Day 420: Lie To Me

24.02.10: I thought I would have a few hours to mooch around Rome in the morning, but I found myself unable to prise my worthless body from my bed until after 10am. By the time I had breakfast and tried (and failed) to find a free wi-fi zone, it was time for me to take the train to Civitavecchia, Rome’s port and the place where the boat to Tunisia left from. Urk. The boat to and from Tunisia was horrifically horrific last time, and this time it was no better. Same boat, same company, same unholy rip-off. For a start, the boat was two hours late boarding, which meant that I was left standing in the car-park like an unsuccessful prostitute for longer than would otherwise be sensible. Once (finally) on board, the horribly familiar interior of the Sorrento loomed into view. I had a 'deck'…

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Day 397: Calypso’s Isle

01.02.10: When they say slow boat, they mean it! It was 11am before we reached port in Girne in the northern half of Cyprus. Northern half? What, like in St. Martin/Sint Maarten? Well, kind of, but in a much less hilarious fashion... Warning – history lesson alert!! You can skip this bit if you like... Back in the mists of time, Cyprus was ruled by a succession of all the usual suspects in the area – Assyria, then Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome and eventually the Byzantines... that was up until Richard The Lionheart turned up like a great big flowery nonce and gave the island to his 'friend' Guy de Lusignan. That was good for Cyprus for a while, having a 'guy' in charge who was good with colours helped with the aesthetics no end and before long, Cyprus was enjoying a golden age. That golden…

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Day 396: The Slow Boat to Cyprus

31.01.10: It was one of those mornings upon which it's far too cold, gravity seems to conspire against you and the snooze alarm makes it far, far too tempting... all too easy... to fall... back zzzzzzzzzzzz. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEP BE BEEP!! Groan. Okay okay! I'm getting up! After a decent shower, I headed out to get the daily fast ferry to Cyprus, Nation 142 on my list. Suddenly stuck by a crisis of confidence – the boat didn't leave from Silifke itself, it left from the nearby town of Tasucu. How nearby? Well, I had absolutely no idea, did I? So instead of doing the sensible thing and taking the bus, I did the stupid thing and took a taxi. In the event, it was only ten minutes down the road, but in my not-quite-wiped-the-sleep-from-my-eyes state, I forgot to remember the golden rule: all…

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Day 385: Crossing Jordan

20.01.10: This morning we arrived in Nuweiba, the Egyptian border town from where the boat for Jordan departs. You see if you tried to go overland through Israel, which would be much quicker, it would mean you couldn't visit Syria, Lebanon, Saudi, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran... do I need to go on? An Israeli stamp in your passport renders it completely useless when it comes to travelling around the Middle East, so your best bet is to take the boat. Unfortunately for me, the ferry was very late departing and it was dark before I arrived in Jordan. Ahh, Jordan... Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and – best of all – Petra. Petra is the rose-red city of legend, set amongst sandstone chasms were beautiful buildings were carved out of the solid rock. You would have seen a little bit of it at the end of Indiana…

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Day 379: Our Botanic Garden

14.01.10: After an interrupted night's sleep (I foolishly slept under the plug socket that everybody wanted to use to charge their mobiles) we crossed the Tropic of Cancer and came into port in Aswan. It would be a good four hours before they would let us off the boat, as the bureaucratic nightmare that is involved in letting a large group of people over an international border in Africa kicked into slow mode. While we were waiting, we got chatting to a young couple from Liechtenstein, who had been travelling all over Africa and the traumas they had crossing borders with passports for a country that few people have ever heard of. The night before, Barcelona Marc and I had befriended a couple of Egyptian guys, Rumor and Shabi – and once again, I was bowled over by the hospitality of people when they ain't looking…

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Day 378: A Change of Plan

13.01.10: I've got to say that getting back on the boat was a lot easier than getting off it, although you really have to admire the jaw-dropping amount of bureaucracy that these guys think is acceptable. What could have been achieved very quickly with a team of three officials, took over fifty officials an hour. Oh Africa, I shall miss you... Back on the boat, I met a bloke named Marc, who was from Barcelona (one of my favourite cities in the world), who had been living up in Alexandria for a couple of years. Chatting to him made me resolve two things – one was that I would attempt to get a visa on the border for Syria (something I've been told you can no longer do) and the other was that I would head out to Siwa Oasis in Egypt, near the border with…

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Day 377: The Second Cataract

12.01.10: Another fit of African bureaucracy before we could disembark saw us waiting for over an hour after we arrived, before we could get off the damn ship, but eventually, in drips and drabs, we all made it off the good ship and into the little town of Wadi Halfa. The only thing I know about Wadi Halfa is that it's where Michael Palin took the train to Khartoum – and, well, apart from that not much to report I'm afraid.. The ship would be going back tomorrow so I thought it only fair that I stay the night. I joined a gang of Aussie lads in the local guesthouse, a simple affair of single room buildings clustered around a central courtyard. Sudan isn't big on tourism. An intractable civil war between north and south (the Darfur crisis being a completely separate atrocity) has been rumbling…

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Day 376: The First Cataract

11.01.10: Off the train and then over to the High Dam port. Back in the god-knows-when, the British built a dam at the First Cataract. The First (and subsequent) Cataracts are a series of rapids that are impossible to navigate a boat over. Since you couldn't sail a ship over the Cataract, it seemed like a good place to plonk a dam – it would allow the Egyptians to better control the yearly floods and provide nice green energy for the nearby homes. In the 1950s the President of the newly independent Egypt, Mr. Nasser, decided to go one better – he would build The High Dam.. So large that it would wind up creating the largest artificial lake in the world, the High Dam was an impressive feat of engineering. However, by flooding the land south of the First Cataract and thereby creating this massive…

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Day 365: We’re Here

31.12.09: Egypt. Ground Zero. My first backpacking adventure was in Egypt ten years ago, an adventure which introduced me to the joys of backpacking, the love of deserts and the open road and a certain Miss Amanda Newland. This is my favourite country on Earth (after Great Britain, of course rah rah rah) and it's where I was happy to sit and watch the millennium tick over from 1999 to 2000 with Mary and Paul at the Jean Michel Jarre gig at the pyramids. Yeah, Jean Michel Jarre. The penguin guy. A more perfect spot to be reunited with my erstwhile lover I could not imagine. The KFC by the Sphinx for sunset. Nice. But logistics, ah, logistics... the MV Turquoise did, to be fair, arrive in Suez before sunset. But then I had to wait – we were not coming into port, the Suez officials…

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Day 364: This Is A Drill

30.12.09: Yesterday's little incident was soon forgotten and we were now making our way pell-mell towards the Suez canal – possibly the most famous canal in the world. You know the Statue of Liberty? It was originally intended to stand at the Mediterranean entrance to the Suez canal – TRUE! I mooched around the ship, making mischief and chatting with the Cook, the Chief and the Boson. I was summoned up to see the captain at one point, and I thought oo-eck, am I in trouble for yesterday's little misunderstanding? But all was groovy – he just wanted to let me know there would be an emergency drill later today and what to do when the alarm sounds. The drill was really cool – my job was to head up to the bridge (and not take the lift). Oh yes – I may have failed to…

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