I’m sitting in the bar of the Windsor Hotel, down town Cairo. Did you see the Michael Payline ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ when he goes to Cairo… that’s the place. It used to be the British Officers club and I think the seat upholstery I’m sitting on… is original. Every one has gone off to see the ‘Sound and Light Show’ at the pyramids. When I cam here over ten years ago I saw about six versions of the ‘Sound and Light Show’ mostly the German and French versions but I got the idea. I was shooting stock photography at the time on a large format camera and it was… a total hassle. So when every one said, ‘yeah the sound and light show’ my subconscious said… ‘ f*&%$ that’.
You have some classical violin orientated music playing mixed in with a bit of ‘aaahhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhaallllaaaaaaahhhhhhaaaalllllaaa’ coming in from out side. It’s Ramadan and the streets are full of people eating now that the sun has gone down. I bet the view I have here of the bar and outside has not change for 60 odd years. We went to the Pyramids today, as I have been here 3 times before and everyone else except Penny hasn’t . I have become ‘the guide’. Its fine when there is one or two of you, but when there is 11 of you and 7 of them are kids you do feel slightly under ‘I better get this right or I’m gonna have loads of kids whaling and stressed parents going ‘OH BILL!’. On using my local knowledge and how disappointed I was, and others I have spoken to, about seeing the Pyramids for the first time from a car park where the KFC and Pizza Hut signs take up about the same amount of sky line, I made a plan to get dropped off in Al Sassan, a small village about a km away from the pyramids where you can hire horses and camels. I’d agreed on the price, phoning ahead from the hotel and we all jumped on and road and off into the desert… literally the desert where there is sand, sand and more sand. After about half and hour we came up over a hill and wow, look what we happened to come across… there they were in all their glory, the only surviving ancient wonder of the world, the pyramids.
I think the adults where blown away and the kids where… impressed. I got a real kick out of coming up with the plan, planning it and then seeing a load of people have a really pleasant experience seeing the pyramids instead of the way I did the first time when me and penny pulled up in a taxi with a tout hanging onto the roof waiting to hassle the shit out of us and Pizza hut beckoning.
I did the same thing yesterday; I took the gang to the Citidel and then walked through the streets of ‘Islamic Cairo’ before entering the Kahn Al Kahlili Bazaar. Sasha was doing a piece to camera (media talk for dad doing some home video) which went something like ‘ and here we are in down town Cairo where there are lots of things for sale and… lots of live chickens and… it stinks… and ahhhhhhh the flies and… dad… there is a cows head for sale in that butchers… dad… where are you taking us?’ I think I steered close to blowing the ‘show them the real Cairo’ with the Murray’s and making it the ‘my kids are throwing up… what you got planned for tomorrow?’.
It was Friday yesterday and well being a bit… Muslim orientated, the Kahn Al Kahlili was packed. Not a tourist in sight. We had the place to ourselves… so to speak. The place has not changed in ten years. The smells, the ‘ ahhhhhhh welcome! Where you from? You like spices? The one-eyed mess, the shear… ‘how the f$%^& does anyone get anything done around here’. It’s the nearest I have seen to anarchy and what life would be like after the bomb. You cannot help thinking, your ancestors built one of the worlds biggest man-made structures, yet that really doggy piece of old scaffolding was holding that building up just the same way ten years ago. There are ancients doorways, beautifully carved in stone next to a half finished breeze blocked house with a sheet of plastic as a roof. You walk through these streets and you think, ‘ this is not a film set, its not for travelers like us, its for real… they just live like this, millions of people all walking around in a chaotic maze of shit. I am looking forward to doing the guide bit in Sri Lanka, I’ve enjoyed doing it here but it’s a bit stressful, as taking a wrong turn down ‘cow slaughtering ally’ would have ruined my chances of a tip. In Sri Lanka I will be able to go into the National Park first, and sort it all out.
Many people have said Cairo and Istanbul are very similar… now I have been to both I can have an opinion… and that is… bollocks are they. Istanbul is clean, it has no one on the streets who’s sole purpose in life is to extract money from you through lying, cheating, charming and if all else fails begging. Istanbul is civilized, a very Islamic, European city. But it does not blow you away like Cairo does. Istanbul is just another, really nice, great city. Cairo is just completely mad! Where else in the world would you find tourist police, who’s sole role is to stop tourists getting hassled, asking you for money as they lean on their machine guns!
Istanbul was great; it was a nice introduction for the kids of a busy Islamic city. Myself, Sasha and Angus caught the local commuter train into Istanbul each day for two days to sort out a ‘power of attorney’ problem we had in Romania. We traveled in and arrived in the center of Istanbul at 9.00am and… well it wasn’t crowed. We didn’t get a seat, but we didn’t get crushed. Angus’s eyes where popping out of his head when the ‘lads’ would run along the platform and then jump onto the outside of the door, and stay there until they got to there destination. Apart from the outside joy riding, I felt it was more civilized than getting the Thames link into Kings Cross, seriously.
We went to the notary or the noter as they are called in Turkey, we went to the translators, the stamp department, the post office and… well we then went to McDonalds. Angus and Sasha had a good time just taking in whatever was next and reading their books when it became a bit sameish. Turkish people love kids, Angus especially. He’s had his face squeezes pinched, hugged, patted and smiled at… a lot. He’s cool about it and has learned now that if he doesn’t like it, he can always stop smiling back and walk away. I think I got the nice job in Istanbul, Penny spent two days cleaning the bus out and packing up everything ready for shipping Hexy home. We had parked up in a busy bus stop for three days, which was right next to the train line, and was directly under the flight path for Istanbul’s airport, which was a few hundred meters away. Image a plane going right over your head, mix in a fast commuter train and the sound of a bus switching past you… you got it! For three days! But it cost a quid a night to park…and had good security. Moving out of Hexy wasn’t like moving home… it was moving home. I have moved over 20 times in my life, but moving out of a truck and into a rucksack is a new one for me. Penny did a great job and we are all moved in now…
Going to ports is always a bit a weird experience, but going to the RO RO (Roll on Roll off) port in Istanbul was interesting. Finding it for a start was a night mare, the ‘I’ll send you a map’ never happened. We finally got there and started the paper work. ‘We go to Kumport now’. Interesting name I thought. ‘We wait here’. ‘You wait here, we go in’ an hour later. ‘We go to another port’. ‘ But we have paid to have it shipped out of the RO RO port and Kum Port is the only one…’. ‘ I know, but they don’t want you to leave your truck here, we try another port’. Two hours later, ‘ We try another port’. ‘ We park here’. You know those fork lift tucks you see in builder’s merchants, some like… normal fork lift trucks and some looking like deformed fork lift trucks that just do a specific lift type of thing. Image them being literally ten times bigger, roaming around quicker than those speedy little ones and then multiply the amount by about five. ‘Move your truck over there!’ ‘Hey, hey, move it to there’ ‘HEEEEEYYYYYYY!’ followed by a pained expression of ‘ what the f*^%$ is a frigging camper with a load of foreigners doing in my port. I seriously had to dodge these cranes on wheels that pick up the containers off the back of juganaughts and then race off around the port to stack them up on a pile. We finally got some ‘I’m in charge’ type looking bloke to let us park it behind a few containers right on the edge of a six foot drop. ‘When you go Egypt?’. ‘Tomorrow… you come back tomorrow for your passports, customs closed now, Ramadan’ You must be joking, this was a once in a lifetime visit to this port and noooooo way was I coming back in the morning. ‘We fly at 12.00, need to be at airport by 10.00’ ‘ Dad, I thought you said we need to be there at 3.30pm’ ‘Yes… yes… shush.. I’m lying…’ ‘Ok dad’ ‘ So… we don’t have time to come back!’ ‘ Come tomorrow’ ‘ You come to our hotel at 9.00am with our passports or you don’t get paid’ ‘…. OK’.
We hope Hexy will arrive in Hull on the 13th of December where ‘Aunty Vee and Uncle Andy will pick it up.
Living in a camper has been very cool, but sitting here in this hotel… is also very cool. It’s also very different. Three months was long enough… any more with three kids would have been too much. But pushing the boundaries of where a 27ft camper can boldly go has been great. Anyone who tells you, you can’t get through without a four wheel drive, you’ll get robbed, you’ll get lost… you’ll get swallowed by aliens… has obviously never been through the Balkans. They were the safest places I have ever been through and sure the roads are very bad in a lot of places…. but you just go slow. Hexy, you where a star!
The last few weeks in the bus were very different to the first few months. Croatia, Montengro, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania etc. etc. were all ‘wow, what’s it like to live here countries’ we were totally on our own in very un-touristy places and… it was great, but when it started to snow in Romania it was time to leave. We entered Turkey late in the evening. The border was very ‘midnight expressy’ and was actually very near where the real midnight express used to cross the border. A lot of border crossings are right on the top of mountains in the middle of nowhere and this was no exception. It was a proper border where you leave one country, drive up the mountain, hang out with a load of bored army types for an hour or so and then drive down the other side of the mountain and into a different country. Only this time the temperature changed, the vegetation changed, the people, houses, animals, trucks, cars, carts…everything changed.
Our imaginations where running wild, we imagined escaped prisoners running through the woods near the border where there were long barbed wired fences. The first few hours where spent driving through very barren, almost desert like terrain and then everything went kind of normal and not ali baba, which we were hoping for. We met up with the Murrays’ on the Gallipoli peninsula. It was good to have a conversation with an adult you knew and who was not a lawyer, traveler or missionary. It was also good to see that their standards of hygiene had dropped considerably as well, and we where not letting the team down. We crossed the bit that leads to the black sea and we headed off to see Troy… you know… the place that got done over by letting in the wooden horse.
Suddenly history and learning about anything… was replaced with ‘WERE NOW SEVEN KIDS AND WE’RE GONNA HAVE FUN!!!’ Suddenly our kids were kids again and we were back to being Mum and Dad. We drove on down the coast, the views where… ok and the roads where great. We went to Ephesus, which was interesting, but very touristy and very expensive. We pushed on and headed for Bodrum. We thought we couldn’t cover a thousand miles of Turkish coast and not see the 10 miles of coast 90% of Brits see when they come here. It was nice… in a nice way. We parked up in the coach car park and the kids found the hotel swimming pool and the English menu. After all the places we had been to, we were hassled one night by dogs so badly that I had to do something I have never done before, run AT a very angry dog. It was that or either let it catch Angus and…. conscious down down…
We spent a couple of days and moved on to Oludinez. The ‘magnificent seven’ kids became the ‘Christ there’s about 20 of them’. The Walters, the Jones, and the Shipmans were all there (friends from the kids school in St. Albans) … it was half term and it was time for everyone to chill and focus on doing not a lot. The bus became a box to sleep in and not our entire focus and safety net. It was good to meet up with everyone and talk bollocks over a few beers. We met up with a guy called Gustof who Penny and I had met 5 years earlier here. Then, he was this wild guy who had left London and was living his dream, he had given us inspiration to do the same. It was nice to now see him as an equal instead of seeing him and being pig jealous again.
It was weird to talk to the guys and have ‘career talk’ come into the conversations. I hadn’t talked about ‘jobs’ for three months. I forgot that I sort of have one, property developer and travel company owner…umm, doesn’t feel like it. I feel like I’m just having loads of fun with my kids. I remembered that’s what I used to talk about when we would meet up for a beer… work… it was such a massive part of my life…. Work, work, work, work, work …. It’s amazing how three months can change your perception. The rat race was great… but absolutely no way am I going back…no way!
I’m not saying all we talked about was work… but just the fact that we talked about it was, wow… I could really tell now I’d been in a camper with three kids for 3 months!
We had a great day out on a big boat, all 30 (or so) of us. We took up the whole thing. Stopping in coves and swimming, kids love nothing more than being with lots of other kids… and cheap ice creams.
We headed off after about 7 days, we felt like we should be getting on a plane with everyone else and… oh yeah we’re not, we’re driving to Istanbul! Three days of solid driving, good roads… half interesting scenery but lots of quite normalness. We hit Istanbul, the end of our journey, and… well, we got a bit of a… we had a plan, we’ve had a map on the side of the truck for the last three months with a route saying we would get here, and… we did it. No stacks, no injuries, no major problems… just a great feeling of ‘ It has gone according to plan… what’s next?’
‘Daddy, Daddy… Mummy says the sound and light show has really changed since the last time you saw it… the sphinx talks to you and everything!’. ‘ Dad I got you a nonalcoholic Stella… was that what you wanted? ‘…. Daaaaaaaaaad you listing to me???’
Time to go… see you soon.