We’re on a Boat
Posted on March 1, 2015
Perched at the edge of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula we’d run out of Africa to ride. With Syria off-limits, if we wanted to keep our wheels rolling, we would have to find a way across the Mediterranean.
The problem was that shipping companies seemed to change operators every couple of months and most information was out of date. So, we had some down time in Dahab figuring it out and enjoyed every day that we didn’t have to wake up and ride somewhere else. We rode the beaches fringed with aqua blue waters,
snorkeled to our heart’s content,
attended the local camel races,
and provided Dyna Rae with some much needed TLC. She got some shiny new spark plugs, an oil change, and a valve adjustment.
Top dead center baby.
We finally got motivated to get off our lazy hummus munching arses, tear ourselves away from our regular falafel stand, and go check out Mount Sinai. This was the peak where Moses stayed for forty days and forty nights before he descended with some stone tablets and laid down the law.
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God. “ Exodus 24:12-13
With the rules so etched out by none other than “the finger of God”, there were no more excuses for coveting your neighbor’s hot wife in yoga pants or bearing false witness about borrowing his lawn mower. A short time later the confessional was invented.
Instead of a welcome home party, Moses returned to find his people worshiping a golden calf. Not so much an animal lover, Moses broke the tablets in anger and had to write up some new ones that were placed into the Arc of the Covenant which later disappeared from the Holiest of Holies at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on the destruction of the First Jewish Temple, and was perhaps spirited away to Ethiopia where they won’t let tourists on motorbikes see them. This trip is really coming together.
We had a heck of a time getting to the holy mount when the big boss at the first police checkpoint insisted that our Egyptian documents for the bike were expired and we would have to pay a fine. We were delayed for an hour sorting it out with him before we were allowed to get underway.
As usual, we had underestimated the task before us. It was a 2,600 foot ascent to the top of Mt. Sinai, which we decided to begin at 2 in the afternoon…wearing motorcycle boots.
As it turns out, in addition to jungle gorilla tracking, dual-sport boots are also pretty functional footwear for biblical mountain climbing. Having neglected to bring my warm jacket, I also wore my moto jacket to the top.
As we made the summit and gazed across the incredibly rugged landscape that held such massive historical and religious significance my mind mostly dwelt on what terrible shape I was in after sitting on a motorcycle for 3 months. While I moaned about my poorly functioning body, Jamie basked in the late afternoon glow pondering prophetic thoughts. Or maybe she was just knackered too. And wishes I would stop taking photos of her.
Our young Bedouin guide had to get us moving from the summit so that we didn’t get caught out there in the dark. Most of the folks in this desert are Bedouins, descended from their nomadic ancestors that date to biblical times. While most have abandoned the nomadic lifestyle, they still retain many elements of the traditional Bedouin culture and traditions. We descended as quickly as we could with the peaks that towered above our paths catching the last golden rays of sun.
It was just about dark when we got to the bottom with the temperature dropping rapidly. We’d planned to ride back to Dahab that night, but the cold and prospect of being held up by the police after dark had us hunting for some sort of accommodation nearby. We found a Bedouin run place, with beds for only $4 each and a fellow who could whip us up some vegetable soup for supper. All that we missed were our toothbrushes.
After another week of our leisurely lifestyle in Dahab it was finally time to get underway. Our original plan had been to take a boat from Port Said in Egypt to Iskenderun in Turkey, but the operator had since changed the story saying that they couldn’t take us as passengers. This meant that we would have to be in Port Said to load the bike, take a bus to Cairo, fly to Istanbul, then to Adana, and take a bus to Iskenderun. This all would have to happen in the 24-hour period that the ship would take to get there, which would cut it very close. With loading delays common in Port Said, it seemed like we wouldn’t be able to book flights ahead of time, unless we wanted to risk missing a flight to load the bike.
Reunion and Farewell
The new plan was to get a cargo freighter from Haifa in Israel to Greece that would take us as passengers (since none go to Turkey), then take another boat from there to Turkey. This would have us riding back to Haifa, where we’d already been, but this was now our best option, so we mounted up and rode north along the Red Sea.
I much preferred Israel by motorbike than on the bus as we did it our first time around. Actually, I think that I prefer anywhere by motorbike. I love being able to stop when strange things appear at the roadside. Not sure what’s going on here.
We headed to Mitzpe Ramon and stayed at a Bedouin camp situate at the bottom of a massive crater and cooked up supper. BBQ pro-tip – the secret perfectly grilled broccoli is appropriate eyewear.
The next morning we wandered the desert and took in the silence and solitude.
Life twists and turns and finds a way in the Negev desert.
We headed out to the coast just north of Gaza to rejoin a couple of friends that I’ve been crossing paths with for more than a year across Africa. I first met the Belgians Steven and Sita in Dakar, Senegal, driving their towering Mercedes truck dubbed ‘Izzy’, across Africa. Since then we’ve met again and again in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Angola, and the last time I saw them was in South Africa. We caught up with them just north of Gaza to swap travel tales.
In Dakar, we’d camped in a restaurant parking lot together for weeks and I would take shelter in their truck on chilly evenings. Since then I’ve been up on Izzy’s overlander wall of fame with other friends we met along the way.
The Belgians reported surfers running this way and that in the days before we arrived, but when we got there all that was to be found on these beaches north of Gaza were some tiny little peelers.
While camping in Mitspe Ramon, we’d met Sharon and her dog Simba, who invited us to come stay at their place in Tel-Aviv. Tel-Aviv is the cosmopolitan city of Israel and we missed it the first time around, so we were happy to have the opportunity to check it out. We wandered the old town of Jaffa and the beaches of Tel Aviv and Sharon brought us to a place with some awesome hummus. Simba mostly barked at us ineffectually.
From Tel Aviv, we headed to Haifa to board a cargo ship bound for Lavrio, Greece. For three days we endured rough seas in the Mediterranean and were happy when our world finally stopped moving beneath our feet.
After nearly a year and a half on the African continent, 35 countries and 36,000 miles, it finally vanished in the rear-view mirror. While in the midst of it all, I found my fair share of frustration about scary highways, oppressive heat, dense city traffic, bungling bureaucracy, and corrupt officials. But in between all of that were uncountable memorable moments on the road and in the water and some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. I suppose that Africa is a package deal and you just have to take it all as it comes. I miss the madness already.