23 June 2009


On Sunday I went early to the Petra, walking through the cool siq, a narrow pass way that leads you to the marvels of Petra. After a couple of kilometers, it suddenly opens on the Treasury, the image everyone associates with Petra. I lingered around and met up with Houssein, who has a little stall nearby the treasury. Apparently he had informed all his colleague/friends about his ride on my bike the day before. Everyone already knew me and I ended up showing the pictures, to almost everyone. Around ten I returned to the hotel not to miss the breakfast and checked out.

I met up with Mahmoud and together we drove to my open air hotel for the following days. The rest of the afternoon I just enjoyed the situation, the scenery, showed Sarah how to operate the camera and played around with the kids in between uncountable cups of sweet tea. Men would just come along and have a cup of tea, updating everyone on the life in the valley. Fatma, Mahmoud’s youngest sister, was a stunning beauty. And although she was constantly running around serving everyone, she was part of the entire scene. It soon became clear that most of the young men dropping by didn’t really bother about the tea, but came for her. And she bloody well realized that, laughing, flirting and driving all the boys mad. Or maybe it was just my imagination, because I learned that she would have her engagement party the next week. I wondered if that was the reason why she refused to be in any picture and would not let me photograph her. It struck me that, although the women would still serve the men and do all the ‘household’ work, they somehow were an equal part in conversations and would joke and laugh with the men. It was totally different from other Muslim/Arab family situation I had been in, it was refreshing.

After dinner Mahmoud and his family went home. Fatma gave me a mat and some blankets and pointed me a good spot on the rocky outcrop to sleep. Fifteen minutes later everyone was asleep under the open sky.

After a simple breakfast of bread and eggs in fresh goat milk, freshly Laban (Arab yoghurt drink), hummus and flat bread, I set off wet Sael to Petra. He would take me through the mountains to the Monastery. He was a donkey guide in Petra, knowing the entire area inside out. We hiked through the plain, scrambled up and down mountains, slipped through narrow valleys (siqs) to emerge two hours later at the impressive Monastery. It is huge. It is beautiful. It is very hard to grasp. The same can be said about the rest of this ancient cosmopolitan city, showing a multitude of ancient architectural influences. Visiting Petra is a very personal experience, making it very hard to describe it. The entire site is immense and you can probable spend a lifetime exploring it. I scrambled one of the surrounding mountains and overlooked the central city centre, trying to imagine 30,000 people living here in its heydays. I thought of a quote by a certain Edward Lear:” Petra must remain a wonder which can only be understood by visiting the place itself and memory is the only mirror in which its whole resemblance can faithfully live.” He was/is right; to understand this place you have to see it, there is no point in me trying to inadequately describing Petra.

Early afternoon Sael and I reached his’ parents tent, after a hardcore donkey ride through a narrow and steep Wadi. I drove to town and had some of the pictures printed, as a gift for Mahmoud and his parents. The rest of the afternoon I just spent watching the clouds go by, showing pictures to Sael and Fatma (“you are traveling too much”, she said) and of course drinking tea. They were really happy with the pictures, and after admiring them, Fatma guided me to a small rock, pointed to my camera and said in perfect English: “You can take one picture of me.”


To test the bike I went for a drive to Little Petra, ten km from Wadi Musa. Just outside Wadi Musa, you pass the artificial Bedu Village. Until 1985 local people had been living in Petra. Once it became a major touristic site, they were relocated to this village. Although it has no historic value or any character, it is a lively place, packed with Bedu people, drinking tea in the shade, overactive kids scrambling around and donkeys everywhere. As I was tempted by the numerous tracks on the side of the road, I didn’t make it to Little Petra; instead I went for a bit of off-road. I played around a bit. Boys don’t change, it’s the toys that do. They become bigger and more expensive. That is all. I wished I had a pair of ‘nobblies’ with me, to be able to explore this area a bit further. Then I certainly wished I had nobblies on it, the moment I hit this soft sandy patch, started skating rather clumsily and was tossed off the bike. No harm done, the thing is made for it, after all it is designed to ride the Paris-Dakar. My stunt had attracted two local men, who invited me for ‘chai’ (tea) in their Bedu tent.

I met Mahmoud, his wife and his kids, one of his nine brothers, his youngest sister (the stunningly beautiful Fatma), his parents and his brother in law, Houssein. His parents lived out there in a Bedu tent and a small makeshift house. They were passing the afternoon in Bedu style, sitting in the shade of a traditional black goat hair tent, drinking tea and discussing the latest gossip, and perhaps that lonely cowboy on an orange bike. Mahmoud was a certified guide in Petra. He introduced me to his family, offered me tea and welcomed me in the name of his entire family. His parents and their two youngest (unmarried) kids still lived in the tent. He lived with his family in a beautiful house in the nearby Bedu village. He guided me around Little Petra and invited me to share dinner at his house with some friends. I followed him to his home and was shown around the big house. He is part of the first generation Bedu to live in a real house. He told me that, although his house had two fully equipped bedrooms, the family never used them. He would always sleep with his wife and the kids in the central room, on a thin mat under a protective l layer of heavy blankets. You can get the nomad out of the desert, but you cannot get the desert out of the Nomad.

We had this delicious rice and chicken dinner. I shared the meal with Mahmoud and a couple of friends. The women would share their meal later, separated from the men. Tradition is a rigid thing. Being the foreigner they gave me a plate and a spoon. I politely refused them and ate with my hands. You make little balls of rice with your hand; dip it in yoghurt and a piece of chicken and hup there you go. The tricky part is that you only can use your right hand. The left is used for, well, for other activities. It was a bit messy at the start, but you get the hang of it pretty soon, and you earn the respect of your dinner companions. In the end I have been learned; In Rome, do as the Romans.

Dinner was followed by some more tea and talk. Mahmoud was shocked when he heard what I was paying for my hotel and invited me to sleep at his parents place the next night. I gratefully accepted the offer. He showed me a crumbling copy of a National Geographic, December 1998. For 8 weeks he had guided a National Geographic reporter couple around Petra on their assignment. He proudly showed me the pictures of his parents. The pictures could have been taken the day before.
Nothing had really changed in 11 years.

Urine bag

Petra. The ride to Petra was a forebode of better things to come. You climb out of the coast valley to the central plateau on the dull Desert Highway. Once on the plateau you take a left for the final kilometers to Wadi Musa. The landscape is an endless undulating sequence of gentle earth colored hills. And so is the road. Until now I only had practiced riding my bike in straight stretches (Qatar, Saudi and Egypt) and I got fairly good at that, which is not difficult of course. That was over, now it was time for the winding roads, corners and switchbacks. And that is where real motor riding skills come in, the ones I don’t possess yet.

In Wadi Musa I settled in a nice hotel. Jordan is a bloody expensive country. So I decided that it would be a good idea to pay a little more for a first class room, than spent 25 euro on a shabby stinking ashtray room. I enjoyed the shower, had a little afternoon power nap, caught up with the world on BBC, went to the barber (I love going to the barber in this place of the world, it is one of the many things I will miss back in Belgium) before driving to Petra for a sunset session over its ruins. Somewhere halfway I lost the clutch. I couldn’t shift gears any longer. It is probably not as frightening as losing your brakes, but a bit similar. I remembered what a cousin once said about shifting gears in a car, if you are over 4000 rpm you can shift gears without engaging the clutch. So I revved the engine and stamped the gear into neutral. I couldn’t go anywhere with the damn thing, it would stall as soon as I put it in first. Hiphoi, and they just fixed the bike ten days ago in Sharm. I took the lever of, fumbled around for an hour. Somehow the problem disappeared. I called it a day, Petra sunset had to wait, drove back to the hotel, just to lose the clutch again on arriving.

With the help of the workshop manual I found out what the causes could be. One: my clutch plates were gone. Two: air in the clutch conduct. If one; get on a plane and forget the damn thing. If two; bleed the system, injecting the conduct with hydraulic oil pushing the air out. Ha, that was worth a try. Only to do that I needed a special KTM tool (number 509.634.187.000). Guess what I didn’t have the damn thing, and the nearest KTM dealer is in Istanbul. Or go back to Sharm; don’t get a 100 euro when you pass Start. For F*** sake. By the time I figured out the problem, three guys had gathered and were discussing the problem in fluent Arabic and before I knew it they were working on the bike in an attempt to get the air out. We tried for three hours, only wasting oil and time.

After a night of worrying and half sleep I decided the next morning that I would change the clutch cable and give it one more try. With the help of a local man I got a syringe, some green plastic tubes (the ones they put up your nose when you are in a coma) and a connector thingie from a urine bag at the local pharmacy. My own proper bleeding system. Loose the saddle, rip off the tank, change the clutch conduct and fill it up. Haha. It worked. Eat that KTM! By noon I had working bike again, once more. I wondered what the next problem would be, and if I would ever again buy a KTM after this trip.
I settled by the pool and savored my own little victory.


Aqaba. Only twenty miles from Saudi Arabia, a bustling port town in the South of Jordan. The ferry arrived at sunset. Getting in to Jordan was a piece of cake compared to the tedious Egyptian process. Buy insurance here, get a stamp on the carnet there, free Visa for a month and …Khalas. Jella Jella (go!go!). Welcome to Jordan.

I spent the night in a disgusting room; it was like sleeping in an ashtray. The next morning I had an early start to Wadi Rum. This extended area is one of the most beautiful wadis in Jordan. It is an endless sand desert dotted with splendid mountains, valleys and rockbridges. My guide (he couldn’t have been older that 14 or 15) took me around in a distant LandCruiser that would die over and over again, but somehow we drove around for six hours in this magnificent place. I stayed overnight in a Bedu camp, enjoying the spectacular sunset and diamond star sky.

Just enjoy the pictures and don’t miss this place if youever make it to Jordan.

Full moon ride

Dahab. A small village with a huge reputation, the Sinai mountains sheltering it from the outside world. It is renowned for its easygoing backpacking spirit. If statistics would exist, they would show that 80% of the people visiting Dahab miss their flight home or forget their intention of only staying a couple of nights, ending up spending several weeks. So was I. I drove in town with the idea of going for a dive or two, visiting St-Katherine’s Monastery, maybe climb Mount Sinai. Two days, max.

On Friday I made two dives with Wilfried. A Belgian globetrotter/expert bbq’er and divemaster. He guided me through two of the most famous dive spots on the Island. The coastline of Dahab is a nirvana for all levels of divers and snorkelers. The coral reefs start right in the surf and through a maze of holes and tunnels we ended up in the ‘blue’. Behind us was the reef wall and in front nothing than blue water, as far as the eye stretches. The bottom was far below us and I was disoriented by the lack of any reference point. The only thing I wanted to do was go deeper and deeper in that weightless world. I had no idea that we were already at 19 meters and was not allowed any deeper because of my open water padi. We just floated there for a while, hoping to see some big marine life, in vain. Somehow I did not mind, I basically wanted to stay there, disappear in this surreal environment.

If you are in Dahab, and you are not diving, windsurfing or kite surfing, you lie on the beach or just sit in one of the cafes. You order a cool beer. With that cool beer people come. One of the amazing organic things about Dahab is that everybody seems to know each other, even if you have never met. Conversations take twisted turns. It might be something in the air or just the beer, but before you know, you are entangled in peoples’ lives (or at least in the story). Everyone who ends up working and living in Dahab (or just keeps missing that plane) has a story, and rarely is it a happy story. They all find some kind of refuge in Dahab, it is not as much as they are running away from problems they had back where they came from, but more a feeling that the problem stops being a problem when you get stuck in Dahab. Sitting on a beachfront terrace, the rolling of the breaking surf, the golden sunset and that beer make the rest of the world dissolve.

That is where I was after my two dives, when Wilfried decided to throw a bbq that night. That is how I got to know Paul and Ilse and their lovely daughter Lola, the sweetest kid ever. She took me around the house and the yard, explaining me everything in a mixture of Arabic, Dutch, German and English. And she already could swim in the sea without inflatable arm ‘thingies’, she proudly mentioned. Wilfried lived up to his reputation of best bbq’er in the world and prepared the finest piece of meat I had devoured in a long time. All crispy on the outside, tenderly red on the inside.

Saturday and Sunday were spent in Dahab style, if I would have had a plane to catch, I would have missed it. Sunday evening I met Bernadetta, a Dutch woman, 28, working in a bar in Dahab. She had been in Dahab for a couple of months, and Sharm was the only other place she had seen in the Sinai. Somehow we got this brave plan together to take the bike and drive to Mount Sinai, climb it and watch the sun rise. At that time it looked as a sound plan. It takes around three hours to ascent the mountain, which means you have to start climbing at three in the morning to be in time for the sunset. At midnight we were on the bike. I was driving the bike with a passenger in the middle of the night on a winding road, unknown to me. The moon was full and transformed the landscape we were crossing in a sort of distant unreal surrounding, on straight stretches I would turn of the lights to admire this scene. Two and a half hours later we arrived at the foot of the mountain. We still had three hours of climbing to do and were already exhausted. Promising. We shared a guide with a French couple and their five year old daughter. After a couple of hundred meters it became clear that the girl was not up to this, so they hired a camel, the mother however refused to let her little girl ride on it alone, so both got on the camel, the mother in the saddle and the daughter strapped to the front pole of the camel’s saddle. It looked all but comfortable. Our strange procession wound its way to the top, a grumpy father (it was clear that his wife had insisted on this nightly adventure), a camel carrying two generations and a Belgian idiot climbing the Mount Sinai in motor boots, protective riding pants and a leather jacket. We finally made it to the stairs, took a deep final breath before tackling the last 750 steps leading to the actual top. We were just in time to install ourselves and await the sunrise.

You don’t climb Mount Sinai, just to climb it. Everyone has its own reasons; most people come to see the sunrise. For others it is a real pilgrimage, to stand on the very spot where it is believed by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike that God delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses. This means that on the top you are surrounded by believers chanting religious psalms while holding on to their bibles, Russians reciting passages of the bible and hugging each other, others will just stand there faced to the east and wait to feel the first rays of sunlight, arms and legs stretched out, lost in their own silence. To complete this bizarre gathering you have the obligatory Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists, mostly equipped as they were to climb Kilimanjaro, congratulating everyone for making it up the top and shouting Hallelujah while constantly snapping pictures. We sat down, smiled, cracked a beer and waited for the sun to start this day.

The sunrise was spectacular. It is real magic. Nonetheless we both decided that we would never do it again. Mount Sinai. Check. As soon as the sun is above the horizon, people start hurrying down to catch their bus. Nobody was waiting for us, we decided to sleep a while on the top, I was broken and couldn’t imagine driving back to Dahab. Around nine, I was awoken from a deep sleep by our guide. He wasn’t too pleased. He had no idea where we were, had to accompany the French couple back down and had to climb the mountain again to come looking for his money. Too groggy to think straight I just paid him the sum he was asking. It was time to go down. You go up one way, and down the other, using the 3000 stairs cut of the rock by a monk as a form of penance. On the way I wondered, and hoped, that it gained him a first class seat in heaven. He bloody deserved it.

By eleven we reached St Katherine’s Monastery, tucked away between the rugged Sinai mountains. It is the world oldest continually functioning monastery. Initially it was just a small chapel to commemorate the site of the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses, later the Monastery and the fortified walls were build under the rule of Emperor Justinian, virtually unchanged to the present day. We were too exhausted to bother visiting it. I cheated and took some pictures of the walls and the Monastery. Sorry Mom.

We had breakfast near the monastery (the most expensive breakfast in my life) before hitting the road back to Dahab. We crashed at Bernadetta’s place and I stopped existing until the next morning. It took me one more day to recover before driving to Nuweiba on Wednesday.

Nuweiba, ferry town. After an entire month of Egypt I was finally on my way to Jordan.
pictures have been updated.

22 June 2009

Belgian fries

Back in Hurghada I was just in time for Jens’ birthday, celebrated in a small Belgian restaurant serving real Belgian “koninginnenhapjes” and Belgian fries, followed by partying in Hurghada finest clubs. I was not up to this. I arranged my transport to Sharm Al Sheikh. I had heard different stories about the ferry. Some people assured me that taking my bike was not a problem others said it was not possible. I found out that it would be possible, African style, including baksheesh for the captain. So on Tuesday morning I showed up at the ferry terminal. There were three boats. Two of which had clearly a car deck, only they were not going to Sharm. ‘My’ ferry was clearly passengers only. There was a little deck, four meters long one meter wide at the aft of the boat; the proclaimed ‘motosiekl’ deck. Once all the passengers had boarded I drove the bike over the narrow pass way into the corridor, where it was tied down. I muttered an “Ins’Allah”, went inside and tried to sleep. Although the Red Sea is enclosed by land it can be a very rough sea. Its waters cover a major rift, running from North Syria as far as Mozambique, reaching depths of 1500 meters and more. It wasn’t the smoothest crossing ever, although not as bad as the ferry from Saudi. I was the first to leave the ferry with a salt encrusted bike. It had been soaked to the bone during the crossing. It needed a carwash and a KTM workshop.

The good news was that in Sharm there is company that organizes guided off road motorbike tours in the Sinai mountains. Guess what bikes the use. Yes, orange KTMs. Guess what workshop they have, yes a certified KTM workshop. Whoopiee. Sharm is a tarmac strip lined with big ass five star resorts. I had no business here, were it not for my orange problem monster. Just outside town I found the Sahara-KTM workshop. I immediately knew I was in a real KTM workshop when the manager started to fill in forms and safety sheets. They wanted to know all kind of details. What is your job, where do you go, what is your passport and driving license number, what is your shoe size, blablabla…. . I couldn’t see what the relevance was of it all. Apparently these questions come with the KTM guarantee. It reminded me of the ‘certified’ workshop in Doha. Before they start working on the bike, they have to fill in a thousand papers and then –maybe- they will start working on the bike. You end up paying ridiculous man hour fees, being lied to by the Lebanon manager and they are unable to fix the simplest problem in a day. Anyway after a lengthy discussion they would do a full service of the bike. I could come back the next day. For the first time on my journey I was bikeless.

I settled in a simple beach hotel just outside of town. Later that afternoon I got a call from the manager. They finished the inspection, were able to find a used chain in better condition than mine but they had to open the engine to check the timing chain. For that they needed my consent and I had to come down to fill out some more forms and answer some more questions. So the next morning I found my bike back in pieces, clutch plates all over the place. Luckily for me they had found a used timing that would do as a replacement. It would take them another day to fix it and put the bike back together. My second forced night in Sharm.The mechanic of Sahara did a wonderful job and the next day I was riding my bike on the track of Sahara. Hehe, a track designed for pure off road dirt bikes, and I was going up and down with a bike loaded to the max. I could feel that it reacted better than before, had more power and made a better sound. Jeepie. And they cleaned it. I was riding a brand new orange monster. I set off for Dahab, my initially destination in the Sinai. The road from Sharm to Dahab winds its way through the biblical landscapes of the Sinai. These rough grayish mountains, entangling endless Wadi’s are home to several tribes of Beduins, nomadic dwellers that have inhabited these region for hundreds of years. Governments all over the world are not keen on nomadic lifestyles and try to relocate these people. Same on the way to Dahab, I would come across ghosttowns of brandnew houses, uninhabited motionless in the desertwind.
Nomads are Nomads.

Luxor meltdown

Tuesday morning I rejoined the 10:00 am convoy back to Aswan. The same charade. I started in the front and ended being followed by the last bus, until I stopped for a rest in the shadow, the bus hesitated for a few seconds and then just drove on. I picked up my stuff I had left in Aswan and drove on to Edfu. Somehow I had miscalculated the distance between Abu Simbel and Luxor, I had left out 150 km. That might not seem that much, but believe me it is on a road, crowded with people, buses, donkey carts and more indescribable vehicles. At four in the afternoon I had been driving non-stop for almost six hours, I needed a rest before causing havoc. I paused at this small stall near the canal, had some tea and ended up watching Transporter 2 or 3 with some local guys.

Totally exhausted I arrived at Luxor just before dark and settled once more in that lovely hotel on the West bank. The next days I lost my momentum. I ended up doing f*** all. Same story next day. I did not bother to visit anything. I just slept, read, ate and dozed some more. I lost the drive to go on. I was nothing more than a disoriented Belgian idiot spending all his savings on a senseless bike trip. On Thursday night I caught up with Rebecca and Evan. They had taken a two night Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor. Two days of five star luxury, never ending buffets, lazy upper deck pool dipping and a moronic Cleopatra and Ramses II costume party, and all that among a jolly crowd of German tourists. Low season has its opportunities in Egypt, 90 US$ a head for two days of hardcore indulging, and the Germans, well they are just part of the deal.

My Friday activity consisted of some hardcore ceiling staring and watching the fan go round and round. I somehow found the courage to cross the Nile and join Bec and Evan in their ‘Bob Marley’ hotel, if you succeed in finding it, you can say you stayed in the cheapest joint in town, with a lovely roof terrace and free Friday night dinner for all who happens to be present. I decided to go on the next day, but that plan was soon dissolved in beer, bubbling sheeshas and an endless discussion on the legal versus ethical grounds of torture. One of guests was a 23 year old American and a marine. The entire evening he would pick ‘shadow’ fights with one of the guys of the hotel, and although the Egyptian was a big muscular fellow, it was clear that the American would defeat him every time. He was supposed to be studying at an American University, paid for by the Army. But somehow after a tour in Iraq, a couple of years ago, he found himself a loophole in the system and was now travelling Africa on the expenses of the American taxpayer. He started the discussion:”Should it be allowed to torture one person to save a million lives and if not if you did so (how) should you be punished?”. It was a senseless and endless discussion, going nowhere, although I must say that if all marines are as well spoken as this one, we ought to be really scared of the American Marines. It mostly reminded me of the previous discussions I had with Muslim men about their religion, the origin of men and the suppression of women in the Islam society. You end up learning a lot, but in the end you are two products of very different society and education.

It became clear that I would not be going anywhere on Saturday. It was not before Sunday that I was on the bike again, hitting the throttle, back to Hurghada.
Look on the picasa page for pictures...

19 June 2009

Reversed Dark Star Safari

At four in the morning I woke the neighborhood revving the engine. Too bad, I had a convoy to catch. Just outside town around 30 microbuses, a couple of coaches, some cars and one ‘motosiekl’ gathered for the ride to Abu Simbel. I had heard and read horror stories about these convoys. Guided by the police all the vehicles drive in a closed group at neck breaking speed. 280 km through the desert without pausing. I was not really looking forward to that. But that is how it was. So at 4:00pm the group began to move. Soon we passed the last checkpoint and were in the dark moonless desert. I drove 70 km/h and was immediately overtaken by the microbuses and the cars. These were all bringing daytrippers to the temple of Abu Simbel so their drivers knew every stretch of that road, I did not. As long as it was dark I didn’t dare to go too fast, as some parts of the road were partially covered with thick layers of sand, blown on the road by the everlasting desert wind. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I ended up in there. After 150 km of one cylinder KTM vibration I decided to take a break. I couldn’t care less about the convoy. I stopped at a makeshift roadside ‘restaurant’ just before sunrise. The light was soft as the sun was to come up. A silent boy stood next to a heavily loaded pick-up on top of which the rest of his family was asleep, he watched me and as the sun appeared above the horizon he pointed towards it and started smiling.

Around ten I arrived in Abu Simbel. All the tourists had already visited the temples and were all ready to take the convoy back to Aswan. I was too tired to visit the temple so I went in town and had falafel breakfast in the tiny town, before driving to my hotel. This would be my most expensive hotel in Egypt, at 60 euros a night. I would be staying in the hotel of Mister Fikry. He was a Nubian artist who build this hotel in true Nubian style. The entire house was build according to the Nubian tradition and using authentic materials (only the electricity and the fans were non-Nubian). I was welcomed in one of the cool open rooms of the hotel with a refreshing ‘charcadee’ (hisbiscus) juice. As I stripped out of my motor gear I met Evan and Rebecca. They had seen me in the convoy and were the only other travelers staying overnight in Abu Simbel. We ordered some beers, for them the first beers in a long time as they had come from Sudan. Their journey was coming to an end, I learned, as they were approaching Cairo. “And where did you come from, then” I asked. They came from Cape Town. Overland traveling. They were doing a reverse ‘Dark Star Safari’. I was silenced for half a beer, trying to imagine what it must have been, five and half months of overland travel from Cape Town to Cairo. Somehow it clicked, they were happy they had made it through Ethiopia and Sudan; I was relieved that I had made it to Abu Simbel; that called for a little celebration. The beers were going down easily and were followed by a simple Nubian style lunch, followed by some more beers, followed by the realization that Evan and Bec were in the wrong hotel. Their budget place was just across the valley, but their taxi driver must have had a commission so he dropped them in the ‘wrong’ place. We decided to go and see the sound and light show that night at the temple. I am not really the kind of guy to settle for that kind of traps, but we had so good fun that I would give it at try. Beside it is probable the most exciting thing you can do at night in Abu Simbel.

The light and sound show was absolutely worth it, even if I ended up listening to the entire story of Ramses II and Nefertari in Japanese. Didn’t matter, the light effects made up for what I did not understand. We went back to the hotel and ordered a bottle of wine and a sheesha. And talked and talked, another bottle of wine, a new sheesha, more stories, the final bottle of wine, the final sheesha, until Evan and Bec realized that they had two wake up in a couple of hours to get the microbus back to Aswan.

The next day I did nothing more than looking at Lake Nasser, enjoying the Nubian food and music and going through the library Fikry had assembled over the years as part of his Nubian House. Late in the afternoon I went to the town ‘centre’. The entire atmosphere in the little town was so different. Although I was still in Egypt, I really felt in Africa for the first time. Nubians have more affinity with the Sudanese than with the Egyptians (Abu Simbel is only 40 km from the Sudanese border). You could feel this African vibe, nobody was being pushy (tourists don’t bother to come in town, they only ‘speed’ visit the temple), and they were just interested in my journey and in the bike. Everybody was just doing straightforwardly nothing and nothing had to be done. A Sudanese man had his little coffee stand, where he would prepare freshly grinded coffee in little clay ‘amphorae’, which were filled with straw, coffee and water, heated on some coals. Delicious. Kids would climb on and off the bike, they all wanted to know how much my bike was worth, how fast it was and if I did not want a goat fur as saddle cover, instead of this dull black plastic.

For a moment I seriously considered to alter my plans and to go south, cross Lake Nasser into Sudan and wind my own ‘long way down’ to South Africa, after all I am going nowhere and nobody is waiting for me. Nowhere. Never.

15 June 2009


Friday in a Muslim country is lazy. It is a European Sunday. Nothing happens if you happen to be a non-muslim. Aswan was no exception. My hotel was a rudimentary venue in the middle of this little town (still 1.5 million inhabitants), not a pleasant place to spend this Friday. So I took the ferry to Elephantine Island. Aswan is situated at the first cataract of the Nile. The stretch of Nile with the rapids is dotted with small islands and enormous granite boulders, of which Elephantine is the largest and only inhabited one. As mentioned it was Friday, so less than nothing was happening on the island. That was fine with me; I just found myself a spot in the shade and enjoyed a ripe melon. Sometimes life is just that simple.

As I watching the village kids splash about in the water and the women lazily doing some laundry, a couple of curious boys came to check me out. They were most interested in my sunglasses and my camera and before I knew it one was taking pictures of the other one wearing my glasses. It was good fun and the most sane thing someone could do under the midday heat. After a while they took me back to their village. There is a small Nubian village on the Island. The father of one of the boys is kind of an unofficial guide who loves to show strangers around Island. The small village consists of colorful houses clustered together and you have to search your way through tiny small streets. Although Aswan is a modern city, this village was little affected by modern life. But don’t get me wrong, in the end I still had to pay some baksheesh to show my appreciation. In the end you are always stripped down as a walking ATM machine. After all it was still Egypt.

The rest of the afternoon I spend with a local guy. He owned a boat and took me around for a three hour tour of the first cataracts, delivered to the rapids and the slow pace of life of the Nubians. The Nubians lost their land to the controversial Nasser dam. This dam was build just above the first cataract to control the sudden floods of the Nile. It allows regulating the flow of precious water and thus the irrigation along the Nile, which increased the agricultural production in the Nile valley by 30 percent and doubled Egypt’s power supply. Lake Nasser is the largest artificial lake in the world and flooded the homeland of the Nubians. The flooding endangered countless historical sites of major archeological and cultural importance, which would disappear forever under the blue water of the Nile. To prevent this Unesco sponsored a twenty year project, to save 22 major sites from flooding. International teams dismantled the temples piece by piece, labeled them and reconstructed most of them on higher grounds. Some temples were donated to museums of the participating countries; the Temple of Dendur can now be admired in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The salvation of the temples of Abu Simbel is without doubt the most impressing of this operation. The magnificent rock hewn temples of Ramses II and his beloved wife Nefertari were cut out of the rocks. Both were reconstructed on more elevated grounds, 65 meters higher, out of harm’s way. The orientation of the temples was meticulously reconstructed to ensure that twice a year, on February 22 and on October 22 the first rays of sun will penetrate the temple and illuminate the holy statues in the sanctuary of the temple. In spite of this huge effort many Nubians still mourn the loss of their beloved land, even today.

The next morning I went to the Nasser dam. Do not go there it is big, ugly and disappointing. That could not be said about the Nubian museum. A huge modern museum, recording and keeping a multitude of Nubian artifacts for the eager tourist and for future generations. The rest of the afternoon I spent reading and writing on Kitchener Island. The architect of the dam had his house there and created an amazing botanical garden. Where are the times that you could own you own Island in the middle of the Nile, I would have signed up. As I had no boat to take me back to Aswan, I asked this Belgian couple if I could join their felucca back to Aswan. It turned out that this family was travelling along the Nile with their five year old son, prospecting interesting hotels and sites for organized diving holidays they offered. The man owned/works for ‘timetodive’ (www.timetodive.be), a professional diving organization. Travelling while making money, not a bad concept. After the felucca dropped them at the five star Movepick on elephantine Island, I rejoined my hotel. Early bedtime today as I had an Abu Simbel convoy to catch at 4:00am the next morning.

14 June 2009


My last evening in Luxor I spend lurking a sheesha along the Nile, enjoying the sunset and some advice from a local guy on the drive to Abu Simbel. Apparently it is the last part where you still have to ride in convoy, convoy driving is not nice...

On the way to Aswan there were three more temples to visit. The first one I missed as I got lost in the dirt streets of Qena. I was guided back to the ‘main’ road by a local policeman, where I was invited by some elder men to share a cup of tea and a breakfast. I had this faint feeling of being a stranger arriving in a land never visited before. All the major tourist transport happens on the East Bank in buses thundering by or on the Nile in distant cruisers, which only moor in the towns or at the temple sites. So I must have been a rarity that morning, a helmeted Belgian idiot on an orange bike.

The temple of Horus in Edfu was hard to miss. As I pulled up on the parking area all the souvenirs vendors started yelling and applauding. I barely had the time to remove my gloves and my helmet as I was approached by a guy. He wanted to know where my machine was from, how many cc, cylinders, a lot of technical stuff, not the usual questions. He told me that he owned an African Twin, the travel bike of Honda, he owned a souvenir stall in front of the temple and would wait for me to come back so we could ride together. It was almost midday and the sun was attempting to fry my brain, so I said ‘yes yes…’ and went for a ticket.

The temple of the falcon god Horus is big. But then most temples along the Nile are. What makes the temple at Edfu worth visiting is the fact that it has been preserved almost intact, due to the fact that it was partially buried under the sand until 200 years ago, the town of Edfu spreading over parts of its roof. Even today the temple complex is surrounded by the town of Edfu, sprawling only meters from its outer walls. Almost all the hieroglyphs and reliefs are intact and exceptionally well preserved. On the inner side of the outer wall the Festival of Victory is carved out, in which Horus (good) conquers Seth (Evil). The funny thing is that evil is depicted as a hippopotamus, growing in the course of the battle. Apparently not everybody likes hippos. I like them, and giraffes.

On leaving the temple I was invited in the shop of the ‘African Twin’ guy, where I received a ‘scarabee’ and bought my first obscene souvenir as a gift for someone I really care about. It was closing time. He said he was going to fetch his bike. And he did! Two minutes later I was driving along a guy with a fat African Twin. Eager to make some money (after all he was from Cairo) he asked if I needed anything: ‘Spare parts, Oil change, a mechanic…?’ The bike needed new oil, so yes why not. Ten minutes later we were crossing Edfu in search of some decent oil (the down side of traveling with a motorbike is that you can’t just use olive oil, trust me there is a trillion different oils…) which we found in a small shop just outside a school. School just finished so in no time I was surrounded by twenty kids wanting to know if they could ride my bike, revving the engine, opening my suitcases and trying to get on the bike. We got the oil and I almost had two extra passengers on my trip. Next was the mechanic. He showed up ten minutes later, marveling at the sight of the bike, eager to work on a ‘real’ machine and not some cheap Chinese junk. As soon as he revved the engine he said the sound was not good, he reminded me of this young guy working in this grocery store in “Amelie Poulain’, listening to the fruits and groceries to ‘hear’ if they were ripe. After a bit of listening to the left and right, he did the oil change. I was happy, he wasn’t. It was the sound, something was wrong with the ‘timing chain’. “The timing chain??”, I can hear you thing, yes the timing chain, I won’t bore you with the details, but it was not good. Could he check it and repair it? Ten minutes later the bike was in pieces. He showed me the part that was worn. He could solve the problem by welding a nut to that part. That would make my timing chain happy. I was in Africa, so why not. Included in the maintenance were delicious falafel sandwiches and by 4:00 pm the bike was ready.

Aswan was only 120 km from Edfu, so after parting with Mr. African Twin I headed south. After 30 kms I stopped to make a phone call, when I noticed that my left boot was shining with a thick layer of oil. On inspecting the bike the entire engine was one sticky oily mess. I just turned back and went looking for the ‘workshop’. The mechanic didn’t speak a word of English, but this was one of these situations where body-and hand language didn’t need any explanation. He was totally embarrassed and fixed the problem right away. This time I took a test ride before leaving, finally. My plan to arrive at sunset in Aswan shattered as I set of in the dusk. I ended doing more than half of the way in the dark, reminded by a crashed bus that this was not a particularly good idea. Egyptians drive without lights, by law it is forbidden, it is considered unsafe because you blind the oncoming traffic. So to make sure you see them they will flash their high beams, which of course aren’t blinding at all. Luckily I made it to Aswan, exhausted but smiling back on another good day, ha…..

07 June 2009

The last 60 km to Luxor were fun; Eventually I had the feeling that I had mingled in the real Egyptian traffic. A small road, alongside the Nile, crowded with cars, donkey cards, Chinese motorbikes, goats and people crossing anytime. I installed myself in a characterless hotel, too tired to really care and enjoyed the dusk and sunset on the rooftop, promising myself that tomorrow I would look for a nicer place on the West bank.

Karnak was my first temple. As I was the first visitor, not many tourists decide to wake up at 5:30 am: I had to entire complex to myself. It is huge and impressive. The main hall has massive papyrus stem shaped pillars packed together in order to look like a water field. In its days of glory the temple would inundate with the Nile floods. You could only wonder what an amazing sight that must have been.

I crossed to the West bank and found this amazing little hotel with a quite garden and perfect rooms, a ten minute drive from all the major sites in the Theban mountains. I puffed through the midday heat in the shadow of a palm tree and in the breeze of a fan. Around 4:00 pm I took the bike and drove to the historic sites. Luxor, and the Theban mountains in particular are considered one of the hottest place on earth, and they are. Over the last two years I have been working in some pretty hot places, but damn this was really hot. I ended up visiting the world renowned temple of Hatshepsut just before closing time, so once again I had the place to myself. Magical.

The following days I stayed put in the hotel and spent the morning hours visiting the major sites in the valley. I would show up at six in the morning, buy the tickets for the sites I wanted to visit and stay there until the heat would become so oppressive that the only sane thing to do was to retreat in the shadow and read or doze until the hottest part of the day would pass. I went to the Valley of the Kings, the valley of the Nobles, the temple of Ramses III and the ruins of the workmen’s village of Deir al Medina. Once I had seen all these sites I couldn’t be bothered anymore by any old stones, temples or ruins. There is only so much a man can take. Of course you are overwhelmed by the grandeur of all these monuments, but in the end they lose their mystique. You can just go on exploring Luxor, there is a reason why it is called the largest open-air museum in the world. Egypt has been one of the first countries on earth to welcome such a number of tourists. 160 years ago Thomas Cook started bringing in the first groups of tourist to see the marvels of Egypt and until today people from all over the world keep on pouring in on organized tours, being shuffled around as cattle. This means that everywhere you go as an independent traveler you get hassled all the time, you are reduced to a walking ATM machine while visiting the sites. All the time you will be confronted with an Egyptian insisting on receiving baksheesh for bringing you somewhere, for pointing something out, for telling you a story… It is part of everyday life in Egypt, even Egyptians have to put up with it, and on some days you just don’t mind on other days you just want to hit them in the face. In the Valley of the Kings I climbed out of the valley to walk over the cliff, towering over the Hatshepsut temple, and even there, although I was totally on my own, a ‘policeman’ would materialize and ask for some money….After three days of responsible cultural tourism it was time again to get on the bike.

06 June 2009

Russian invasion

The first day in Egypt had gone halfby when I finally woke up, still groggy after my crossing adventure. I took a cab to the Dana Beach hotel. There I met up with Joke and was transformed into a package tourist for half a day (red wrist band, pool towel card...). Tried out two of the seven restaurants. Dipped in one of the four pools, played a game of mini golf with real Jetair travellers and had a lousy massage. I did not need an afternoon to figure out that I would never enjoy this. But I can check that. Thank you Joke.

Saturday I started my Open Padi Water course with Blue Paradise, managed by two belgian people, from the city of Ghent. It was good fun. I had to convince myself and the instructor had to convince me that I would be allright, surrounded by water and a funny thing in your mouth through which you breath. I didn't felt very at ease the first time I had to go down, but things got better and now I am thrilled that I have my open water. I realized that I was not a water person, that is probably also the reason that I am driving a bike to Belgium and not sailing a boat.

I stayed for another couple of days in Hurghada arranging some practical things. I had to sent some things back home. Things I tought I need, and which I didn't. Because Mortada was so generous to provide me with a place to stay, free of charge I had nothing to worry about. I took two extra dives to enjoy some more of the marvellous underwater life and scenery of the Red Sea, it will be hard to do better for my next diving spot, as the Red Sea is absolutely spectacular. My major concern was, however, the oil leak of the bike. With the help of Mortada I found myself in the presence of a skilled mechanic, working in Al Gouna. AlGouna is a artificial city 20 km outside Hurghada. It was built by some megalomaniac entrepreneur, who wanted a city of which he could have complete control. No police is allowed inside, it has its own security force, streets, parts of 'town', a small harbour, shops, restaurants and petrol station. The mechanic was working at the petrol station. On my birthday I went overthere to work on the bike. The problem was quite obvious, a leaking seal at the front sprocket axle. The solution was as easy. Replace the seal. As I was told before by people who had done a lot of travelling before, you can carry all the spares you want, in the end something will break down for which you have no spare. They were exactly right. I did not have a spare seal. Luckily Egypt is Africa, and everything is possible in Africa. So we set off (two on the bike) in search of a seal. Several spare parts shops (all for car spare parts) he managed to find a Suzuki seal that was identical. With no time to waste he just replaced the seal on the side of the road. Things don't have to be complicated. Problem solved, me a happy birthday boy.

During my stay in Hurghada I decided to drive down to Luxor and Abu Simbel. To see the great Nile. It turned out to be a great decision, that I would not regret, any soon.

the ferry step by step

After two days at Al Ula I set of in direction of Duba, one of the Northernmost towns at the shore of the Red Sea. There was a 200km shortcut from Al Ula, directly to Tabuk, a dirt track along one of the oldest railroads in the Middle East. It had been constructed between Medinah and Damascus. The railway had been in service until the second world war to facilitate the Haj journey for the thousands of pilgrims coming from Syria and Jordan and even Turkey. During the second world war, it was used for military purposes and thus attacked and sabotaged. Afterwards it never got rebuild. I was eager to try out that track, but of course I was forgetting my guard, it would not happen. This meant that I had to drive back a 100 km and make a detour of 400 km to Tabuk. Duba was another 150 km from Tabuk. I know it would be a long journey, but I had not imagined it to be that long.

I started riding at 6 am. It was cloudy and not to hot so I made really good progress. Around 1:00 I found myself in Tabuk and asked my escort if he knew a place where I could eat something, I was starving. He did not really seem to care and just continued driving until the checkpoint at the edge of town. There he handed me over to the people in charge of the checkpoint. I was invited by the officer, to share a cup of tea. They asked all kind of questions and before I knew it I was having a very pleasant and open minded conversation with these policemen. Eventually they had me prepared a traditional dish of chicken and rice. Simple but tasteful.

Around 3 pm I left them and headed for Duba. My last road in the Kingdom, my last stretch of Saudi mountains, the last endless desert. 50 km from Duba I left the plateau I had been driving on and plunged into the coastal valley of Duba. I could feel the temperature rise immediately and the humidity slappedin my face as a wet towel. After crossing several beautiful wadis I arrived at sunset at Duba. I was so happy. I made it in time for the ferry, which was leaving for Hurghada at 11:00pm. I covered 700 kilometers, I was exhausted and my right arm had developed its own local case of Parkinson shiver (the bike is still a nasty one cylinder). After sunset prayer I was able to find the ticket office of the ferry company and buy the necessary tickets. The ferry would leave at 11:00, Ins'Allah, of course. I sat outside admiring the beautiful 'firey' sunset and thought about all the amazing things I had seen in the Kingdom, excited about the crossing into Egypt.

At nine o'clock 'my' policeman took me to the harbour, 30 km to the North. The start of a 24 hour ordeal. Upon arrival there the customs officials told me that there was no boat. They had not heard of any news of the ferry. They refused to give me an indication on when it might arrive. I proposed to get a room in thenearby hotel, but that was not possible as the officer decided for me that the hotel was not 'good' for me. I could do nothing more than follow the escort back to Duba-town, where they installed me in this oversized expensive filthy hotel (if the rooms smell of wet dog, well that is filthy to me). But if you have the hotel monopoly in town, why bother. Before dropping dead in my bed I went across the street and shared a last Saudi sheesha with some locals.

At 2:30 am I was awaken by somebody trying to crash my door. It took me half a minute to realize to wake up and realize where I was, I had been sleeping so sound. "Boat coming. Going to harbour." I heard. Outside was an armed policeman that indicated me that I had to get ready and follow him. I set a new world record "get your gear on and pack the bike" and was once again on the way to the port area. This time the policeman did not even bother to wait and just turned around and buggered of. So there I was, trying to explain to the guards that I had to take this ferry that had arrived. "No ferry!" they told me. It was 3:am. I had slept for 4 hours and was still half asleep. I cursed, just able to swallow the two four letter words that can get you in a lot of trouble if you utter them in front of any officials. Luckily there was a young guardian who spoke very good English. He said that I could wait at the entrance with them until there would be news of the ferry. So the next hours I just sat there, talking to this man about life in Saudi, the military, his study to become an English teacher to escape the military, drank tea, talked some more, waited some more. I was invited to have a traditional breakfast of humus, tahena and Arabian flat bread. Coffee and dates which you can't refuse. And waited some more. Around nine he arranged a room in the hotel, that was not deemed good enough for me. before, I slept for a couple of hours, until at 11:00 the news came that the ferry had arrived. Yes, or almost Yes!

Then they had to wait for the diesel truck to come to fuel the ship. It would come at 1:00pm, Arabian time, Ins'Allah. Only at 3 pm it showed up and I could finally start the immigration process. By that time I met an Saudi official tour guide, who was really interested in how I had managed to travel all alone from Qatar to Duba. He explained me that all the immigration officials were quite embarassed with my situation, as it is impossible to be an independent traveller in the Kingdom. Normally you only get a tourist visum if you are a group of minimum 4 persons and if you booked your stay in the Kingdom through an official agency. Nevertheless they were all very friendly and helpful and determined not to leave my side until I was safely on the ferry on the way to Egypt. Immigration, first clear the bike. I handed over the papers, only to be informed that I should pay a fine of 400 euros for staying too long in the Kingdom. I explained to them the entire situation at the border crossing in Salwa, ditched up the story of the delay because of mechanical problems. Major agitation, I had to go the head officer and explain it all over again. I refused to pay the fine and explained the situation over and over again. In the end they just wanted to get rid of me and let me through. Passport. stamp stamp stamp. I was cleared.

Around 4:00 pm I finally could board the ferry. The car deck was parked with old mercedeses and peugeots, packed like mules. Toys, tools, refrigerators, televisions...it was a fricking supermarket down there. Many Egyptians cross to Saudi to buy practically everything because of the lack of taxes in the Kingdom. At 5:00 pm I stood at the aft of the boat, looking at Saudi disappearing in the distance. We were sailing.

The journey would take five hours as the sea was pretty rough. During the crossing I witnessed the level of Muslim determination in adhering to the five prayers a day. Groups would gather in the front alley, facing Makkah, to perform their prayer rituals. Arguments would start because some men did not agree with the way the prayers were lead or performed. And all that on a seriously rocking boat, where people would get sick and just throw up where they stood or sat. Islam, means submission, I could see that.

Upon arrival in Egypt, Hurghada, I started the tedious process of registering the bike, getting plates, a new Egyptian 'chassis' number and insurance. It took me four hours of going back and forth between innumerable small offices, buying papers here, stamps there, changing money over there, paying insurance somewhere else. No logic at all in a place where no one speaks English and they are accustomed to see cars, not motorbikes. At 2:00 am I met up with Joke (friend I was visiting) and Mortada outside the gate. I was finished. I was dead. We drove across town to the apartment Mortada rented for me, where I invaded the bed determined not to wake up for the coming 24 hours.

I made it to Pharaonic country.

04 June 2009

Carved grandeur

So there I was in Al Ula. A little town hidden in a strange landscape of yellowisch desert, dotted with sharp contoured rocky outcrops, some of them several hundred meters high. It doesn't matter if you are an expat or a traveller in the Kingdom, this is the one thing you need to visit. Al Ula itself is a small 'twelve-in-a-dozen' sleepy Arabian town. Different to other Saudi towns, is that its original core has been preserved. Or better is still there. A minimal effort has been done to clean up a couple of small streets in the maze created by the small traditional mudhouses. The rest of the old town is just delivered to the elements. The ever blowing wind and the occasional rains ensure that the houses are slowly reduced to the original building materials used to erect them.

Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust. Amen, oh no Blasphemy, Ins'Allah.

Before climbing the fort that towers above the tiny ancient settlement I wondered around the small streets for half an hour, unable to grasp its long gone soucq activity. From the tower looking down to where I just was, I took a picture. Later that day I was glad to note that that picture captured the enclosed feeling I experienced, wanderering through the deserted alleys. The frame is fully filled with the contours of the little one-room roofless houses, there is no horizon, reflecting the disorientated feeling you feel in the midst of that ghost town.

That could not be said about the Mada'In Saleh site. This historical site (the real reason to come out to Al Ula) is a vast area (plenty of horizon here) just 20 km to the North of Al Ula. Here the Nabataeans have carved over a hundred graves and tombs out of the solid sandstone rocks. The permit was carefully inspected before I was granted admission, free of charge. Because the site is so big you just enter with your own vehicle, in my case an orange motorcycle. I felt a bit as a king entering a foreign country, with my personal police in my tracks (yes yes, later that day he would even follow me to the supermarket). You enter and there is sand, dirt tracks and rocks, big rocks and although you know more or less what you will see, the first sight of a tomb is an experience. The Nabataeans also built Petra in Jordan. The Saudi 'Petra' is not as grand and impressive as Petra (I have been told, I am still on my way to see Petra), but it is a marvel. The tomb facades are all relatively simple, all designed in pretty much the same way. Their size and the setting made a stronger impression on me. Going around on the dirt tracks in the soft evening light I admired the tombs from a distance and tried to fill the empty landscape (yes no other tourists there, try to experience that, visiting Petra...) with the activity, sounds and smells of the vanished Nabataean society. The Nabataens are a rather obsure people (to me anyway) that were masters in desert survival and cunning traders. Mada'In Saleh was founded at the crossroads of important trade routes going from Africa, through Yemen and Saudi to Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Precious spices, mire, gold, frankincense and even slaves were transported on these trading routes. The Nabataeans would, at the height of their power, control every aspect of this trade. Taxes, transport caravans, protection...it was all in the hands of the Nabataeans. It is said that they developed the art of carving rock through a technique of water storage in this dry and harsh environment (and believe me it is dry and hot, AC is not an option on my bike). The Nabataeans preferred to retreat in the desert, rather than fight enemy armies. Because the invading armies lacked the necessary survival skills the Nabataeans would be safe. One of the means of survival the Nabataens developed, was to hollow out rocky outcrops from the surface down, creating subterrain reservoirs. These would be filled with rainwater and carefully closed so, unless you would know (as they did) what you were looking for, they would never be discovered. Later on they used their carving skills to create monumental tombs to honour their death. Nonetheless at some point the Nabataeans vanished (I have not the 'Paul Theroux' patience nor the intellect to find out what happened to them), but not before leaving two spectacular sites for future generations.

The next day I returned to climb one of the mountains surrounding the graves and just sat there until a sandstorm shooed me away. Who said there is nothing to admire in the Kingdom?

Back in the hotel I met a Dutch couple driving a VW camper van from Bahrein to Holland (they bought taxfree in Holland, shipped it to Bahrein and were now driving it back to Holland to import it -again taxfree-, cunning cunning cunning). A couple and three kids. Respect. Having a camper van and tents, they mostly camped out. Their security escort was not to keen on that (same story on bears and wolves...), so they ended up in the hotel. However, they only rented one room, the pater familias would sleep with one of his sons in the camper parked in the hotel parking, I smiled, not everyting is lost in this world, dutchmen will be dutchmen.... I ended up receiving a shit load of information on Jordan and Syria. The father had it all sorted out, routes, places to see, places to sleep, gps way points, interesting URL's.... I felt rather lost when I had to admit that I only had some lonely planets, maps and a GPS, which I don't even know how to operate (well I can switch it on and tell the rescue helicopter the coordinates so they can pick me up, handy no?).

There are just a trillion ways to travel, but only one freedom to choose.