) - no adjustment needed.
Beau's has been adjusted up one notch on the snail cam.
Caroline's has not needed adjustment.
So more regular oiling needed for certain chains, but we're approaching the Sahara and there's endless debate about what to do there.
The most respected advice seems to be:
No oil at all - nothing - but regular meticulous cleaning.
Well, that'll slow our progress even further...... we'll look out for the walkers.




So, question time.
1.
Why is it, as we discovered with Beau's flat tyre, that the nut on the valve stem, which should always be loose, always tightens itself up, whereas the nut on the security bolt, which should always be tight, always comes loose??
After all, they are both in exactly the same position on the wheel rim!


2.
A 2002 Yamaha Serow with a carb from a 1990s model, has a main jet of 105. It runs fine at sea level and up to say, 1000ft, but above that runs rich, and at 3500ft is maybe 10mph down on top speed. Plug is black and sooty. The needle is in the lowest position.
How many strands of wire from a piece of flexible 5A elecric cable should be carefully inserted into the hole of the main jet, soldering them onto the end of the jet to keep them in place, to get the correct mixture for about 8000ft altitude??
Sorry, we don't have a micrometer to measure the strands of wire.


All answers will be carefully considered, including any in Arabic.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:52 PM GMT
December 15, 2009 GMT
Middle East Photos - Update



So many photos, so little time for updates.



Photo just added to earlier entry:


The Roman Amphitheatre at Bosra, southern Syria.
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Latest Photo update 17th December:



Syria


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Three Riders outside Krak des Chevaliers.


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Spaceman sighted at Palmyra


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Spacemens' and spacewoman's crafts sighted at Palmyra.


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Nomads' workshop outside Bedouin tent, Palmyra.


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Beau tries out the sand outside Palmyra.


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Damacus souk



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Jordan


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Down to the Dead Sea.


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In, or on, the Dead Sea.


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Entrance to Petra.


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Up above The Treasury.


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The Monastery.


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Shadows at Rum.


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Beau of Wadi Rum (with Caroline).





Sinai, Egypt


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Beau shows us the breakfast bar, Softbeach Camp, Nuweiba.





(Latest update, 17th December:
We departed the Softbeach resort yesterday for a ride through super-dramatic scenery across the Sinai desert to St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai. There was a sand-storm on the coast to contend with as well.
So, we have just returned from climbing Mount Sinai. But big disappointment - we have no space for the Tablets of Stone, so left them up there.....
A new entry later with photos).




Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:19 AM GMT
December 19, 2009 GMT
Ten Commandments



After a very relaxing week at a comfortably remote beach we were ready to leave the Softbeach camp at the amazingly early hour of 12 noon! And we didn't have tents to take down and pack!




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Beach-front living, and parking. Mountains of Saudi Arabia in the distance, looking east.


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Looking west. Mountains of Sinai beyond the north-south main road.



Unfortunately, a half-hour earlier a fairly spectacular sand-storm blew up, bringing visibility down to as little as one hundred yards at times. The Sudanese owner (married to a German wife) of the camp proclaimed it was far too dangerous for us to depart for Mt Sinai, about 80 miles away through the desert and a 5,000 ft climb. The roads would be covered in sand to unknown depths.
This was a blow, as we had already spent too long at Softbeach, and now it looked difficult to plan to be at a nice place for Christmas Day. (It's universally agreed amongst us and everyone we met that Sharm el Sheikh and its immediate surrounds is not a nice place to spend Christmas).


In fact, the Softbeach resort was a perfect place to spend Christmas, but we had already been here a week, and there was a hell of a lot of Egypt to explore, and our visas and customs permits to extend at El Tur on the west coast of Sinai. Consequently some detailed planning had resulted in an itinerary that would enable us to visit Mt Sinai, El Tur for visa extensions, the nature reserve outside Sharm, the hippy 'paradise' of Dahab, and return here to Softbeach for Christmas - unless Dahab really was a paradise in which case we could stop there.
But not setting off today would mess all that up.


The latest we could leave Softbeach for a daylight arrival at Mt. Sinai was 2pm, although that left no margin for the unexpected. So we decided if the wind didn't ease by then we would have to stay and re-think all our plans for Christmas.
But a bit more thought led us to depart straightaway, in the wind.
Whatever we did, we needed to go to Nuweiba port (five miles away), that afternoon to get cash from the cash machines. So we said our farewells and set off into the teeth, or maybe the gums, of the sandstorm, adding that we'd be straight back after visiting the ATM if the roads were bad.


We reached the port fine, if not a bit blown about, got cash, and continued on the motorway south to the turn-off for the interior and Mt Sinai. But on the way we experienced the true force of this desert coastal wind and the chaos it can bring to the roads.
Over to our left beyond the sandy coastal strip was the Gulf of Aqaba, with the mountains of Saudi Arabia just a little way beyond. Immediately on our right rose a rocky terrain, steadily upwards into the interior, and it was down these slopes that the wind blasted, bringing chaos across our bit of road. Hardly any tarmac or rocky slope could be seen under the seething mass of multi-coloured plastic bags being strewn and tossed across the ground in the wake of this wind. We'd never seen a sight like it. From high up the slopes on the right came millions of plastic bags, inflated by the wind to the size of footballs, bouncing, rolling and tumbling down the hill like an avalanche of multi-coloured rocks and boulders, right across our path. They bounced, flew high up into the air, dropped to the ground, tore around with the wind in every direction, covering the road and everything around.
So this is what a sandstorm is like!
It continued until we reached a region where fences reappeared on both sides of the road, trapping all the bags in the barbed wire, just before our turn-off.


Heading inland and up into the mountains the wind continued unabated but the torrent of bags disappeared along with the blown sand.
But a different problem arose.
The wind, as strong as ever, was in our faces and we were climbing to previously unconquered heights. Approaching 4000 ft and beyond.
And Caroline's Serow complained ominously, the fuel mixture now being far too rich giving it great difficulty in making progress against this wind. At least, sufficiently fast progress to deliver us to Mt Sinai before nightfall.
We stopped twice for conferences: continue, return to Softbeach, divert to Dahab? (An alternative possibility). The second stop was at one of many army checkpoints where they reminded us of the distance remaining to Mt Sinai, almost the point of no return, the sun low in the sky.
Well, Caroline offered some inspirational words to her Serow and pronounced "We'll continue - Gee-up!"
And gee-up we did, climbing through some of the most stunning and spectacular and barren scenery, climbing ever upwards, to reach the site of the Ten Commandments just a few minutes after sunset.
Anyone with the view that those televised 1969 moon landings were somehow faked, well, if you're interested, they could well have been filmed right here. In this strange landscape it definitely felt as though we were a quarter of a million miles from planet Earth, especially after three months on our little two-wheeled crafts.


Arriving in the little village of St. Katherines, with darkness just falling, we found a very nice hostal and prepared ourselves for the climb the next day.


Well, there are indeed tablets of stone at the top, and a cleft in the rock, and views that can certainly inspire and awaken, in whatever way you allow.



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Believed to be the offspring of The Burning Bush, in the monastery at the base of Mt Sinai.


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Visitors pose, listening.



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On the climb to the summit. Below on the path, two pilgrims looking for their Prophet.


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Or Holmes and Watson searching for the Tablets.



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For maybe half an hour on the climb up Mount Sinai, these birds fluttered and pranced in front of me, showing me the way.


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When I stopped, they stopped. If I turned the other way, they patiently waited until I resumed climbing in the right direction.


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Close to the summit, the Cleft in the Rock.


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Just below the summit, The Tablets of Stone. At least, that's what I think.


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The view from the top.



So, bearing in mind our experiences so far on this journey, here are the words that fitted on those tablets of stone when we arrived at the summit, numbers eleven to twenty:


11. Check your oil every morning.
12. Give everyone else right-of-way.
13. Especially anyone behind.
14. Never say "no" to a cup of tea.
15. Don't interrupt The Koran.
16. Don't ride in the dark, ever. Even the three-mile road from our hostal to the foot of The Holy Mountain (which we rode in the dark - we hereby confesseth and repent) has many big potholes.
17. Fill up with petrol whenever you can - it's only ninety pence a gallon. - Yes, gallon.
18. Don't, unfortunately, expect any sort of spiritual experience or awakening when visiting Moses' Burning Bush in the monastery at the foot of the mountain. Yea, there be a crowd of tourists of huge numbers, pushing and shoving to get their photographs and videos taken at exactly the right viewpoint and angle for the consumption of the folks back home (see above - I confess and repent).
19. Don't, as we did, mistake the guides at the foot of the mountain for hustlers. They will tell you it's obligatory to climb the mountain with one of them. We disbelieved them and strode out on our own. Only to learn later that it is indeed against the rules for tourists to be unaccompanied on the climb - the Bedouin have a legally established rota such that all the local Bedouin families share the work of guiding visitors ensuring them an equal wage from the work. No wonder we were asked by many of them on our way down, "Hey! Where your guide?" - Sorry! We confess and repent.
20. Take all your plastic bags, bottles, bottle-tops, crisps packets, cans and dead batteries home with you.



A note of explanation on No. 15.
You have to mingle with the local people quite a bit to begin to realise the central role The Koran, and their religion, plays in their lives. Any computer, switched on but idle, will usually be connected to one of hundreds of Arabic Youtube pages showing the Koran being sung. And the music and singing, at least on the ones I saw, is indeed very tuneful and relaxing.
So when I asked if I could use the computer in our last camp in Jordan, the answer was, "Of course, but please don't interrupt The Koran."
Which played out from substantial PC speakers into the restaurant of the camp in the mornings, requiring an additional Internet Explorer window to be launched, hoping it wouldn't interfere with the one already playing and filling the restaurant with peaceful music.


It's common to hear The Koran being sung from car radios and, having just arrived in Dahab and stocking up at a large-ish supermarket, there it was being played to us shoppers. Very soothing in the aisles. Not really expected in the so-called 'hippy paradise'.



Onwards and downwards.
We left it a little late to descend the mountain, it was pitch black by the time we reached the bottom, and no one waiting to listen to what we had learned up there. It was far too cold to hang around. After tea in the monastery cafeteria we rode the thee miles back to the village in the dark.


We were on the road again next day, westwards to the coast, the regional capital El Tur, and its passport office, to have a month added to our visas. It was all desert again, except, out of nowhere round a bend in the road, the oasis village of Feiran appeared. A mini forest of palms, very pretty. And also out of nowhere two locals came out to say hello, one a young teenager in extremely white and smart robes who shook our hands and tried a little English on us.



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Feiran Oasis village.


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Back in the desert beyond Feiran.


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At El Tur our mission to extend our visas was quickly accomplished, but to extend the customs clearance for our bikes, from one month to two, was not. At the Traffic Office two separate groups of officials were very clear, we had to have that done at Nuweiba Port, in complete contradiction to what we had been told at the port on arrival.
So, a visit to the port has to be inserted in our itinerary, and we dash off south to the Nature Reserve of Ras Mohammed on the very tip of the Sinai.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:47 PM GMT
December 24, 2009 GMT
Ras Mohammad



Ras Mohammad National Park is one of the world's leading nature reserves encompassing a wide range of terrains on the southern tip of Sinai.



Including a mangrove swamp, desert, numerous bays and beaches, and what is claimed to be the best preserved coral in the Red Sea.


To keep it like this absolutely no modern amenities are there. No electricity, shops or vendors of any sort, catering of any sort, nor accommodation. There is a sunset curfew, requiring all visitors to leave before nightfall.
But, there are three small camping areas on the beaches of a small inlet, and if you can carry in everything you need you can camp there for as long as your supplies last. The sunset curfew still applies, in that campers can stay overnight of course, but must be at their campsites by dusk.
We thought we'd stay there two nights, ride around the park (strictly on the road and marked tracks only) and snorkel over the coral reefs.


Well, it was a wonderful place and we stretched our supplies to four nights.
The surrounding waters are heavily visited by boats bringing in tourists from Sharm el Sheikh, but mooring at only a few specific locations. Consequently the reefs at those places are pretty badly damaged by divers and snorkellers (the uneducated sort). But we had the run of the place and indeed there were some wonderful sights under the waves away from the visiting boats.
Being the Sinai, and its history, each section of the park and the camping area is guarded by army checkpoints, logging your every move. There were no other campers, so we became quite well known amongst the army personnel. On one outing to the southernmost bay a strong wind blew up, but we found good snorkelling and stayed there until dusk. On our return we found that the unused guy ropes on our tents had been pegged out against the wind, no doubt done by the lads at the nearby checkpoint.



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Beach camping at Ras Mohammad


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On the day that the wind sprung up a peculiar mist settled to the west, giving the sunset a white, soft-focus appearance for a while.


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The camping there is reasonably cheap, three pounds per night per person. You pay one night on arrival, receive a dated ticket, show the ticket when leaving and pay the additional nights. Well, when we left we almost came to a stop to show our tickets and pay our three extra nights, but the attendant gave us a cheery smile and waved us straight on and out. So a pretty economical stay.


We are now in Dahab for Christmas. It has more facilities than Nuweiba which has only one restaurant in town, although is nowhere near as peaceful. But we decided to chance our luck here for a good Christmas dinner as it caters almost entirely for European visitors.
Emails from home tell us of two feet of snow, blocked roads, abandoned cars and people walking through the snow as the only transport available. Weather here today was good enough to spend the afternoon snorkelling one of the reefs just a short walk from our hostal, good coral just beyond the distance reached by most snorkellers, and shoals of colourful fish......... Sorry!
On Boxing Day we'll move on to Nuweiba again, and its port and trust we can find customs extensions for our bikes there.


A Very Merry Christmas to all our Readers.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 09:10 PM GMT
December 31, 2009 GMT
Into Africa



Christmas Day in Dahab turned out pretty good.



We decided to snorkel the Eel Garden reef, a recommended site north of the town.
But we found a strong-ish current heading south. It was also quite a way out to the edge of the reef, the 'Garden' in the name of the place, and an incoming swell was making swimming in the shallow water above the reef shelf less than leisurely.
We returned to see want we wanted to do. There was a possibility of just working out to the 'Garden', then drifting with the current all the way along the edge of the reef to where it met the shore in town at a place called The Lighthouse. That had been recommended to us. But it would mean a long walk all the way back in wet gear, in the sea breeze, to collect our stuff.
No matter, a gallant Beau, new to snorkelling, said he would be more comfortable walking to The Lighthouse and set off with all our stuff.
Caroline and I then spent a chunk of Christmas Day crossing the current to the reef edge and the 'Garden', then drifting with the current all the way back to town, although the current ran onto the reef, with breaking waves in places, so a bit of work was needed to keep out over the edge where all the deep water, scenery and action was.
It was a good journey as few snorkellers and divers get here, so the reef was more-or-less undamaged with masses of fish and plant life and colour.
And some fish we had seen before, claimed to be Lion Fish, a 'do not approach' species, but I hadn't agreed with that identification. (But didn't know what they were called).
Well, there were quite a few of them, and subsequently we found they were indeed Lion Fish, so were glad they hadn't approached us.


On Boxing Day it was back to Nuweiba for the 1-month customs extensions for the bikes, and we returned again to the Softbeach camp and its beach huts.


The traffic office was easy to find, close to the port. But it was the wrong place.
"Go into the port," we were told.
Having had over three hours experience of the port already, that sounded complicated and it probably showed on our faces.
"This officer will show you," as he pointed to a policeman just mounting his motorbike. He waved us to follow, but his bike wouldn't start and needed a quick push.
On the road he sped off for the one-mile trip to the port, past the exit where we had entered Egypt a few weeks earlier, and to the entrance, where he pointed and called out, "In there!" and rode off.


We were pretty sure that would be easier said than done, with no boat ticket between us. And that was the case. A port policeman who spoke a little English was called and eventually seemed to understand our requirements. He told us to park outside the entrance and wait ten minutes.
Well, sure enough, after ten minutes a tourist policeman came out, speaking perfect English, to say the the Customs manager wouldn't be on duty for nearly an hour.
"No matter, because you need a paper from the Court to extend your licenses, so go there now and we can continue when you return. I'll write what you need on a piece of paper. You show it to the desk clerk at the court, he'll show you where to go."
Nuweiba court is in the town, five miles from the port, so off we sped. The desk clerk pointed us upstairs where someone was waiting to point us to the right office. The following paperchase lasted an hour, gave us each a file of papers to be processed and retained, and left us each with a small certificate in Arabic which constituted the court's blessing for the port to extend our driving licenses.


Back at the port, our policeman conducted us through exactly the same process that we completed when first entering the country, except the frame and engine numbers didn't need to be checked again by the vehicle examiners.
Another three hours.
But never mind, there's plenty of life to observe during the process, and with the port empty of passengers, no ferries being in harbour, there was a different leisurely life going on.


So now we have an extra month's legality in the country.
During the process in the port, an official practicing his English exclaimed, "Don't stay longer without another extension, the fine will be 4000 pounds (440 English pounds)."
At the end, while we waited for our new plastic licenses to be produced, our tourist policeman explained, "If one more month isn't enough, no problem. Just make sure your visa is extended then pay some money when you leave," making the classic back-hand money-passing gesture.
The cost of each extra legal month is about 35 - customs permit, insurance, license, carnet endorsement, court fee, photocopying fee - so probably enough of a backhander to avoid the 440 fine, but we plan not to find out.



All formalities done we hurried off the next morning, aiming for Cairo but expecting only to reach Suez before dark. Which was the case.


It seems that the Sinai isn't part of Africa, but a sort of attachment to Asia. So as we emerged from the Ahmad Hamdi Tunnel back into the sunlight on the western side of the Suez Canal, we really had finally reach Africa!



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Three small vessels and one large one - The west side of the Suez Canal - Africa!


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We were just lucky to get these photos with the bikes. It seems a 100-yard strip along the banks is a security zone - no vehicles allowed. We didn't know - we just nipped through a pedestrian gap in the barrier. After the tanker had sailed on, a policeman on foot, a police van and a security man descended on us to politely explain the urgency with which we should kindly take our bikes back to the road!



So on the 29th we arrived in Cairo. And threw away any semblance of a notion of driving by western conventions.
But there are conventions, and we managed to employ them sufficiently to get us around the city to Giza and an ok campsite.
The score to date is:
Ethiopian visa obtained, they gave us three months and no fuss.
Confirmation that a letter from the GB consulate is needed (30 pounds we think) for the Sudan visa. And Friday (holy day), and New Year, together mean we can't do that until Monday, to receive the visa on Tuesday. So hopefully we start to see the rest of Egypt on Wednesday.


New front tyre obtained for Caroline's bike. We found a street full of car repair places, most repairs taking place in the street leaving just enough width for a single car to pass by. The scenery included bodies and chassis completely separated for respraying (on the road) and the front half of a car, no wheels, in the road under a smart cover for a whole car. Can't imagine what that repair was for. Engines, gearboxes and axles were scattered everywhere.
Plus numerous tyre places. One place pointed us to a street where, we think, there were motorbike shops, but the street was maybe four miles long.
In another the owner took a lot of trouble to understand what tyre Caroline wanted, size, tread etc, and sent his lad (maybe his son) off on his motorbike to look for one. After quite a while, and cups of tea for us, the lad returned and talked to the owner, who continued repairing a puncture for another customer.
We waited a while wondering what to do then asked if we should wait.
The owner spoke some more to the lad, told us to wait and the lad went off again for quite a while.


On his return we learned that yes he had found one this time, for fifteen pounds in English money. That seemed a bit cheap so we said we needed to see it first. The only way to do that was for one of us to go with the lad to the location and take a look.
So McCrankpin was volunteered for that and given a spare crash helmet that hung in the workshop. Unusually for Cairo, the lad wore a crash helmet. (We'd taken a taxi into town - cheap enough and we could return after nightfall).
Off we sped, or cantered, into the back streets and over-passes of Cairo and it was interesting to see how the lad played for command of his bit of road space against cars, pedestrians and other bikes. But I still couldn't work out the language of the car horn. Every different hoot has a meaning, I suppose you have to live here to learn it. But there's as much discipline in giving way to what would be called 'cutters-in' or 'cutters-up' back home, as there is in cutting in yourself.
Anyway, the tyre was of Taiwanese make, with maker's name and mark on the tyre and all over the wrapping, so at least was not a fake copy of a Pirelli or similar. Other new bikes in the shop had similar tyres so we took the plunge and bought it.
Overland internet forums often carry stories of riders having to buy unknown brands and finding that they are indeed OK for the roads in that part of the world.
Time will tell.


Now we visit some pyramids and other sights, and drink lots of tea, until we set off on Monday for the Sudanese visa.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 01:44 PM GMT
 



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