Nicolas floating high in the Dead Sea, Israel, the lowest point on earth, -417 meter
or -1,368 feet below sea-level.
It is an amazing feeling to float in the Dead Sea. One feels like a cork bobbing forth
and back fighting falling over. Just don’t get any of the salt rich water in your eyes.
Seven months pregnant Nikki join Nicolas and I for a float in the Dead Sea.
Nicolas and all of us think that it was great to have Nikki and Kathie join us
for this part of the journey traveling through Israel.
We are two weeks ahead of the Pope’s visit to Israel and we can feel the excitement.
If it is French, we immediately get Flat Nicolas out for a picture session.
Nicolas goes to confession with John or was it the other way around?
Our friends from Signature Customs Design in Cyprus get some French cooking advice from Nicolas.
What can we say; he is a Saint as proven here where we visit the monasteries in Meteora, Greece.
Cape to Paris 2014
We entered in to the final stage of this grand journey as we said goodbye to the African continent and entered the Middle East.
Jordan greeted us with scenic vistas in the desert of Wadi Rum. We had in front of us incredible mountain formations with red colors of late afternoon sunlight reflecting of the desert rocks. The scenery was spectacular and the event made for some wonderful pictures. Dan’s wife, Kathie, had joined us in Aqaba and would now be with us though Israel. She was a welcomed member to the group and it was good to see the two of them enjoying the journey together.
We had come to Jordan mainly to see Petra a historical and Archeological city made famous by the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. To enter the city one walk through a very long and increasingly narrow canyon. It is a spectacular entrance to this hidden city with its rock cut architecture.
The early morning was cool as we hiked the canyon and we were not alone. Tourists from all over the world come to experience this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Smithsonian Magazine has chosen Petra as one of 28th places to see before you die and it is truly that spectacular. Despite the fame the place is not overrun with tourist and I guess some of that reflects all the problems of the neighborhood that surrounds the country of Jordan.
If and or when you make it here to see what this place is all about make sure to set aside a full day, you will need it. We had a great guide take us around for the first part and we walked quite a bit in the heat of the day. As we were guided around tourists on donkeys would pas us and I swore that you would never find me riding a donkey looking like a silly tourists. Glad to tell you that my opinion of silly donkey rides changes that afternoon as I were holding on for my life on top of a donkey taking me up some incredible steep steps. We hade set our goal on reaching “The Monastery” and our guide highly recommended using donkeys to take us up the mountain. To tell you the truth the donkey ride was one of my highlights that day. The donkeys were strong and had a good rhythm as they climbed the steepest rocky stairs you can imagine, quite impressed.
From Petra we returned to Aqaba from where we crossed the border to Israel. We had been warned that entering Israel with a vehicle could take some time. All luggage from the bikes had to be removed to go through a scanner, but next to that we discovered that this was a border like any other border. Different story if you ask John about his experience from this border. He would tell you that all went well until he was asked to go for an interview. While John was gone for the interview Kathie finished in no time and soon after came Dan and I while John was stuck on the border. We know that having traveled through Sudan did make them suspicious, but why just John? He was held on the border for almost 4 hours before he finally could meet his girlfriend Nikki. She had arrived to Israel from the US the day before and were now eager to show her seven months pregnancy. A lot had changed since they last saw each other three months prior.
Kainan, a motorcycle and KTM fanatic had traveled with GlobeRiders on two previous Adventures in South America and Southern Africa. At that time he told us that we needed to come and see him in Israel one day and so we did.
We were so happy to see him and his friends when they greeted us and welcomed us to their homeland Israel. For the next ten days Kainan and his friend Moni would guide us around Israel and take us places we never would have thought of visiting as they shared their love for this beautiful country. We were very lucky to have them as our friends and guides; it made the experience so much richer. Kainan was riding his KTM 990 Adventure and Moni had set aside his daily life to drive the chase vehicle and to be the private chauffer for the girls, what a great guy.
First night we stayed in a Kibush by the Dead Sea and went for a swim in the salty Sea next day. Actually it was more like floating trying to stay face up and not getting your eyes in to the 35% salt lake. We learned a lot from our local friends and one of the hot topics these days regarding the Dead Sea is how fast the water level is sinking due to industry using up the salt and the water. This is a major problem for the region which has border to Jordan as well.
Israel is a small country so it took us no time to ride to Jerusalem the following day. Roads are super good and navigation is easy as long as you have a good GPS. The GPS and even better a local guide like Kainan is very nice to have as a local guide especially in a big city like Jerusalem. GPS can just do so much and a local biker can do so much more figuring out the best way.
Looking back at our fully packed itinerary in Israel I must say that our visit to Jerusalem was my highlight. Just wondering the streets, the intimate bazars filled with colorful goods and then the Wailing Wall or Western Wall as it is also called was great. People were coming and going and all with a purpose. Some went in to the library and picked up a book and sat down to read while others went directly to the wall to pray. Others formed groups and did prayers together. One evening I went there by myself and arrived just as the moon came above the buildings behind the wall and that is when I took the banner picture on top of this page. It was such a magical place that I could come back to any time.
From Jerusalem Kainan took us for a ride due west to the Mediterranean coast of his hometown Tel Aviv. I thought we would get on some freeway and be there in no time, but that was not his plan. To our surprise we were riding a beautiful sealed and very curvy road through forest and deep canyons. Once again Israel surprised us with this little jewel of a road.
We were also able to brake away from all of the “regular” tourist stuff to do some serious off road riding for a full day. On our way to Haifa we came to a place that I had heard a lot about growing up and that was the Golan Heights. From here we had a good view in to Syria and at one point we heard what Kainan described as live shelling going on. Apparently there has been and still is fighting going on in this area.
It made me very sad to think about all of the suffering this land has gone through and still is going through. The whole region is in the headline news every day it seems. Last time, 1984, when I was riding my bike from Africa to Europe I was able to ride through Syria, a beautiful country with wonderful people and there I were again looking over the border to a war thorn country, so sad.
In Haifa we bid farewell with our great hosts that had put their daily life on hold to be our guides and make our stay so special, thank you, thank you so much. Kathie and Nikki bid farewell as we road our bikes to Haifa port to load our bikes for the journey to a new destination.
I never thought that I would find myself riding my bike in Cyprus, but there we were enjoying every twisty turn. We had been invited by GlobeRiders sponsor, Signature Customs Design, to spend a few days on the island on the way to Paris. I had met this company some time back when they were interested in having me use their custom sticker kits to make my bike stand out from the stock BMW model. I thought it was a great idea and so a new friendship began. Check out their web page they have some cool stuff.
The island of Cyprus is divided between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey. We landed in Limassol and spent most of our time in the Greek part of the island. It was first in 1960 that Cyprus was granted independence from the British. Oh boy had the Brits ever though the people hear all about bureaucracy. I took us hours to clear our bikes through customs and without Aris help we would still be there. Aris and his father, Angelos, were our hosts for the short visit on the island. We had a wonderful time with great riding in the mountains and a fantastic camp with a wonderful barbeque that evening. Several bike riding friends showed up and joined us on our adventure and we even got to meet the mayor of Limassol during an event at the local BMW dealership. We thank you our hosts and their friends for taking off from a busy schedule to meet with us. Our visit to Cyprus had been a good change of phase in preparations for the last weeks of riding to Paris.
When we touch land in main land Turkey our journey went in to another geer, we were getting closer to the end and we could feel it. Our days became longer and it was more about the distance than where we were riding. We did however get in a few distractions along the track like the Meteora Monasteries in Greece and a visit to Venice, Italy, see gallery below. Both incredible places that I am very glad that we took the time to visit.
We had entered Dan’s home turf, sort of. Dan has ventured the back roads of southern Europe many a time and had staked out a great rout for us through the Italian Alps. We were enjoying the twisty roads and great vistas of the Alps when Dan’s KTM decided that it would not run any more. On a small roadside parking lot and several hours of troubleshooting we eventually had to give up and ADAC (German version of US AAA club) was called to collect Dan and his bike. Next day we were to meet with Dan to oversee the repair. Unfortunately being a big Italian cycling weekend any work on the bike would have to wait over the weekend and for that reason Dan decided to end his journey there and then. After all our tour was just days from reaching Paris so from a practical standpoint it made better sense for Dan have the bike shipped and to head for the barn.
On arrival in Paris Nicolas greeted us as if we were his long lost kids. Waving an American and a Norwegian flag he came running in to a busy roundabout escorting us to the curbside. I smiled to myself seeing his child like enthusiasm and wondered where he gets this energy. Remember Nicolas journey was cut short just days in to this Cape to Paris ride when he crashed and broke a collarbone in Namibia. Since that date when he returned to France he has followed our every move. Some times we would receive SMS text messages on our cell phones welcoming us to a new destination just as we arrived. It felt like he was with us all the way, not just by stocking us by following our tracking device, but also through Flat Nicolas pictures that we took along the way.
It was a wonderful reunion on the sidewalk in the center of Paris where we took pictures with the Eifel Tower in the background. But the party had just begun; next stop was Nicolas home in Normandy.
Flat Nicolas was handed over together with a little secret we had kept collecting during this journey. After Nicolas left us we had made a passport with a picture of Nicolas that we presented at every border crossing. We very kindly asked the immigration officer on duty if they could write a little message to Nicolas, sign it and stamp. Some borders were very easy to persuade while others took a little more convincing, but we got them all. The idea is that when Nicolas does this tour again he can bring along this “Passport” and show it at the border and I am sure that some great reunions will occur. We wish you best of luck Nicolas.
As you will see from some of the last pictures on the gallery below we had a chance to explore Normandy further. The highlight was our daytrip to Omaha Beach just 3 days ahead of the 70th anniversary. This is a place one has heard so much about and to have the opportunity to see and feel the place was very special.
With that the Journey has come to an end and I would like to thank Dan, Nicolas and John for your friendship and comradery. It was a great rip with lots wonderful experiences and some rather challenging events. Most important we all made it in one way or the other, thank you.