Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Friday 31st October

The journey last night was great fun. Stopped a police car to ask the way to tourist information. No one spoke English and before we knew what had happened another car with siren drove up and out stepped an officer. He didn’t understand either so with much laughter and handshaking we parted company and headed for what we thought was the town centre. 

Before we had gone 500 metres the police overtook and with much hand-waving led us to the centre. Here we changed some money with a shopkeeper and drove out to the airport to Tourist Information and obtained a map. Next morning we left early for Babylon. What a let down  Nothing but ruins and as for the “wonder of the world” – the hanging gardens of Babylon – nothing. 

Back to Baghdad to see the Golden Mosque – tomb of two descendants of Mohammed and Holy City of the Shia sect of Islam. Beautiful golden domes but we were not allowed inside. Returned to camp site and met Swiss couple travelling for five months. They had phoned an Iraq friend so all of us toured the city in their VW bus. 

Round the copper market – the tomb of the unknown soldier, the “hanging” square – monument to the “revelation” when the army killed the king and back to see the golden mosque by night. Had a great free feed in a shop – owner kept on giving us more things to taste.

On the banks of the Tigris to watch fish being cooked in a circle around a fire. They are live – you choose what you want and it’s cooked while you wait.

Back to camp where we slept ready for the early start tomorrow. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thursday 30th October

Eight o’clock – early morning was just too cold. The roads in Iraq are just a bit narrower than Jordan so overtaking is a bit dangerous. Just before Ramadi the road improves vastly and stays that way till Baghdad. We photographed one of the many vast herds of camels as a break from the nothingness of the desert. We arrived at Ramadi to find a delightful town full of palm trees and the first signs of “turban” like headwear on the men. 

The camp site at Baghdad took some finding but we camped at last. The site is on the northern banks of the army canal near the R Tigris. I changed the wheels around to help even the bearing wear on the rear tyres (due to continued full load on suspension). Into Baghdad tonight to see the fish frying on the banks of the river. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wednesday 29th  October

Woke up at 7.00 to finish packing car. The Brigadier sent someone to collect our visas (we had visions of a midday start) and so at about 8.30 we left Amman led by Mohammed and Christina (they showed us to the outskirts – there’s no map so it’s impossible for a stranger to find his way – all names in Arabic).

Passed about three police checkpoints onto the out pipeline road leading to Baghdad. This just stretches for miles and miles in a near straight line. Over the border without too much trouble and in to the Iraq check point of Rutba (about 70 miles between customs ports).
A bad diversion around the pumping station of H3 to avoid army camp (17kms of sand and gravel). The Iraqis were the first to open all cases – what a bother.

We camped in the gardens of the Government Rest House (charge 350 riyals – tried to change 1 dinar – worth it as we used the wash room and toilets – Arab hotel charge 200 riyals per person, but will start bargaining at a dinar!!). Early to bed as we have lost one hour in time, heard the radio news [still clear on medium wave] and the tensions seems to be lessening in the Middle East now we have left!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tuesday 28th  October

This morning we went down to the Iraq Embassy to get via (very polite as we were with the Brigadier). Ready at midday as the chap needed to sign them was at the airport. We set off at 12.00 with Ginnie and Tuma for a picnic lunch at the hot springs at Zirea Ma’een. Through the police checks with the royal car and on past Zerka (a Christian Bedouin town!!) to the dust track leading down the Wadi to the springs.

This place was a Fedayeen headquarters. Never mind, had a great lunch and saw two Israeli planes pass low overhead. In case they were going to raid where we were, Tuma advised that we stay under the rock for a while. When all clear we changed into swim things and set off up the waterfall. The water in the fall and the stream was hot. Spent about half under the water (even a bath formed by a pool). Dressed and set off back along the dirt road.

Near the end we were stopped by Jordanian troops who wanted to know where we had been and tried to connect us with the planes. Tuma talked us out of that and, buying some food, we set off back to the house. Had dinner and said our farewells to G & T before retiring to bed.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Monday 27th  October

Early start as we were being taken to the Hussein Bridge by Mohammed to watch him talk to the Israelis re prisoner exchange etc. The drive out was fascinating along a deer wadi towards the new frontier (we were stopped once by the Fedayee to buy some tickets for fundraising but drove on without buying). We whistled through all stops in the brigadier’s car.

We reached the bridge – a small very worn bailey bridge to see the Jordanians in pitiful tin huts, while over the river the Israelis sat under tall trees well shaded. While Mohammed was discussing various things with the other side, a young Arab crossed the bridge (just released) and ran crying to his family. After tea we returned to Amman where we had lunch before Ginnie brought the Royal twins round to see us.

Very shy but one held her small hand out for it to be kissed. Off they drove in a bullet-proof Cadillac while I went off to collect the car. 

What a shock the bill came to – 11 dinars. Much shouting ensued but the bill was not reduced. The evening was spent with Nannette and Diana (girl from British Embassy) eating from a vast dish of rice and lamb – eaten with the fingers on the floor (a Mensaf - typical Jordanian meal). This was very filling (A did not like to too much). 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sunday 26th  October

Another night in a comfortable bed with a solid roof over our heads. (A complains she cannot sleep outside the tent now!). Today after a lazy start we set off with Tuma and Ginnie to see the “Best Wadi in Jordan (Wadi Muyib).

We went through the attractive village of Madaba through a heavy police check (without the royal car I don’t think we would have got through!) to Mount Nevo and the church of Moses. Here we could look down on the Dead Sea, River Jordan, Jemcho and just Jerusalem. An awe-inspiring sight. On for lunch and the Rest House at Karak. Good lunch of chicken and salad. Anne and I then went round a crusader castle built by the village on top of a high hill. 

We wandered through old corridors, underground rooms all in a near perfect condition. The drive to Karak is down and up the impressive Wadi Muyib – fantastic and frightening if not driving. (My car had been left at the garage that morning for a service and check).

Coming back we had a fast drive to arrive by 7.00 in time for drinks at Mohammed’s with Silvia and husband plus the Whedies’ son and wife. Out at about 10.00 for a drink and steak sandwich in a bar. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Saturday 25 October

A’s birthday. After saying  goodbye to everyone at the hotel, we set off in the huge car for Petra. Arrived at the guest house (these are all government run and super) for “Pepsi” before riding on horseback through the narrow Sig into the valley of Petra.

 Here we saw the Treasury, Monastery, Theatre Palace Tomb etc all carved out of the soft red rock in fantastic condition. We were shown round by a sergeant in the tourist Police.

Would have liked to stay longer but time was pushing so back to the rest house for chicken and salad in a cave hewn out of the rock in front of which the rest house stood. Shooting back to Amman in time to go out for a superb meal and then the nightclub till 1.30 in the morning. At the nightclub we met, in the company of Tuma and Ginnie, a man in the Jordanian F/O very rich but a hopeless alcoholic. Ah well. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Friday 24 October

Up at the right time and after a quick breakfast into the royal landrover and off with the light just breaking over the horizon. The Wadi itself was fantastic with the sun gradually redeeming the tall mountains. We had tea in the police fort at the head of the Wadi (4 cups of chai and 2 coffee!!) and then set off up the mountain to see the spring of water mentioned by Lawrence in Pillars of Wisdom.

Also rode a camel and took photos of the Bedouin police – one to be sent to them.

Back to the landrovers – after firing revolvers to prove the echoes and our second breakfast of the day.

Returning to the hotel we changed for a session water skiing. Sammy turning out to be a superb teacher (I have the photos of A to prove it). In the afternoon we went out to the coral reef and swam under water. We had a guard, even here, who tried to keep us together because of the sharks. 

This he found difficult as we had fins and he didn’t. Collected some coral and after an exciting fast bumpy ride back (A’s bosom was really exercised!) had dinner and collapsed into bed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thursday 23 October

Had the car fixed by Saef, a driver from the palace and went with the Brigadier to Iranian Embassy and extended our visas (instead of the usual four hours there was much heal clicking and the job was done in half an hour plus we were given lots of tourist leaflets).

When we returned I had a phone call from the palace to say that we should be guests of HM at Agaba for two days. Much excitement and at 7.30 up drove a vast American car driven by an armed Sergeant Major who was to be our guard for the next few days. Off we went at a steady 90/100 mph down the new highway to Agaba, stopping at the rest house at Ma’an for tea.

At sunset we at the north end of Wadi Rum. Quite strange rather like the moon I should think. On to arrive at the Agaba Hotel at 7.00. We had been booked into the chalets by the King so after a shower we went to the main part of the hotel to be joined by the Sergeant Major and “Sammy” a lieutenant in charge of the royal palace there. After a few beers and dinner, we arranged a call for 4.00 to see the sunrise in Wadi Rum. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wednesday 22  October

During the morning we visited with Freddie the souk (to buy a carpet), three of the old city gates, St. Pauls Church, the Omaygad Mosque and the Jordanian Embassy to obtain visas. We heard at lunchtime that there had been a clash between Lebanese and Commando forces and 15 commandos had been killed. 

Feeling was running high and we were advised to leave before our three day visa expired. This we did after hearing that the Lebanese/Syrian border had closed and later had been attacked by commandos. A fast drive took us to the Jordanian border where smiling officials made us most welcome. On by night to arrive at Amman at 7.15 at the Jordan Intercontinental.

We rang Tuma and Ginnie and were picked up and driven to Brigadier Mohamed Daoud (chief UN delegate) and his NZ wife Christine. A quick wash and we were off to the local rep company to watch “Boeing – Boeing”. A late night left us really ready for bed. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tuesday 21 October

Up to the sound of rain and a small boy providing tea (we gave him some shells which excited him no end). The rain stopped so we walked around the market before setting off for Damascus (breakfast was a local dish from a stall – bread wrapped around nice meat cubs and salad).

Fortunately the rain held off for the drive. We made a detour to the village of Malula, where the houses are built next to one another and painted blue (the people still speak the language Jesus preached in). We arrived at Damascus, looked at the camp site and the hostel and still undecided went to the Jordan embassy via the Central Bank and Tourist Office to find it closed till tomorrow.

At this stage we met George and Freddie – sons of very wealthy Syrians who insisted we stayed at their love pit. We did not meet any of their friends! We walked round the souk before going to the room to change prior to our evening meal at Ali-Baba’s. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Monday 20 October

First job was to locate someone to refill gas bottle which we did at Milangaz. Also had a look around the souk (the things they were making out of old tyres – baskets etc) the mosaic museum (quite the best we have seen and well worth a visit), and the first Christian church (St. Sophia) cut out of the rock.

A good road lead to the custom ports of Turkey (very pleasant and quick) and Syria (pleasant but very, very slow). We left Bab-el-Hawei at 2.00, stopped for lunch and decided to press on to Hams for the night instead of going to Aleppo. The road was terrible as it was being rebuilt causing all traffic to take to the side consisting of mud and sand. We passed, slowly, along the road. It was raining by then and the windscreen wipers stopped. All ideas were tried including string through both windows tied to the blade and being pulled by A and me alternatively – but to no avail. As darkness settled all we could do was to continually wipe the screen.

At last Homs and, after obtaining directions, we found the Youth Hostel – charming people in this small hostel but the place was a bit grot. We went out for a coffee and met a [half] English speaking bank manager who introduced us to his friends (one of whom took us home to meet his wife and children). After a tour of the town (including the man’s parents and large houses) we went to bed at the hostel (total cost 4/-). 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sunday 19 October

Woke up this morning to very dark clouds so decided to move near to the Syrian border. The garage owner at Messin was away (Sunday – Arabs seem to be adapting all their holidays plus many of ours) so could not get gas topped up. A very fast road to Iskendesum, past three crusader castles, two in very good condition, and camel and goat herds.

The camp site at Iskendesum was badly flooded so we decided to move on to Antakya. Stopped at Information post and was told we could camp behind the office on the grass. Before doing this we drove to the coast at Samandag – what a disappointment. A good beach really ruined – so back before dark to the “camping ground”. 

The local football match had just finished and so to a vast crowd we started to put up our tent. Such an audience! At last a man with a whistle arrived and they all vanished! And so to bed. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Saturday 18 October

Up early and again spent morning on beach. Collected a few more shells and got talking to an English lad travelling along for 12 weeks around Europe – swapped some paperbacks with him. Also talked to Swiss couple spending six months in Europe and Middle East who gave us some information on camping grounds and roads in Syria and Iran, Iraq. Very helpful. A cut my hair again!

[It does get a little more interesting after we leave the beach and head for Damascus !!]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Friday 17 October

Same laze today, up till lunch time then into Silifke to buy vegetables and wine (3 l' a bottle!). Brought up some beautiful shells from the seabed and Anne is getting much better diving etc – just a question of practice now.

During the day a coach load of elderly Germans arrived with a unique trailer. As far as we could see this contained bunks (each with its own window) in tiers of three running across the vehicle with complete cooking facilities at the rear – very well organised and seems to be going to Damascus. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thursday 16 October

Today we did nothing but lie in sun, swim with snorkel, and eat. This is a perfect place – I stayed in the blue water half an hour without feeling a bit cold. This sea is so clear and full of very colourful fish – including one type – pale with a blue strip on head – who are very interested in this “big” fish, for if you quickly turn when swimming there’s a queue of them all behind you. Others have a green neon flash down their entire body. Just off the coast is the Kizkalesi (Maiden Castle) which the legend goes, was built by the ruling king of that time to save his only daughter from death. An old woman had foretold that the child would die from a snake bite thus the castle out at sea, but having placed the child “safely” in the castle a basket of grapes was given to the princess to eat and out popped a snake. Despite this the castle looks very impressive from shore.

 At night, we played chess for the first time this trip – very badly but you know what they say about practice. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wednesday 15  October

Up at 7.00 and left camp by 8.00 for the short trip to Goreme.

 Here the landscape is just as I imagine the moon to be. In the valley are volcanic cones and pinnacles honey-combed with cells and painted churches which were the sanctuary for the Cappodocian. Christians during the Arab incisions in the 7th century AD. What would have been excellent wall paintings have been ruined by people writing on walls – incredible! Over a very bad road to Incesu and south. Passed Nigde to the coast road. On our way we drove over the Taurus Mountains and through the narrow Cilician Gate – famous corridor through which passed the armies of Alexander the Great and the Crusaders on the way to their eastern conquests.

The road, though narrow, was good, but we saw at least three overturned lorries – a good reminder to watch out. Along the good coast road passed giant cauliflowers fields to the Mo-camp at Selifke. Here after some trouble with the manager over wine we settled down for an early night.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tuesday 14 October

Glad we are not going straight to Tehran as there is a large group of not particularly pleasant people doing just that i.e. they made far too much noise in the Mo-Camp kitchen last night. Up early and into Ankara by 9.00. 

Went to BP regional office and was given guide to show up round the various embassies. The Syrian Embassy granted our visa but took till 1.30 so we could not get any others. These will be got in Damascus or Amman. Went round the markets in Ankara (both old and new) whilst waiting for 1.30.

We arrived back the embassy early but they kept us waiting (it was 15 mins before anyone appeared). About 2.00 we were driving down south along a very good road (average sped 60 mph) through Akaray to Goreme. Very large Arab influence here with tents and small mud villages. Bit lake appeared near Akaray (Yuz Bälu) strange because of small hills seeming to hang suspended as water and sky were same colour. Near to Nersehir old walled towns began to appear (some with people, some without).

Some of the children were in a very friendly fashion, and some with distinct vulgar wares. One little child – very round with what seemed to be five chins, gave us a most _______ ware yet which sent us into fits of laughter. This Mo Camp is very strange. I imagine the manager is away because the staff seem to be on the phone all the time and are selling all goods without invoices or sight of the till! As we are the only people here it’s rather strange. We are sleeping in the “little hospital” tonight instead of putting the tent up. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Monday 13 October

Early rise, to discover car had been broken into but apart from 2 Malayan dollars and 8/- of NZ money, nothing else was taken and had trouble with car attendance/watchman who insisted on carrying everything from flat to the car. 

Called at post office after saying goodbye to John but still no letter from in-laws! Strange but must be lost en route – so have written saying write to American Express Tehran re India addresses. Left Europe crossing over to Bospherous and arrived in Asia – we’re really off now!

The road to Ankara is very good and by 4.00 we arrived at the BP Mocamp to hear that BP had arranged for our visas for Syria (but will not get too excited until they are actually in our passports!!). Met 2 other couples on way to India – so the roads going to get quite crowded. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sunday 12 October

Late up – 10.30 – down to Hilton for paper, short and drove around town before lunch at the flat – again a superb meal and nearly put a stop to the afternoon sightseeing. We eventually eased ourselves out of the chains and set off to the old part of Istanbul to see the Blue Mosque during a call to prayers. This building was built about 1850 and is renown for the beautifully designed blue tiled ceiling. On to St. Sophia (now a museum but originally a Christian Church, then a Muslim shrine) with its partly exposed mosaics. 

Unfortunately we were only left half an hour to see the Topkapi Museum/Palace, so we had to content ourselves with an 85 carat diamond and a 3.25 kilo emerald plus old sultan dresses, swords and jewels. Back to a dinner of meat balls, 5 vegetables including spaghetti – true Turkish and great. Sat up late talking and drinking, plus sorting out various offers from BP including visas, gas, etc. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Saturday 11 October

This morning, after an excellent meal cooked by John Sperring last night, we set out to find the Syrian consulate. The information office was wrong in their direction but with the help of one traffic policeman, 2 women, a shopkeeper and 1 senior police official (he looked very surprised when we walked into his office – but his door was open) who lent us a man from the station to take us.

Inside the heavily guarded building no one seemed to be doing anything but after 10 minutes a Syrian arrived at the desk, took our passports, went away and returned within 1 minute to say he could not issue them but the embassy in Ankara would. Looks hopeful.

                                          [Saint Sophia]

Two Americans – also driving the same way – were told last week no visas. This week visas, but not at the Embassy. Went back to John's and off for morning coffee with the Turkish BP Retail Manager. Drive round Istanbul then return for excellent lunch. John has some driving lessons to give so we went to the Bazaar. An amazing place, full of stalls and shops, selling everything imaginable. We bought an alabaster egg for John (supposed to be a fertility symbol!) and 3 trick rings in silver for Xmas presents. Back to flat to prepare for evening at [cannot remember name] Hotel nightclub.

Great fun – John was partnered by a divorced Turkish woman (PR of BPs) who obviously fancied him. Good food – splendid Turkish belly dancer and pop singer. Danced till 2.0 then home to bed. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Friday 10 October

Contacted John by phone early morning and he said we should stay at his flat, so packing up goods and chattels. We drove over to BP Head Office, met John and went back to his flat.

Super not the word, with a house boy thrown in. Good lunch then off to find Syrian Embassy – of course it was closed so going to try again tomorrow.

Back to John’s flat to unpack car (in case robbed) and get ready for dinner tonight – a Turkish couple coming in.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Thursday 9 October

Early start from the camp site and breakfast up the road. Saw cotton being picked alongside Greek main road. Crossed the frontier at Ipsala – Turkish customs not very pleasant – and on over indifferent roads to Istanbul.

Straight to the PO to collect the mail – lots of interesting letters but none from NZ so we will go in again on Saturday. No letter from John Sperring so will phone in morning. Pitched camp at Kartaltepe Mocamp. Excellent facilities here but quite expensive.

Met up with Jacob and Evelyn again and after a meal sat planning the revised route after Juiney’s news that we can get visas through in Istanbul.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wednesday 8 October 1969

Went out for meal in Karaka last night and had Moussaka, green beans and rice and wine and later ouzo and coffee – very good restaurant near large harbour. Cheap too - at total cost of 15/-. Woke early today and we decided to stay one day here and do more sunbathing and snorkelling. 

Wind got quite fierce from 10.00 onward but despite waves I dived before lunch and A and I after. Fantastic visibility with great variety of fish etc. Late afternoon caught up on bookwork i.e. exchange rates and checking on accommodation past Iran. Looks okay with YH and Tourist bungalows.

Swapped some paperbacks with 3 lads spending 2/3 months in Europe and after listening to news – bad bombing near Amman – v/glad we’re not going that way! Early to bed for long drive to Istanbul tomorrow. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tuesday 7 October

Sundowners had a sing song last night so not too much sleep until about 1.00. Still we got up at 7.00 and away by 8.00 to Thessalaniki to see if A can sell some blood. Find the Red Cross and while I trot off to buy Newsweek (for exchange rate – official and unofficial for rest of journey). 

Got cheese and post card to parents – A finds that after a half hour wait because of low blood pressure they will not take any. Still was told that blood sells well in Iran!! Off to Karaka (Camp in bay 4km down coast road) where we met the Israeli couple again. 

Pitched camp in wind and will decide early tomorrow whether it’s a one or two night stop. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Monday 6 October

Decided to stay one more day here, woke to sound of Nick making coffee for us, got up counted money and continued to talk to Jacob and Evelyn re their trip to Israel and ours. They do seem a bit disorganised, despite having stuff stolen in Rome seemed still to have gear.

On beach by 11.00, back for good lunch and then returned to beach. Nick caught octopus – sweet [nature] and blinked when you strokes its forehead. Said goodbye to N & E – returning to England shame a very good couple of lads – just as 2 Sundowner coaches pulled in – 80 people all going our way. Ah the peace of travelling. 

Cleaned car of dust and settled down for relatively early night as early start tomorrow for Karala. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sunday 5 October

Sun shining so after shopping in nearby village back to beach for good swim – lunch was great with apples (from trees in camp site), cheese, salami and a litre of wine.

During lunch Autotours turned up with about 30 girls on 9 week tour which slightly distracted the 2 single men (and me). A and I sorted out the likely ‘goers’ and during the afternoon the lads went to work. All to no avail!

[My photos were edited!]

Still we met one or two of the Autotours girls in the bar and spent till 12.00 swapping jokes. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Saturday 4 October

My God how time flies nearly 7 weeks away already.

Bit cold this morning. Met lads, Nick and Ed, got talking and we spent a pleasant morning and for that matter the rest of the day and evening talking and drinking. We provided lunch and then the dinner – also met two more people on their way to Israel.

Annie did her first snorkel and seemed to like it!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Friday 3 October

Early start from hotel and collected car at 7.45 and set off for the ruins and Delfi via the camp site for more gas. Gave our other Greek map to “Harry”, a bloke driving a VW, who was working on a yacht and driving the car to Delfi. After changing $20 bought 2 under-water masks and snorkel.

Delfi ruins in very good condition and well worth a visit despite the very rough road between Amfissa and Lamia.

Arrived at Castle Camping at Platamon just as the light was failing, pitched camp and went to bed.