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Old 09-17-2007, 06:45 AM   #1
ozzy OP
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Istanbul to Cairo - Middle East here we come!!!



After two years of dreaming, planning, postponing, procrastinating and finally getting the much dreaded spousal approvals, we finally got our act together and left Istanbul in mid May. 5 riders, 5 loaded bikes + 1 wife, we headed south to visit Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. My spousal approval arrived with one condition: No Iraq and no Lebanon....Well, Iraq was certainly out of the question, but Lebanon, especially the vibrant Beirut and the ancient Roman city of Baalbek in Bekaa Valley were of great interest. Unfortunately, Israel's plan to turn the south of Beirut into a parking lot, put a dent in our plans so we had to skip Lebanon...Oh well, maybe next time....

Here is our humble ride report...Firstly, the group:

Hakan Erman and his wife Deniz Erman, KTM 950 Adventure
Levent Firat, BMW R1200GS
Orhan Arsel, BMW R1200GS
Görkem Özgelen, BMW F650
Derya Savaş, BMW F650

In early May, we took care of the paper work. By paperwork, I mean visas. Apperently, depending on your citizenship, you can get visas at the various borders, but we did not want to take a chance with the notorious middle eastern customs officials, so we took care of it in Istanbul. Syria wanted to see the Egyptian visa first, Jordan did not want to be bothered, and insisted we get our visas at their customs. We also had to get international drivers licences and 'carnet de passage', international circulation document for motor vehicles from the Touring and Automotive Club of Turkey. Both of these documents are a must if you want to enter Egypt. We heard horror stories involving some Italian riders spending 1 week at the Egyptian customs bacause they thought it wasn't necessary. In mid May, armed with the Middle Eastern section of the Lonely Planet, we headed south to the Syrian border.


Arriving at the Turkish - Syrian Border south of Antakya.


Buying Syrian liability insurance and getting ripped of (but nicely)


Paying some tax that we have no idea about, and being ripped off again (but nicely)


And again, some more tax (no clue). But we are offered some ice cream as well....


Beware.....


Leaving Turkey and entering Syria.....


Kimden Istanbul to C...



Getting cheap and dirty gasoline...The price of unleaded gasoline in Turkey is USD 2.15/liter, and in Syria USD 0.20/liter. No unleaded though.......


Fixing a busted headlight of the KTM. It's getting dark, and we don't want to take chances. After the border crossing we went via Latakia, a nice Mediterranean coastal town, then turned inland towards Homs and headed directly for Damascus. We were rushing bacause the idea was to reach Cairo as fast as possible, and than crawl back up doing all the sightseeing we can handle.


After hitting a rain and sand storm on the way, we arrived in Damascus late in the evening after about 600 km of riding, with the hopes of finding a decent bed&breakfast. Well, we tried every single hotel and pension mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but couldn't find a single room. Our last hope other than a bus stop was the 5 star Cham Palace. We found three rooms there, with a not-so-middle-eastern price tag of USD 190/room.




After grabbing a quick bite in a neibourhood restaurant, we crashed. Our plan is hitting the road early, cross to Jordan and reach the legendary Wadi Rum (Roman Valley) the next day.


A billboard showing the ex-King Hussein of Jordan with his wife on his Harley. The funny thing about Jordan is, the King banned all motorcycles. ALL. That means only you the tourist, the king, and his police can ride on motorcycles of any kind. You can leave the key on the ignition. Nobody will touch it.


On the way to Jordan's capital, Amman.


Another rain storm with heavy winds, blowing lots of sand. The King's Highway is crossing the entire country vertically. The road surface, already polished by tires of heavy trucks, got quite slippery with rain and sand. We all had a few instances where the rear tires lost track. Scary situation in a foreign country.




Getting rest on the road side.


A thoughtful truck driver stops to check on us. He wants to know if we need any assistance.



Our first camels....


The Hejaz railroad, built by the Ottomans at the turn of the century to connect the capital Istanbul to Damascus, Amman, Aqaba and Mekka.


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Old 09-17-2007, 07:08 AM   #2
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Great report so far... keep it coming!!
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Old 09-17-2007, 07:15 AM   #3
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Very exciting adventure. You made our dreams come true
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Old 09-17-2007, 07:35 AM   #4
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Old 09-17-2007, 07:36 AM   #5
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Fantastic!!!

Entering Syria by moto will be a lot easier than doing so in Egypt... many forms to fill.. and dues to pay...

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Old 09-17-2007, 07:41 AM   #6
ozzy OP
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Istanbul to Cairo - part 2



When in the Middle East, you hope to have some sun shine, but the first two days were anything but sunny.


Finally, we arrive at Wadi Rum (Rum or Roman Valley) on the southern tip of Jordan close to Aqaba. It's a small scale Grand Canyon, with magnificent rock formations on a sand desert. The rocks provided safe heaven to many troughout the millenia. From ancient Nubians, to Jews, Arabs, Romans, Greeks, Ottomans and even Lawrance of Arabia hid among these rocks. Apparently, my great uncle who was an officer in the Ottoman Army, fought against the revolting Arab tribes and their leader, Lawrence, in this area. I was planning to take a leak at Lawrence's grave to honor my uncle, but they told me that Lawrence is buried in England. Oh, well.... The area is under protection, and will certainly become a mojor tourist attraction in the future.





We were greeted by a bedouin who offered his tent for the night. A lonely tent, next to magnificent rock...A beautiful night under the skies..You cannot imagine how tranquil and beautiful a night sky can get without noise and light pollution. My ears were ringing because of the silence.


Hakan preparing breakfast....





There is no filter on the camera. The sand is absolutely orange...












After spending the night in Wadi Rum, we took an early tour at 6:00 am around the rock formations on the desert sand with a Toyota 4x4. We didn't dare riding our loaded bikes, because the sand can get deep and treacherous. Even the truck got stuck in sand a few times.

We wanted to reach the port of Aqaba in order to catch a ferry across the Gulf of Aqaba to the Sinai, Egypt. It is possible to take the road from Jordan to Egypt via Israel, but there is problem. Since Syria and Israel are still theoratically at war, once you enter Israel, Syria does not give you permission again. Hence no way of going back home. So we have to avoid Israel and take the ferry.


There are two ferries running between Aqaba, Jordan, and Nuweiba, Egypt. The newer faster one and the older slower one. The fast one takes about 2 hours. The slow one anywhere between 3 to 24 hours, depending on delays and malfunctions. We were lucky to catch the new one, for the price of USD 100/bike.
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Old 09-17-2007, 08:26 AM   #7
demenshea
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I am in absolute awe of this moto-journal and your incredible pictures. I dream of visiting such awesome and exotic places, yet don't have the necessary courage to say nothing of needing a different bike!!

What an amazing trip. The sand pictures are simply beautiful.

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Old 09-17-2007, 08:31 AM   #8
kktos
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Laugh

excellent so far !
keeeeeeeeeeeep going !
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Old 09-17-2007, 08:43 AM   #9
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Another great ride, let's see more pics, i'm stalking Hakan to take me to his next trip

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Old 09-17-2007, 09:26 AM   #10
ozzy OP
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Istanbul to Cairo - part 3

After a 2 hour trip with the comfort of an air-conditioned fast ferry, we arrived at Nuweiba, a run-down port on the Sinai. Now, remember my previous complaint about lack of sun shine in Syria and Jordan. Forget it. We had plenty of excrutiating sun and 40 C weather at the Egyptian customs. For 5 HOURS........



See the "homeless" looking guy on the right? When he first approached us we thought he was begging for something and waved him off. Well, it turns out he is a customs official wanting to compare the chassis number of the bikes with the bikes documentation. We had not experienced such bureucracy before. After 28 pages of photocopies for each bike (everything from our licenses, registrations, international licence and registrations, insurances, carnet de passage, etc.), getting a dozen stamps and signitures from 20 different officials and repeating the procedures because some schmuck stamped the wrong page, or filled out a wrong document, and paying the equivalent of USD 150/bike (part of which are bribes but we don't know why and how much), we finally got.........Eygptian license plates and registration papers. Cool eh...One funny thing. Everytime we needed a signiture from some official, he would hold our passport and then ask for our names. I thought it was a bit strange. After the zillionth time, I told the guy to look at my passport which he is holding in his hands with the ID page open. It turns out, they can't read the latin alphabet....Just like we can't read the arabic alphabet.....

After 5 hours of custom formalities, we have our Egyptian licence plates.


By the way we meet an Italian couple, trying to board the same ferry we arrived with, to cross over to Jordan. Obviously, the same buraucracy prevents them from catching the ferry, and they have to stay overnight at the customs. They cannot leave the customs to stay in an hotel, because they have started the exit formalities....It's a good lesson to keep in mind on the way back...

After the Nuweiba customs, we rode about 40 km south to the resort town of Dahab to rest and spend the night.

We found a beach side massage parlor in front of the hotel.


After a very short ride but a very long customs day, just what we need.


Enjoying some coffee and shisha (or nargile in Turkish, for tobacco pipe).






Next day, we ride across the Sinai desert from Dahab to Cairo. On the way, right in the middle of Sinai, on top of the Sinai mountains, we visit the St. Cathrine monastery, the oldest Greek Orthodox monastery dating back to 400 AD.






In the middle of the desert, we saw two young girls herding camels. There was not a single house or adult in sight. We took this chance to go off-road and take some pics. The innocence and friendliness of these kids is incredible.




St Cathrine monastery


The skull room.


The written permission of Prophet Muhammed to the monks of the monastery so they can operate freely (700 AD). This permission was continued by the Memluk and later the Ottoman sultans ruling the area. Such religious tolerance nearly 1300 years ago........


Water stop at an oasis.


Reaching the western coast of Sinai, the Suez gulf.


Crossing under the Suez channel. It is a weird feeling when 200.000 ton oil tankers are floating above your head.



And finally, Cairo.








Some more shisha and Turkish coffee.


Wanna trade???


Blending in the society.....


Muhammed Ali Pasha Mosque, built by , who else , Muhammed Ali Pasha himself, the ruthless Turkish governor of Egypt. The mosque has a typical turkish dome structure unlike Arab mosques , which have flat celings.


The stepped (and the oldest) pyramid, south of Cairo.


The bent pyramid over the horizon. The first try by the Egyptian architects of a flat sided pyramid. When they realized the sides were too steep and unstable, they changed the wall angle. Better late than never.




A mosque belonging to the Ismailiah sect , a very fundamental and strict sect apparently, and I was warned to be extra respectful.


El Ezher mosque and university. One of the oldest temples of Islam and the center of Islamıc philosophy, and off course political Islam.


Old Cairo. Intersection of Coptic, Jewish, and Christian quarters.


It was a long but fantastic day in Cairo. The next day we want to ride south along the Nile to Luxor. But the authorities don't allow foreigners drive alone that route for security reasons. Nearly a dozen or so security check points from Dahab to Cairo made that clear to us. We either have to take part in a convoy with military personnel guarding us or take an overnight train. We figure , riding behind tourist busses and truck all night is not a pleasant experience , so we deceided to take the train. That's part 4....
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Old 09-17-2007, 10:41 AM   #11
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Thank you for sharing. I feel like I have been on vacation.
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Old 09-17-2007, 10:49 AM   #12
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Wow.
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Old 09-17-2007, 11:40 AM   #13
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Fantastic!!!


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Old 09-17-2007, 11:46 AM   #14
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Vvvverrrrry-very cool! Thanks for sharing your experiences with all of us!
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Old 09-17-2007, 03:29 PM   #15
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Great report Ozzy!
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