Journal 11

Getting to Europe

February 06

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Thanks Updated 15.03.06 Virtual Tour of Mel Please join us - added 20.02.06

Arriving in Jordan was definitely a step forward in getting back to civilisation as we know it. Aquaba, the southern coastal town was clean and pleasant to walk around. We needed to get to the capital, Amman, quickly so that we could apply for our visas for Syria. So we headed northwards up the Desert Highway, only stopping to look at Wadi Rum, a large valley in the desert made famous by Lawrence of Arabia.

Once in Amman we discovered that is was very difficult and maybe impossible for British to get visas for Syria in Jordan. It is better to get them in the UK. This would mean posting our passports off to England, which was a scary prospect, but with Iraq being the only other way to drive to Europe, it seemed the more sensible option of the two. Besides the British embassy was closed in Jordan due to Syrian terrorist threats against westerners (great) and we needed to get a letter of recommendation from them, which we couldn't get here.

Andy only had one full blank page in his passport, so before we went off posting them to the Syrian embassy we decided to check if this was enough. The embassy's website said one page was required. Just in case we also spoke to the embassy and a woman confirmed, yes one page is enough. Excellent, no need to get a new passport. So we posted them back to the UK and decided to enjoy Jordan during the two weeks or so it would take our visas to be processed.

Wadi Rum Salt crystals
Wadi Rum Southern Jordan Dead Sea Jordan Sharp Salt crystals

Jordan shares the Dead Sea with Israel and is the lowest point on earth at 392m below sea level. This would be our first stop. We drove down a steep valley and arrived just as it was getting dark. The next morning we woke up to find Mel covered in a carpet of houseflies. We tried to get them off by driving as fast as possible down the road (we managed to get up to 105km/h!). Many flew away, but some just wouldn't give up and were hanging on with grim determination. As soon as we stopped loads more arrived anyway. I sent Cheryl outside to flap them all away.

It was a cold windy day, but we were insistent on getting into the Dead Sea, for at least a quick float in the saturated salt water. A resort charged £5 entry to the beach, and provided showers, which we would need to get the oily salt water off. Getting in was hard work, as there was no jetty and the whole shoreline was encrusted in sharp salt crystals and small waves kept knocking us around. I managed to get past the waves into deep water, it was amazing to just float around, similar to wearing a dry suit with no weight belt. Lying buoyantly on my back I watched Cheryl make slow progress over the jagged rocks. I turned away for a second and when I looked back at Cheryl she had disappeared, and then I realized she had fallen over. Going to her rescue I found her looking miserable and bedraggled but OK. Come on, you are nearly there! I tried to get her to come a bit further. But then she showed me her legs, which were cut and streaming with blood. Not in the mood anymore we stumbled back to land, waving flies away and had a cold shower.

We decided to head to a higher altitude as the flies were a bit much, so we drove up to Karak castle on the Kings Highway, getting to 1200m in a little over an hour. The ruined castle was amazing, propped on the top of a hill surrounded by massive walls. There was a load to explore with tunnels leading all over the place. It must have been a very imposing castle when the Crusaders inhabited it around 1132AD.

GPS Dead Sea Karak castel Karak castle
GSP showing position at Dead Sea Kerak Castle

That night we camped in the desert and it got quite cold. We really had to start thinking about a heater if we want to head up to North Cape! The next day we went to Afra hot springs. A shallow stream flowed past small boulders, while steam wafted up from the water. I would have liked to have a wash but unfortunately there was loads of rubbish everywhere and a truck parked in the stream with locals washing it, which was slightly off-putting.

We headed off to Shawbak castle, another Crusader castle that once protected the trade routes in the area. This was also perched on the top of a hill in a commanding position. I found a tunnel that went down a few steps then turned 90 degrees and descended as far as my torch could just make out. I headed down a set of steep stairs to the end where it turned again and headed off on another long descent. At one stage it started twisting like a set of spiral stairs. There was even a point where the floor had disappeared and I had second thoughts about carrying on, as I was not sure if I could make it back up without a rope. The thought of Gerard calling me a 'poof' for not carrying on spurred me along and finally it levelled off and there was light at the end of the tunnel. I walked another 30m then climbed a set of stairs and wow! I was at the bottom of the hill next to a stream. I read later that there were 392 steps in the secret tunnel. I quickly headed back up to where Cheryl was patiently waiting for me back in the castle. I could have spent all week exploring the rest of the castle. We gave a Russian backpacker a lift to the next town and wished we hadn't when we found fleas jumping around where he had been…. nice.

Shawbak Castle Tunnels Tunnel
Shawbak Castle. Tunnel at Shawbak Castles

The next stop was the ancient city of Petra, which is protected in all directions by reddish-pink hills. The city was built around 6 BC by the Nabataeans, a nomadic Arab tribe. It was well defended until 106 AD when at last the Romans captured the city. Many of the original Nabataean temples were cut out of the rock and had elaborately carved facades. To enter the city, there is first a 20-minute walk through the Siq, a cleft in the rock that is up to 200m high and at times only a few metres wide. Horse and carriages raced past, threatening to knock us over. At last we came out at the first rock-hewn tomb, the Khazneh. Carrying along to what was the city centre was an amphitheatre, colonnaded street and church. After a long climb up a hill we came to the Monastery, which was HUGE at 45m high, dwarfing Andy who stood in its doorway. Up on one rock face we found the Royal Tombs, a collection of even more buildings cut into the rock, which was particularly colourful and striped with red, pink, white, yellow and grey bands of sandstone.

Donkey Petra  Hill Walk
Colonnaded Street Petra Donkey at Petra Hill walk to the monastery at Petra.
First sight of Monastery Monastery Petra
Monastery at Petra Monastery Al Khazneh Monastery Al Khazneh
Royal tombs Petra Coloured Rocks Sculpture Mount Nebo
Royal tombs at Petra Strange coloured rocks Petra Sculpture at Mt. Nebo

Heading back towards Amman, we stopped off at Madaba, a small town famous for its mosaics. We camped in the tourist police car park. This turned out to be perfect as it was near all the shops and restaurants, the police let us plug into the electricity so we had our fan heater going and of course it was secure. They even brought us a cup of tea in the morning. We ended up staying for about five nights! We got into a daily routine of donuts for breakfast, lunch at the local coffee shop and hot chocolate just before bed (mainly so we could use their toilets). Since we were now heading into colder weather it was time to start thinking about "Artic-ising" Mel. Andy set about fitting the car heater we bought in Cairo. Meanwhile Cheryl covered the insides of the car with foam, which had the effect of making Mel look like a padded cell, perhaps somewhat appropriately.

Mosaics St George's Donuit shop Insulating Mel
Mosaics at St George's Church Our regular donut shop Insulating Mel
Roman Amphitheatre in Amman Amphitheatre
Roman Amphitheatre in Amman Amphitheatre Amman

Staying in one place for so long had been so relaxing, so when we received the news that our Syrian visas had been rejected because we needed three blank pages in our passports we were bought back to reality with a jolt. Cursing the woman who had told us one page was enough we tried to work out what to do. Thankfully the British embassy in Jordan had reopened, but they needed our old passports to issue us new ones quickly. So we got our passports sent back to us, which took four days as they were delayed in customs. In the meantime we assessed the options:

1. Syria. Need new passports issued and then try again to get the visas in England, but that would take at least two weeks and so we would have to renew our Jordan visas too. Also, we were concerned our Syrian visa applications may still get rejected since if they even suspect you have been to Israel they refuse entry. With new passports issued in Jordan they may think we had been over to Israel. We had also heard that some borders with Turkey were closing due to bird flu! So it would end up costing a fortune in post and paperwork and a long time to wait, with no guarantees it would even work.

2. Israel. See if we could get a ferry from Israel to Europe. We had looked at this before, but all the ferries seemed to be suspended. With further investigation we found one ferry to Greece that still operated, but it was costly. However it would save on time and fuel, as we wouldn't need to drive through Syria and Turkey.

3. Fly to Turkey. Find an honest Jordanian who was able and willing to drive Mel through Syria for us. This could be difficult and what if Mel broke down? (She is quite good at that!)

4. Ship Mel. Give up and ship Mel to South Africa or England.

We kept changing our minds on what was the best plan of action. I then tried to persuade Cheryl that Iraq might be a viable option. Not convinced, she quickly put this one to rest by saying that OK, I could go, but not with either her or her half of the car. So unless I could get Mel going with only two wheels, half an engine and a rather large draught it was not an option. She can be such a spoilsport sometimes!

In the end our support team back in the UK (Mom and Dad) found a RoRo cargo ferry from Israel, as it would save us at least two weeks time, even if all went to plan with the Syrian visa. Also, we got the distinct feeling that something was telling us not to go to Syria.

There was a ferry on 26th January, so we headed over to Israel. Due to the political situation, Israeli security is very tight and quite daunting. We drove over the Jordan River to the Israeli border. A large barrier halted our passage, so we stopped and waited, looking at a sign abruptly informing us that we were at a border post and so should "behave accordingly". Eventually a guard carrying a rather large gun came to question us, and then left again. A few minutes later, suddenly the barrier lifted and we were grudgingly allowed into the security check area. We then showed our passports and were questioned. Nerves got the better of Andy and when asked to open the back door, he realised he had locked the keys in the car. The two customs officials looked on, as Andy tried to work out how to get to the keys, one looked at the car and then opened the door…. it hadn't been locked after all! That must have convinced them, since we were so incompetent, that we couldn't possibly be terrorists.

At one point they asked what was in our jerry cans, we told them diesel and anxiously thought they might make us empty them. Thankfully they didn't though. (We had filled up completely when we had left Egypt as the fuel was an amazing 6p a litre there!!!!)

So we then passed through to customs where we had to empty everything, yes EVERYTHING from the car. Our things then had to be piled onto trolleys and taken to the x-ray machine. Andy stood at one end loading on the bags, whilst I stood at the other reloading the trolleys. It was like being on a crazy game show, trying to pack everything before it fell on the floor and running around trying to find free trolleys. After several hours we were at last free to roam Israel.

Temple Haifa Aboard Maria G to Greece.
Temple at Heifa Windsurfer Heifa Beach Aboard the Maria G to Greece

With only a day and a half we did little sight seeing around Israel. We stayed on the beach in Haifa and watched wind surfers battle the waves of the sea. There was a large temple that covered the side of the hill, with 19 terraces. At night it was lit up and looked just as spectacular as in the day. When it was time, we loaded up onto the ferry and made our way to the cabin. In only three days we would be in Europe! But for now we would enjoy our Mediterranean cruise.

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