Cruising the Mediterranean – a tough life

I’m still in Turkey, where I’ve just finished a 4 day blue cruise with Olympos Yachting. We went from Olympos to Fethiye on a yacht over 100ft long. It was the largest of their boats, capable of sleeping 36. We only had 20 plus crew on board though, so there was plenty of space. Nice yacht too, plenty of space to just lounge about, either in the sun or the shade.

Plenty of options to swim each day in the Mediterranean which, although lacking sandy beaches, has quite remarkable water. It is very clear, and you can see the bottom and well over 20ft. It is quite a striking blue-green though, almost like a picture-postcard of the sea. Normally these cruises are a bit of a big party on the water, but due to the direction I’m going, and the time of year, it didn’t quite work out like that. The rest of the passengers were all Australian, travelling on an organised tour – with an average age of about 60. Not what I expected, and the young Aussie on the crew was a bit suprised too. Oh well, still fun, even if we were sipping Milo at 9:30 before turning in for another early night.

I’m staying in Selcuk tonight, before going to Cannakale tomorrow. From there I will visit Gallipoli, before pushing on to Istanbul. Current thinking is that I will go from there to Athens, then to Crete, along with another Greek Island, before finally heading back to London to pick up some work.

Got to go now, off to investigate the bars and restaurants of Kusadasi, a tourist trap town near Selcuk. Pretty touristy, but there could be a bit more nightlife happening than Selcuk. Last night was quiet there – I was sitting in a bar, watching Pero Cameron, Paul Henare and Tab Baldwin winning a playoff match in the Turkish Basketball League. Odd.

God bless Ataturk!

It’s only about 70km from Aleppo to Antakya, but it feels like a completely different country – no wait, that’s because it is a different country! After walking around Aleppo surrounded by women who were completely covered in black – even their eyes – it makes a very pleasant change to be in a country where women are dressed closer to Western norms. Beer is widely available, the kebabs are good, and I’ve even been able to use some German! Turkey is good so far.

Due to some mistaken assumptions and poor planning on my part, I’ve ended up with a day to kill in Antakya. I want to push on to Capadocia, and I assumed that I would be able to get a bus this morning. Instead, the bus doesn’t leave until 15:30 today, and gets to Nevsehir at 23:00. This is going to cause just a few complications since I want to get to Goreme tonight, and I don’t have a place to stay. Oh well, I’m sure it will work out. Maybe I should have bought my sleeping bag with me though…

From Damascus I headed on to Palmyra, to view the ruins there. Quite a lot of old stones, and remarkably isolated. Palmyra really is a long way from anywhere, out in the desert. It was nice to later cross back over via Homs to Crac des Chevaliers, and see farmland again, rather than the relentless desertscape.

Syrian people did prove their hospitality going through Homs. The bus came into the other end of town to the other bus I needed to get to go to Crac des Chevaliers. Thanks for the great advice once again Lonely Planet. Homs has 3 bus stations, not the 2 described in the current Syria/Lebanon guide. Anyway, after I fought off the taxi drivers, a local guy showed me which bus to get on, paid for my ticket, went part of the way there, and invited me to his house for tea. This from an educated chemical engineer who only earns about $400USD per month.

Crac des Chevaliers was interesting, and remarkably complete. It didn’t take much to see what the castle would have been like when still in active use. Cool location too, sitting high above the surroundıng countryside.

Hama made a pleasant change for a place to stop that night. A nice smaller town, where the taxi drivers charged very reasonable fares, with little haggling required. Good food available too. The water wheels are from a different era. Good to see they have maintained them, even if they don’t raise water to aqueducts any more – they just spin around, groaning as they do so.

Aleppo did nothing for me, even if I did stay at the Baron Hotel, where the likes to Agatha Christie and TE Lawrence have stayed. The famed souq is maybe OK if you’re into that thing, but to me it was just more of the same shops selling the same crap.

A fun drive into Turkey. Clearly our driver was in a hurry. On more than one occasion we drove up on the footpath or off the road to get around backed up trucks. Once when stuck behind some trucks going down a road that had a raised median strip, the driver was unfazed. At an intersection we crossed to the other side and roared down that for a few kilometres. Oncoming vehicles were not so impressed though. Still, the trip, including customs, took about 2.5 hours. C.f. with the LP’s 4 hour estimate.

Speaking of customs, the phrase “couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery” sprung to mind as I watched them at work. On both sides of the border, trucks were backed up for miles. Both sides of the road through no-man’s land were chock full of trucks, all stopped. Hardly any movement was going on. Most drivers were either asleep, or sitting on chairs on the side of the road. Clearly, for these men crossing the border was an all-day affair. Commerce is a country’s life-blood, and it would seem to me far better to expedite the flow of goods across the border. Obviously you want to maintain certain security standards, but they could have moved those trucks much, much quicker if they wanted to.

Going into Turkey was also a bit weird. A pile of passports was handed through the window, then eventually handed back, stamped. No-one actually matched up our passports with our faces. Again, it was chaos. Instead of a line moving past a window, everyone just crammed up to the small window, where every few minutes someone would hand back a pile of passports, and take another pile. Somehow my passport got back to me though.

Obviously transporting foodstuffs between Syria and Turkey is the thing to do, as our driver and fixer had numerous bags of stuff, that they tried to associate with various passengers as we were being checked. The guards took great interest in the Turkish and Syrian bags, but barely even glanced at mine. I guess tourists aren’t moving a lot of stuff through the border.

But anyway, I’m here in Turkey, and happy about it. I’ll probably be here at least two weeks, maybe a little longer. It looks now like I’ll have time to visit Greece, and maybe one or two Greek Islands before heading back to the UK.

On the Road to Damascus

(Sorry, just realised I had saved this post as a draft originally, rather than published ıt. Too many different languages I’m trying to deal with these days)

This afternoon I’m catching a bus from Amman to Damascus. All going well, it shouldn’t take much more than 6-7 hours, including going through the border procedures. It looks like things should be all good for getting a visa at the border. Several people I have spoken too have said it is no problem for New Zealanders. The only problem was at the bus company, where they weren’t too keen to sell me a ticket with no visa in my passport. I guess they don’t want to risk having me holding up a bus full of people while I get into an argument with a border official.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Jordan. The people here are much nicer, not constantly trying to rip you off, and things seem to work a bit better. I also seem to be able to handle their version of Arabic a little better, although I have a long way to go! Amman hasn’t really done much for me – basically just a big noisy city full of traffic, but the rest of the country is nice.

Petra was cool to go too, but I suprised myself a little in that one long day (plus Petra by Night) was enough for me, and I didn’t want to go back for a second day, even though I had a ticket for it. The walk down Al-Siq, followed by the first view of the Treasury is pretty awesome, but I was a little let down by some of the rest of it. It has eroded a lot over the centuries, and the old city centre requires quite a bit of imagination to work out quite what it all looked like before time/earthquakes/etc. Certainly worth the visit though.

We had a nice day travelling by taxi from Wadi Musa (Petra) to Amman. It’s very weird driving around a bunch of biblical sites though, and seeing Israel so close by. The Dead Sea was a bit of fun, although I don’t think I could handle a week at a resort there. The water is very strange – it feels like a fine baby oil against your skin. Quite perculiar. The thing I couldn’t work out was why they had a safety rope a little way out from shore, with signs telling me not to go beyond it – it’s not like it was possible for me to drown. Perhaps they were worried about me floating off to Israel.

Not sure exactly how long I’ll be in Syria for – probably around a week to 10 days. I think it might be time for me to get up to a Turkish beach resort, and hang out for a couple of days, relaxing, rather than visiting historical monuments every day. Mentally you get a bit sick of it after a while. I’ll just struggle on though, thinking of others at work.

Egypt: A land of unanswered cellphones and ignored metal detectors

Two things I have noticed in Egypt – one is that almost every metal detector you walk through – at temples, train stations, hotel lobbies – is completely ignored when it beeps. They often have someone sitting at them, and you must walk through them, not around, but when they beep, no-one does anything. There is not often any way to pass your bags around them, usually there are no scanners. The first couple of times you go through, you stop and look around after the beep, expecting someone to do something – and you get knocked over by the person behind you charging through. After a while you just carry on through all the metal detectors, with all your bags, not even blinking when it beeps. You then act all shocked on the odd occasion they actually do something about it.

The second thing is that no-one answers their mobile when it rings – instead, they let it ring for about 30s, until the ring is starting to get really annoying, then casually reach down and pull out their phone. This seems to apply particularly on trains, buses and ferries. It’s not that they haven’t noticed it ringing, it’s more that people seem to want to let everyone know that they have a mobile, and that they are receiving a call. It gets very annoying after a while.

I’ve been thinking though that these may be related. As anyone who has been here knows, it is a very noisy place, with little concept of personal space. The beeping of car horns is endless – for people who haven’t experienced it, just think about every time you use anything like the indicator, or lights, or brakes, or wave, or pass someone – here you just use the horn instead. Lights may occasionally be used at night – not on all the time, of course, you just might flash them once if you see another car coming.

So the conclusion I’m reaching is that people get so used to the constant noise around them, that things like phones don’t make an impact until it’s been the same noise for a good 30s or so. Similarly with metal detectors, only beeping for a few seconds – no-one even registered it.

It is however a little quieter where I am tonight, in Dahab. Yes, that Dahab. Yes I am very close to where the bombs went off – i.e. just a little down the road. It’s been quite a change to come here, with far, far less hassle than the rest of Egypt. It’s like a different country almost. Very different in terms of what the tourists wear here too – a lot of bikinis.

I was laid up for a couple of days in Hurghada, due to a ferry cancellation. A pretty dull place, full of Russians, and I would have rather not stopped there. However, I’ve been sick since Tuesday, and a couple of days doing nothing was exactly what I needed. I’m still only just getting over it now – hopefully the Nifuroxazide will have fully kicked in tomorrow, and I’ll be fully right. Not being able to eat properly for days starts to take it out of you. If I’m not, I’ll have to hunt down a doctor somewhere.

The plan is to get a bus to Nuweiba tomorrow, followed by a ferry to Aqaba in Jordan. All going well, I will be in either Aqaba or maybe Wadi Musa tomorrow night. If I’m still sick, I’ll stop in Aqaba instead – better chance of doctors there.

Hope everyone out there is feeling a little better than I am.