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July 16, 2007

Out of Africa ... into the Middle East

LOCATION: Ma'an, Jordan
Longitude: N:30deg.11'16.
Latitude: E:035deg.41'41s.
Kms from Djibouti: 4,820 kms

Two days ago I rode through the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel, just north of Suez, and officially crossed over from Africa into the Middle East. Although spectacularly dull, the Sinai peninsular had one redeeming feature in the form of the first tailwind since Djibouti, over three and a half months ago. Since that time the wind has been exclusively from the north, i.e. a headwind. Plus with each degree in latitude northwards the temperature drops an appreciable amount, so that riding throughout the entire day is now completely possible. Sleeping in the desert at night I have even felt chilled on a couple of occasions - it's been a long time since I've had to pull the sleeping bag out of it's protective stuff sack.

Sinai Desert Road

The ride up the Red Sea coast from Hurghada to Suez was predictably a non-event, but at least no more hassle with police check points. Aside from one stretch of about 100 kms it is just concrete to concrete beach-side developments in varying stages of [in]completion. Dreadful. I was pleasantry surprised however by the town of Suez. Expecting a grotty port town I was greeted instead by charming narrow streets bustling with activity: well stocked shops with merchandize I haven't seen on shelves anywhere else; coffee houses with retired seamen sitting outside sucking on hooka pipes; families ambling slowly nowhere in particular, taking in the evening sea-breeze that sweeps through the town with rejuvenating vigour. I almost felt like it could have been Marseilles! And not a tourist in sight - absolute bliss. The local people are lovely and seemingly more honest and definitely less annoying than the Nile Valley contingent. A cup of tea would cost 25 piestras, a fraction of what a foreigner would pay elsewhere. The only thing that got a bit of getting used to were the Coptic Christian men who would ask me, almost under their breath, if I was Christian also. When I whispered back that I had been brought up Christian nearly all of them would whip open up their shirt front and yank out a sweaty crucifix from the midst of a huge Tom Jones' chest wig, offering it for me to kiss. I chose to blow kisses instead on grounds of hygiene, but I don't think it quite cut the mustard in their eyes.

The First Cloud since...Djibouti?

The onus now is to reach Belgium before the European winter sets in, thereby increasing the chances of a decent weather window to cross the Channel in. An official completion date for the circumnavigation will be posted once I get through Syria, which brings up another whole can of worms that could still put a spanner in the works...


At this moment in time I am in Jordan, having crossed from Egypt to Israel via the land border at Taba, and from Israel to Jordan via the land border at Elat. At each immigration point I asked for either the exit or the entry stamp on a separate piece of paper, rather than the passport itself, which all the officials kindly complied with knowing full well that if I apply for a Syrian visa in Amman (the capital of Jordan) with an Israeli stamp in my passport then it will automatically be rejected. So now I have a passport that contains no evidence of an Israeli stamp - which is great. However, it also fails to show where or when I left Egypt and where or when I entered Jordan. Again, this is likely to raise a red flag to the Syrians who will reject a visa application even if they suspect the passport holder of having entered Israel. The Jordanian head of immigration at the Aquaba land border crossing suggested I tell the story that I took the ferry from Nuweiba (in Egypt) to Aquaba and that neither the Egyptians or the Jordanians bothered to stamp my passport. This way Israel is off the radar screen. But I can't help feeling the Syrians will smell a rat. So tomorrow, as an extra precautionary measure, I'm going to take the ferry from Aquaba back to Nuweiba in Egypt, asking for my Jordan exit stamp and Egypt entry stamp to put on separate pieces of paper, then return to Aquaba on the next ferry, this time getting an exit stamp for Egypt in my passport (from Nuweiba), and ditto an entry stamp from the port of Aquaba. This way it will look to the Syrians like I left Egypt at Nuweiba and went straight to Jordan on the ferry, missing out Israel altogether. If this doesn't work then my backup plan is to leave Jordan and re-enter on a second passport that will contain no possible links to Israel at all. But then I've heard that the Syrians get suspicious about new passports also, so who knows...

If this is confusing, don't worry, it's beginning to make my head hurt too. Bottom line is it's all a colossal pain in the backside. But I'll be very happy to get that Syrian visa in my passport.


Posted on July 16, 2007 9:14 PM