Penryn adventurer Tony Clarke is back on his travels after last year's expedition which took him to the Arctic tundra. Tony, 68, has decided to head south this year and is heading for Africa. In this first of a series of articles the intrepid pensioner outlines his exploits so far, From Penryn to Turkey.
For me, the first 4,000 miles have always been the most difficult psychologically. I have now clocked up 5,000 miles, but the Land Rover and I have yet to reach the point of no return, where going on is the only option. This will occur somewhere between Egypt and Sudan.
After a month of driving through France, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, I have finally arrived at my primary destination: a port town called Iskenderun, in the south east corner of Turkey, close to the border of Syria. It is from here that I am hoping to catch the RoRo ferry that will take me to Egypt and into eastern Africa.
At present this is the only route available to me, with the west coast of Africa having its rainy season, the ferry service between Italy and Egypt forced to cancel, and all the Mediterranean Arab states closing their borders.
On the way to Turkey I camped for a few days at Lake Balaton in Hungary. On my last trip here I had seen smiles on the faces of those recently freed from the old USSR dictate and about to join the EU. These smiles have long since gone. I heard how difficult life had become in the past years. In Bulgaria also, there were few smiles. In Romania, none at all.
I had come this way particularly to revisit Romania. Thirty years ago, with Ceausescu controlling the country, I had tried to enter Romania via Hungary with my family with a view to visiting Dracula’s Castle in the Transylvanian mountains. Driving my first Land Rover and towing a 15-foot caravan, and with paperwork correct, I had exchanged US$200 for the Romanian LEA, which at that time bought little of any value. I was stopped at the border by an officer who announced that he would be drilling holes in the hollow walls of the caravan – to look, he said, for “Bibles.” Believing this to be another ploy to extract money, I refused to allow him to drill, and insisted that he return our passports and money; and to my surprise, he did so. Fortunately the Hungarians allowed us back over the border.
Even on this visit, 30 years later, Romania made me feel very anxious and ill at ease. It would be easy to believe the stories of vampires there: the characters I saw were harsh, their faces morose and unsmiling. I could not shake off the sense of foreboding, and slept half-dressed.
So here I am in Turkey, awaiting the ship to take me to Egypt. The Turks are good company, always ready to smile, relaxed with each other and with visitors. I try not to notice the odd Turkish lira which is invariably added to the bill. In smaller towns the pavement cafes serve no alcohol, only coffee, and I have taken to drinking beer from a cup so as not to offend anyone. On the whole the Turks seem to be doing very well financially, but are desperate to enter the EU, which will inevitably mark the end of their small shop enterprises.
The RoRo ship from Iskenderun to the small port of Damietta in Egypt has room for just 13 passengers; booking can only be done in the shipping office at Iskenderun; the ship leaves once a week and there is no sailing schedule available. My fingers are crossed.
According to Google Maps, it is 2,784 miles from my home in Penryn to the port of Iskenderun, a journey of just six days. I have been away for a month and driven nearly 5,000 miles – which, in my view, is the right way to travel.