Wednesday, 5 September 2007

I looked over Jordan and what did I see?

What Catkin didn’t mention in her last entry was the delicious birthday dinner that she prepared for me on our last night in Turkey. We had steak and chips (yum), followed by - wait for it – Banoffee Pie. How many people have had banoffee pie made in a kitchen in the back of a Land Rover for their birthday? It was delicious, and I ate too much.

Catkin did mention that we were in Damascus. Damascus was mad, but fun all the same. It was the only place since leaving Turkey that we stayed in a proper campsite, and for two nights we were the only people there. We can only assume that the overland trucks stop there and keep it in business. We spent a day wandering around the city, and most of that was spent trying to find the centre from where the minivan driver told us was our stop (not where we thought he was taking us).

Main Souk in Damascus

Before leaving Syria we wanted to fill up with diesel to take advantage of the cheap price per litre of US$0.14 and get maximum benefit of the US$100 diesel tax we had to pay when entering the country. This proved a difficult task, however, as every station we pulled into had run out. From the sign language it seemed the tanker had crashed or something. Anyway, they were certain there would be diesel in the afternoon… We were ready to leave Syria, so decided to head toward the border, detour to Bosra (another Roman ruin with an outstanding fortified amphitheatre) and see if we could fill up later in the day near the border. Eventually we did find a station and took on 140 litres in the two tanks to keep us going.

Exiting Syria was much easier than entering, and entering Jordan was also relatively hassle-free. This was a very busy border, so it still took a few hours to get all the appropriate paperwork stamped and distributed to various departments.

Our main priority now was to get to Amman in order to look at getting Saudi transit visas and carry out a few repairs/checks on the Land Rover. Since it was Friday the following day (the weekend) we decided to do a short loop through Umm Qais and Jerash (more Roman ruins). We made it to Umm Qais just after dark, and as we had seen no suitable campsites enroute, decided to ask the tourist police at the site if it would be okay for us to stay in the carpark overnight and visit the site in the morning. This was not permitted, and we were told we would have to stay in the hotel. I explained that we would prefer to camp, but it seemed there was no camping permitted in the whole area. Just as we were preparing to leave to go and look at the hotel, the policeman approached us and said that actually we might be able to stay inside the ruins, next to the Police Office. He made a few calls and it was all arranged. The night shift officers were a bit noisy when they had a break in the wee small hours, and I was afraid Catkin was going to get up and tell them to be quiet, like she did to the people camping next to us in Vienna and the nightclub owner in Hungary. She hasn’t told anyone off for a while now…

Hard to see, but the Sea of Galilee is in the distance

We had a good look around the ruins in the morning after pancakes for breakfast, getting a good view over the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. Our route south took us down into the valley and right alongside the Palestinian border, where we were stopped every few kilometres at military checkpoints to check our passports. Turning east we headed over some very steep hills towards Jerash and found the Olive Branch Resort, a hotel with camping facilities. The best thing was that they had a swimming pool, and we spent the whole afternoon sitting by the pool and swimming. A family who was having a picnic in the hotel grounds even gave us a fantastic lunch, which was much appreciated.

We didn’t bother going into the Jerash ruins, as we both felt a bit “ruined out”, and satisfied ourselves with looking in through the fence. From there on into Amman, the capital.

We had not been able to find out about any camping grounds in or near Amman, so thought we would go to the tourist information office and see if they could help. Whilst waiting in traffic, the driver next to me called out, asking what we were looking for. When we said the information centre, he said it was closed and enquired what we wanted to ask them. We replied that we wanted to find a camping site, and he said, “There’s no camping in Amman. Follow me!” Eventually he stopped and got out, telling us that we might be able to camp on one of his properties. He was going to be back in one hour, and we could park around the corner and wait for him in “The Duke’s Diwan”, a cultural centre on the next street. Well, it turned out that he was the Duke of the Diwan, and he had a farm that is used for honey production that we could camp on. We have spent four nights there so far and it has been the perfect base for us. We even went on a tour of the surrounding area, which is all the Duke’s land, including the magnificent home that has been in the family since about 1860.

In Amman we have found a Land Rover specialist garage who have welded our cracked front differential, as well as completely servicing the right front wheel bearings and CV joint, and we have the local aircon specialist looking for a replacement switch to get the A/C back up and running. More about all of that and other repairs in the "preparation" blog on the links to the right. We are still waiting for some parts ordered from the UK to arrive at the post office, so keep having to trudge back there to check.

The Saudi transit visa situation has not been so successful. We have been twice and been told that we cannot get a transit visa in Jordan, only from the embassy in our country of residence. This is contrary to what we were told in London, but that is the nature of the game I guess. On top of all this, we have been told of another couple who had the required visa, but were refused entry into Saudi Arabia because their Land Rover was right hand drive (as is ours). Even diplomatic personnel seem to require special permission to drive into Saudi. We are trying a few other options, but at this stage it looks like we will have to miss UAE, Oman and Yemen and ship the vehicle directly from Aqaba to Mombasa while we travel separately via Egypt to meet it. We will keep you posted on that front.

One of Catkin's favourite pastimes throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East has been buying fresh fruit and veges from the many well stocked roadside stalls.

So far, since leaving London on the 25th of June we have travelled 9389 miles crossing 23 borders and visiting 18 different countries (we entered some countries in Europe more than once). Thanks to all who have commented on the Blog. It’s good to know that you are enjoying reading it as much as we are writing it. Unfortunately we can’t reply to everyone individually. Keep the comments coming though – it gives us something to look forward to!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Happy birthday Claire, from us in Amman, Jordan. Hope you have had a good day and have had lots of treats. We will write more about our latest adventures soon!