Ben: Finally we’re getting our first entry onto the site. We have been marching through Europe mainly and the time has evaded us. If you’re another overlander just looking for info, look at the “country notes” tab as below we’ll just ramble on about our trip abit! If our ramblings are of interest, carry on!
I was going to start at the beginning (normally a sound approach), but the events of today are foremost in my mind, not because they are most recent, but because they have been a little bit astonishing.
The route INTO Africa has been top concern for our trip since day 1, given the aftermath of the Arab spring in North Africa & the Middle East. At one point it seemed the only way would be to stick the Disco in a container and meet it in Egypt, but then the possibility of a Ferry Turkey(Mersin)-Egypt(Port Said) firmed up, so that was our aim.
After a day in Mersin on Monday chasing this down, it became clear the ferry hadn’t run for a week or more, and was actually anchored just in view off the Mersin coast waiting to start again at some time, maybe?! This didn’t stop the first agent we spoke to trying to sell us a ticket for it! News from various sources was that a “regular” service was running twice weekly from Iskenderun to Port Said, so we headed there (about 250km east, and close to the Syrian border).
We headed straight to the port and were greeted with such enthusiasm by a group of Turkish port guards, tea was served, banter ensued, and one of them called an agent from the shipping company who promptly appeared and joined the tea party before taking us to an agents office, crashing gently into parked cars in his excited rush to get us ticketed up. We kind of blew some wind from his sails by telling him we’d spoken to the shipping company, telling him we had the price, thus neutralising his attempt to finesse the price in his favour. This did result is some shinanigans with Hotel finding & attempts to take 50 dollars to “hurry our documents through” in order to boost profits, but I think we’ve swerved that.
I say “think” because I’m writing this on the ferry, the one that was scheduled to leave at 12 noon. The one we boarded at about 4pm, the one that is still sat in port at 8:15pm! We knew it would be on Africa time, and it is.
I could ramble on about how we got up at 6am to make sure the paperwork was all sorted, or how the customs process involves having car and customs office about 5km apart thus meaning 2 car journeys back and forth (and 2 hours) to get a customs stamp, or the stress of handing your passport to a “customs official” in jeans & t-shirt who carefully throws them in cardboard box (previously the home of an HP colour printer) along with all the other passengers documents and wondering if you’ll ever see them again, but that’s all expected carry on really.
The astonishment is down to our fellow passengers. Not the hairy arsed Turkish truckers or the retired Korean couple on vacation, but the friendly Syrians. There are only 13 cars on the ship (and loads of trucks) 8 are Syrian. Mohamed and his wife & 2 kids are effectively fleeing there homes in Syria to start a new life in Egypt, they say home is too dangerous now, and they left Syria a few days ago with a car packed full, and are heading to family in Cairo where Mohamed (Syrian parents, born in Gloucester UK, educated in Bulgaria) hopes to restart his business selling second hand Gym equipment (in this 35C plus!)! Abdul and his wife of 5 months are doing the same (fleeing that is, I don’t think they know about old exercise bikes). Both are incredibly nice, cheery and genuine guys, and go out there way to help us a little with some translation and insight to the finer points of Turkish port efficiency. They joke about having to dive under the tables at home when they hear planes overhead, and how they haven’t been the shops in daylight for 2 months because of danger of snippers. Under the brave joking you can see the stress, Abduls wife particularly looks troubled, and her outfit only lets you see her eyes. Abdul says that they are the lucky ones, with his passport & nice new Audi they are able to leave, most are too poor to do so. He gives us his business card and tells to come contact him and visit his beautiful country “when it is re-built” he jokes.
In other news…..
Jen invents another new word “Holybobs” don’t ask!
Our Europe trip was quick and something like this:
Day 1 – Leamington to Hassocks, it was great to catch up with Clara and family, Em and the kids & some of the “Brighton crowd”. Cheers guys
Day 2 – Tunnel to France, and mosey to our first trip camp, a 10 Euro special in north France, chilly, sleeping bags out. Drank the lovely bottle of red that Jens Nan bought Ben for his birthday.
Day 3 – Lazy’ish day down to Champagne region for very un-overland night in a hotel to meet up with Bens Dad (luckily this night was the only real rain we’ve seen, so lucked out there)
Day 4 – Into Germany. Parked neatly among motor homes in German camp site, bought large Salami type sausage from a German/Turkish grocer (and other supplies)
Day 5 – Through the Alps, over 1500m pass into Austria. Ate some German/Turkish sausage
Day 6 – Onto lovely Hungarian city of Sezged, camped in weird old communist looking camp site on edge of town & its warmed up now. Had some German/Turkish sausage for lunch.
Day 7 – First proper bush-camp near Craiova-Romania. Tucked in behind railway embankment to watch sun-set over freshly harvested fields (loads of farming work happening all over Europe as we drove out), woken every 2 hours by huge freight trains.
Jen: The fact that we slept all but 5 metres away from the track made the over night freight trains particularly special as it made the whole car and tent shake. On the plus side the trains were loud enough to wake even Ben up so at least he shared in the experience. There were a few occasions when you’d have the thought the end of the world was looming… not an ideal start to bush camping but we were determined to do better the following night..
Day 8 – Bulgaria quite dull. Did happen across the Breslau Adventure Rally entourage camped up on a black-sea coast beach, so joined them and camped too. Had German/Turkish Sausage for lunch.
Jen: Whilst looking for a nice beach bush camp we kind of stumbled upon the 4×4 rally (not too dissimilar to the RGB Paddock although a hell of lot warmer!) and after the chances of bumping into something like this it seemed rude not to camp nearby. The small beachside bar looked very nice and we thought we might pop there for a post camp meal drink. The Eastern European dance music got cranked up at about 8 and at that point I realised our second night of bush camping would be anything but quiet… my favourite part of the night was at somewhere between 2 and 3 when Bonjovi and a medley of Queen tracks blared out of the bar … both personal musical favourites of mine!!
Day 9 – Leave the EU to turkey, get stuck in traffic for 3 hours round Istanbul but then find excellent bush camp in forest area (finally a quite one!!). Jen cooks up an awesome pasta mish mash including German/Turkish sausage. Sausage finished !! We breathe sigh of relief.
Jen: We also had some entertainment with the Turkish toll booths. Despite me reading on other overland blogs of the pre-paid Oyster type system that operates in Turkey I totally drop the ball on this and it totally escapes my mind as we drive through the barriers to get onto the motorway. A bit of a siren noise did go off as we drove through but on looking around there was nobody shouting at us and nobody to give us any better clue of how it all worked… we carry on happily up the motorway for a couple of hours and then hit our first toll booth (we are now nearing Istanbul and the traffic is getting heavier).
We decide the best plan of action is to head to a manned booth as this has worked well across Europe, on getting closer we find that there is no manned booth and you cannot put money into the barriers. A slight panic ensues and the Turkish truck driver behind is sounding his horn rather aggressively… In a very English fashion we put our hazard lights on and pause as what to do next, a Turkish gentleman then pops up and kindly offers to eliminate our predicament for the bargain price of 100 Turkish lira (about £35!). We firmly refuse his offer and ponder as to what to do next looking around at the multiple lanes of traffic with lots of Turkish drivers who are all in a particular rush.
We then realise we need to pull to the side of the carriageway to go and pay at the little hut… at that point my years of dealing with truck drivers came into their own and before I knew it I was directing traffic around the disco allowing Ben to calmly reverse out of the booth and get everything sorted ready to carry on our journey.
On getting stuck in traffic around Istanbul we thought the delays were down to an accident. On noticing more and more water sellers and men with sticks of Turkish bread precariously wandering around the carriageway it firstly became more evident that the traffic was totally normal and that secondly that we had definitely left Europe and some of the strange shenanigans of our trip were beginning.
Day 10 – 15. Get to Goreme (Turkey) have day or more to relax, walk in Cappadician valleys before heading down to Mersin, you know the rest ……..
Here endeth the story so far !
BREAKING NEWS – Its 9:22pm and our ferry is starting to move, only 9 hours 22mins behind schedule!