Turkey to Egypt

Two posts in one day? A public holiday in Egypt with a car stuck in customs allows for these little lucky breaks. We arrived at Iskenderun on the Friday to buy our ferry tickets. These were bought through an agent for Sisa shipping, Remon Travel. Tickets weren’t cheap – $180 each and another $590 for the car. We spent a lot of time waiting to find out when the ferry was leaving – either Saturday or Sunday. Saturday was spent lying on some grass reading our books while we waited. We were told on Saturday evening to be at the agency at 9:30 the next morning. We spent 2 nights at a strange campsite (Palmera camping) on the outskirts of the town with no showers, so got to wash our bums and front bums on the beach in front of the fishermen with our own shower. On the second night we were invited to dinner with 3 Turkish friends who had gone there to do some fishing and have a barbeque. We were treated to lamb chops, steak and a delicious Turkish salad laced with chilis (we always seem to eat chilis before a long journey!). The evening was spent communicating via google translate, and they attempted to teach us some Turkish dancing. We also got to sample a Turkish version of Ouzo. With the odd exception, the Turkish have been the most hospitable, helpful and friendly people we have met in all our travels.

On the Sunday we arrived at the travel agency to find out what time the boat was leaving and were greeted by hundreds of Syrian refugees, fleeing the fighting for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, loading bags on old rusty red trucks. It reminded me of the opening chapters to the Grapes of Wrath, and Jules and I both became quite emotional seeing it all.
We spent the rest of the day in a compound with the Syrians and Turkish truck drivers, waiting for the ferry to be ready. With no understanding of Turkish and our passports disappearing to various corners of the port, sorting out papers for the car, scorching sun and dirty loos, this wasn’t a highlight of the trip.

On the ferry we couldn’t walk two metres without somebody calling us over to introduce themselves and ask us where we were from. I got to play backgammon with a couple of Turkish truck drivers for a few hours, Jules broke a personal record and read a whole book in 1 day with time to spare, and we got to meet some of the Syrian refugees, finding them to be incredibly kind and in good spirits, despite all the horrors they are currently going through. Towards the end of our journey we were shown some horrific videos on a phone by a hair dresser turned freedom fighter. They were extremely graphic, including a video of his dead brother. He was on his way to deliver them to various news agencies. Jules and I both found this extremely upsetting, and where we normally would have moaned about things like boredom on a 27 hour long ferry trip and dirty loos, I guess we both found a bit of perspective.

Sleep deprived we finally arrived in Port Said at about 10:30pm and were greeted by police in riot gear in case things got out of hand. We met our fixer Eslam Elshamaa (his details are – Tel 002 0128 9220 002, email eslam_elshamaa@yahoo.com). We left the car with various other cars and trucks in a garage in the port after a search by customs and at around midnight we went by taxi through crazy streets full of hooting cars and people shopping with little children to our cheapest hotel yet (Hotel De La Post, at 95 Egyptian Pounds (about £9) a night. We were greeted by a mouse at the top of our stairs and cockroach in our basin, and plenty of mosquitos popping in to say hello throughout the night.

The next morning while waiting to be picked up to sort out the car we met two other groups of travellers, waiting for the ferry back to Turkey. http://www.jolonimp.wordpress.com have travelled from all this way from South Africa in just over 1 month in their Hillman Imp), and http://www.herbiesworldtour.com who have travelled pretty much the whole world in a 1960’s Beetle. It was great to meet you all, even if it was only for a few minutes.

We threw caution to the wind and left our hotel with our bags, naively thinking we could get our car out in a day. We spent the morning being moved from one place to the next by Eslam as he wheeled and dealed his way around the city. On our way back to the hotel he put our bags on the roofrack of a taxi and as we were about to get in the taxi it raced off into the distance with our bags, never to be seen again. Fortunately Eslam had the presence of mind to take down the licence plate and after a couple of hours in the police station we got a call to say the guy had been caught and our bags had been recovered. How they found him in a city of taxis we will never know! This has been a pretty hectic couple of days and after the morning’s escapades, we were really glad to come back to our hotel room, which suddenly seemed quite appealing!

Welcome to Africa!!!

Due to today being a public holiday, with any luck we should have the car on Thursday (Inshallah), to head out to Cairo for the next leg of visa admin (Sudanese visas) and crazy city driving.

More Turkey

At the campsite we were staying at in Cappadocia a large overland truck arrived with about 20 people on their way to Australia over the next 5 months. Unfortunately when there are a large number of people in the same campsite you have to share precious things like hot water and water pressure. You also invariably get yourself into at least one Mexican tooth-brushing stand-off. If somebody starts brushing his / her teeth before you, you can reasonably assume that they will finish before you and nobody will judge the other’s tooth-brushing habits. What really happens is both of you continue brushing for far longer than you would normally, each waiting for the other person to stop so that in your mind you can congratulate yourself on how well you were brought up, and how unhygienic the other person is. Or maybe it’s just me, and everybody else in the world really does brush for 3 minutes, spit, then continue for another three.

The people who own the campsite also run a ballooning school, with about 20 hot air balloons and Land Cruisers to tow them. Still trying to redeem myself from being conned so easily by an almond salesman I decided to use some initiative and see if I could speak to the guy who services them. You know you’ve found a decent mechanic when his friend is rugby tackled by another guy and rather than helping him to his feet he checks his oily, looks at you and laughs (this is when you’re minding your own business and somebody humiliates you by sticking their fingers up your bum to check your oily). While we were waiting for the oil to drain during the service he went and got some tea for us and we then spent some time watching his friend proudly showing off his Chevrolet Impala, revving it to show how the engine makes the whole 2 ton, 5.2 metre long tank shudder. The mechanic was adamant that the oil we’ve been using is the wrong stuff and the reason we’ve been going through so much. The beast then had its first wash in a while, with a floor brush and high pressure hose and I was shown his Land Cruiser – 4.2 Litre with 4 massive spot lights on the roof and front and rear diff-locks etc, etc. I grunted and thumbed up in the right places and pointed to ours and said “baby one”, which is apparently the funniest joke in Turkey at the moment. As I was leaving he ran back to his car and came back with a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne for me to take home. Probably a first since cars were invented. The service cost us 300 Lira (about £110 including oil and filters).

We went to see an underground city, discovered in 1978 by the same guy who tried to sell us stuff at the curio shop outside (proven by a photo of him in the book he wanted to sell us, even offering to sign it). This was spectacular, with little tunnels leading to bigger chambers underground, with massive circular rock doors to roll into place and protect them from attack if they were discovered. Real Indiana Jones stuff if you can take screaming hyperventilating busloads of other tourists out of the equation.

He gave us directions to an old church out of the way, where we were greeted by a strange tour guide bringing out tea and biscuits and “dried grapes” and we knew there was going to be some money changing hands later. The church was spectacular – originally it was all underground, but some of the hill had collapsed exposing it to the outside world. He showed us where the pigeons were kept for email, the winery and various other interesting things. With the church tour over he took me to see his “tunnel”, effectively another “underground city” untouched by the Turkish board of tourism. In I stupidly went with my torch, first crouching, and later on hands and knees, and was treated to a long corridor, with no lights for tourists, plenty of spider webs, and once I reached the first chamber and saw collapsed areas leading to the maze of chambers below, and the bone of a dead animal, plenty of imagination.

At the campsite (Kaya Camping) we met Thomas and Susanne (http://www.abenteuer-seidenstrasse.eu), a lovely German couple who are travelling the Silk Road, heading east on their motorbikes. A bus arrived on our last night and created a wild panic as everybody else raced to get to the showers before all the hot water was used up by the hordes of passengers. Their fears were unjustified as the bus is home to another German couple, their two toddlers and dog. They have been travelling from India. We had a great last night chatting over a couple of drinks with Thomas and Susanne, before wishing each other safe travels.


Leaving the security blanket of the EU and crossing over from Greece into Turkey was good training for the coming months. All Jules required with her wonderful maroon UK passport was 15 euros and she got a sticker. My not so wonderful green mamba South African passport meant I was sent back and forth between Visas and Border Control several times, finally being ushered into a police station and waiting for a policeman to wave it around for about 20 minutes while he worked out what it was, before taking multiple photocopies of it and handing me a hand-written visa with 4 different stamps. At least it was free, so we’re back to Even’s Steven’s in the “who has spent money on what for themselves” department. We then had to empty our car to show them we had no contraband – I think the guy was more interested to see what gear we had.

We saw our first donkey carts and thought driving through Turkey would be a calm, sedate affair. Then we arrived in Istanbul. During rush hour. A city with a population of 13.5 million people, all trying to get to the same campsite as us at the same time. After witnessing two bumper-bashings we arrived at our campsite, a place called Mistik camping. The photographs on the website for this campsite were clearly a serving suggestion and as we initially didn’t believe it was the same place, we proceeded to drive around the town trying to find the real “Mistik camping” only to end up back at the same place an hour later.

The campsite is on the outskirts of Istanbul in a place called Kilyos, on the Black Sea. Having arrived quite late after a long drive, we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant. While we were waiting for our food to arrive one of the waiters offered us some fresh almonds. Except he wasn’t a waiter, and once he had served us our fresh almonds with 3 blocks of ice on them so we couldn’t give them back, he demanded 20 Lira. Wide-awake, exchange-rate savvy Chris and Jules would have told him where to stick his almonds one by one, but tired and weary Chris and Jules handed over the money and while he made a sneaky getaway we did the sums and then sulked our way through supper and got chased by a vicious stray dog on our way back to camp. At least the fish was nice.

At the campsite we met a lovely Dutch couple who are heading east with their 7 and 10 year old sons for the next 5 months. We compared notes and gripes about how we both originally wanted Land Rovers because they look so cool, but went for Toyotas because they are so reliable, only to discover that this isn’t necessarily the case – although their car has over 400,000km on the clock. Istanbul is currently having a tulip festival with flowers all over the city. Turns out they’re originally from Turkey and not Holland.

Istanbul on foot is a pretty crazy place – you need a Red Bull just to be able to fall asleep. We ended up in the old town, sampling bits of baklava and breads along the way as we made our way to the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque and other sites.
Highlights include the fish market, Basilica Cistern, and a street with music shops full of Martin acoustics, Parker Fly’s and other guitars I used to drool over when my university degree was something to “fall back on” if my music career didn’t work out.

We’ve both experienced the call to prayer in other countries, and it always makes us feel like we’re in an exotic location, especially when walking through places like the Grand Bazaar and seeing streets turned into places of prayer, although the 05:00 am Allahm is not as much fun.

We watched fishermen catching little fish on a bridge over the Bosphorous Strait, 6 at a time, which we later enjoyed battered and deep-fried at a little fish shop in a slightly quieter street. Having experienced the odd drunken kebab in London, our expectations were pretty low, however sober we weren’t disappointed and really enjoyed a different version of the doner kebab, with chicken, fried chips, pickled chillis and a yoghurt drink thrown in to wash it all down. The yoghurt also comes cleverly disguised as milk, something we discovered when our tea curdled the next morning.

We spent most of the next day driving through more Istanbul rush-hour traffic, in the rain, trying to find a Toyota service station as worryingly our car is using oil and we want to take it for a service after adding over 6,000km in one month. As there were no campsites in the area I redeemed myself from the almond saga and haggled a hotel manager down from 180 Lira per night to 120. After quite a bit of google translate while talking to somebody at the Toyota service station, we found out that a service was going to cost us 10,000 Lira (over £3,500). A bit of haggling later and a service was going to cost us £400, using our own filters etc. It looks like it might have to wait until Egypt.
Hopefully the oil issue isn’t too serious – as with diagnosing health issues online, diagnosing car problems can also result in sleepless nights. Please don’t helpfully mention the words “head gasket” in any comments!

After our unsuccessful attempt with Toyota we did a 9 hour drive to Cappadocia, amazed at how much the landscape in Turkey changes in such short distances. They clearly aren’t messing around with Syria on their doorstep as we passed a convoy of trucks towing about 20 tanks and saw a fighter jet and 2 army helicopters flying around Ankara.

This morning we woke up to the sound of a flame thrower right outside our tent, opened the flap and had a hot air balloon about 20 metres above us coming down to land nearby. There were balloons all around us, with the most bizarre Martian landscape in the background. The rest of the day has been just as horrible, with a long walk through strange rock formations, looking at old houses and Christian churches cut into the rock over 1,000 years ago.
We’ll be here for the next three days or so, doing a bit of sightseeing and relaxing before heading over to Egypt for the real start of our trip.