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With just the two of us… David and John

The drive through the Nile Delta from Cairo…

was uneventful – but our nerves were suddenly shattered by the hysterical traffic of Alexandria. Buses, cars, bicycles, taxis, donkeys, cattle and camels – EVERYWHERE – and all going in different directions! We got stuck behind a butcher’s horse drawn cart, piled high with beef carcases, and covered in flies. Blood and bits of flesh splattered all over us and, by the time we reached the docks, we had become the old RED truck…

Ferry tickets…

were purchased and we were directed to drive the truck alongside the ship and into an area marked on the pavement. A crane appeared, slings descended, were fastened, slack was taken up, and The Old Blue Truck lurched into space. Not too gracefully either, and when she was about eight metres above our heads, a gentle sway began… Then a gut wrenching creak of stressed metal, and a thud… Somehow the straps held – and the truck (now at a different angle) disappeared from view up and over the ship’s gunnels. We scrambled on board and worked our way forward to find her clamped securely (we hoped) to the deck. We had not purchased cabin tickets (money was running short again) so we settled into a sheltered spot amongst the rust spots – and set sail for the Lebanon.

Alexandria to Beirut

It is about 500 miles (2 days) from Alexandria to Beirut – as the crow flies, but (as so often happens with crows) this one didn’t fly straight! We stayed quite close to the coast and passed Rosetta (where the stone was found), Baltim, Damietta and Port Said at the entry to the Suez Canal. It was just 16 weeks later that Port Said was bombed during the Six Day War – and the Suez was to close for 8 years. We headed North past Al Arish on the Mediterranean coast of the Sinai, and the border of Israel at Ashdod. Past Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa and the Lebanese border at Bezet – to the historic little Island of Tyre, which has absolutely nothing to do with pneumatics, and is pronounced “Soor.” Around 2000 BCE Tyre was founded by Phoenician merchants and in 585 BCE fell under siege to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar – and then 200 years later was conquered by Alexander the Great. In 68 BCE it passed over to Roman control. In 638 CE it was conquered by Arab Muslims, in 1124 by Christian Crusaders, in 1291 by Muslim Mamluks, in 1516 (together with the rest of Lebanon) by the Ottomans. In 1920 Lebanon came under the control of a French mandate, in 1946 gained its independence, and in early 1967 the Old Blue Truck arrived in Beirut…

No one even noticed!

We drove from the docks into the city of Beirut and began looking for somewhere to camp for the night. David and Denis were going to stay for a few days while I travelled North to Tripoli to stay with a friend from London. So when we found the old Phoenician Hotel, we decided to pause there and make our plans… a splendid old hotel with an awesome sea view. We couldn’t afford real drinks – so we took tea on the balcony instead. The old Phoenician was one of the early fatalities of the civil war and the new five star Phoenicia Inter-continental now stands in its place.

I took a taxi on the 50 mile journey to Tripoli…

and stayed for a week with Nellie Homsie (a friend from London) and her family. The hospitality was wonderful and a real bed after so long “in the truck” took some getting used to – as did living in a large family of women. Nellie’s father (a senior director of the Jordan National Bank) had died only a few months earlier and custom dictated that we be chaperoned everywhere we went. They were well known and my presence caused considerable interest – and a lot of extended hospitality.

We visited many old sites, from the Teylan Mosque (1336) to the old port of Al Mina. We dressed quite formally, and always in a group of four, or more. The weekends were particularly ‘exciting’ – the 1958 insurrection against the Christian government had started in Tripoli and hill tribes from the Cedars region would ride into town and shoot up Tripoli every weekend!

Over the years I have lost touch with the Homsies – and I regret that. They were a wonderful family. There have been many times (when the news from Lebanon has been quite distressing) that I have wondered about them – and their safety.

While I was enjoying a brief period of family life…

things for David were far from boring!

His words… “I fell in love with a Lebanese girl in Beirut, Magda Sabet, but she was not the slightest bit interested in me! I fell in love with the Lebanon generally, the Land of Milk and Honey (ex Phoenicia) and its people, and a few years later married my first wife, a Lebanese girl, Yolande, a Greek Orthodox, who I met in London…” but now he’s getting ahead of the story!

David and Denis, driving North through Tripoli, picked me up at the pre-arranged place and time – it was an emotional farewell from my newly adopted family. We headed North…

Crossing the Syrian border just South of Homs…

and almost immediately were surrounded by squadrons of tanks heading South, to the Golan Heights, we later learned. David remembers… “seeing blue eyed boys playing a form of cricket – which surprised us greatly”. On through Tartus and Latakia and further North to Aleppo, and the tank activity continued, something big was beginning – but we didn’t hang around to find out.

A brief visit to the Citadel Mount…

(actually we just drove around it!) and then we decided to take another one of our ‘famous left turns’ – and ran due West for the Mediterranean coast.

We crossed the Turkish border…

at Antakya, and for the first time since Tripoli, we stopped for the night. Around 50 CE, Antioch had become the headquarters of Paul during his missionary journeys – and it is believed to be the place where the Jesus following Jews first emerged as a religious group outside Judaism – marking the start of Christianity. Antioch remained the leading centre of Christianity until the 4th century. It mattered little to us – we just felt safer there!

The following morning we moved on to Iskenderun and stayed several days. A beautiful place, one of the most cosmopolitan in Turkey, with sizeable Christian and Jewish minorities – which coexist well with the Muslim majority. David again… “I absolutely loved Iskenderun and was able to return in 1998 on our way from London to Cape Town.”

We followed the Gulf of Levante for as long as we could, then North at Adana, through the mountains and into the desert again! Another 500 km of desert! Through Konya and past Lake Taz Golu to the Turkish capital of Ankara. David was not impressed… “Did not like Ankara, have been back a few times since – my opinion has not changed. It was built here to be far away from the Greek border, so if ever there was a serious conflict the Capital would not be taken easily.”

And the Old Blue Truck was not impressed either

our first major engine break-down forced us to stop in Ankarra for repairs, for two days, while the head came off – and we fixed whatever you fix when ‘the head comes off’. I still have no clue on engines!

We were still 200 miles from Istanbul so, as soon as we could, we headed straight there. The following few days were taken up playing tourist – and taking pictures.  The Blue Mosque, Topkapi Museum, the Bosporous – and our last few Suuqs.

We took that famous ferry (there was no bridge in those days) across the Bosporous – and I noticed that David had finally shaved off his beard…

We were back in Europe!

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There are several chapters in this section…

Links to each chapter are below – and also drop down from the navigation bar at top of page.

1.  London to Le Mans, France: by Keith – because he speaks French, we hoped to contact old friends in Le Mans before trip 2.
2. Le Mans to Torremolinos, Spain: by the three of us – because we couldn’t rely on any one of us to tell the whole story…
3. Torremolinos to Tunis, Tunisia: By the three of us – for the last time.  And a very funny episode in a Turkish Bath…
4. Tunis to Cairo, Egypt: By the two of us – some embarrassment for John. Serious reflections for all. Peter left in Cairo.
5. Cairo to Istanbul, Turkey: David and John go it alone.  David falls in love – and John spends a week in a family of women.
The Syrian Tank Corps causes us some concern and we blow the engine in Ankara.
6. Istanbul to London: David and John bring the Old Blue Truck home – but not without trauma.
A drug search entering Greece – brake failure on the hills at Skala – a military coup in Athens.
A casino win in Monte Carlo. Visits to all the iconic tourist sites of Europe.

 

A good map of the route is here:

2 Comments

  1. magda sabet haddad
    March 8, 2011

    Hi David
    We are both fine despite all the rumblings in this part of the globe

    By the way didn’t you introduce me to a Jane something or other, who eventually came to work n Lebanon?
    Did I ever see this Blue Truck?
    Can’t for the life of me remember the old Phoenician

    Hope you are well too

    Reply
    • David
      March 8, 2011

      Hi Magda,
      Yes you’re correct, Jane Wilde, my ex girlfriend came to Beirut, and she also fell in love with a Lebanese! Bassam something. I think Lebanon in ancient times was Phoenicia?
      Glad you’re well.
      David.

      Reply

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