Sunday, 29 August 2010

Cairo: dust, horns, pedestrian peril

The next morning after our Sinai experience, we were up at 5am again to catch the six hour bus to Cairo. Apart from a serious argument that involved everyone on the bus except us, it was fairly uneventful.

Too difficult for us to meet Sudan's demands for a VISA (letters, more VISAs, money, photos, forms) in time to catch the ferry, we suddenly have over a week to rest in Cairo. Though initially disappointing, we arrived totally drained from desert strandings, bus journeys and mountain hikes, and actually the prospect of a stationary week sounded delicious! Desperate to relax I asked a local what to do to relax in Cairo. "Relax?" he asked incredulously. "No relax in Cairo! Cairo stress city!" Unabashed I asked another Egyptian. "Relax?" came his reply. "Stay in your hotel room."

I have decided not to ask anyone else, because I am finding out for myself. I am learning our initial impression was typical of this heaving city - the largest in Africa and the Arab world. A thousands horns blast into the air, lanes upon lanes of cars (including our taxi) jolt violently and dart between one another, blast blast, people amble carefree among speeding buses, blast, a donkey here, a running teenager there, jolt jolt, blast, it is stickily hot, dust and dirt fly everywhere, jolt jolt. Out of the taxi and onto the street - even harder to navigate, more jolts - and horn blasts replaced with cries from street sellers, children, old men, anyone.

We arrived at our hotel of choice - the Berlin hotel. The entrance and frighteningly bolt of a lift was filthy. But everything is dirty is Cairo. A grey dust cakes everything in a thick film of dirt - the streets, almost every building, the walls, the floor, my feet. Our room was surprising clean (apart from the slightly grey looking shower), and we collapsed exhausted, hungry and strained on the bed. At this point meat re-entered my life. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find veggie food, and I was finding about three hundred other aspects of daily life challenging. I thought it would be good to ease up on the food side and remove that stress - and it has been a real relief! Nick, amazingly and so graciously, continues to fight the veggie fight, even through lowpoints such as waiters saying 'yes we have veggie... green salad?'

The Berlin hotel lasted a night and only a night. About the only time we were seperated Nick went out to use the Internet while I rested. I began to feel a bit fearful and thought lying on a bed alone was not helping my heart! I needed to get up and engage with the world. As I left, however, the receptionist dude (who had appeared about 80 years old and very sweet) took my hand and told me he loved me! Although this maybe sounds comical, actually I was alone in a weird hotel up five floors and he had known Nick was out - so I felt really uncomfortable. Also women and men in this culture show NO affection: they even sit in different carriages in the tube. The superfast lift served me very well as I zoomed out of the hotel, and I went to Internet cafe to find Nicholas. En route I hurried across a green mat on the pavement - it turned out to be a holy place and a praying Muslim shouted and chased me off! I found the Internet cafe. It was closed. I was now stuck in Cairo without a clue where Nick was. An Egyptian man approcahed me to help and by now I was fed up with Egyptian men but he turned out to be a persistent and actually a very helpful Egyptian man who said he would show me the nearest Internet joint. I accepted. This happened to be his best friend's travel agents: a little shop with leaflets and one computer with a man behind it. He booted his best friend off the computer, and I sat down, manning the travel agents. His best friend didn't seem to mind chilling and made me some sweet tea. I tracked Nick down on Skype (in another internet cafe he'd found) - and we arranged to meet. Phew! And we met - not without me getting lost one more time, after telling another Egyptian man 'No help thanks, I know where I'm going!' and humbly having to retrace my steps and ask him for his aid.

And so we left the Berlin hotel that day. We gave the receptionist a hard time - Nick trying to call the manager, me telling him he better not do that again to a travelling girl. He apologised profusely, his hands shaking. We left feeling that weird mixture of anger but so much grace - knowing he is not in a good place. We dumped our bags at Hotel Luna Bella which was a world away from the Berlin. A dirty entrance and fast lift were it's only similaritites. It was spotless and had pretty rooms with hat stands and decorative mirrors. The reception wore glasses and mainly spoke to Nick: we liked him a lot! We plan to stay here for the next few days.

Slightly shellshocked from our difficult days in the desert and now all Cairo was flying at us - add to that concotion my nasty cold and unwanted runniness - we sought rest and comfort. We found it at the Cairo Hilton. Cool, airy and wonderfully comfy, everyone was so gentle and helpful and I began to feel life flowing back into me! We spent the afternoon having yummy Italian food and lazing on a sofa reading, me ordering a hot lemon with sugar (I imagine about the only place in Cairo I could!) to ease my cold... I also found a copy of 25 Beautiful Homes magazine - which in London I might avoid for how it makes me want to live a decadent life - but in Cairo with only a backpack en route to Africa, it only brings colour and creativity!

I woke up in our new hotel yesterday and was musing on beauty... It brings so much joy and life to me: pinks and turqouises, patterns and peonies, golden evening sunlight and worn wood. Sometimes on our trip my eyes are flooded with beauty - and sometimes I miss it, in plain hotels, dusty roads and metal buses. And so I hunger for it and felt God honouring my desire for it, saying it was from His heart of beauty and creativity. As I thought all these things silently in my heart, Nick popped out and came back with a beautiful bouquet of pink, yellow and red roses! A birthday treat, as we hadn't been near any flowers earlier in the week! What a treat and a gift I think from my smiling God... Seeing this display of love (well done Nick!) the hotel manager upgraded us to their best room - spacious with two balconies! - for no extra cost. What a blessing.

And so in among the high stress of Cairo there is also delight and fun. We had a gorgeous Indian dinner last night to celebrate my birthday with lots of laughter... we got sent out of a cafe for being too affectionate (we have been SO restrained so far but had a momentary lapse) and as we left I smashed the glass by accident, I have never seen a sadder waiter about a glass... and we are learning to carve our relaxing spaces in our quiet times and in restful hotels! Still, Cairo has been difficult for us. It is hard to cross ANY road, and in a taxi it is joltjoltjolt, when I am not near Nick within seconds a man will shout or approach me, and it feels like at night the city is in a permanent state of riot. Actually everyone is celebrating Ramadan's end of day feast, but what we see is thousands of people cramming the pavements and traffic at standstill. What we hear from our hotel room is blast blast and screams (really - I don't know why, but a yell / cry / scream / laugh mixture fills our ears as we try our best to sleep... pray for Nick, particularly to sleep, as he isn't easily.)

So a delicious blessing to have a stationery week. We just need to know how in a chaotic whirl of a city, we remain stationery inside and out. I think we are learning.

From sunrise to sunset: Cate's birthday

On the morning of the 25th of August, my birthday, we woke at 5am to watch the sunrise. Apparently Egypt don't do the whole hour ahead thing like the rest of the world does. So by accident we woke at 4am to watch a dark sky. At 5am, a slow purple haze appeared above the sea. Gently red infiltrated the purple, the pink, then yellow light. As this light fell on the waves, two giant crabs scuttled past us and were swept quite suddenly into the sea. One of us was a bit scared by the crabs. I won't say who, but he is known to call cockroaches crickets.

We ate some bread and our driver came to collect us in his pick-up. He sped us to the nearby town to catch the bus - our plan was to go to Mount Sinai, where God appeared to Moses and gave him the law. It was exhilirating, speeding through the air as the sun ascended, a red, burning ball above the sea. We got off at the local town Nuweiba. After an hour - a thoroughly enjoyable hour as we watched a stray camel amble down the road, seemingly unafraid of violently fast buses, chomping innocently on a tree - our bus arrived. Exhuasted after a rough night, I snoozed for what seemed like half an hour. Suddenly the driver was ushering us off the bus. We had hoped to get off at Dahab, and catch our connecting bus to Mount Sinai. This dude recommended we get off at this random junction, as it would save time. On the map it certainly seemed to save us two hours travel time. We disembarked.

The promised bus never came. The sun was beating down and we were stranded. Our only company was mountains, electric pylons and fifteen police men manning a checkpoint, grumpy with guns. In hope of our bus, we waited there for three hours. I cried. It was my birthday and I was stranded and sad. Nick was sad because I was sad. We were both really sad. I opened some of my beautiful cards... THANK you my dearest and most precious friends for these! Such a delight! Such colour and joy and words of love! These made me cry even more because I wanted to be in London drinking coffee and celebrating with loving people. Instead I had pilons and guns. (And the amazing Nick! who was seriously brilliant throughout our stranding.) One gunman became our friend and asked truck drivers to help us. We desperately held our thumbs to posh tour companies but all the westerners averted their eyes from us! The lowest point was when I asked the gunmen if I could use their longdrop. They didn't initially understand, and as I walked away I saw one look digusted and shake his hands at me with such a degree of horribleness that I told Nick when I got back. Ooh and then one of my favourite moments of the day! Nick marched up to the gunmen and gave them an impressive telling off - and as they fobbed him off with 'no problem, it's no problem', he said, undeterred by their gigantic rifles, 'It is a problem! You were rude! She's upset! And it's her birthday!' The man apologised and I was somewhat smitten with my choice of husband.

A Bedouin man (the local tribe in Sinai) stopped by and offered to take us to Sinai for a fee. We accepted gratefully, and got to stop by at his home en route - a tiny hole carved into a mountain of rock. He dropped us off once more in the middle of nowhere with guards, which was almost the final straw, but apparently this time we were extremely close to Sinai. Another Bedouin (very old with no teeth, wonderful eyes and an ancient wooden stick) offered us a lift to Sinai. We jumped in, and he too dropped us off NOT at Sinai but CLOSE to Sinai, and this time, hungry we stopped to eat. I pottered off to a local stall. By this stage I was so exhausted. I knew the stall owner would be keen for some chat. I decided to embark on a NEW TACTIC - silence. This is how it went.
Owner - 'Hello!'
Me - Silence
Owner - 'Come in!'
Me - Silence
Owner - 'Have a look!'
Me - Smile and silence
Owner - 'You are beautiful, and quiet! An angel!'
So impressed by my silence was he, that he gave me a free bracelet. When he offered to put it on for me, I said no thanks my husband would, and he started telling me how lucky my husband was. He interupted himself and started writing a postcard to my husband saying the following 'Necolas you are lucky, wife is beautiful angel, England.' He was so zealous that he didn't mind drawing on his own resources to pen his heartfelt congratulations.

We walked the final stretch, ten minutes in the desert heat, and found our monastry guesthouse, at the foot of Sinai. What an oasis in the desert: cool, clean rooms and a leafy courtyard. We had made it.

We were ready to make like Moses and, er, climb up Mount Sinai...

Or at least we were ready to sit on some camels while they did the legwork and we enjoyed the view. On the way we met a police man who insisted we go back and get a torch if we were to go up at this time - nearly 5pm. Having done that & got Cate's glasses, I showed him my super 1/2 Watt wind-up LED mini torch which he very much liked, though he did drop it. It's not up to much, but it doesn't get dark that quickly does it?

We paid for two camels and a guide with some of Cate's birthday money and we were off. This was harder work than either of us imagined as we gripped on with our legs and tried not to panic as we trusted them to follow the path and not wander off down the cliff. I noticed their feet were much more suited to the climb than say a horseshoe would be - they are kind of like lanky horses with slippers. Mine made very strange noises a lot. And also farted really really loudly on occasion. I'm not sure even now that Cate believes it was the camel. It was. Honestly.

After about an hour and half, we were ready to give up our sideways munching friends and walk the last 45 mins up to the summit. This is a much steeper bit not suitable for camels and was pretty hard going. Though we had been warned of the hoards of tourists, we had gone up the whole mountain alone. At the top we joined a few people who had also come for the sunset and found a place to sit.

The sweat and tears were to be rewarded. Mount Sinai was astounding: towering peaks as far as the eye could see, with dark shadows of valleys between. The red sun we watched rise now set amidmst this overwhelming land of mountains, of power, the earth brown peaks and black valleys illuminated by red and gold light. I was so amazed at its vastness and how small I was, that I felt almost frightened. The God who made all of this suddenly seemed so magnificent and massive, and I was so small. I knew He was God and He could do whatever He wanted. And then I remembered His love for me, and I was overwhelmed. He is so holy. I thought I could hear Him whispering 'Be holy, as I am holy'. What a call... and I have the Spirit in me, who is Holy by name, to lead me to holiness...

It suddenly grew dark very quickly, and I couldn't see Nick anywhere. A quick jaunt down the mountain I thought, jogging over in my little plastic flipflops. Nick was cross I had taken so long - he was worried about about the descent. I began to understand why. In the blink of an eye it was night, and we were stuck at the top of a mountain. We still had our guide who had accompanied us on the camel, and so we were reassured by his presence. The problem was he skipped like an antelope, leaping down the hills as if they were green English meadows, and we were often left quivering with our pathetic torch behind. This jaunt became an absolute marathon. A mix of ferociously uneven rocks, jolting our ankles and causing us to slip, combined with death traps around the corner, as a few wrong steps would lead to hurtling off the edge, and added to that serious exhaustion, antelope guide and hours still to go... At one point I mounted a stray camel to ease my legs, but it hurtled me back and forth so painfully I had to get down. In the end I was so tired I was speechless and my legs were shaking like jelly. We arrived like drained wretches to a wonderful three course meal at the monastry and an incredible night's sleep. Was the trek worth it? Yes. But I might not hop up there tomorrow.

Asia to Africa

We did catch the boat the next day! This time we got there early and it all went very easily, except for the second time, I left my wedding ring in the hotel, but both times I've remembered before getting too far away! So we caught the daily 1 hour ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba, Jordan to Egypt, Asia to Africa. After paying our exit tax and getting our passport exit stamps, we got on a coach and then boarded the boat. We found that they had a policy of segregation - Egyptians in the main section & all non-Egyptians in the other section. We found this a bit odd & Cate being naturally rebellious against being told to do things that don't seem right, we headed for the other end of the ferry, and sat at a table in the Egyptian section. This didn't seem to be actually forbidden, though we did get a lot of looks - but these being a daily occurrence are becoming like water off a duck's back. (Perhaps one might note that one of the ducks is a bit more sensitive than the other duck and doesn't, say, love getting looked at a lot or disobeying policemen with guns who want you to queue barge or doing things that he's, er I mean it's been told not to do, etc.). Anyway, after a bit, about 8 children were chatting away to us (not that we could understand what they were saying much) and a little girl was showing off doing acrobatics with her dad. They liked our crossword and we got them to teach us numbers in arabic - very useful for bargaining with taxi drivers!

Eventually we walked back toward the other section, to find a closed door and a guard between us and it. He did eventually let us through and then we found we had missed out on a round of everyone give in your passports to immigration. So when we left the boat we had to hand them to a guy who put them in his trouser pocket. BYE BYE passports we said! This was the first, of I imagine many times, where we say goodbye to our passports and just have to hope that they reappear. Then we had to get another shuttle coach - in the scramble to get on one, the baggage hold door nearly fell on Cate's head and her bag ended up on the coach with us left behind. BYE BYE bag as well!

Happily, after getting the next coach, we found her bag dumped in the middle of the road. And our passports did eventually show up. We had met an Austrian couple in the ticket office and they decided to join us at our camp/hut site, which was a 20 minute shared taxi drive up the coast. It was so far along the beach that the taxi guy kept trying to give up but we did eventually find Harby's place (website here). We had a little hut just a few metres from the 10 miles of Red sea between us and Saudi Arabia. No heating or cooling or electricity, local food & supporting the Bedouin economy - it was our little eco-beach-paradise!

We had long chats with the Austrians, who were a great pair, I played backgammon with an Israeli expert and only lost by one, we swam, we chatted to the chef who was from Sudan, we enjoyed his hummous (hummous and felafel are my new best friends). They do occasionally have electricity there, but not that night. We could easily walk around by the amazing full moon which shone across the water. The paradise was only slightly marred by the almost impossibility of sleep in the crazy 40's heat. Outside the hut was slightly cooler with a sea breeze, but a massive beetle there drove me inside (Cate fared slightly better than I, partly because she was asleep outside before I saw the beetle...) I even went for a 1 in the morning swim to cool down which lasted for all of ten minutes.

And it was August 24th, the night before Cate's birthday.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Into Jordan

After a stunning supper on a roof in Damascus and a night in our hotel, we had to say farewell to our favourite city so far & goodbye to Syria. The next morning we caught a taxi (which are more affordable than at home & more prolific - in some towns it appears to be literally half taxi) to the inter-city bus stop to head to Amman in Jordan. These stations have the long distance buses and also the service taxis where you wait until they're full before you go and only cost a little more than the bus. Before reaching the station, whilst driving there along the main 3 lane highway, a service taxi came along side shouting out to ask whether we were going to Amman, which we were, and offering a price, which seemed fair going by a few sources we had checked - so we thought why not & gave him the thumbs up (very useful international sign!). During this speedy (!) negotiation another taxi came to the table, as it were, cutting up the other one and offering a lower price. Our driver eventually stopped with these other 2 taxis - in the road, they don't mind that here - and the second driver came up to our window claiming us as his prize. But we felt we should stick with our 50mph thumbs up contract with the first guy so we stuck with him.

He then took us a few mins to the station and we waited about an hour for him to fill the car with other passengers, which was a hot wait. Full up, we headed south. After a few hours we reached the border - this time prepared with enough dollars! We weren't going to be short-changed this time! We wouldn't need to bailed out again by our taxi driver! OK, so, as you have guessed, we did get help once, well OK twice, from the taxi driver during this border crossing. Although we did have enough dollars, they wanted Syrian and Jordanian money which we didn't have enough of and he was happy to swap us for. Heh, what are taxi drivers for? They love to help. Plus they're in a hurry!

Two other features of this journey - 1) was that on the way there, all of the passengers ate a kind of nut baklava and gave us some, even though it is Ramadan. At one point the taxi driver pulled over and a man standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere got in and became the new driver. A bit later we offered them all some olives and they refused, saying they were fasting and looking very innocent - 'As if we would eat during Ramadan' their faces said! This new taxi driver was obviously a bit more strict! 2) At the border, one of the passengers tried to get me to smuggle his packets of cigarettes through. I declined, miming that they are bad for you and cause death. He was very persistent as we neared the police, but I kept up with my mime. He even phoned a friend who spoke english who tried to persuade me.

When we got to Amman, we were transferred to another taxi and we experienced our first city with really bad traffic, which I had to dodge to run out and get some money out. We found our hotel which was sweet and had a very talkative lady who was the owner. It was probably the first woman who'd spoken to us since we'd entered Turkey so I was a bit surprised. We were given some free turkish coffee - which this time was a thick gloopy substance with loads of cardamon in it. It was so undrinkable that we had to take it to our rooms and pour it down the loo as we didn't want to seem ungrateful.

We went out to an Italian cafe in the upmarket side of Amman which served amazing pizza & had an incredible view of the city - a little treat as we get accustomed to the local food - which is a bit limited for the veggie. The cafe was called 'Books @ Cafe' (it also had a bookshop) which the taxi guy who took us there just couldn't get when we said it. Eventually he cried out "Ah, booksaat cafe... booksaat cafe... why you say it wrong..."

Even though the next day was a travel day, we decided we had to squeeze in a visit to the site at the river Jordan where John the baptist preached and Jesus came to be baptised. Having been really touched by going to Ananias' house, we thought it was worth it. We shared the trip with a german guy called Robin who had spent two years in Japan learning karate and had travelled overland back from there. On the way to the river, we were taken to Mount Nebo - the mountain where Moses looked upon the promised land. It was an incredible view - looking down into Israel, we could relate a bit to Moses as we would have loved to go into Israel, but couldn't for visa reasons. There really is something special in going to places you've read about in the bible. But this was nothing compared to what came next...

We had barely recovered from the hill and yet suddenly we had arrived at the entrance to the baptism of Jesus site. After an unchilly wait we jumped on the bus down to the river. It was more of an event than I realised - we paid to enter, we had a tour guide, we had 10 others with us, there were different sections to visit. It was to be my most special encounter yet. Our first section was just to peep at the river - green and slow. There was nothing special about this particular point of the river, but I was blown away by the whole idea. The whole idea of Christ, my Lord, walking on earth - walking just here. I was breathtaken. The group moved on with Tour Guide but I just lay there in the dust. The next stop was what the archiologists believe is the exact site of Jesus' baptism - there is a mosaic showing a building there from a few years AD and the stones from this building are still there. We viewed it all - dried up now - from a platform above. By this stage I was clear that Tour Guide was not really the explainer I would have chosen as he sounded a bit bored and slightly annoyed. People also asked questions I did not want to know the answers to. So as TG told us 'let's move on now' Nick and I stayed behind a moment to pray. As we knelt down, we heard a whistle. Down below an old man with dark skin and a white & red headpeice beckoned us to join him at the site. There was a gap in between the rope fence so we crept down... "Ex-cuuuse me!" TG shouted from up ahead. The old man shouted something in Arabic. TG relaxed.

Here we were - on the site where Christ was baptised. We knelt and wept. I could imagine the whole thing so clearly - the Father singing words of love, Jesus receiving it in the waters, the Spirit rejoicing as a dove. Wooppeee! And then I heard these precious words... "This is my daughter, whom I love, with her I am well pleased..." Oh the beauty and joy and glory of this! I want nothing else!

To finish we dipped our feet in the Jordan, among tadpoles in the still, green slow flow. We saw an exquisitly adorned church and as our fellow group members marvelled at its cream stone, I questioned in my heart whether Jesus would have asked for this as a response. Baking hot, we walked for what felt like a LONG TIME back to the bus. Sweat was just pouring everywhere - but I didn't mind!

Taxi back to Amman, and then service taxi down to Aqaba. It felt like a long drive though it was only four hours. A numb bum is not an aid to a long journey - famous Taxi proverb. Sweet moments though - a pitstop to pee (rare) and the driver covering my window with carboard so I was shaded. In the last hour, however, I had to rip this covering down because we were suddenly surrounded by the desert and its mountains. Arid brown sands and towering empires of rock - jagged, relentless and rugged, jutting out of the ground, its vast boulders like tiny crumbs encrusted on its edges. We tore in between these mountains, sitting ahead of us too. They were lit up from behind, and in magical shades of cool blue they were crisp in the forefront and translucent further away.

We arrived at our hotel and were blown away. It has a pool and it is by the sea... we are basically on holiday! After the tumultous travels thus far it is the richest blessing. We ambled down to the beach and swam - of course! Ahead of us was the sea, the blue mountains of Egypt and the radiant glow of a pink and yellow sunset. Behind us were the desert mountains and the moon - brightening as the sky darkened. I didn't know which way to look so I kept spinning around until I had to stop!

Today we planned to go to Nuweiba, Egypt on a quick little boat across the Red Sea. It should have taken an hour - so easy. Sadly the boat's departure time has changing since the Lonely Planet was written - and our hotel didn't know about it either - so we rocked up ready to go and had missed it. It was also full. So instead of catching it's midnight sister tonight we plan to go tomorrow. We both got really annoyed about the change to our plan! I particuarly was in a bad mood about it - and then felt bad for being in a bad mood in a stunning place. We haven't stopped much since we left and the thought of hanging around the pool with nothing to do got me into such a stinker! I KNOW this will drive some of you crazy! But I suppose I must be honest! I suppose sometimes we want our own way and when a plan is changed, our own way is gone and we get cross. But life is surrender to Jesus and I am learning... Thankfully we cheered up a few of hours ago and have spent a delightful, relaxing afternoon lazing in the sun, reading, writing. Now I am seriously getting into it! I could holiday more often! No... we must catch the boat tomorrow. Or at least try.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A Day in Damascus

Well it wasn't too bad at first. This hotel was dirty and stained in bits but there was a lovely Syrian rug on our bed and we slept well. We had planned to spend the day in Damascus and sleep another night. Working out whether to sleep our second night in this hotel, I got up from the bed and saw we had a friend joining us. A little, fat, hairy friend. Our first experience of what is known to many as a COCKROACH (shhhh don't tell Nick. Don't tell Nick because he is insisting we call them CRICKETS instead. He thinks crickets are similar but way more friendly. The idea is that you see an enormous and terrifying cockroach and say 'ooh yes a little cricket's popped in to say hello' and you don't really mind.) It was a gentle start into the realm of the c-blank-blank-blank-r-blank-a-blank-h-blank-s because he was only a tiddler but nonetheless I encouraged Nick to speedily pop an ashtray over him. Shutting him out our minds we enjoyed singing to Jesus and getting empowered for the day ahead - we SO need this time with him every day. (When Nick lifted the ashtray to set our cricket friend free there was nothing there. Disconcerting.)

We have booked our second night at the Orient Palace hotel - a three star - as a treat! We will stay there this evening. It was built in the 1920s and is recommended in the Lonely Planet if the traveller enjoys 'faded grandeur'. I think I do. The room is so spacious with a balcony and a beautiful blue and white woven rug on the bed... and yet it has a a bit of a battered feel. It is superb! After we waved goodbye to our cricket this morning we had breakfast here at our new hotel. LO and BEHOLD there was Lurpak on the table. I admit I had a mini-weep. We realised maybe we find the travelling harder than we realise. We had a large barney over suncream (which resulted in me agreeing to wear it every day you will be pleased to hear all four parents!) and here I was weeping over Lurpak! It's hot, everyone stares at you, you don't know where you are going and no one speaks your language. I think that is challenging, and it was good for us to admit it! And very good to enjoy some Lurpak whilst doing so.

Cheered up, we embarked on a stunning day in Damascus. It is the most enchanting city. Everything drips with age - particularly the ancient stone and the winding walkways between homes. We loved being on Straight Street - where Paul headed after being blinded by Jesus' brightness and prayed for three days, until Ananias came to help him. It was so awe-inspiring to imagine Paul walking down the very street we walked on (and that this net cafe is on!) We visited Ananias' house - which is now a small stone underground chapel. I lay on the floor (it belongs to my Daddy so I could be at home!) and both of us felt His presence strengthening us.

We also spent some time around the Umayyad mosque in the Old City, so important in Islam that only Mecca and Medina are more esteemed. We walked past as the Friday call to prayer resounded and hundreds of men and women flocked to it. I found this quite painful as I saw a great number of people who do not know Jesus not walking to him, but to another religion. It felt as though my eyes were clarified and I felt an acuteness about how much we need to share Jesus with the world. Often in my home setting my eyes are dulled and it feels okay that people don't know Jesus. Today I had a fresh clarity and a renewed brokenness. That passage from Romans turned in my heart: 'How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"' And I thought Lord I am not sent here at the moment! But please send those who are! Let them be obedient! And my encouragement to anyone who reads our blog is to go and to share the love and saving words of Jesus!

For lunch we stumbled upon perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever seen! It was like a little palace... with beaten dark wooden doors, white and blue mosaics, purple and pink and white stones, a fountain with flowers surrounding it, pearl & wooden chairs with deep cushions, delicate copper lanterns hanging... It's beauty was so perfect, and our delicious lunch of hummus, flatbread and falafels SO in our budget...

And here we are, still on Straight Street, recovering from the baking heat in our little cool internet cafe. Off to supper now and our faded / grand hotel tonight!

Nick & Cate
By the way, we love reading all your comments - every one means so much and is a real encouragement. Thank you!!! xxx

Desert Dillydallying to Syria

Since we last wrote we have traveled through many places beginning and ending with the letter A. We have been from Ankara to Adana to Antakya to Aleppo. Aleppo does end with an O but it's Arabic name is Halab which has two As in it to make up for this. Let me start with Ankara, which is where we left you last time.
We chugged off from Ankara to Adana on a sleeper train - air-conditioning and comfy bed (with tartan rug!) making it a smooth ride. Our only blip came at the beginning - from our ticket inspector who used his authority to suggest we pay him a substantial tip. It was our first experience of feeling quite intimidated - stuck in our cabin with the supposedly most trustworthy man around now forcing us to give him money. We gave him a few coins. I also offered him some of our pizza as he left, which he gladly went for. We pondered our reaction afterwards. He was in the wrong - using his position to instill fear into his passengers to give him cash. But maybe he doesn't get paid enough and maybe he is hungry (happy to take pizza) - Jesus' words ringing in my heart 'it is more blessed to give than to receive...'

We awoke in Adana, the heat piercing us as we leapt from the train station to a taxi. This taxi took us to a very discreet bus station, where we were ushered by several young guys onto the Adana to Antakya bus. Sweetly they stopped five minutes in to let me go to the loo and gave us cold water. (These moments are so precious - when we really feel a need and someone in kindness meets it!) This was our FIRST BUS JOURNEY! I think my expectations were too high - the few hours we were on it felt very arduous. I also got bus-sick which was my fault for looking at the crossword too much. (I find it difficult to imagine the word as Nick says r-blank-blank-blank-f-blank-blank-e-blank. By the way that is not a real word. In case you are trying to guess it.) By the end I felt very rough, as we heaved up and up the mountains into the highlands of southern Turkey.

I stumbled off the bus with Nick at Antakya - our final stop in Turkey! Antakya seemed to have only three ingredients - men, white buses and mountains. It felt as though we were off the beaten track for the first time. It was all quite exhilarating as were suddenly surrounded by several men offering us a taxi to our destination: Aleppo in Syria. We discovered there were no buses to Aleppo until the morning so we decided to get a taxi. The group all jostled for their plan and price, guiding us into a small air-conditioned office and sitting us down. We had no money and Antakya had no ATM, so after a lot of liveliness, Nick hopped on a motorbike with one of the dudes to find a bank and I was left with our bags in this office. As soon as Nick left I think the group all got a bit shy, and it was quite a quiet ten minutes!

Soon enough we were in a taxi speeding along to Syria - three in the back, three in the front. We had a young Turk guy in the back with us. In the front was our driver in a black shirt who was often in a rush, and two Syrian gentlemen. The first couple of hours were fun - a hot wind powerfully blasting in the car and the desert blurring past our window. We stopped at the border Duty Free which felt like an odd mirage in the desert - ice-cold selling things like Swiss chocolate and Clarins moisturiser. But no food - and we'd only eaten a lot of twig biscuits and a pretzel that day. The afternoon was pressing on. We found a guy selling biscuits and quickly bought some before hitting the road again.

The Syrian border was a nightmare. There are no other words for it. It costs $100 for us both to get in and we didn't have enough dollars. Not only this but there was no ATM for miles and miles - we were in the middle of nowhere - and so we were stuck. The heat felt stronger than ever and I began to feel very weak. We also hadn't eaten much and couldn't find our driver who had the keys to the car - where all our water was. Weak, thirsty and hungry I sank into my metal bench and waited with the Syrians and the young Turk. Meanwhile hero Nick and hero driver were zooming around trying to fix this standstill. They walked all the way back to Duty Free and asked for dollars there. No luck. The driver - who, as I said, was always in a rush and sweated even more than us - amazingly bought a phone. Nick paid using his card and the driver gave Nick the right amount in dollars. The driver saved us! Meanwhile I waited for what was maybe an hour in the heat for these guys to return. I bonded a bit with my fellow passengers - mainly because I was constantly apologising for our muck-up. Finally we got through. Beyond caring what I looked like, I slumped on the marble counter in front of our official. Surprised the official asked me 'This is boring?' 'Yes' I replied. He smiled. 'It is boring for me too!' Seems nobody likes borders.

On the road again! The Turk jumped off and we sped towards Aleppo. I continually poured water on myself the whole way and tried to eat biscuits and water to inject some life into me. Gradually I began to feel better. After a while the older Syrian started arguing with the driver. We had noticed that in this corner of the world people do not hold back in terms of voice level. I thought this was casual discussion at HIGH decibels but after a while the driver stopped the car and pulled over. The Syrians and the driver jumped out the car and carried on yelling at each other next to the car. After a bit I thought about asking them to hurry up but after our border error I decided against it. In the end the driver drove off without the Syrians. Nick tried to say bye to them but I don't think they heard.

Syria looked beautiful. I immediately loved it - so ancient, with grey stone and white fabric holding up houses and children playing in the street. We pulled into one of these settlements and arrived at our driver's family home. Still about an hour or so from Aleppo it was yet another detour! The first person I saw was a tiny little boy who gazed in astonishment at us. Then followed two sweet girls who shook our hands and an older lady, head covered with a wide, kind smile. The driver rushed in and his father appeared to take his place in the driving seat. It was a very touching moment - to catch a glimpse of family life and to see a father faithfully helping his son in a stressful moment. One more mad dash from the driver - into the house to get us an freezing cold bottle of water and a glass for the rest of the journey. A wonderful first experience of Syria. As the sun set we hurtled towards Aleppo, and eventually we arrived. We had no hotel booking - but we had arrived, and after my most exhausting day yet, that was enough.

So there we were, dropped off by our driver's dad in downtown Aleppo & we set all our bags on the side of the road so Cate could wait there while I went to check the prices of the hotels in that area. After checking a couple and being gone for about 2 minutes I returned to find about 6 men around Cate - one old guy and 5 younger guys. This sounds a little alarming, but I quickly got the impression that they were very friendly types - plus they were in uniform (which always seems more trustworthy) - they were parking attendants for the posher hotel over the road. The younger guys were giggling away and mucking around. After a bit they even bought us sandwiches which were these giant wraps with cheese and tomato (how did they know we were veggie?) which were incredible and after a lunch of biscuits they seriously hit the spot. We found a decent little hotel (with air-con, though the temp we set it at for nighttime is rising - now 28°C - so I think our bodies are really starting to adjust.) On that note, it turns out that heat ZONE 2 has come upon us earlier than we thought. According to locals and BBC weather, it has been in the 40's °C these last few days in Syria. They are saying this year is unusually hot - they even find it a bit hot - yikes! But amazingly it hasn't been that bad. A think a combo of our bodies adjusting and it being very dry. But I don't want to pretend it isn't full on - it doesn't feel that much hotter in the sun than in the shade and in the old city parts of town the stone acts not unlike a pizza baking stone - you can feel it baking you as you walk along! Gosh, I hope I don't actually bake - though at least Cate wouldn't be able to eat me as she is vegetarian.

The next day, after a pretty full on journey, we decided to have some treats. First, we went to a big hotel's cafe to have a nice coffee. They said they offered either Turkish coffee or Lavazza. Cate's ears pricked up at this, and we ordered the latter. Turkish coffee, we have discovered, means instant nescafe and they love it. The waiter obviously thought we must have made some kind of mistake and brought us a beautiful pot of hot water, an elegant little jug of hot milk & lovely cups - empty, bar a little sachet of instant nescafe. Risking breaking his heart, we did clear up the order and he did then bring Cate a perfect espresso and a latte for me.

Our second treat was to go for a swim. We had thought of going to a local big hotel, but our hotel receptionist told us of what sounded like an almost mythical swimming experience called The Blue Lagoon that was a short taxi ride away. He said there was a lagoon, and a river and a beach and well he convinced us that it was well worth the journey. It was quite a long ride way - about 25 minutes - and in the middle of the desert. We paid up and checked that it was mixed and that Cate didn't need to cover up. We found... a water slides theme park! And it was excellent fun. We started on the 'river' where you had a rubber ring and were taken around in a kind of mini flume. We went round 3 or 4 times! Then we went on the slides which were scarily fast. Then we went for a dip in the 'beach' which was a pool which gradually got deeper. Then we had a spot of lunch and we'd only just started when the 'beach' started getting pretty wavy - the wave machine was turned on and to a man everyone there (admittedly mainly under 14) rushed into it. We had to leave our lunch for a bit and get involved. Finally I jumped off the 10m board to show off to Cate. (This did hurt a little and I did a little of the swimming equivalent of hobbling. For the guys only - what I'm saying is, it hurt!) It was great fun - so nice to be in the water after so much heat.

We got a taxi back, via the hotel to pick up our bags, to the train station for our train to Damascus. At the station a really lovely Syrian brother and sister came to chat to us while we waited for the train. I was able to clear up something that had been bothering me. A new thesis had come to attention regarding the number of stares we had been getting, which was that perhaps people were not used to a man wearing the rather excellent Turkish trousers that I have been wearing. By the way, here is a link to roughly what they look like: One piece of evidence was that while we had seen maybe 3 or 4 women wearing them in Turkey, we had seen zero men. But I had been concerned not to be culturally insensitive. I checked with the Syrian couple and they assured me they weren't insensitive, just funny. Thanks a lot!

The train journey was a measly 5 1/2 hours which is a breeze now. We also went first class because it was only 60p more! Trains in Syria are cheaper and less popular than buses even though they are really nice. I finally went through all our receipts to keep account of all our spending. And we did another crossword. We might have to admit here that after a recount it turns out our best score is actually 20. So it turns out it's the 10's that are the current prize that we seek.

At the Damascus station we shared a taxi with a German guy who was good at haggling. We ended up in the center with our usual hotel search, which is always a bit more stressful at night. We walked past an imposing building with loads of police carrying machine guns. We have generally been going for the cheapest hotel with a/c & we found a one star hotel with a/c that was a lot cheaper than the last few nights, which was great.

OR WAS IT???!!!!!! .....

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Romania to Turkey Part 2

After two nights` atrocious sleep (see part 1) I arrived in Istanbul exhausted. I honestly don`t thınk I have been so out of ıt before from lack of sleep. We found somewhere that sold halloumi & coffee and collapsed. We discovered our hotel had no air conditioning and I began to cry into my coffee cup! So exhausted and so hot, another night of no sleep seemed too much. Nick did what every good husband should do - lecture her on it beıng a good way of her beıng stretched... then see she is not responding... she is still crying... and then book another hotel.

We had the day to explore Istanbul and it was gorgeous. Full of winding ancient streets, spilling with carpets, blue lanterns and hot bread, spears of blue and pink mosques everywhere (which are beautiful but I found it difficult... I wish they were built for Jesus!) and the sea just around the corner. We spent lunch by the sea - Nick loves the sea! so it was a real treat particularly for him. It was beautiful and İ loved dıppıng my feet in the water. I was pretty out of it from lack of sleep so I was a bıt more zoned. Post-snooze I was reinvigorated and we had a delightful dinner out that evening. The waiters were classic, the roasted veg delicious and we even bought some seriously cool (in more ways than one) pairs of trousers on the way home...

We assumed an easy 5.5 hour train ride to Ankara the next day - followed by a sleeper to Adana that evening. The 5.5 hour train ride proved to be epic. Rocking up to the train station in Istanbul we discovered there was more than one station in a city of 12.8 million people. Thankfully we met a helpful man who`d been a hairdresser in London. We told him our story. He loved our story and our hearts and bought us a drink. He also began to seriously advise us to save cash for the future and not to be foolish... worldwide advice! He waved us off in the right direction and so began a walk, a taxi, a boat and another walk - then our train journey which broke down for about 40 minutes in baking hot heat. We had to stop off at a random stop and catch another train for 1.5 hours. By this stage we knew there was no way we could catch the sleeper that night as planned. As we boarded our final 1.5 hours train we were both tired and bit dispirited. I prayed for us to have some fun...

And fun we had! This train was incredible... Weirdly, in the middle of turkey, for a very short journey, lies the poshest train in the world. Like an aeroplane, the seats are spotless, the guards wear lapels, there is a film option and seven radio stations, it is superbly cold and speeds through the desert at 250km/h. (Nick didn`t believe me initially so don`t doubt me. He told me he would eat my lovely white hat. He hasn`t yet.) We also discovered Maze - an extremely thrilling game on the ipod which involves twisting the actual ipod in cool shapes. So recommended. The desert was stunning as we raced through ıt - the sun setting in the pink sky, leaving the mountains almost violet in its dimming light.

We woke in Ankara this morning. It is a busy, hot, sprawling city with few tourists. It has been the first place where there seems to be very few English speakers. It makes me personally feel like we are an island detached from people - but I would love not to be! I love people and engaging with them - and it feels more lonely the more alien the city is.

I have found the last few days much harder than the first few. I was full of energy and travel appetite at first! Now I am more tired, the travelling and temperatures ahead seem too challenging, the cities unpersonal and too busy. In short I feel weak! Our times with God have been amazing, strengthening, crucial and beautiful since we began. I feel like I need him all the more as we continue. I know that whatever He asks, He will provide for. He is my shepherd, caring for me and making me lie down (see Ezekiel 34 and Psalm 23). I am also remembering a verse Noomi had for us as we left - `this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead`. I can see in so many ways my reliance on Him growing which brings more life and more love! What a pain that the path to this is so often weakness! But I see more of his grace... Do pray for me though - that we lean on Him ın challenging times - and that we are kind to ourselves as He is kind! Interspersed through these more difficult patches there is also lots of laughter and a fair amount of cuddling (although Nick is concerned we might get arrested so public hugs are brief)!

Another encouragement is Jesus on the cross and his love for me... I have been so impacted by a song called Arms Wide Open by Misty Edwards... the lyrics are of Jesus `wıth arms wide open, a heart exposed, with arms wıde open, bleeding` and then Him saying `you shall love me - with arms wide open, a heart exposed, with arms wide open, bleeding, sometimes bleeding`... I am so hungry for this. As we ate supper in Istanbul, a young girl, deaf and dumb, approached us selling tissues. These lyrics flooded my mind again. Is it not horrendous that at night a child can approach adults eating and no one ask questions? Why is she there? Jesus` pure love for me and for children like her do fire me on through difficulty.

So the day-awaited sleeper tonight. Oh yes and for those of you who are praying, pray for us in these temperatures as they rise & rise! We will wake in Adana and bus along a bit from there. Going to sign off now and slink off in my supercool Turkish trousers and my snazzy Romanian bag. As if red hair and a backpack weren`t enough, I seem keen to prove to everyone I am a traveller.

Romania to Turkey Part 1

We have now entered HEAT ZONE 1. ZONE 1 (whıch I just made up) ıs anythıng ın the 30´s °C (86-104°F). ZONE 2 ıs yet to come wıth southern Egypt and Sudan regısterıng some of the hıghest temperatures on earth - gettıng ınto the 40´s °C (above 104°F). But we can´t worry too much about that yet as we are serıously strugglıng wıth ZONE 1! But we are gettıng used to ıt slowly. Our nıght ın the guesthouse ın Bucharest was our fırst bad one - I thınk because ıt was at the top of the house and had no breeze ıt was even hotter than the cıty had been ın the day. We were lıterally drenched ın sweat all nıght and really dıdn´t sleep well. The next nıght we were on the mammoth sleeper to Istanbul whıch was aır-condıtıoned whıch was a real relıef. The sleeper bırth was also really nıce. Our no 1 pasttıme at the moment ıs our Tımes jumbo crossword book - we love ıt! There are generally about 60 clues and our best score ıs 16 so far (that ıs 16 clues wrong). We are strıvıng after the elusıve sıngle fıgures! We also have an ıpod whıch ıs great - we have lots of worshıp musıc, a few audıo books by our fav authors (Chan, Claıborne, Bell, Johnson!) and we are gettıng ınto the game MAZE where you tılt the ıpod to guıde the marble around the maze (I currently have a hıgher score than Cate ın case you were ınterested). So we enjoyed the day bıt of that journey. The nıght bıt wasn´t as fun as we were woken at 1am for a passport check out of Bulgarıa (a whole country that we have only seen from the wındow of a traın). We then were up tıl well after 3am doıng the Turkısh vısa & passport check. Then we were woken early to get a bus replacement for the last 2 hours of the 21 hour journey to Istanbul. We were cheered up on the bus when a sweet turkısh man gave out tea and even gave Cate seconds! So we were really pretty tıred after all that.

But we serıously loved Istanbul - ıt was so excıtıng to be there. Here are a few stats ın case you thınk ıt´s not all that:

Istanbul ıs the 5th largest cıty ın the world wıth around 13 mıllıon people.
Half of ıt ıs ın the contınent of Europe and half ıs ın the contınent of Asıa.
It was once the capıtal of the Roman empıre back when ıt was Constantınople.
Please feel free to post more factoıds ın the comments!

I was partıcularly ınterested as I have been readıng about Constantıne ın the book Post-Chrıstendom by Stuart Murray - he was the roman empıre (Constantıne, not Murray) who made Chrıstıanıty the state relıgıon ın the 4th century and who made Constantınople a ´Chrıstıan´ cıty. I came round to the author´s vıew that ıt wasn´t actually a good thıng that Chrıstıanıty and state combıned and actually ıs to be lamented and repented of. Chrıstıanıty started as a movement of people who gave theır lıves to follow Jesus & were persecuted for ıt, but turned ınto somethıng ımposed from the top down, eventually persecutıng others ıf they dıd not sıgn up. Though the church has moved on a long way sınce then, I thınk there ıs stıll a lot of the top-down legacy today ın more subtle forms. It´s well worth a read ıf you´re ınterested. But please pray for us as do try our best to follow Jesus´ example of servıng others and as we call others to do the same.

It´s Ramadan at the mo whıch has lead to quıte a few ınterestıng chats wıth turkısh guys as ıt´s an easy thıng to ask them about (why the long face?!). Serıously ıt explaıns why some of them look ın such a bad mood ın the daytıme! Cate´s much bolder than me ın talkıng about Jesus ın these chats - pray for boldness for me to be myself. I guess that chats wıll get harder as Turkey ıs pretty cosmopolıtan compared to Syrıa and Jordan. We always say that we also fast and that both of us used to fast once a week (we mumble the used bıt!) That and readıng Acts 13 the other day make me feel lıke we should do a bıt more fastıng. I mean why not? (er, because ıt´s horrıble, that´s why not!)

Cate ıs wrıtıng ın the next post - we are wrıtıng thıs from Ankara whıch apparently ıs the capıtal of Turkey (I had assumed Istanbul was). Today we got quıte a few looks from the many turkısh men ın the cafe we went to for lunch. I´m not entırely sure whether ıt was our new turkısh trousers (thınk MC Hammer meets, well nothıng really, they´re your basıc MC Hammers really) or Cate´s red haır (she ıs lıterally the only person ın the cıty wıth red haır) or just Cate´s beauty (I´ll get a kıss on the cheek for that!)

Our itinerary

For the dedicated and appreciated!

Here is our plan for the next couple of months... concocted in Camberwell library. As you can see it is a bit tight - but hopefully with enough space for a few mishaps along the way!

10-Aug ENGLAND to GERMANY london - paris - munich train 3h sleeper 9h
11-Aug GERMANY to HUNGARY munich - budapest train 7.5h
12-Aug HUNGARY to ROMANIA rest in budapest / budapest - bucharest sleeper 15h
13-Aug ROMANIA rest in bucharest
14-Aug ROMANIA to TURKEY bucharest - sirkeci istanbul sleeper 20h
15-Aug TURKEY rest in istanbul
16-Aug TURKEY istanbul - ankara boat .5h + train 5.5h
17-Aug TURKEY ankara - adana sleeper 11.5h
18-Aug TURKEY to JORDAN adana - antakya bus 3h antakya - aleppo bus 3h
19-Aug JORDAN to SYRIA aleppo - damascus train 4.5h
20-Aug SYRIA rest in damascus
21-Aug SYRIA damascus - amman bus 4.5h
22-Aug SYRIA to EGYPT amman - aqaba bus 4h
23-Aug EGYPT aqaba - nuweiba boat 1h
24-Aug EGYPT rest in nuweiba (mt sinai)
25-Aug EGYPT nuweiba - cairo bus 9h CATE´s birthday! a bus birthday!
26-Aug EGYPT rest in cairo
27-Aug EGYPT rest in cairo / cairo - aswan dep. 10pm sleeper 12h
28-Aug EGYPT rest in aswan
29-Aug EGYPT rest in aswan
30-Aug EGYPT to SUDAN aswan - el sad - wadi halfa boat 24h
31-Aug SUDAN rest in wadi halfa
1-Sep SUDAN wadi halfa - abri bus 6h (available wed only)
2-Sep SUDAN abri - dongola bus 8h (available thu only)
3-Sep SUDAN dongola - khartoum bus 6h
4-Sep SUDAN rest in khartoum
5-Sep SUDAN rest in khartoum
6-Sep SUDAN khartoum - gedaref bus 6h
7-Sep SUDAN to ETHIOPIA gedaref - gonder bus x 2 13h
8-Sep ETHIOPIA rest in gonder
9-Sep ETHIOPIA gonder - bahar dar bus 4h
10-Sep ETHIOPIA bahar dar - addis ababa bus 6h
11-Sep ETHIOPIA rest in addis ababa
12-Sep ETHIOPIA rest in addis ababa
13-Sep ETHIOPIA addis ababa - awasa bus 5.5h
14-Sep ETHIOPIA rest in awasa
15-Sep ETHIOPIA to KENYA awasa - moyale bus 8h
16-Sep KENYA moyale - marsabit bus 11h
17-Sep KENYA rest in marsabit
18-Sep KENYA marsabit - isiolo bus 7h
19-Sep KENYA rest in isiolo
20-Sep KENYA isiolo - nairobi bus 4h
21-Sep KENYA rest in nairobi
22-Sep KENYA rest in nairobi
23-Sep KENYA nairobi - mombasa sleeper 15h
24-Sep KENYA rest in mombasa
25-Sep KENYA to TANZANIA mombasa - tanga bus 6h
26-Sep TANZANIA rest in tanga
27-Sep TANZANIA tanga - dar es salaam bus 5.5h
28-Sep TANZANIA rest in dar
29-Sep TANZANIA rest in dar
30-Sep TANZANIA rest in dar
1-Oct TANZANIA dar es salaam - nangurukuru pick up 6h
2-Oct TANZANIA nangurukuru - lindi bus 6.5h
3-Oct TANZANIA rest in lindi
4-Oct TANZANIA lindi - mtwara bus 3h
5-Oct TANZANIA rest in mtwara
6-Oct TANZANIA to MOZAMBIQUE mtwara - mocimboa no info ? apparently a canoe may be needed?
7-Oct MOZAMBIQUE mocimboa - pemba no info?
8-Oct MOZAMBIQUE Iris harvest school starts

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Whizzing across Europe

Here we are in Romania! Unbelievable that we are on our fourth day. But before I describe Romania, let me begin at the beginning...

We left London in a rush (no surprises), jumping on the Eurostar at 9am, and with no time we were in Paris. A glamourous start! We ambled around the Notre Dame area, and I remember it in greys and greens - the grey of the hot sky and the buidings, the green of the river. We hopped on the train to Munich that evening, but our connection in Stuttgart was delayed, and so instead of waiting late into the night, we stayed in Stuttgart. Lacking in energy and knowledge we stumbled into an Ibis hotel, and it was a real treat!

The next morning we got the train to Munich and hopped on the 7-hour train to Budapest, Hungary. What a rare joy that trip was! The rolling forests and blue mountains of Transylvania filled the windows and there was a snazzy bar area where we sat all day drinking Austrian 'limonade with herbs' - called Almsdudler, which we enjoyed because it sounds like Dudey.
We arrived in Budapest and began to feel like we were somewhere far away from England. We walked down wide dark streets to our hotel, with bars across windows and graffiti on large, imtimidating stone walls. The next we gravitated towards prettier parts of the city, drinking coffee & eating cheesecake for breakfast in 'Coffee Heaven' (YES!)

I found Budapest quite challenging. The poverty was quite clear, with some beggars just lying on the ground. It is difficult to know how much we can engage: we are tired, we want to rest. And yet it is impossible to switch our hearts off when we see hurt - love knows no holiday! Also the city itself we didn't really enjoy... glitzy shops, overwhelming stone and not a lot of smiles. Nick also had a cold and so for both of us, but particularly him, it was exhuasting walking around. I am glad we've moved on.

We hopped on the night sleeper to Bucharest today. (Leaving BuDaPest for BuCHaRest. Bucharest is in Romania. Nick got them slightly confused at the border when asked by the police where we were going. Thankfully I think the police weren't too upset.) We suddenly got our first wave of seriously intense heat as we got into our sleeper cabin. I prayed for help - it has been so AMAZING how God has helped me so far. I have felt his provision so tanglibly, and I am so grateful. He is the reason we are here - He called us AND ALSO provided everything we needed to afford it AND every day is providing the strength we need. He is so gracious, so unbelievable.
Back to cabin... leaving an hour late we hurtled through the countryside to Bucharest. This sleeper was SO much fun! It was such a buzz zooming through the night, chugidy chugidy... Not such a buzz being knocked on a couple of times for passports. And not a buzz at all having an enormous moth fly in the cabin and land on my arm! We didn't realise there was no food, and we were on the train from 7pm to 12pm the next day, but we didn't notice too much (maybe the heat helped!) and had enough water. We awoke to startling beauty - rivers and hills, dotted with incredible men working immensely hard in the heat. These men to me are like silent heroes! I have so much to learn from their lifestyle...

Bucharest is a wonderful city - we have had the most glorious day. Exploring a stunning park with messy pink flowers and a fountain, pottering around the cobbled old streets, where I bought a leather bag from a family who made it... Bucharest feels so much more relaxed, and people have been so smiley, so encouraging in their disposition. I would love to stay a little longer but we must zoom on to Istanbul tomorrow - on a seriously long sleeper train: 21 hours. Pray for us! I remember my Gran telling me as a little child 'you always occupy yourself Cate, you are good at finding things to do'. What an encouragment to draw on now! Crosswords, postcards, sermons, learning the guitar (!) - we will pull out all the stops for this next bit of our journey. And this time we will remember to bring food.

Yes, I do have a serious case of man flu which deserves much sympathy... One of our aims and prayers is that we´d meet and connect with people which is quite hard when you´re on the train most of the time. But we had a great chat with the french buffet carriage barman. He was telling us about how he´d been homeless for a year and how it was christians who´d helped him and how he respected what we were doing. He also said Bof a bit, which was quite funny, but nowhere near as funny as the sweet german ticket seller who said Shloop a lot with no sense of it being funny.

The journey has already been quite hard, we get a bit scratchy with each other when we get a bit stressed, but we always make up quickly and it's mainly really exciting and fun. If your interesed in the route, it is the blue one in this link (scroll down a bıt): Have run out of time in internet cafe, will write more next time. x