Dan and Claire on Sabbatical!!

Welcome to our blog, we hope you enjoy following our adventures!
We split our sabbatical in 2 parts:
Part 1 was from March to June 2010 touring around in our campervan in France and Spain.
Part 2 started on the 7th of July when we left Scotland to cycle through Europe and the Middle East to Africa in the remaining 6 months (back for Xmas).
Have a look at the route below and we'll try to post pics as much as we can!


Cycle Route to Africa

23 Dec 2010

We're home in the snow!!

Wow what a shock: after months in desert environments with blazing sunshine we arrived in a snow storm on Schiphol! One big chaos because planes and trains didn't go and everyone in Xmas mood with lights and music everywhere. It was a miracle that our bags and bikes arrived, so we didn't have to join the 6-hour queue for lost luggage. But then we had to spend a few hours at the airport drinking beers to wait for a train. Which was great with all the festive atmosphere and stranded travellers. And so much food and drink to choose from! We're definitely not used to the western consumption society anymore. But it's lovely to be home, both in Groningen and in Lundie, enyoying cosy warm houses, beds with duvees, great food and above all: NO CYCLING :-)
Have a lovely X-mas everyone and thanks so much for all your support and messages.
Speak to you next year from our new home in Norway!
Happy New Year,

16 Dec 2010

The Sudan and the Chinese Road

Dan: Always good to start a day with a poop...but 15 before 11am is a little excessive even by my standards! But the drugs and the I.V. drips seemed to get me sorted and we were on our way...via train to Aswan. I know it's cheating, but 200km in one day when you can barely walk didn't seem like a good plan.
Claire: The train was SO lekker!!!
Dan: Weird, but nice. Westerns aren't meant to travel via normal trains in Egypt...only meant to go on luxury night trains. After a bit of hassle (you can't buy a ticket for 2nd class trains so you just need to get on the train and then buy the ticket when the guy comes) we were off and arrived in Aswan 3 hours later.
Claire: Ferry tickets......sleeping and cycling the last 25 km to the ferry the next morning
Dan: New skinnier improved Dan seemed to do well on the hills to the ferry station :o)
Claire: What an experience this ferry! It's the only border crossing into Sudan and there is only one ferry per week, so everybody gets squeezed onto this little boat. Probably 1500 people on the boat with capacity for only 500 :-) The administrative dance you need to do before you get to the ferry was hilarious. We sort of gave up on understanding what everything was for and just followed the endless stream of people from one check point to the next. Passport checks, scanning the bags and bikes, getting weighed, paying something for the bikes, paying somewhere else for we don't know what but you get a stamp, taking the paper with the stamp to a different desk where you get another sticker, passport check again etc. Our bikes were about the smallest luggage items; we were in between people with fridges on their neck, huge bags of grains and food, televisions, food processors, an old wooden music installation and all sorts of funny things were being shuffed onto the boat. We had to go through the sitting area and the cafeteria with our bikes to find a nice place on the top deck under the life rafts in the shade. We met an Irish couple, Rafael and Emily, who are travelling through Africa. They're working on organic farms and maybe one day will set up their own farm. We spent most of the afternoon and evening sharing stories about both our travels. After a few hours we took off and soon we were lying on the deck in our sleeping bags watching the amazing sky full of stars. Very romantic!
Dan: I thought it was slightly too cold and some of the people talked a little too loud after 9pm...not really cricket.
Claire: Oh shut up
Dan: So we were off! After some faffing at the customs etc we were on the road again heading out into the desert. The days were long and the scenery was just amazing, golden sands and rugged mountains...not at all what we expected. We cycled for 2 days without seeing a village or bearly a soul! Real middle of no where...this is the sort of cycling that we've grown to love. After another couple of days we reached Dongola, the first big town and over 400km from our drop-off point in Wadi Halfa.
Claire: For most of the days we had a proper tail wind (finally) and the road was just finished. The chinese have recently surfaced the whole road from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum, which meant that there was new tarmac all the way. And with not much traffic and the tail wind it was zooming!! It made us think of Tibet a bit, because when we were cycling there in 2007 they were building new roads as well.
We were trying to enjoy the cycling as much as we could, knowing that there were only a few days on the bikes left. Strange to think of going home and how much has happened the past few months. Every morning we wake up in the cold morning air and feel so content. With what we choose to do, taking time for each other and the world, with how the hospitality has overwhelmed us, with a sense of achievement for the 9000 km and most of all with the freedom feeling it has given us. And next to feeling a bit sad that it is almost over we look forward to being home and having a shower and a bed and seeing our family and friends.
Dan: I thought it was ok to be honest :o) Nae it was totally amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4 Dec 2010

Flat roads and illness

Dan: Leaving Cairo was predictably mad, and we seemed more to stumble across the right roads out of the city rather than navigate. We had a late start after picking up our visas for Sudan and saying good bye to Niek and Karin the motor bikers we’d met.

The further out of Cairo you get the more and more poverty of Egypt hits you. If I’d have thought of Egypt before this trip I’d picture friends talking about great diving trips, ancient Egypt sites, posh hotels and the occasional Nile cruise. And I guess these are reality here...but the other side to this reality is starkly different; a country under a 30 year long state of emergency, failing infrastructure and a divided society. ..the poverty here is comparable with India in many ways. People are commonly living in mud huts surrounded by the rubbish and from talking to people many live off $1 a day.

Claire: As we left the suburbs of Cairo we entered the lush green valley of the Nile, with on both sides of the river a thin strip of farmland and behind that the sand-coloured desert hills. It’s incredibly green, with fields of growing vegetables and palm trees in between them. They flood their land with Nile water every night, so it’s very fresh and lush. Great to camp in, but a bit wet! There are loads of villages along the road, as 90% of the population lives in the fertile valley strip, so we had plenty of Fanta and Cay stops every day. The people again are very friendly, inviting us for tea and lots of ‘whats your name’ and ‘how are you?’ everywhere. In one village we sat drinking tea in a local bar while the shisha-smoking men were trying to get the group of 20 giggling kids that surrounded us to leave us alone (we didn’t mind but in many cafes we’ve seen them chase away the kids). Lots of fun and when we cycled off they all waved us goodbye shouting and running with us. These little bits of mentalness are fantastic on a long, hot cycling day and immediately give you new energy. We’ve been cycling 100 km days again (sort of left that regime in Bulgaria when we left the Danube) and that means we need to go for it a bit because it gets dark at 5 pm and between 12 and 2 it’s really too hot to cycle. So there’s not many hours in the day.

We felt free and happy cruising along in our own pace until we hit the umpteenth police check point after 350 km and they suddenly said: ‘wait, tourist police needs to go with you’. After about 10 minutes of arguing we gave up and set off with a car full of bored policemen 10 meters behind us. I don’t think they realised what they had gotten themselves into, because after a few stops of buying water, having Fanta and going for a pee they were getting very impatient and kept asking how long until our destination, shouting ‘jalla jalla’ (let’s go) etc. But of course we were trying to annoy them a bit more coz it is so frustrating to have a noisy car behind you on your nice cycle trip in the fresh air! And every time you enter a village they would let their sirens of very loud so no one dares to speak to you anymore. The first time I went for a pee they stopped the car got out waving their hands and asked ‘what?’. I said ‘pipi, don’t look’ and walked towards the bushes but they went all panicky and shouted no. One guy took me by the arm and walked to the nearest house, where about 10 people were busy in the courtyard, and asked if this lady could use their toilet. When I came out the audience had multiplied and everyone was giggling... The most annoying of all was that every 20 km or so the police convoy would swap with the next one and we would start all over again with trying to explain that we didn’t want noise or shouting jalla and that we really didn’t need police. Bit difficult to communicate when none of the policemen speak English...

Dan: One funny moment though was when we stopped for lunch, again they said no. I got proper annoyed, which seemed to work. It’s an odd thing having an argument with a guy holding a gun and neither of you speak very much of one and others language. Anyway, he didn’t shoot me and we tried to cross the road to get away from them. Fat man number 1 with a small gun stopped us and another in plain clothes said it was dangerous! He was meaning the traffic...I was beginning to lose the plot with these guys and just walked out across the road and promptly got shouted at and almost hit by a passing car. We eventually sat on a fallen date palm, and a dead cat, and ate our lunch with police busily searching the bushes for god only knows what! FANNIES!!!!!

This was the theme for the rest of that day, we tried to piss them off as much possible if they got annoying on the road by turning busy villages. But wild camping was out of the question and we slept in a car scrap yard under police guard or in a police station. All in all we had 3 days under escort (on and off for some reason!)

North of Luxor we’d lost the police, they just said ‘no more police’. Soon after this something a bit odd did happen: we were cycling past a small gathering of man sitting in a square and there was a loud popping noise and then an arm reached up holding an AK47 and fired off a full magazine into the air. We both looked at each other and Claire said ‘That’s not too nice’, we cycled a bit faster! We think it just had to do with some local elections...I guess we were cycling though the area of Egypt where people are properly pissed off with the crap dictatorship (sorry government?).

Claire was also ill for a day in Asyut with food poisoning and now I’ve been ill in Luxor for 3 days with fever and poopin (lots of poopin!!! Had 2 IV fluids bags and a big bag of drugs). Both on the mend and looking forward to the ferry to Sudan on Monday for our last leg of the trip, we’re going to have to take a train to the city of Aswan tomorrow (200km) as we’re out of time due to the illness :o(

Egypt has been great! Very annoying at times but we’ve met some lovely people and the cycling on flat roads through lush green was amazing.

Take care and happy Sinterklaas tomorrow! xx

21 Nov 2010

Welcome to Egypt!!!!!

Dan: Claire is moe (Dutch for tired), cos she got too pissed on free wine on the weird night out we had last night...more later on that. So you're stuck with me! (Claire just read this and says 'I wasn't pissed!')

So how was five star livin' in Aqaba...well great!!! I barely left the room in five days, aircon on cold and the TV on crappy movies all day. Claire loved the beach and read books in the sun...might have already written this before.

Anyway, money doesn't grow on trees and we had to leave the hotel and take the ferry to Egypt and the task of cycling across the Sinai Desert. The ferry was mental busy, but great fun and we were really excited about the coming few days of cycling and the unknown of the desert road ahead. It's the good thing about being so disorganised...we have no idea what's coming. However, this almost ended in a mini-disaster when we tried to take a Sinai 'shortcut' through a mountain road with no water for 2 days cycling...we didn't know there was no water (and had 2 litres between us). Thankfully the jolly nice Egyptian police said the road was closed, so we cycled up the coast road back towards Jordan and Israel instead. A detour, but ok and with lots of water and food.

Once we got up on to the high Sinai plateau it was amazing, but just nothing there! We cycled for 6 more days across the desert to Cairo, sometimes having to carry 9 litres of water each and food for a few days. The sand just gets everywhere and i mean everywhere. It was really hard at times, but well worth it and we both think of those days as one of the true highlights of the trip. On the way we met two super nice Dutch motorcyclists, who are travelling down into Africa (they've got a cool website http://www.polarsteps.com/jambo)

So we finally reached the Suez canal and got chucked on a local truck by the police to cross through the tunnel and cycled into Cairo...which because of the Eid holidays wasn't as mental as we'd feared. That’s until we got to the Downtown area and some little shit kid stabbed me with a stick and then another tried to push me off my bike. The next kid to annoy me is getting an ass kicking!!!! :o)

But for the most part the people in Cairo and Egypt as a whole are amazing, we really like it here. Such a nice change from Jordan. Yeah they still try and over charge you for everything, but it seems ok here...even nice in a way :o)

We've been spending a good bit of time with Niek and Karin (Dutch motorcyclists), which has been cool. Good to spend time with like minded people and swop ideas. We've even got a new trip idea (several years away though).

So, last night...we met Nick and Karen for cake in a Costa coffee and then went to a random Lebanese restaurant for beers. It was a nice quite night, just a few beers, and I'm not drinking as i'm on antibiotics (not had a solid poop since Syria...maybe not a good sign). Anyway, randomly a Finnish motorcyclist who knew Niek and Karin walk by us and said he'd bumped into an american media type in the street with a massive BMW motorbike. Turns out that this american had posted a comment about motor biking in the middle east that the Finnish guy had used to plan his trip. Anyway, the American, a Texan, invited us to a private dinner club. So we said ok… the club was hidden away at the top of a residential building in Garden City, a middle-class area of Cairo where many foreign embassies are (with, not surprisingly, a very heavy security detail). A Sudanese waiter welcomed us into the vast, sumptuous flat decorated in art deco style. It used to belong to Hoda Shaarawi, an Egyptian feminist leader, born in 1879, who wrote poetry in Arabic and French, and was the first Egyptian woman to remove her veil in public, in 1923. It turns out it’s a big meeting place for beautiful crowd in Cairo, particularly media types. To cut this long story short we spent the evening talking to a brain surgeon and some for bigwigs from Al Jazeera and other Arab news thingies and it was all free…well we left without paying…think thats ok though? A very surreal night when you’ve been sleeping in the desert for a week and not washing etc etc.

I’ll shut up now! Think we’ve got our Sudan visa too :o) We can pick it up tomorrow and start cyling along the Nile.

Take care

Dan (and the now sleeping Claire Zzzzzz)
ps new picture too and we saw the pyramids

11 Nov 2010

Hilly Jordan

Claire: cycling in Jordan is more like sightseeing on a bike! It's only small but the last 500 kilometers have taken us almost 10 days. And now we've been in a beach resort on the Red Sea for the last 5 days and I'm loving it! Nice croissants for breakfast, reading an English newspaper on your beach-lounger under the parasol and swimming in the sea to cool off. Oh I almost forgot the white wine on the terrace at night. And the spa with sauna...

Dan: Cycling in Jordan blows goats! Syria is so much nicer :o)
Claire: Oh stop moaning!
Dan: Ok the landscape is amazing, but the whole place feels designed to rip you off...and the hills are very, very big! It’s the first place where the people have started to become annoying and amazingly the universal 'welcome to Jordan' that everyone says is really getting up my nose (as it's usually accompanied by 'that'll be 20 times the price a local would pay...but hey you're white so it's ok for us to cheat you!'). But to be honest it's not that bad, just a little galling when Jordanians pay 1 euro (90p) for entry to Petra and foreigners pay 50 euro (£45!!!!) and it’s really not worth half of that. PISSES ME OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Claire: Petra is an amazing place. It’s a huge city of houses and big buildings carved out in the red/pink rocks, a lot bigger than only the famous Indiana Jones building. You walk through a big gorge and can go exploring in the hills and find cave houses and carved out steps everywhere. But I agree, you don’t want to pay 50 euro for any museum or ruin anywhere in the world. It really is excessive. And the local hotel people are not happy with the government raise in price at all because it might keep people away from Petra.
Dan: Ok no more moaning...
Claire: We also went to see the Dead Sea. A very special valley. It’s 400 m below sea level and very dry and hot (37 degrees C). The road runs along the shore of the salty lake and on the other side there are big cliffs and mountains. You can see Israel on the other side. It’s true that the place is so desolate nothing can live there. Except for millions of flies! They were all over us, especially if you stopped. They luckily disappeared after sunset so we could camp and cook but at 5 am in the morning they were back and sitting on our tent waiting for us to come out.
But we had a lovely float in the sea (you can sit upright in the salty water and read a book!) and a beautiful site to camp.
Dan: From the Dead Sea we planned to cycle back up from -400m to 1200m to the King Hussein Highway and a place called Karak. We set off early at 6am to avoid the heat and quickly cycle the 30km before the climb...but the wind had another idea. We had the strongest head wind ever and the short cycle took 3 hours...not fun! We were soon fixed after a falafel sandwich and we were off at midday for our 1600m climb from the valley of the Dead :o)
Claire: After 1 km I was ready to catch a lift. It was just too hot...almost 40 degree C in the sun.
Dan: Ok, not a good start for the heroic Team Richardson. We sat in the shade for an hour or so hoping the day would cool off and then set off. It was still 37 degrees C and the hill was properly steep. Anyway, the hill got even steeper as the kms passed and then the flies attacked!!! More flies than either of us have ever experienced, you could barely breathe. Things got so bad that I fell off my bike while trying to wave the flies off. I broke... and got a lighter and my deodorant out and started blow torching the flies from the air and the bike. ‘Moo Ha Ha...Kill them all!!!!’
Claire: It was such a ridiculous sight (but so hilarious ) that we flagged down the first chicken-truck and asked for a lift. With our bikes in the back we had a lovely drive for 18 km through the suddenly pretty looking gorge. Up in Karak it was nice and cold and we finished our day cycling in a good mood again.
Dan: We cycled on for a couple of days and 2000m of climbing up and down to a really cool nature reserve called Dana. Beautifully peaceful and no tourons! We did a little hike with Fay and Phil from Zermatt and stayed in the great eco-project Dana guesthouse. We met a really nice English couple Joe and George. Joe fixed my gears and broke them :o) All ended well and he gave me his shifter...thanks again Joe!
Claire: So all in all Jordan is a pretty amazing holiday country, just not on a bike...

Off to Egypt tomorrow on the ferry. Our 14th country and 3rd continent on this trip!!! xx
ps: all the photos are on the flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/40131711@N05/

28 Oct 2010

Aleppo to Amman (Jordan)

Syria and Jordan have been truly amazing cycling destinations! From Aleppo we cycled southwards
to the Dead Cities. It's an area full of ruins of Roman and Byzantine cities and villages, sometimes whole cities are still there and sometimes a new village has used the ruins as there vegetable garden!They don't know why exactly they were abandoned, which gives the ruins an extra mystical atmosphere. We slept in one of the smaller ruins, in the middle of what once was a nobleman's huge  house. The local kids from the village over ran our campsite...so interested in these weird people on bikes camping in their playground.
We met an english teacher Mona and her family, who took us to their home and it was very interesting to have a proper conversation with a syrian family. The country seemed a lot more free than we expected, there is a mix of people in the streets from unveiled to fully covered faces and everybody is tolerant towards others. Especially to us and all foreigners, a lot of "Welcome to Syria" and "Do you need anything?". When we mentioned Scotland a lot of them said 'good scotch' and some petrol stations had a liquor store, while we thought there would be no alcohol! A lot of women we met were working and spoke more freely to us than in rural Turkey (where they stood behind their husbands and stayed inside all day). And most surprising was that Dan got chatted up by boys in the Aleppo souq! One of them told his friend in english: "he's gorgeous and he's straight, but not for long"! Hilarious!! This is starting to become a running theme...
But when you get the chance to discuss the situation with people you realise that there are a lot of bad things. Phones get tapped and people get imprisoned without trial. Good education is very expensive and only a few lucky ones can go to a good university. Earning a living is difficult and houses are expensive, a lot of people are poor. Many people we spoke to would go to a different country to study/work if they could...things are getting better, it seems? But all that aside, the country feels very peacefull, it's very safe and all the people are very frinedly and super hospitable.
We visited the ruins of Apamea and camped in the middle of it, seeing the sun rise behind those huge columns was very special.
To get to Damascus we had a few hard days through bare dry mountainous desert landscape, but then we had 3 days at Janwillem and Ingrid's wonderful new home. We enjoyed playing with the kids and being spoilt by Ingrid's cooking and did a bit of sightseeing in the city. We'll definitely go back to Syria and Damascus!
It was hard getting back on the bikes, Damascus had been one of our main destinations and a major milestone of our trip. But we soon got back into it and crossed the border to Jordan. We pushed a bit too far...well stopped for fried chicken! and had to cycle in the dark. Turns our there are a lot of massive mansions near the border, which makes for difficults finding a camping spot. Worked out in the end after a stone throwing 10 minutes...at wild dogs.
The countryside is more beautiful than Syria, with rolling hills and olive groves, red mountains and deep gorges (which are crap for cycling out of!). It is more modern and you see more richness around you (Giant Hummer SUVs everywhere). The people are very friendly and hospitable like in Syria, but it doesn't have this strangely peaceful feeling that Syria had.
We visited the ruins of Jerash, a roman colony. A beautiful complex with a big oval square and views of the mountains.
We're in Amman now where we're enjoying the more modern side of the city. So lots of cappucino's and a great dinner last night in a french restaurant to celebrate our 6400 km.
Tomorrow we leave to go float in the Dead Sea, cycle up the mountains to see Petra and camp in Wadi Rum. Jordan is great!