16/10/91

WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER – THE PYRAMIDS

There’s a pyramid in my head,
There’s one underneath my bed,
And my lady’s getting cranky… 
– The Alan Parsons Project, Pyramania

We were away from the hotel by 7:15 AM and after spending a frustrating hour cashing a traveller’s cheque, we caught a minibus from Maidan Tahir out to Giza. A guy on the bus showed us a quick way to get to the pyramids area and although he had a Tourist Friends ID¹ and seemed genuinely interested in helping us, we didn’t trust his motives. Sure enough, he took us to a perfume shop. However, as we had intended to buy some perfume (Egypt is one of the world’s leading producers of natural fragrances) we took the opportunity to purchase some Jasmine oil for E£100. Our “guide” then introduced us to a livery stable owner who hired out horses so we paid E£30 each for a 2-hour ride around the pyramids.

We set off on a couple of very skinny horses, accompanied by an equally skinny guide on a lame mount. As we started up the first sandy hill to a viewpoint overlooking the pyramids, the guide’s horse broke down so we told him in no uncertain terms to take the poor thing back to the stables and we would wait at the top of the hill for him to return. 

And what a sight from the top of that hill! Before us, standing rigid in the heat and dust as they have done for 4 ½ millennia, were the great pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mycerenus. There is no sight on Earth to compare with them – monuments to the achievements of a civilization that thrived while Britain and Europe we’re still populated by savages living in mud huts and hunting mammoths to survive. While the future brokers of power and culture languished in the faceless squalor of prehistory, the people of the Nile were writing and inventing and building lives that no men have seen or will ever see again. And now it is all lost save for this giant legacy of stone.

Our gallop around the base of the pyramids was pretty uninspiring, our guide not being able to tell us much we didn’t already know. The  sphinx was surprisingly small and we were only able to view it from a distance before we asked for tips and hustled back to the stables.

 We sat in a chay [tea] house for a couple of hours then, as afternoon began to give way to evening, we walked out of town and climbed the low hill near the pyramids. It was quite hot but it soon began to cool as the sun dipped towards the hazy horizon.  The sunset wasn’t much but just to sit there and watch darkness fall on the pyramids was pure magic.

A wheezing old bus took us back into town for 50 piastres each and we had a Coke at a sidewalk chay house on the way back to the hotel. We ate at the Falafel Garden again in the evening.

¹Tourist officials had badges to identify themselves but, as with almost everything else in Egypt, these could be easily forged.

15/10/91

We wasted a whole day trying to find the Kenyan Embassy which had moved from the address given in our Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook. We eventually tracked it down after about 3½ hours of searching and by the time we had been granted our visas, and then walked back to Talab Haab, most of the day was gone.

We rested for a while in our room then went out to a restaurant called The Falafel Garden for ice cold beers and some vegetarian food.

14/10/91

MONDAY – CAIRO We were up fairly early and after a showered packed our gear and left. We walked up to Midan Tahir, the transport centre of Cairo where buses and taxis whirled and roared in an endless stream , then up to Midan Talab Haab. After a bit of a search we found a hotel with rooms for E£11 and checked in. The Hotel Minerva was old and quaint, each room having a balcony and several pieces of timber furniture.

CAIRO

We relaxed for a while then went out to attend to some business. At the EgyptAir office we confirmed our onward flights to Nairobi on the 4th of November then we entered the formidable Mogamma Building to register with the police. 

We spent the rest of the day in the Egyptian Museum after using the trusty old “student” scam with our YHA cards to get in for half price. The museum is huge. Its ground floor is filled with stone statues, tomb facades, solar barques and myriad things taken from the cities of the great civilization that ruled Egypt 4½ thousand years ago.  

But on the second floor there is treasure! The tomb of the boy-king Tut-Ankh-Amun was excavated in 1922 and its incredible contents can only make one wonder about the fabulous, long-gone wealth looted from the tombs of far greater Pharaohs. The two main features of the 1,700 funerary items are Tut’s famous gold mask, inlaid with jewels and precious stones and the inner coffin (there were 3 coffins, 4 gilded wooden shrines and a stone sarcophagus) which is made of an incredible 110.4 kg of solid gold inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones.

When we left the museum, we wandered back up to the hotel and showered then went down to the restaurant where we had an unexciting meal and a few cold Cokes. We finished our first day in Egypt sitting out on our room’s balcony, talking and swatting mosquitoes while the orange ball of the sun subsided into the hazy pall of dust and smog hanging over Cairo.

13/10/91

SUNDAY – LONDON TO CAIRO We were up early packing our gear and sorting out our money. Gabriel [the boy Linda had been nanny for over the summer] was running around like a mad thing getting in the way but we managed to get it all packed up in the end. I have got almost 30kg of gear!

We pottered about for an hour or so watching TV then bundled our stuff into the car for Angie to drive us out to Heathrow. It was strange and somehow sad to drive out of London for the last time – almost like leaving home or taking leave of an old friend never to return. As we drove out along Chiswick Road I thought of all the things we had done in the city since we first arrived on a cold and rainy spring day 2½  years ago. The air was hazy with heat and smog as we sped along the M4 and turned off towards Terminal Three.

We checked our packs in then went to the bar for a few drinks and to wait for Jules [our friend Juliet] who had said she would come out to see us off. I changed some pounds for US dollars, rang Ann and said goodbye and we had a couple of Burger King cheeseburgers. When Jules arrived we talked over drinks but all too soon it was time for us to go. Juliet was quite upset and in tears again so we said our goodbyes quickly and lined up at the departure gates. Angela and Gabriel waved us through and we weren’t without tears in our eyes either at the last sight of our English friends.

But then we had to concentrate on the exit formalities; bags x-rayed, then finally, the immigration officials. A hastily made up excuse about why our visits had expired (“THE HOME OFFICE TOLD US NOT TO WORRY ABOUT EXTENDING THEM BECAUSE WE ALREADY HAD OUR DEPARTURE ARRANGED”) mollified the office who questioned us and just like that we were in the no man’s land of the departure area and we were officially out of England.

Our phone card still had 16 units left on it so we rang all the people we could think of and said goodbye or left goodbye messages. I tried to get a VAT refund on the cost of Linda’s engagement ring but we’d been in the country too long to qualify. 

Finally, we boarded the EgyptAir Boeing 600-A300 and 20 minutes later we lifted off the runway and were gone from England. As the jet climbed into the haze we looked down for the last time on the green and pleasant land of Southern England. The M4 motorway snaked off towards the West Country while below us, the small lakes surrounding Heathrow sparkled in the sun.

We crossed the coast high above Bournemouth, the town’s twin piers clearly visible jutting out from the long sweep of white sand, and soon the island that had been our home for 2 1/2 years was lost from view – swallowed up in the haze and gone forever.

The flight was good. There was a good movie – James Belushi in Filofax – and the food was excellent. A bit of turbulence over Southern Europe had a few people reaching for the spew bags but we were fine. We crossed the Pyrenees at 33,000 feet: a spectacular sight with fresh snow covering the granite bulk of the mountains, then flew down the western side of Italy as darkness fell.

We landed at Cairo Airport at 9:00PM local time and went swiftly through customs. We are met by the usual crowd of dishonest touts peddling “cheap” hotel rooms and taxi rides but as it was late we accepted one of their offers and spent the night in a a tiny, pokey, cramped, oven-hot room in some half-built shit-hole hotel which cost us E20 each. Such are the joys of travel!

Curse of the Traveller

A NOTE ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS

Throughout our travels, both Linda and I took photographs. I used slide film almost exclusively while Linda used negative film.

My slides reside in a sealed container in our basement. One day I might get them digitised so I can bore people with Powerpoint slide shows, but for the purposes of this blog I have exclusively used scanned copies of photographs taken by Linda.

There are two exceptions to this rule:

Firstly, whenever I insert a photograph of text or pictures from the actual pages of my diaries, I have taken these with my phone.

Secondly, where there are no photos with which to illustrate the text, I will sometimes take a screenshot from Google Streetview or Google Maps. Whenever I do this, the photograph will have a credit underneath it. For instance, the photo below is a screen capture of The Walrus pub at 171 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1, formerly The Red Lion where we worked as bar staff during the winter of 1989-90.

(Photo: Google Streetview)

Linda’s photographs form an integral part of this six-year blog project. They not only help to illustrate the events and places we experienced on the road, they also break up the text and make the blog posts more aesthetically pleasing to look at.

So…thank you Linda for documenting our travels with your photos.

Saturday 12/1/91-Sunday 13/1/91

I spent both days up at Tucks Farm¹ building a new lambing enclosure. I picked up £70 for my trouble including petrol costs. As I travelled up and down on both days I listened to Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s² brilliant album called Third World Child.

¹Tucks Farm, at Calne, near Swindon, was where I was to work as a lambing shepherd later in the year. The farm owners had employed me to build a sheep yard for use during the lambing.

²Having travelled in Africa, and intending to return later in 1991, we loved music about that continent. Johnny Clegg and Savuka were a Belgium-based band from South Africa whose songs were redolent of life in Africa. This is Scatterlings of Africa from the album Third World Child.

2/7/90

THE JOURNEY BACK…At 8:00am we got up and while Linda packed our gear I walked down to the bank and changed some money. After we had checked out of the hotel we sat outside Bob’s… in the sun talking to a couple of Aussies while we waited for our 10:30 bus to Istanbul. By the time it arrived and we were on board it was quite hot and as we headed north the fresh smell of the pine trees came to us on the hot breeze blowing through the open door. The pine-clad hills rolled away to our left and soon the land flattened out to the rolling arable land of the Northern Gallipoli Peninsula. Around 12 we left the Aegean to its memories of old wars and turned inland for Istanbul which we reached at 4:30.

The Topkapi Bus Station was as chaotic as ever but we had an idea about where we were going this time so we bought billets [tickets] into Eminönu and flagged down a passing bus. It took 20 minutes to get to Eminönu and about half an hour to find a bus over to the suburb of Şişhane where we caught the airport bus for a whopping 4,000TL each.

We were searched and had our passports checked just to get into the airport and our packs were x-rayed. Inside the airport we settled down to wait…

2:15AM, TUESDAY, 3/7. When I went to the information desk to ask where the flight check-in desk was, the woman said they didn’t know of any flight with Pegasus!! We assumed the worst but about 10:00AM a bunch of Canadians turned up with tickets for the same flight so it should be alright.

Istanbul Airport.

We stretched out to try and get some sleep but the hardness of the seats and floor, along with the bright lights made it nearly impossible…

6:10AM, TUESDAY, 3/6 At 4:30AM the call for check-in came and we took our gear over to the desk along with the tatty bunch of Canadian travellers on the same flight. When we got through passport control Linda and I went to the Duty Free shop and I bought her a bottle of Opium perfume and paid for it with my Visa card. It was 85DM [Deutschmarks]. After that we had a couple of miniscule cups of Coke which set us back 4,000TL for each cup and that saw the end of our Turkish money.

Then, along with our Canadian companions, we sprawled out on the horribly uncomfortable seats to await our boarding call…

6:20AM, TUESDAY, 3/6. At 6:19 our call came over the tannoy: Pegasus Airlines flight PG181 to Amsterdam will be delayed one hour!

8:30AM, TUESDAY 3/6, Still waiting…

9:40AM TUESDAY, 3/6. We finally took off at 9:20AM on board the nearly empty , brand new Boeing 737-400 belonging to the mysterious Pegasus Airlines. We quickly climbed to cruising altitude and soon the patchwork of mainland Europe was drifting slowly beneath us. The land was dry and the colours were the subtle earth tones of summer – browns, dark greens and muddy yellows. Through the landscape, twisting lines of rivers ran like the arteries of the Earth, supplying life-giving water to the parched land. Many small villages dotted the landscape below, fields radiating outwards from them along with the spider-web traceries of roads.

Breakfast/lunch was served at 10:00AM then we settled down to catch some rest…

2:40 PM (Amsterdam Time), TUESDAY, 3/6.  We landed at Schipol Airport at 11:40AM local time (12:40 Istanbul) and passed quickly through passport control.

As we had flown over Germany a perfect white cover of cloud was spread from horizon to horizon beneath the steel blue of the sky, as if a new fall of snow had covered the land. But as we passed over The Netherlands the cloud began to break up to reveal the orderly patterns of the Dutch countryside. The fields were all perfectly rectangular and set in dead straight lines through which ran dozens of glinting canals and the snaking black lines of motorways. But the most striking sight was the colour of the land. Every hue of green blended and merged in patterns of exquisite beauty, the effect heightened by the patches of sunlight shining through the gaps in the towering plumes of cumulo-nimbus cloud.

We waited for ¾ of an hour for our bags to emerge and only by accident did I discover them hidden away in the corner of another baggage hall. It took us a long time but eventually we organised our passage to England via Ostend  in Belgium. It wasn’t cheap but good ‘ol Uncle Visa came to our aid so the 352.10 Guilders the fare cost us didn’t come directly out of our pockets!

Once again we settled down to wait for the final leg of our journey to begin…

6:05 PM, Tuesday, 3/7. On board the first train from Amsterdam to Roosendaal we sped through the green and fertile country of Holland. The land was intensively farmed with crops of vegetables alternating with fields of wheat, corn and oats.

I slept most of the way to Roosendaal and when we got there a station attendant told us that the onward train to Ostend had been cancelled! We had to wait  for ½ an hour for a train to Antwerp and when we got there we found the right platform and sat on our packs waiting for the 3rd and (hopefully) final train to get us to Ostend…

11:05PM, Tuesday, 3/7. The train was late and we missed the Jetfoil ferry service across the English Channel. We had waited in hope as the train sped through the beautiful pastoral scenes of Belgium but we knew that we wouldn’t make it in time.

At Ostend we enquired at the Jetfoil office about our options and learned that the Jetfoil tickets were valid for either of the two night ferry sailings so we decided to catch the 11:00Pm ferry and try to hitch from Dover to London. To be on the safe side, Linda rang the Red Lion [the pub where we’d been working before setting off to Greece and Turkey] and left a message with Jim [the barman] to tell Helen and Brian [Linda’s parents] not to worry if we weren’t at the airport to meet them. 

Then, after changing some Pounds into Belgian money we went to a nearby café with an American guy called Dave and had the most delicious bowl of lasagne I have ever tasted washed down by a couple of beers. A couple of other American guys turned up and we all swapped yarns then Linda and I went over and boarded the ferry. 

As soon as it put to sea we settled down to try and get some rest for the second night of our, by now, epic journey back…

4:45AM (GMT), WEDNESDAY, 4/7. We were sound asleep when the ferry docked and we quickly, and somewhat blearily, packed up and disembarked. Customs was a mere formality and with 1 ½ hours  until the first train to London we decided to try out the very last of our luck and hitch.

Piccadilly Circus

Amazingly, we got a ride almost at once with a lone British guy in a truck and he took us all the way to Lewisham where he followed a Night Bus until it stopped and we were able to ride it all the way in to Trafalgar Square. We walked up to Piccadilly Circus and found the Underground still closed so we sat down outside the station entrance among the other dossers, with the light of day coming fast into the sky and the volume of traffic already building, and waited…    

– Eventually the Underground opened up and along with a motley selection of dossers we went in and with the insane ranting of some crazy homeless guy echoing round the station we had another wait until 5:45 when the first train to Heathrow left. 

The trip was agonizingly slow but we got there in the end and rushed into Terminal 4 where the BA flight from Singapore was just emerging from customs. And there, amongst the crowds, were Helen and Brian [Linda’s parents].

– From the beaches of Gallipoli to the joyful reunion at Heathrow Airport we had been travelling for two days and two nights non-stop; a total of 50 hours. We took the tube back into Central London and made our way round to the hotel in Lancaster Gate where Helen and Brian will be staying. Incredibly, the receptionist told them that they couldn’t check in until 1:00PM so we spent the morning in various cafes and pubs, filling in time while it rained.

Later in the afternoon, after we had got them settled into their hotel, we caught the Bakerloo Line over to the Red Lion. Because it was the European Cup Semi-final night [England lost] and it was very busy, Brain asked me if I could work behind the bar from 8:30 until 11:30.

Finally, at 12:30AM, after listening to a tape that Linda’s friend Pippa and her boyfriend Chris had sent us from New Zealand, we got to sleep…on the floor in Louie’s room. 

1/7/90

We got up at 7 a.m. and packed up our tent for the last time. We hung around the camp for half an hour or so waiting for a dolmüs to take us back over to Eceabat. When it arrived we paid the camp bill which came to a hefty 66,000TL then said goodbye to the shining blue Aegean and the ANZAC beaches and headed back over to the Eastern side of the peninsula.

When we got to Eceabat  we decided to treat ourselves a bit and checked into a hotel on the waterfront, right above “Bob Hawke’s Bistro/Burger Bar.”1  After we had settled into our 20,000TL a night hovel, we went and and imbibed a B.H.B.B.B breakfast of eggs, sausages, tomatoes and English tea…YUM!

After we have finished eating we settled down to read some back copies of TNT2  and I read some information sheets about the Gallipoli campaign. The Casualties of the nine-month campaign where as follows:

489,000 troops fought in on the Gallipoli Peninsula

  • 410,000 British Empire soldiers
  • 79,000 French soldiers

252,000 casualties (killed, wounded or evacuated sick)

  • 205,000 British Empire
  • 47,000 French

43,000 B.E soldiers killed

  • 7,595 Australian
  • 2,431 New Zealand
  • 8,000 French

30,000 have no known grave.

On the hill above the European Side Of The Dardanelles is a huge inscription comprising four lines from a poem by Turkish poet Halil Onan:

STOP O PASSER BY
THIS EARTH YOU THUS TREAD UNAWARES
IS WHERE AN AGE SANK
BOW AND LISTEN THIS QUIET MOUND
IS WHERE THE HEART OF A NATION THROBS

We spent the afternoon sunbathing on the rocks beside The Narrows then went back to “Bobs…” where we sat and drank cold drinks, read old time magazines and listened to [the Australian rock band] Cold Chisel on the stereo. In the evening we had beans and rice at a lokanta then spent our last 4,000TL on beers at “Bobs…”

1Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister of Australia at that time.

2TNT was a magazine published in London for expat Australians and New Zealanders.

29/6/90

We spent the morning swimming and sunbathing then broke camp at 12:30. Throwing up our packs, we headed off along the path through the trees which soon steepened and narrowed as it’s as it made its way around the headland about 60 feet above the beach. The path deteriorated until we were following narrow tracks amongst the old trenches which covered the top of the point in a rough network. Eventually we descended along the line of a main trench until we came to a tar sealed road which we followed for about 1 km to the camping ground.

We booked in and set up our tent then went for a swim in the rough and windy surf. The rest of the day we spent sitting in the camp bar.

After watching the sunset we went to the camp restaurant for an overpriced meal which was shit value, however some friendly Turkish campers gave us some wine and a grilled fish each so it wasn’t such a bad deal after all.

28/6/90

The boat ticket from that day.

RETURN TO GALLIPOLI  After checking out of the hotel we bought some food then caught a ferry across The Dardanelles for a mere 500TL each. We caught a dolmüs to Eceabat and then another one over to the Kabatepe Museum. There was a lovely new and clean Contiki bus there and a lot of lovely new and clean Contiki tourists so we didn’t linger and hitched a lift south along the peninsula in a grain trailer towed by tractor. When we had gone about 4 km the tractor turned off into a wheat field but one of the farmers, an old Turk, lead us across another field of wheat and down through the pine trees amongst which were a lot of old trenches, long since crumbling and filled with pine needles. In the distance we could hear the sound of waves breaking and soon the stunning blue of the Aegean could be seen through the trees. When we reached the edge of the trees we were standing on top of a small cliff beyond which was a long white crescent of beach stretching 500m away in each direction with the sea breaking against it in a continuous flow.

The old man talked to us for a few minutes (we didn’t understand a word!) then left us to swim, have lunch and make camp. We spent the afternoon swimming and sunbathing and I spent an hour or so exploring the network of old trenches which were slowly returning to the earth on the hillside above the beach.

WW1 trench, Galippoli.

At 4:30 we set off around the southern headland of our beach and walked 1 km to the camping ground. We had a couple of Cokes in the bar then walked back to our camp, had another swim then sat on the sand side by side as the waves slowly flattened out, the wind died to a breeze and the huge read disc of the sun set behind the twin Greek islands across the water, almost hidden in the haze.

Galippoli Sunset.

We lit a small fire and cooked some tomatoes and ate them out of the pan along with bread and jam and cheese. By 9 it was nearly dark and after a couple of herds of goats had tinkled their way past, we went to bed.

Our Galippoli Camp.