The journey

My photo
Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom
For the past 5 years, me and my best friend Nathan have talked about the possibility of travelling around the world by land and sea, and so finally we have a route, savings and time to set off around the world. What we are doing is living out a dream, a dream we share with many people worldwide, a dream of travelling this vast, diverse, beautiful and interesting planet, but unlike the many others who keep it as a dream, we have the tenacity to make this dream a reality.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Days 25 & 26: Jordan & Egypt

Day 25

With the ferry expected to leave a 1am the following day, we chilled out yet again and tried to stay at the Hotel for as long as we could before being asked to leave. We left at 5pm, and with 5 hours to kill before we had to be at the port, we got some food and ended up watching the African Cup of Nations game between Senegal and Egypt.

We found a small tea shop in the middle of the town, and with everyone around us supporting Egypt, we thought we would too. They ended up winning 2-1 in extra-time which set up a tie in the Semi-finals against Algeria.

We headed for the ferry terminal, got all of the documents stamped, and waited for the ferry. It departed 7 hours late amid absolutely chaotic organisation which made us question whether the same uncoordinated procedures are repeated every day the same ferry sets sail.

Day 26

The ferry arrived in Nuweiba at around midday, and when we had finally got off board, we had to go through the dreaded Egyptian border post. After paying for all of the taxes and insurances, with the help of an English speaking Traffic Police Officer and a small ‘Traffic Police Tax’, we were on the Egyptian roads heading towards Sharm Al Sheikh.

We eventually found our apartment, and tried to explain our trip to the owner. The blonde haired woman was baffled as to why we would want to drive to Cape Town, and asked us if we knew that we could get a flight to Sharm Al Sheikh in under 5 hours. She will never understand why we want to travel the world, and I will never understand how people can spent an entire week sat on a beach.

Nathan’s girlfriend Caz though was well aware of the flights from the UK, and that is why we had ventured to this part of Egypt, to pick her up from the airport so that she could join us for a week.

Day 23 & 24: Jordan

Day 23

We completed our journey to Petra with clear skies allowing the sun to shine down whilst we drove through some amazing scenery jet again in the heart of Jordan. We parked up at the complex and entered the huge site, with the looming red cliffs forming narrow alleyways taking us into the complex.

The first main sight was the hugely impressive Treasury that slowly comes into view through in the small gap between the cliff faces, and suddenly reveals its entirety as you enter a large square between the rock faces.

After a long walk visiting various other sights, we took a long walk up to the Monastery at the top of the hill. It was worth the walk, but after walking all day, we were ready to head off and find a place in the Jordanian hills to camp for the night.

Day 24

We awoke in the middle of nowhere after a bad nights sleep as the weather yet again took a turn for the worst, and even though we camped in a very secluded and covered location, the wind still battered the tent all night.

The next stage of our journey was to Aquba so that we could get the ferry across to Egypt. We had planned on taking the border through Israel and then onto Egypt, but we had heard from other travellers that although there are ways not to get an Israel stamp in the passport, the Carnet for the Landrover would give the game away to the Sudanese officials, entry in Sudan would not be easy, and it possible ruin the whole trip.

We decided to play it safe and booked the ferry that day in Aquba before getting a bite to eat and chilling out in the sunshine for a change.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Days 21 & 22: Jordan

Day 21

After a lie in for a change we spent an hour trying to fix the washer relay on the Landrover and then walked into the city centre to view the sites. The Roman amphitheatre was our first destination, and a really cool place to visit. The entrance cost only 1JD/£0.90/€1 for tourists and nothing for locals who used the concrete terraces throughout the day to chill out or to eat their lunch.

We then walked up one of the seven hills of Amman to the Citadel at the top which offered some amazing views over the city, but the sunshine of the morning was fading into the grey clouds and we decided to head back down and try to finish of the electrical system of the Landrover before it rained.

With the split charge battery now installed (4 weeks later than planned!) we were slowly ticking off the modifications left to do on the Landrover, and so hopefully by the time we get to Cape Town we should have completed everything!

Day 22

We knew that there was a market every Friday on the car-park where we had parked and fixed the car the previous day, but we didn’t expect them to block us in at 7am with stalls covering the entire parking ground, with no access roads or paths at all. The only way out was to drive over a 30cm/1foot high concrete pavement. We first attempted it with the sand ladders that Nathan had made at work, but they wouldn’t support the weight of the Landrover to bridge something. We spent an hour gathering bricks and rocks to make a ramp, and with the help of a few of the market stall owners, we navigated the Landrover up and over the pavement, and back onto the road.

The drive out of the capital led us west to the lowest point on earth – The Dead Sea. The scenery was amazing as we descended to 400metres below sea level, with the Dead Sea stretching out beyond us, with Palestine on the horizon at the opposite shoreline. We took a dip in the salty sea and floated around for an hour before retreating back to the shore which was composed of what can only be described as icicles of washed up salt. With our skin feeling horrible and salty, and with no showers around, we headed for the small town of Karak to find a hotel where we could check in and shower.

Feeling refreshed again we took a tour of the castle there and then spent the afternoon installing the electrical feed for the fridge in the Landrover (another job which should have been done a month ago) to the intrigue of a few local children who had come over to watch. When we had finished we decided to get the football out and give them a game. The centre of Karak turned into carnage as we chased the football around the streets, with even passing Japanese tourists enthusiastically joining in our game, trying to tackle the local youngsters!

Days 19 & 20: Syria & Jordan

Day 19

The weather was thankfully better, and we used our time to organise the back of the Landrover yet again and to finally get the laundry done. The local laundrette service was quite expensive, so we ended up doing half of our washing in the hotel bath and hanging out socks and pants around the room to dry.

We went for a walk around Damascus, through the Souks (shopping arcades) and around the old town. I had been looking to buy a camping chair since we left, as I couldn’t buy one in the UK in the middle of winter for some reason. We didn’t think there was much hope of finding a folding camping chair in Damascus either, but we stumbled across a shop where I bought a deckchair for around £6/€7.

Day 20

We headed for the Jordanian border early to ensure we had enough time to get through, and doing it whilst awake and alert is much easier than messing about when tired. It only took us around 50minutes to get stamped out of Syria, get VISAs, vehicle insurance and to get the Carnet stamped, and we had entered Jordan. At every stage of the process we were greeted by a Jordanian who first asked where we were from, and then said “You are welcome in Jordan”, “Welcome, welcome” or “Welcome to Jordan”. This is what happened every time we then met anyone, anywhere in Jordan for our whole stay.

We arrived in Amman and tried to find the hotel from only an address and failed miserably as the address was in western script, whilst the road signs and maps were mainly in Arabic only. We were hungry and headed for a bite to eat at a local buffet restaurant first. We both had huge plates full of chicken, rice and vegetable with a cup of tea for a mere 4JD/£4/€4.40!

We got a taxi to the hotel, checked in for two nights and chilled out for the evening in anticipation of exploring Amman the next day watching ‘The Terminal’ on satellite TV and drinking Arak.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blog updates in Syria

We would like to appologise for the lateness of our recent entries as The Syrian Arabic Republic has banned web access to many websites including blogspot and youtube.

We will endevour to upload some photos from Turkey and Syria once we get a fast enough internet connection here in Jordan.

In Syria we noticed that the picture of the president is on posters all over the city, and so we also wanted to put a photo of him onto our blog.

Left: President Bashar - Syria; Right: Captain Darling - Blackadder

Days 17 & 18 - Syria

Day 17

With the Landrover fixed we were back on the road through Syria, without a map. We travelled first to Crac des Chavaliers, a huge crusader castle that stands high on top of a hill in the west of the country.

With the diesel costing around £0.28 (€0.31) per litre, it was proving a lot cheaper than Turkey to fill the tank. The next drive was to Palmyra on the far east of Syria, through Homs and out into the huge expanse of nothingness in the Syrian Desert.

The old ruins of the classical temple complex lie just on the edge of the new town that has been formed nearby, and we arrived just before the sun was setting. Hundreds of columns still remain intact and upright, with one huge ‘monumental’ arch still also standing.

Our plan was to ‘stealth camp’ in the desert for the night, and so after wandering around the ruins, we headed out on the main road into the desert towards Damascus to try and find a track into the flat arid land that surrounded us, somewhere we would not be within reach of civilisation. We found a track nearly 2miles (3km) from the nearest farmhouse, and 600yards (1km) from the main road. We had set up camp for the night in the Syrian Desert, closer to Iraq than we were to the capital Damascus.

Day 18

We awoke at sunrise to get going just in case the owner of the desert land we had camped on spotted us in the morning light. We hadn’t slept well, the wind had howled all night, and heavy rain had left the normally arid land slightly moist.

After half an hour of being on the road to Damascus, the rain started again, and didn’t stop all day. The desert roads were covered in water, we couldn’t believe it - we were in the middle of the desert and it was pissing it down. [We found out the day after that the whole of the Middle East had received 200mm/4inches/a years worth of rainfall in one day!]

We arrived in Damascus with the traffic worse than we could imagine. We knew the city traffic would be chaos here, but the flash floods had left sections of the roads impassable. We found a hotel and went to get some food, trying the local Falleh - a really tasty and filling local dish.

Days 15 & 16 - Syria

Day 15

We set out early yet again heading south through Turkey stopping off at the Underground City of Derinkuyu, which Nathan reckons is the best underground city he has ever been to. Only 10 percent of it is accessible to tourists, but it consists of connected caves and underground tunnels that have been carved out of the rock to create a settlement for a community of up to 50,000 people which includes dwellings, stables, cellars and even a chapel.

After Derinkuyu the plan was to get as far south in Turkey as possible so that we could cross the border early in Syria the next day. On our way south we noticed two problems with the Landrover. The first was a creaking coming from the transmission with vibrations when going uphill, and a liquid covering part of the engine. The liquid turned out to be diesel leaking from one of the injectors, which was easily solved by tightening a bolt on the injector intake. We had noticed we had been using quite a lot of diesel, and there was a strong smell of it in the Landrover, but we thought the smell was from when we filled up the jerry cans and also when a petrol station attendant enthusiastically filled the tank so far that it started pouring over the side.

The second problem we knew was the universal joints in the propeller shaft that knew would need replacing along the journey. We decided that the best thing to do was to find somewhere in Syria to fix it as Turkey is very expensive, and so we made a dash for the border and aimed to be in Aleppo before the prop-shaft dropped off.

The border was a nightmare. We changed all of our money into Syrian pounds, only for the Syrians only to accept US dollars. We managed to eventually get money changed and everything sorted and paid for within about 3 hours, and we hit the Syrian roads at night. These are by far the most crazy roads I have ever driven on. People drive with no lights on roads with no lane demarcation, past pedestrians standing in the road waiting for taxis in the pitch dark.

We made it to Aleppo and checked into a cheap hostel for the night. Also in the hostel were 3 other ‘overlanders’. We stayed up till early in the morning chatting about each others travels, drinking and eventually I got the guitars out for the first time on the trip and sang and played until the early morning.

Day 16

The Landrover needed fixing, and so with the help of Ali who worked in the hostel, we found a garage on the outskirts of Aleppo. We got into the garage pit to inspect the prop-shaft and found that we needed to replace 2 universal joints, but we only had one spare. The garage arranged for a second one to be brought, and after two hours observing the mechanic at work and fixing a few other small problems the Landrover was back to normal.

Whilst waiting for the parts we sat down drinking tea with the owner [also called Ali, who sends his regards to our parents in the UK: Salaam aleikum!] and inspecting the old universal joints which were completely worn away, but thankfully not so much so that the prop-shaft would have fallen off.

We spent the afternoon walking around Aleppo eating kebabs with random people in the streets greeting us in English as we passed. We still didn’t manage to get the laundry done, so Nathan has reverted to turning his pants inside-out so we can continue longer without needing a laundrette.

Days 13 & 14 - Turkey

Day 13

We wanted another early start to avoid the morning rush hour this time, and knowing it was a long way to our next destination of Cappodacia, we decided to get up when the prayer calls were sounded at around 06:00am.

The long drive took us out of Istanbul, which we had just realised was the largest city we had ever been to with a population of over 11million. The traffic out of the city was bad even though it was early, but by midday we had passed the capital Ankara and were heading onwards and upwards into the mountains of central Turkey.

The scenery became more rocky as we approached the region of Cappodocia, a huge area created from volcanic activity which resulted in an unbelievable national park similar to something we had both seen in pictures of Arizona.

As we approached the small town of Goreme in the heart of the region, the sun was descending in the sky and we were greeted by a spectacular view of the town as we turned a corner on the windy road down the hill. This has to be the most amazing natural landscape I have ever seen.

Day 14

The previous night we had decided to camp using the rooftent for the first time on the trip. The weather had been good, but that night it got very cold and rained heavily. We decided to put the tent away and find a hostel carved into the rock for our second night in Goreme.

We utilised the Landrover by driving around Cappodocia seeing a whole range of areas with really amazing rock formations. I enjoyed the childhood innocence of wandering around the uninhabited caves, climbing on the rocks and exploring.

The rain started again that afternoon which was frustrating as most of the things we wanted to see were all outdoors. We thought we would use our time trying to get our laundry done, but as it was out of tourist season, the laundrette was closed which left us with three bin bags of dirty clothes. We will find somewhere soon. Hopefully.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Days 11 & 12: Bulgaria & Turkey

Day 11

After replacing the oil in the Landrover we set off early from Varna and headed for the Turkish border. Missing a turning, we decided to carry on down the coast road instead of turning back, and ended up weaving our way through a forest near the border. The roads were bumpy, windy and extremely slow, and so we were pleased when we finally got the frontier.

After getting our first Visas of the trip, and sorting out our vehicle insurance with the help of a customs inspector who’s voice was so high only dogs could understand him, we were allowed through the final barrier and onto Turkish Tarmac. Compared to the Bulgarian roads, it was heaven. The Turks had just completed a new dual carriageway from the border to meet up with their main motorway heading to Istanbul, and it was as smooth as driving on plate glass.

We arrived in Istanbul during rush hour. This was a mistake. The whole city was awash with vehicles of all size racing around its narrow streets trying to avoid the pedestrians. When we eventually found and arrived at the hostel we had booked, we were pleased to enjoy a beer in the rooftop bar overlooking the Hagia Sophia in one direction, and the Mamara Sea in the other direction.

Day 12

We awoke at 05:30am to the sound of the morning call to prayer from the nearby mosques. Just as we thought they had stopped, another call one sounded from an even closer mosque, which was twice as loud. We got an early breakfast and headed out.

With the Landrover parked up for the day, we went for a walk in the sunshine to visit a few of the local tourist hot spots. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque were each a five minute walk away from the hostel and were the obvious first port of call. I could have spent all day composing photographs of the Blue Mosque, but I could tell Nathan was getting bored of standing around as I took multiple photos trying to get the perfect exposure.

After visiting the Blue Mosque we headed through the Grand Bazaar and took a walk over the bridge to the other side of the Bosphorus to arrive in Asia, our second continent. This was the gateway to the rest of Turkey, and although we found Istanbul a fascinating place full of friendly people, we were still looking forward to more warmth, and cheaper food.

Days 9 & 10: Romania & Bulgaria

Day 9

We got up early to take a walk around Bucharest where we visited Victory square to see the Victoria Palace, the image I most associate with Bucharest from the TV. From there we headed through Revolution Square to view a series of photographs from 20 years ago and the fall of communism, with our final destination by foot being the Palace of the Parliament, the worlds largest and most expensive administration building.

We were back on the road by the afternoon and heading for the warmer climate of the Varna on the Black Sea coast where we had booked a room in a villa for two nights hoping to use the time and the better weather to sort out a few things with the Landrover and our equipment.

We arrived in Varna, but couldn’t find the villa anywhere, and neither could the locals whom we asked. After searching for over an hour, and with the battery on the laptop having run out we couldn’t get any further contact details for where we were staying. We eventually found a hotel in the area where no-one could speak English, and no-one knew where it was from the written address, but one of the barmen luckily could speak German, and so he let us look on the hotel internet to get the phone number of the owner villa who came to meet us to show us the rest of the way.

Day 10

We awoke pleased to find to a blue sky and a temperature of over 10 degrees C outside. Also outside was the great sea view that the villa owner Eddie had told us about the night before but was too dark to see the previous evening. Eddie who was originally from Liverpool made us feel extremely welcome in his house for the duration, and it was good to park the Landrover on a driveway where it was secure.

We spent the morning organising the back of the Landrover, finally fitting the fog-lights, attaching the fuel jerry cans to the roof rack and improving the security by fencing off the back of the Landrover from the front.

The rain came out in the early afternoon to hamper our progress, but we persisted regardless and were pleased with the work we had done and we both looked forward to getting into Turkey.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Days 7 & 8: Hungary & Romania

Day 7

After clearing the snow from the Landrover we started our journey out of east out of Budapest and towards Romania. The roads were becoming more treacherous for our suspension, and once across the border into the flatlands of western Romania, we were faced with small winding roads through linear roadside villages, the visual landscape had completely changed and we now felt as though we were in Eastern Europe as we lost count of the number of times we had overtaken a horse and cart.

We made our way out of the flatlands and up into the Carpathian Mountain range as the striking colourful villages that consisted of arrays of brick shacks following the main road flew past our windscreen like a vivid dream.

We arrived late in Sighisoara, but had made brilliant progress right through the heart of Transylvania, through some strange and fascinating places that formed an introduction to Romania that I will never forget.

Day 8

The fog lingered over Transylvania to obscure our route out of Sighisoara towards Brasov, but once we had completed our crossing of the Carpathians, and somehow navigated our route with little help from any road signs, we were heading down into the Bran Valley to visit the Bran castle, otherwise known as Dracula’s castle.

The link to Dracula is tenuous, and I won’t go into it here, but the castle stood on top of a hill guarding the valley entrance to the region, and luckily the fog had cleared for us to get a good view from the outside, and then walk up to tour the inside.

Bucharest was our next destination, the biggest city we had visited, and possibly the most decrepit as well. The pavements in the city centre could only compare to mud tracks, the road signs didn’t exist and stray dogs roamed the streets like rats. [Nathan: You wouldn’t want to be a cat in Bucharest]

The architecture was fascinating. At first glance you would think you were in Paris, as the Boulevards linking circular plazas were lined with a mix of Beaux-Arts and Baroque, but mixed in with a seasoning of large round Russian Orthodox churches and the tall Communist style concrete housing blocks that were crumbling to expose the rusting reinforcements below.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Days 5 & 6: Austria & Hungary

Day 5

We awoke at 10:30, and with hindsight I have to admit I was probably still drunk from the previous nights partying. We managed to get on the road by 12:30, the sun was in the sky again, and we both felt good. Then the clouds descended and the hangovers and tiredness began to take hold. The music choice in the Landrover went from The Courteeners to Nick Drake as we chased the descending sun eastwards.

The night was closing in, and after only one stop for a brew just outside Vienna, we continued driving through Hungary determined to get to the hostel we had booked before it was too late. We eventually arrived and checked in just before 23:00. We had dinner and went to bed too tired to do anything else.

The long days of driving have paid off as we are now in Eastern Europe and the food, the diesel and the beer is cheaper. The places are more different and exciting, and the further east we head, the warmer it will become, but the snow was still falling in Budapest.

Day 6

We awoke to find the Landrover and the rest of Budapest for that matter completely covered in 3cm of snow. We spent the day wandering around Budapest seeing the sights and buying food for the next few days. With the help of an extremely friendly hostel owner (who insisted he wasn’t racist but made it quite clear he didn’t like the Turks) we found a brilliant market hall in Pest and were able to buy some really cheap and tasty food.

Budapest seems to be the frontier to eastern Europe, with what appears to be one foot either side of what was once the Iron Curtain. In places it appears as developed as the rest of western Europe, but it still holds a visual connection with its history as part of the Eastern Bloc.

We planned our onward route in the evening and decided to get to bed early for an early start planned to travel further east into Romania, knowing that the progress from now on would be slower as the roads become worse.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Days 3 & 4: Germany & Austria

Day 3

After another much needed sleep we spent the morning walking around Freiburg. Snow had fallen and it was perfect skiing weather with no clouds in the sky. After our walk around the city we drove up into the Black Forrest to take Christoph to the ski slopes which was on our intended route over to Austria.

It was the first time we had used the third middle seat in the Landrover, and it was good to have Christoph accompany us on a short part of our journey before we said our goodbyes and continued along the North of the Bodensee into Austria and onwards into Innsbruck. Thanks very much to Christoph for your unbelievable hospitality.

Day 4

We decided to spend the morning organising our equipment from the back of the Landrover now that we had been on the road for 3 days, and we knew what needed sorting out. We were hoping for good weather to make the job easier, and we were greeted with another day free of clouds, but the –10°C temperature wasn’t expected or enjoyed.

The evening was spent firstly in the Innkeller where I was pleased to meet most of the friends I had known from my previous 6 months in Innsbruck where we shared a few drinks, and I got chance to say my goodbye. At the end of the night it was sad to leave the house of Chris at around 5am in the morning, but it had to be done as me Nathan had booked a hostel in Budapest for the next day. Only 500miles to travel on a hangover.

Vielen Dank Helene für dein Gastfreundlichkeit, es freut uns. Ich werde schreiben, aber dauert die letzte woche, ich bin zu faul für mich diese blog auf English zu scheiben!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Days 1 & 2: UK, France & Belgium

Day 1


We finally departed from Wrexham as the clock ticked over from 23:59 31/12/2009 to 00:00 01/01/2010. A new decade had begun, and the trip down to Dover was quiet and tiring, illuminated by the full moon and a few fireworks that were being fired into the sky to welcome in the new-year. During the ferry crossing to Calais we both slept, and when we awoke, we found ourselves in France to see the sun come up across the flat lands that stretch into Belgium.

Our first stop was Brugge. It was either that or Lille, but we had seen the film ‘In Brugge’ and decided to see if it really was like a fairytale. Trying to find somewhere to park I followed the signs for parking, only to find them leading us into a tunnel to an underground car-park where there were no warnings for the height clearance. The sound of crumbling concrete as the roofrack hit the ceiling was not a good sound, but luckily the only damage was the rooftent cover being torn and the car-park ceiling probably needing to be looked at by the local council.

Brugge is a very scenic city, but I wouldn’t call it a fairytale. [Nathan: Belgium is weird.] Not wanting to start eating into the budget by paying for lunch in a restaurant, we decided to cook a (tuna) curry in the car on a camping stove. It certainly wasn’t a delicacy, but it removed our hunger. Wanting to get to sleep we bought a few cheap beers from the nightshop next to the hostel and sat in the room chatting until all of the beers had been drank, and the alcohol had kicked in enough to send us straight to sleep. We finally got a well earned sleep and left early the next morning for another long journey to Freiburg in Germany.

Day 2


We managed to pass through four countries by mid afternoon as our drive from Brugge took us through Brussels, Luxembourg and on into France and Germany. The brief stop in Luxembourg City was enough to stretch the legs and have a quick look around a strange place where France and Germany collide at the heart of Europe.

The onward journey to Freiburg was terrible. The roads were unlit, with no cats-eyes, and the windscreen washers on the Landrover had ceased functioning meaning the windscreen was constantly filthy.

We arrived in Freiburg to meet Christoph, an old freind of mine from my days spent in Manchester. We spent the evening eating, drinking and chatting, though we were still tired from the journey and retired to bed ready for the journey to Innsbruck the following day.