My very good friend, Doug Muzzy, requested a basic update on how I’ve managed to get from Egypt to Instanbul and I thought it would be a good time to update some of my travel statistics and recent basics of the trip. I don’t think I’ve done that since I left South America. Which gives me an excuse to post an old link to one of my old posts. . . and tell you if you haven’t read any of my older stuff — it is there and ready for you to read now 🙂
As to the route, for Doug, I crossed Lake Nassar from Wadi Halfa, Sudan to Aswan, Egypt on the weekly ferry. It is the only overland method to get from Sudan to Egypt and vice versa. At Aswan, I took my leave of the Oasis Overland truck that I’d traveled on for the last three weeks.
They were on a five-month trip from Capetown to Cairo and were a heck of a lot of fun to travel with for a few weeks. That being said, I have no idea how they managed to travel together for that long a period of time – more power to them, but there is no way I would have made it (or more likely, no way they would have been able to put up with me for that long and would have voted me off the truck).
Another great friend of mine, Dave Roberts, flew from Germany (he and his wife’s home for the past four or so years) to meet me at Luxor. I took the train from Aswan to Luxor to meet him, we saw the sights there, and then we took the overnight train to Cairo and spent a few days there, which was both good and bad — and also the most interesting traffic around. Dave then flew back to Germany to finish packing for their move back to the States, which I think happened this week. I then took a bus over to Dahab, on the coast of the Red Sea and did some scuba diving there.
In Egypt, I decided to cheat on one of my travel goals. As most of you know, I decided before the trip started to get one tattoo on each of the continents I went to. On the original route, that was to be five tattoos. Since my route change, it’s now going to be six.
In Panama, I got the map of the world. In Uruguay, I got the modes of transport that I was going to use on the trip, for the most part. In Africa, I was going to get the summit of Kilimanjaro and the date that I summited (June 4, 2009). My unexpected problem is that there are very few tattoo parlors in Islamic countries – tattoos are frowned upon here. I did manage to finally find one online in Cairo, but the additional problem I had was that I was due to leave the next day to scuba dive for a few days. Fresh tattoos and swimming are not a good mix.
So I put off the Africa tattoo until leaving Africa. I will be getting it done in Berlin, since I will have a bit of a wait there for my Russian and Chinese visas. Considering how short a period of time I am going to be in Europe, I’m totally unsure of what tattoo is going to be appropriate for there also, but I have a destination neutral idea, so I will be doubling up my tattoo total in one location.
In any case, back to the route. From Dahab I took the ferry to Aqaba, Jordan. That ferry is the only option, if you are planning on going to Syria or any of the other countries in the Middle East (and Indonesia, I think) that will not let you enter if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport.
From what I’ve read, you can sometimes talk the Israelis to stamp a piece of paper upon entry, instead of your passport, but that isn’t guaranteed. The other problem is that even if you get the Israelis to agree to do that for you, the Syrians might still turn you down if you have an exit visa from Taba, Egypt, because if you exited from there. . . you had to be going to Israel.
Damn immigration agents.
The reason that the ferry isn’t the preferred choice, if you had a choice, is that it’s a bit unreliable on its departure times. For me, it was only about three hours late in leaving, so not a big deal. I’ve heard of ten-hour delays.
From the port of Aqaba, there was a group of about eight of us that met on the ferry that were all going to Petra. We negotiated a fairly reasonable group rate from two taxi drivers to take us there. From Petra, I took a minibus to Amman, switched to a taxi cab to the Syrian border, waited around there for about five hours for my visa (they aren’t big fans of Americans, hence the delay) and then took another cab to Damascus.
One of the things I didn’t expect in the Middle East was how compact everything is – the distances are so, so much shorter there than what I’d been experiencing everywhere else on the trip. Taking a taxi from city to city would not have been a realistic option in many other places on the trip. There, it is common.
I wanted to take the train from Damascus to Hamah, but the cab driver must not have understood which station I was trying to get to and he took me to the bus station instead. So, bus to Hamah and another bus from there to Aleppo, in northern Syria. From there to Goreme, you should have already read my blog about taxis and idiot bus companies. If not, scroll on down and read it.
In Goreme, I met Aileen and we then took an overnight bus to Olympus, then she went off somewhere for a couple days and I went directly on to Istanbul on another overnight bus.
That very boring update provides me the opportunity to update my time/method of travel information. I don’t think I’ve done this since I got to Africa, so here goes. From Capetown to Istanbul:
Bus 265 hours
Train 65 hours
Truck/lorry 109 hours
Ferry 5 hours
Taxi 8 ½ hours
Total 452 ½ hours = 18.85 days
I arrived in Capetown, South Africa on April 10th and left Istanbul on August 28th. That is roughly four and a half months. For some reason, I have been telling people that I spent five months in Africa (and another half month getting to Istanbul). Apparently reading a calendar isn’t one of my talents. I’d expected originally to get out of Istanbul about three weeks before I did, but now that I look at the timeline, I think I did fairly well, all things considered.
Books read on this leg of the trip:
Notes from a Small Country and Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (I aspire to be one-third as good/funny/interesting as he is)
Quiet American by Graham Green (best English language writer to not win the Nobel Prize in the 20th century)
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Too Close to the Sun: The Finton Hatch Story by Sarah Wheeler (Robert Redford in ‘Out of Africa,’ quite interesting)
Around Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks (maybe my silly travel ideas really will inspire some publisher sometime)
The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara by Terry Brooks (mindless fantasy stuff)
Treaty Planet by Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye (mindless poor sci-fi)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (depressing doesn’t come close to describing it)
Lolita by Nabakov (master wordsmith. . . in his 3rd language)
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (incredibly good. One of the best I’ve read.)
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (very good Japanese author I had never heard of)
Three continents so far an only two countries that I didn’t like: Costa Rica and Ethiopia. And even for those two countries, I can honestly say there are incredible things to see there. Both countries have gotten excellent reviews from many other travelers that I know or that I have read. My dislike of each isn’t me just be contrary, which I am certainly capable of, but rather just that I just had bad experiences in both of them.
In Ethiopia’s case, perhaps I built it up too much in my mind. It was one of the 6-7 countries that I was most excited about visiting on the entire trip. The danger with heightened anticipation is that the expectations are that much harder to meet. On the other hand, some of the countries that I had low or no expectations of (Columbia, Syria, Egypt, Uruguay, Uganda) were some of my favorites.
Probably a lesson in there somewhere. One of the phrases I’ve used for a long time about setting goals in your life might apply: set the bar low; you will look that much better going over it.