A Travellerspoint blog

Negotiating our way through Egypt

DAY 110, KM 4899, Dahab, Sinai, Egypt

28 °C

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As we left Aqaba, we were both excited to make a small detour through Israel. We'd heard horror stories about security and we were imagining the exciting change from turbans and mustaches to yamakas and beards. With the strange, shocking history of the country, we were looking forward to taking a glimpse at the people that made it all happen. As we came up on the border, which looked like a fortress, with barded wire, cameras, and watch towers, we were properly impressed. The inside was like an airport, strewn with pictures of Clinton and we had to unload everything, take our bikes apart, and then stuff everything through an ex-ray machine. Highly suspect was our camp stove and we thought that they were about to confiscate it. After convincing the guard that we weren't there to blow up anything up, they let us free. As it has become a habit, Wim waved and started yelling goodbyes as we left, much to the confusion of everyone there. As we left, it was a big shock...

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Everyone was white and pastey like us! A little piece of Europe in the middle of the Arab world. As we rode through the super modern streets, strewn with chain stores, clean bathrooms, and fast food joints, we became confused and worried. Nobody was honking or hanging out of car windows to welcome us. It was all so clean and cold. Like home. We then realized that we didn't want to go home yet. As we entered Egypt, just one hour later, we were greeted enthusiastically by the guards who made sure that we were married and planning to have children soon.

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The Red Sea Coast of the Sinai is a dream. Warm weather, cheap food, cozy restaurants and hotels on the sea, friendly people and world famous diving. Just the tourists are missing. Riding down the coast was like riding through a gigantic ghost town. Very eerie. Huge, hollywood style resorts... but no one to be seen. Aparently a bomb a few years ago scared off all of the Isrealis. Now the Egyption government tries to make tourists feel safe by setting up police checkpoints every few kilometers so that they can check all foriegners passports.

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In one of those lonely towns we found a campsite. That night, we stayed there and Wim asked a young guy named Siad if he could plug in the charger at the restaurant. It was no problem until the next morning when it was gone. No one knew anything, so we figured that we'd just file a police report and continue on, no big deal. Obviously, this struck fear into the hearts of everyone there. "Manager coming... five minute please please please" they said as everyone rushed around in a panic. (5 minutes Egyptian = 2 hours Western) After quite a wait, the manager showed up. In trying to keep us from going to the police, he kindly offered that Siad pay us for a new charger. How very kind... we were just a bit confused about the situation because the manager was yelling in Arabic, and Siad was now sitting in a corner full of doom and self pity. After inquiring further, we found out that our charger was worth Siads full month wage. But the very kind manager kept telling us," That's not your problem!" Anyway, we agreed to just leave without stealing Siad's wage, or filing with the police, and everyone was so happy that they began showering us with gifts and smiles. We felt really bad.

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Foreigners are not allowed to travel independantly in some areas of Egyps, because Egyptians are supposedly dangerous. If the police catch you at one of the many checkpoints, they stick you into a van, with armed soldiers who point their guns at the villagers, and they race you to "safe" tourist sites for a heavy fee. This scares the tourists because of the insane driving, and it also scares the villagers who are having guns pointed at them. So, we ended up having to take a bus from the southern part of the Sinia to Luxor, where we will begin our tour of the Oases!

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Posted by amyandwim 09:30 Archived in Egypt Comments (5)

Welcome to Jordan

DAY 98, KM 4710, Aqaba, Jordan

sunny 28 °C

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Bastard children

"Welcome!" was a phrase that shot out at us from every direction as we biked through villages as well as seemingly empty landscapes. Sometimes it was coming from someone on a rooftop, other times it was from the lady buried under a burka, and sometimes it just seemed to have come from some goat on the side of the road. Unfortuenately though, dealing with Jordanians is not always farts and giggles. You see, normally, after a long haul in the wilderness, it is refreshing and interesting to show up in a little village. Here though, small children and teenage boys congragate in large packs and eagerly wait for us in each village (I think that they communicate between villages). As soon as they see a bike, it triggers some deep primal instinct and the rocks start flying. As you get closer, they start to leap on your bike, kick you, and if they're old enough, grope for a handfull of boob. God help you if they have a car.... But, Wim put it into perspective when he said," In ten years from now those same kids will be asking us to join them for tea." And it is true, grown up Arabic people are great.

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The one thing that we've learned while traveling through this country

If you are in trouble, have money problems, or are lost in the desert, don't ask your mom for help, first find an Arab (sorry mom). These people will go completely out of their way to help a complete stranger. As our friend Mohammed said, "Book of Muslim speak, man have problem, I problem help." How true that is... This is Mohammed (ex-jihad fighter in Iraq!), who took us into his home, fed us breakfast lunch and dinner, took us to all of the sights and tried to convince us to stay another day and afterwards send him our friends from Belgium. It was great fun eating Bedouin style on the floor with our fingers!

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Wierd gender relations

Mohammed felt sad that in the west women do not get much respect. In his culture, men show respect for women by avoiding eye contact, as well as physical and social contact, with women they don't know. Women and men do not shake hands or sit next to each other. They also don't date before marraige. Women in turn show respect by covering up. Thus you can imagine the horrible cultural misunderstandings that come up when you see giggley tourists in bikinis having a chat with some young local guys. Thus, in trying to prove that she was not the stereotype of a loose western women, Amy always covered up, avoided too much eye contact with men, and let Wim do most of the initial socializing. That was really weird...

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Burkas for Amy and Wim

After biking around like two greaseballs, layered in multiple days of sunscreen, we had to convert to the local way of sun protection with some make shift burkas. Wim always says that it makes him feel like a little old Polish woman. I think that he looks more like ET.

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With the sun out of our eyes, we can now enjoy the barren and dramatic desert landscapes. The kings Highway, which is actually a peaceful old trading route, leads through steep canyons, rolling hills and lunar desert landscapes. It was often the case that we gained well over a kilometer in altitude during a days ride. In the end, we were rewarded with a breathtaking 100 km downhill stretch towards the coral packed red sea.

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Along the King's Highway

We floated in the dead sea (if you were wondering what it is like to be a cork, you can find out here).

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Along with everyone else, the police yell, "shy, shy" (tea) as we ride by. (We always make sure to stop for a few shys during a long desert ride). They always tell us that King Abdullah and the police like Belgium.

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Elections are coming up, so it was sometimes hard to read the road signs.

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We now realize how unimpressive the caves in Turkey were. Two thousand years ago, some really passionate cave dweller carved this major piece of artwork out of a single rock. Duuuuude....

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We're now spending a week in the warm Red Sea, getting certified in diving so that we can visit the Jordanian fish as well.

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Posted by amyandwim 07:54 Archived in Jordan Comments (6)

Goodbye Turkey

rain 17 °C

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Goodbye Turkey.

  • Goodbye land of Ataturk and Islam, where devout muslims like to assure you that they are not living in an Islamic state.

  • Goodbye cafes full of old men.... and amy.

  • Goodbye enthusastic yelling locals, trying to show you the way, even when you didn't ask and they don't know where you're going.

  • Goodbye waiters who freeze and go bug eyed when you refuse your after dinner tea.

  • Goodbye policemen who honk and wave and stop us to ask how many gears we've got.

  • Goodbye wierd yummy candy things.

  • Goodbye potato farmers, who grow silly with excitement at the thought of loading potato sacks into our paniers, I'm sorry we pedaled by so incredibley fast...

  • Goodbye prayer guys who blast us from the mosque each morning with their pumped up sound systems.

  • Goodbye to the big meaty dogs that tried to nibble on our heels, only running off when we pretended to throw large rocks.

  • Goodbye yogurt.

  • Goodbye curious hoards of old men, who gather around our bikes the minute we stop and start fideling with things, honking the horn, and poking our speedometers.

  • Goodbye roadside turks who yell at us and do the "tea gesture", I'm sorry that we pretended not to know what you meant most of the time.

  • Goodbye stray cats that made a game each night of trying to pee on our tent and attack our food paneirs.

  • Goodbye Turkey, we will always remember your people when we are feeling greedy or unfriendly...and we'll try be more Turkish.

Goodbye Turkey.

Having said our goodbyes and boxed up our bikes, we're flying off to...

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JORDAN!!! The only country that will let Amy in...

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Posted by amyandwim 04:47 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)

Too much to see, too little time

DAY 80, KM 4284, Derinkuyu, Turkey

sunny 20 °C

"Turkey is always warm, we don't need to be prepared for cold weather during the winter," exclaimed Wim in one of his less clever moments. However, he is much wiser now, and knows that Turkey can be cold and rainy in October. When we saw the bad weather approaching on the internet, we started running. From Balikesir, we made our way to Cappodocia (1000 km east) via bus and hitching a ride with friendly turkish guys (shockingly enough, these both involved drinking a lot of tea). Lucky for us, the weather here has been dry, sunny, but freeeeeeezing at night.

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So we've been hiking, biking and camping in and around this amazingly beautiful area for the past days. Here are some photos to make you jealous:

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We slept in one of the caves in this big rock! This was very, very cool. People have scraped out cute little homes from the soft volcanic rock. Even the table, chairs and cabinets are carved out of the rock!

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Christians used to hide out in this area during around the 11th century and they carved out huge cathedral sized churches and painted the insides. You can walk through any unpopulated valley and explore these abandoned old structures.

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We also saw an underground city which was like a big swiss cheese carved out underneath a little village. Up to 10.000 people used to live to escape invading armies.

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Wim going off of the edge of a cliff.

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uncanny resembelance, eh?

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This place is littered with ruins...very interesting indeed.

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Of course we keep meeting old guys and drinking tea....

Posted by amyandwim 00:47 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

India CLOOOOOOOSSED

Bus to Istanbul

overcast 22 °C

With visions of curries dancing through our heads, we jumped on a bus from Balikesir to Istanbul to get an Indian visa. In Balikesir we had carefully arranged with many grunts and pencil sketchings to leave our precious bikes stuffed in a closet at a hotel.

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We had also looked up information about all documents needed to collect before applying for this most elusive visa. Documents from three different embassies were nessicary. Yes, it looked like an impossible task. We braced ourselves as we traveled by tram around Istanbul searching for the Belgian and American embassy. Any moment we expected the dreaded,"I´m sorry sir, we only issue this document on the third Thursday of the second month of the lunar calendar from 2pm until 2:05pm" or some other typical embassy scheduling. However, by noon of our first day, after five hours of inter-city travel, we had managed to get the two letters from our home governments inviting the honourable Indian embassy to give us a visa. We went out for lunch to celebrate this near impossible achievement. One embassy to go and we were set!

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Soon we arrived at a crappy little apartment labeled "Indian embassy" with an obnoxious little man standing outside the door telling us that the office was only open for visas in another five days. After a lot of discussion, we were allowed to go upstairs, only to learn from an important looking man that the Indian embassy probably wouldn't accept the paperwork form the american embassy. One of the sentences was incorrect and it would be impossible to let Amy into their country. After lookıng at the paperwork we realized that the American embassy had written in nice diplomatic language, "Dear Indian embassy, you requested a stupid paper, screw you". We discussed and discussed and the man thought and thought and squished up his face a lot and then thought some more, disappearing every once in a while to talk with some other important guy. Soon the answer came back. They just could not accept the incorrect american paper, and the american embassy won't provide the correct one.

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At this Wim began to dramatically exclaim that India was CLOOOOOOSED. Each time that he proclaimed this, along with exagerrated gestures, the important guy´s face contorted in greater and greater agony and we really thought that we were getting somewhere. But in the end India was indeed closed for Amy (the photo above shows all countries that are not possible for Americans to travel in without visa problems). The best advice from the Indian embassy was that we fly to Saudi Arabia and try again there. But since we are not filthy rich and famous, we just made other (and perhaps more exciting!) travel plans.

Posted by amyandwim 11:15 Archived in Turkey Comments (6)

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