Syriac Wine

Those who know me will not be overly surprised that I came across a local wine tradition while visiting Mardin and the Tur Abdin region in east Turkey the other week.

The bleak limestone plateau of Tur Abdin is of great importance to Syriac Orthodox Christians, for whom the region used to be a monastic and cultural heartland. 

As far back as 586 B.C., the old testament prophet Ezekiel mentions “casks of wine from Uzal they exchanged for your wares” which is on the southern edge of the plateau of Tur Abdin. So it seems, unsurprisingly, that wine goes as far back as the people of the area do.

Obviously …. I needed to find out more ….

The bleak limestone soils of the plateau are probably a pretty good terroir to grow good grapes on, similar to many areas in France today. In my investigations I did notice one or two bottles of what can only be described as “well labeled home-brew”, but the only apparent professional winemaker, whose products are universally offered in the area, belongs to one player – Shiluh Winery. They assert that it is made using traditional methods of production albeit with modern techniques and methods.

There is very little information on the internet regarding them as advertising alcohol is illegal in Turkey, so you can only really telephone them and arrange a visit in person. I would expect that you can find out all about them that way. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to do this this time around.

The area around Midyat cultivates a lot of grapes but it’s hard to assess how much actually goes to wine making, but winemaking is certainly a core part of the Syriac history and religious traditions.

I purchased two of their wines in Mardin, and tried one of their products in one of the “not exactly numerous” a wine bars there.

Here’s one below, a 2016 Shiluh|turabdin

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Shiluh|turabdin 2016 Dry Red Wine 12.5% Abv

There’s obviously no Appellation Controllee/VQA etc control and not even any info on the grape on the bottle. The labelling is, however, super professional and fits very well with the character of the area. The label is even in braille for some reason, although the English on the back label could use a little proof reading! The bottle was well presented and when poured had a deep red colour. It has a very fruity nose, a little chewy and drinks like a Shiraz/Syrah – very fruity. Tannins and dryness were a lot less than expected (and less than the one I had tried previously) and it was not half bad to be perfectly honest. Opened up nicely in the glass after a few minutes and very nice with a hearty meat dish I had for dinner.

All I can say is that this is definitely worth “further investigation” and one to add to the “Exotic” wine collection.

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Mespotamia | Day 3

Another bright sunny day and we head 150km east from Mardin to the Mor (Saint) Gabriel Monastery, which is located in somewhat the middle of nowhere.

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Heading East

One and a half hours driving though a high plateau of limestone, a part of which is called the Tur Abdin or “Mountain of the Servant of God”, brings us to the Monastery.

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Bleak Limestone scenery

This area has been inhabited big Syrian Orthodox Christians since the 5th Century AD. They were encouraged to settle in these borderlands by Byzantine emperors in the hope that their presence would prevent further advances west by the Persians. At one time thousands of monks lived here in more than 80 monasteries in the Tur Abdin. Although the Tur Abdin suffered during the time of the crusades and later during the Mongol invasions, there had remained a large Christian community here until the period immediately following World War 1. Currently there are only six monasteries and a Christian population of around 20,000.

At length we come to the Monastery where there are many ornate bell tower visible from a distance across the scrubby plateau.

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One of the various ornate bell towers.
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The monastery was founded in 397 – 1621 years ago
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Portal of the monastery
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Entrance to the inner part of the monastery
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The Dome of Theodora – named after the wife of Emperor Justinian 15 centuries ago
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The Dome of Theodora – higher up this time
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Under the Dome of Theodora – this was probably used as a baptistry
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Many tunnels connect the parts of the monastery
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with large metal doors
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Burial crypt of bishops
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With candles still lit
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And inscriptions in the ancient Syriac language
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The monastery bell towers are made of the same local white limestone

After leaving the monastery we head west and north about 50km to the town of Hasankeyf. This is an ancient town that has straddled a bend in the Tigris river for over 3000 years and has been a strategic location for much of that time. However there is yet another dam being built across the Tigris and the town will likely flood in a few years. Many of the pre-historic caves in the sides of the river will also be flooded.

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The piers of the original bridge built 900 years ago still stand
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The modern bridge across the Tigris
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Across the Tigris

After leaving Hasankeyf in the mid afternoon we spent an hour 50km south in Midyat. There were a lot of Syriac wine shops there and some late lunch but nothing much to write about. Although we did take a wander around the local market. While this selection of local foodstuffs is run of the mill these days in a big supermarket – a thousand years ago it must have looked like the land of milk and honey to a travelling crusader from the cold lands of North Europe.

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Lots of spices beans and pulses of every description for sale in Midyat

Finally, on the way back to Mardin to catch our flight back to Istanbul we stopped briefly in the almost abandoned village of Dereiçi. The village is the site of several ancient churches and the population of the village is now only some 150 souls left out of 3000 people some 100 years ago. Seems most moved overseas in the intervening years. Strange to see Turkish names written in Syriac in the grave yard, an indication of what a cultural mix the village must once have been, but now no more ofter a long history spanning several thousand years.

The below photograph shows the inside of one of the 5th century churches there. Apparently money still comes from the Syriac community scattered overseas that keeps the structure well maintained, even after all this time.

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Beautifully maintained church dating to the 5th century AD.

And finally … cue music …. we were on the road to BATMAN!

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Yes really … there’s a town called Batman not far away …
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Mesopotamia | Day 2

After an early night in the nice, albeit “dry”, Edorba Elegance Hotel – Saturday morning was bright and sunny.

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Mardin and citadel in sunshine

A nice breakfast and the tour bus leaves to go visit the various Syriac monasteries in the area as well as a Kasımiye Medrese, an old islamic school, nearby that was only open for about 50 years from 1450-1500AD.

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Kasımiye Medrese 

The medrese has a commanding view over the fertile north Mesopotamian plain – the fertile crescent, cradle of civilization.

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Looking south towards the Mesopotamian plain

There is a fountain that flows into ever larger square pools in the Medrese that symbolizes the journey from birth to death.

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the journey of life illustrated by water

We then drive 40km east to the border town of Nusaybin, a town in existence for almost 3000 years and also the old Roman border fortress of Nisibis, which saw the demise of several Roman Emperors who fought over the centuries against the Persians. After driving along the cement border wall for several km we get to Nusaybin. 

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Following the concrete border wall with Syria – seems borders can be walls afterall!
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Bunkers on the border
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Entering Nusaybin

And here, just 300 meters from the border with Syria, is a 3rd century church of St Jacob with the sign written in Turkish, English and ancient Syriac, a precursor of the Arabic language.

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The sights this place must have seen in the last 1600 years
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9 feet of soil has been removed to reveal the entire building

We leave Nusaybin and drive up into the surrounding hills to a small village with an outdoor restaurant and spring called Beyazsu (White Water). Excellent kebabs all round, sitting outside in the sun with running water all around.

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Great location for a restaurant
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Nothing better than charcoal grilled beef on a spit

After that, it was back on the bus for the journey back over the plain and up the hill back into Mardin again for a few last pictures of sunset over north Mesopotamia. 

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Timeless Mesopotamian Scene
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Very relaxing

There followed an evening of live music and local Syriac wine, and dad continuing to polish his reputation as a very capable dancer with the locals.

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Mesopotamia | Day 1

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Only about 5km or slightly less from the Syrian border

A couple of months ago a local tour company called Sen Anlat Istanbul, advertised a tour to the south East of Turkey. Over the last couple of years we had been on a number of their walking tours discovering Istanbul which was an eye opener for me as I had though I knew the city quite well. We also did a 2 day tour with them visiting Edirne on the Greek-Turkish border over New Years in 2017-2018. However, this part of Turkey, down near the Syrian border looked very interesting. Exploring a part of the country that many never go to see for many reasons.

So on Friday 26th October we departed from Istanbul at 05.40am for Mardin, on the north Mesopotamian plain, some 1250km southeast of Istanbul, near the east Syrian and Iraq border. It was rainy and overcast leaving Istanbul and even more rainy in Mardin when we landed almost 2 hours later. Rain is fairly unusual in this part of the country.

This part of Turkey is populated mainly by ethnic Kurds and a smattering of Syriac Christians who are an ethnic relic of some of the earliest Christian communities in the Roman province of Syria almost two thousand years ago. There is also a small Yazidi presence as well.

After arriving in Mardin we headed south to the ruins of Dara, an ancient border fortress town marking the line between the Roman and Persian Empires in the 6th century AD. It’s still on a border being only 5km from the Turkish Syrian Border today.

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Only about 5km or slightly less from the Syrian border

The town held the Roman garrison and 65km of canals were dug and great cisterns holding 14,000 cubic meters of water, i.e. 14,000 tons of filtered water. The town lost it’s importance after the Arab invasions in 639AD and the destruction of the Persian empire by the Arabs that occurred at the same time.

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Dara Garrison Town
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Dwellings cut into the limestone
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The great underground cisterns – would have been filled to the brim with water

There was a small cantina at Dara with a lady making Gözleme, a traditional flatbread filled with cheese or potato and vegetables. Delicious late breakfast.

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Preparing Gözleme
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Hot buttered yum!

From Dara we journeyed back into a rainy an wet Mardin and, after taking a look round the well appointed museum with many ancient artefacts over 5000 years old, took a walk through the bazaar and old part of Mardin and spent the rest of the day exploring the town while trying to stay dry.

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The sodden streets of old Mardin

At times it had the feel of being in the original starwars movie in the Tatooine scenes. No sign of Han Solo or Jabba the Hut however!

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Bafa Night Sky | Time Lapse

A short 6 second time-lapse video composed of some 30 shots per second of video. However with it being pitch dark in the middle of the night each shot had a 30 second exposure. So, of course, the sky itself moving can be seen over the course of the shoot. 

30 frames per second times 30 seconds exposure each times 6 seconds of footage totals out at 90 minutes of total exposure time and the total time for capturing all the shots was over 2 hours! But it worked out great!

Night sky over the Latmos mountains at Bafa Lake
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2004 Saturn & Moon Shoot

I shot these pictures of the Moon and Saturn using a 200mm SkyWatcher refractor telescope back in October 2004 in Squamish BC.

It was 4am in the morning and fortunately mum actually got up to take a look as I had fallen asleep in a chair.

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Shaky handheld shot through the eyepiece video of Saturn – but rings clearly visible
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Experimental Coconut Irish Cream

Tried to do an experimental version of Irish Cream using – well – no dairy! Substituted 2 x 400ml cans of coconut milk for the normal sweetened condensed milk, and used honey as a sweetener, and a little brown sugar. Also, as an experiment, made some cashew “milk” and added that to the mix as well.

Ingredients

  • 2 x 400ml cans of regular coconut milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 1tbs cocoa powder
  • 2tbs brown sugar
  • 1 cup of cashew nuts
  • 2tsp instant coffee
  • 2tsp vanilla extract 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups whiskey

Method

Put the two cans of coconut milk into a pan and bring to a simmer and add the seeds from the vanilla pod, cocoa and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer again again and reduce until it is about half of the original volume. So you end up with about 400ml. Cool the mixture in the fridge.

Stalk the cashew nuts in water for about 6 hours and then put in a blender with 3 cups of water. Blend for about 3-5 mins and then strain through a fine sieve a couple of times.

Add the coconut reduction to a blender together with the cashew milk, instant coffee, vanilla extract and eggs and blend well,

Finally in order to avoid curdling the mixture when you add the whiskey transfer the mixture to a bowl and gradually whisk in the whiskey.

Job done!

Result

Well, it’s definitely Irish cream, but it needs to be sweeter . Think the cashew milk was a mistake as it’s not sweet enough and dilutes the mixture down so it’s a rather runny Irish cream. Next time avoid the cashews and add more brown sugar or honey.

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All Grain Brewing

October 2018

Between 2001 and 2006 when I was living in Squamish & Vancouver I took up home brewing. A very satisfying activity, very relaxing and in those days you could have as much fun making your own brewing equipment as you had making the beers.

Johnny M’s brew book

I guess I had done a couple of partial mash recipes from 2001 and then obviously I had got into all grain brewing in 2003 and took that from there. 

I guess I did my last brew in January 2006 at Dave’s in North Vancouver, some 12 years ago and while my brewing gear did come to Toronto in 2006, I didn’t bring it with me to Africa and subsequently Europe/Turkey after that. And my lovely brew kettle and some tubing I believe is still in Sharon’s basement in Tottenham, ON!

My old brew book – time to update again

At any rate, living these days in Istanbul, in a smaller space than I had in Squamish, I think I’ll do some all grain brew in a bag (BIAB). The ingredients here to make some unusual local beers is fantastic so time to do a little experimentation with ingredients and flavours here!

1st do in December 2001 was an extract recipe!
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Casablanca-Abidjan – in 3 mins

Finally managed to do a video montage of some of our pictures from the trip down West Africa Last year. Had to use some classic road trip music for it 🙂 

What can we do sometimes …. 
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Posted in 2017 | Casablanca - Abidjan | 2 Comments

Box carriers sail towards a tipping point of ocean freight rates and fuel

The predicted cost impact of the low sulphur fuels in 2020 is estimated to be in the order fo USD$50-$60 billion for the industry as a whole. Maersk alone estimates some US$2 billion in additional fuel costs for its own fleet.

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Market Insight: Damco FF – a people business, but does it have too many?

An article in today’s Loadstar analyzing the Damco FF business in light of the recent announcement from Maersk.

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Making Limoncello & Arancello

How it should turn out

This after dinner drink is a traditional finish to a meal in Italy and not having one would be like refusing desert. It’s also a good mixer for cocktails.

Additionally, there’s also an orange version of it called Arancello. So I reckoned I’d get some oranges and lemons and spend a Saturday afternoon peeling them and putting them in some 40% ABV Absolut (Ikea grade) vodka, although ideally 50% ABV grain alcohol is better, if you can find it.

Let’s see how this turns out … in about a month or so.

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle 40% Vodka (as you like) or 50% grain alcohol if you can get it
  • 10 lemons
  • 1 cup of sugar dissolved in 1 cup of water (or substitute 1 cup of honey – more natural)

Method

  • Zest lemons (or oranges) and add zest to vodka. Get rid of as much pith as possible
  • Add the juice of the lemons to the zest in the jar. [DON’T do this for the oranges]
  • Add the vodka
  • Let sit for four weeks
  • Add honey after 4 weeks, or alternately the 50/50 simple syrup – 1cup water + 1 cup  sugar dissolved in it
  • Strain through cheese cloth into another container
  • add lemon rinds to cheese cloth and squeeze into the liquor
  • Add the simple syrup (Sugar & Water) or honey to the liquor & shake
  • Leave for a week and then put in freezer
  • Enjoy

Nov 13th – 6 weeks later. Both lemon and orange macerated well. Added 1.25 cups of honey to the macerated Limoncello and will now let it sit for another week and then serve cold. Understand that using the lemon juice and not just the peel is the old fashioned way of doing it in the south. Additionally, I used honey as that was more traditional. In the old days in southern Italy Honey was more abundant (local) and cheaper than imported processed sugar. It gives a darker hue to the drink though.

For the Arancello, I added 1 cup of simple syrup, which is simply one cup of sugar added to one cup of boiling water and let it cool. I’ll let it stand for a week as well, although I tasted it and it tastes like Grand Marnier 😉 

Seems this is a fairly successful experiment!

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Irish Cream Recipe

So I reckoned, given the cost of a bottle of imported bottle of Baileys here in Istanbul, that it might be worth having a stab at making the stuff. It’s pretty simple and you just put the ingredients in a blender. After some research I came up with a recipe that looked about right, as follows:

Ingredients

  • 400ml/14oz – Sweetened Condensed milk
  • 1cup (250ml) Cream (heavy)
  • 1 2/3 cups Irish whiskey
  • 1tbs espresso (some say 2)
  • 2tbs chocolate syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence (try 2)
  • 1 tsp almond essence

Method

Made the first batch and had to spend +1.5 hours attempting to make condensed milk with cream and sugar as it was unavailable in stores in Istanbul. When attempting to blend all the ingredients together in the blender – there was a fair bit of curdling. However with some  skimming and straining it though a fine sieve the finish product was, dare I say – better than Mr R.A. Bailey’s concoction. 

On the next attempt, going on advice I’ve read, seems that you should add the whiskey last and very also very gradually to avoid curdling. Seems the  blender must be at a very slow speed as well in order to avoid curdling, so I might just combine it all by hand next time and see what happens.

The finished Product
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The Digital Imperative in Container Shipping | IDM Magazine

Interesting article with the President and COO of INTTRA, Inna Kuznetsova, regarding the current digital challenges in the container shipping industry.

Click on image to go to article

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The Turkish Pyramids

Just rode out in the blazing heat here (37C or so) today to take a look at the enormous Tumuli (ancient burial mounds) about 100km east of Izmir at ancient Sardis. Some of them are on a similar scale to the Great Pyramids at Giza in Egypt and there are a total of some 115 of them or so dotted over the landscape around Sardis.

The red marker pinpoints the location of Sardis in western Turkey
Red circles mark many of the mounds in this small area [click to enlarge]

Gyges and Croesus are the two most famous kings here about 2600 years ago. They’re famous mainly for being mentioned by Herodotus in book one of “The Histories“, and the story of Gyges is retold at a desert campfire by Kristin Scott Thomas’ character in the movie “The English Patient”. A Gyges of Lydia is also mentioned in Plato’s “The Republic” in book 2 and the “Ring of Gyges” tale is essentially the origin of the story of the Invisible Man popularised by H.G. Wells in the 19th century.

At any rate, Gyges, got a huge tumulus when he died but it seems that his grandson Alyattes got the biggest one! His great grandson, Croesus, was noted for being incredibly rich and Lydia is widely accepted to have been the first place to mint modern money around 600BC. This was probably on account of all the gold and silver in the local river washing out of the geologically active surrounding area, and I believe the expression “as rich as Croesus” is still around.

Croesus also had the dubious distinction of being the LAST king of Lydia! Needless to say, the Persians had noted this rather small but cash rich kingdom and decided that they would be better qualified to manage it personally in 546BC …. when their rather large army showed up outside the gates of Sardis to effect a “change in local management”!

Croesus had both good and bad luck. When the Persians showed up – he had misinterpreted the Oracle at Delphi and …. lost decisively .. and Cyrus the Great reckoned the best place for him was to fry him up on a pyre – kind of “frying tonight” Persian style without the kebab! However, when the pyre was lit – it started to rain – which hugely impresses the Persian king who ends up appointing Croesus as the local governor – worse than king but still better than being barbecued – and he lives to tell the tale!

At any rate, these burial mounds are enormous, the one for Alyattes is some 300m diameter, and they were entirely built by hand. Alyattes’s mound is similar in size to the Great pyramid of Giza and estimates suggest it took 2500 people 2.5 years to build it. So, it seems that the locals had a lot of spare time on their hands, back in the day, and the rulers had a lot of spare money to pay for it all 😉

So here’s a couple of drive-by shots of them, it’s a beautiful landscape there, even today, although it was a very hot day with little in the way of shade when I was there.

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Video | Dusty Biking in East Senegal

The dusty roads of east Senegal on April 17th, 2017. 

We started the day in Tambacounda in south central Senegal and headed south west through a game park where they said we may see monkeys, elephants and lions.Share

Posted in 2017 | Casablanca - Abidjan | Leave a comment

Proposed 2017 WAF Road Trip

Tester to see if interactive map works – Click on the map image below:

WAF Trip 2017

West Africa Ride Adventure  2017

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Motorcycle Maintenance: II

For those interested, here’s how to install the Kyryakin Mach2 air cleaner. Essentially more air, and a bit more fuel increases the number of horses you have, in this case by up to about 20%. It’s pretty easy, just pull off the stock air filter and back-plate, screw on the much shinier new one and bobs your uncle 🙂 Took about 30 minutes to pop that on.

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Dakar: The Return & Beyond

A cunning and devious plan is slowly making itself known. Boiled down, it entails two gentlemen of dubious sanity riding two Harley Davidsons from Casablanca, Morocco, starting at Rick’s Cafe, of course, and finishing up 5400km later in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Plan is to start south sometime early next year after the harmattan winds finish.

The short Long Way Down

This could be epic ….. and a lot of planning is required, however recent sources indicate that the Dakar – Abidjan stretch is in reasonable condition with some stunning scenery for those that make it, such as the below on the Senegal-Mali border.

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Posted in 2017 | Casablanca - Abidjan | Leave a comment

Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance

Looking for aliens

Looking for aliens

Time for a few upgrades on the 2010 Road King. How I wish I still had a garage or a shed and all my tools in one place 🙂

Most everything on the bike is stock with the exception of the exhaust which has a nice set of Vance & Hines twin slash ovals for a better “musical note”. The bike is getting on for 6 years old now so it’s also time to pay a little attention to her and put some maintenance and upgrade work in. So the list of items going on the old girl over the next week are:

– 1 x Kuryakin Mach 2 Hi-Flow air filter (sucks more air)- 1 x V&H FuelPack FP3 fuel control system – works on blue tooth with an iPhone – pretty cool
– 1x Ohlins HD159 rear shocks – the flying sofa becomes a plush flying “Throne”
– 1 x pair of progressive springs for front forks – upgrade the back, you need to upgrade the front

Just before ordering all this stuff, I checked the bike. With a non standard exhaust and a stock air filter, I reckoned there must have been some kind of added fuel controller – sure enough there was an odd looking black box under the seat made by some welsh company that went out of business back in 2012 and no instructions anywhere to figure out how to operate it.

The Alien

The Alien

Pulled that “alien” out of there yesterday and replaced it with the FP3.

Will have the HD dealer here in Istanbul (about 500m away) do the front forks next week. I would normally do the back shocks myself, but the heavy duty bike jack is in Izmir 🙁Share

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9 months in Turkey

Well, I finally got around to getting the blog updated and I put a selection of some 32 snaps together to kind of give a flavour of the place. Last winter here was foul with blizzards and snow-days in Istanbul so there was not much exploring done, only a little around Istanbul.

I bought a Harley in Northern Ireland back in Feb and, once the weather improved, rode it down through Europe to Turkey in May over the course of 5 days. This has enabled me to be a lot more mobile and I’ve made some trips to the Aegean coast and additionally made a 3000km bike tour with my old friend Glenn MacArtney around Cappadocia in central Turkey and also along the south and west coasts as well as the Gallipoli peninsula. I’ll post a separate bike-trip page for that one to add to the others in that section.

The summer will be drawing to a close soon, but I will try and be a little more active, time permitting, on the blog. Hope you enjoy the pictures, just click on the picture above to go to the album.
John

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McKinstry.ca is Back !

Well, after being deleted by the good people at the Canadian Internet Registration agency, the blog is back! It’s been inactive this year, but I’ll get some posts up shortly 🙂

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Reflections & Gratitude

Dakar at sunset

Looking back now, with only a weeks distance from the trip, and with a new challenge in Turkey coming up next week, this was certainly a splendid trip. I’m still not entirely sure as to “Why Dakar”, it certainly wasn’t anything to do with lunatic fly-ins and their rally. I guess it was more the challenge of seeing if I could ensure that that old bike could make it down there, that it was self sufficient, by and large and to see the subtle changes in landscape and people on the road between North Europe and Sub Saharan Africa for a change. To kind of connect them I think, which you don’t get when you fly! It’s also technically the only feasible land crossing of the Sahara that is currently possible by an average biker or traveller, so I guess that appealed as well.

It was also a pleasant surprise to have Justyna along, and a superb and uncomplaining traveller along the journey she was. My last hurrah leaving unemployment, and her last hurrah leaving Maersk for greener pastures. I would like to say thanks to Justyna, for the insights and thoughts along the way as well – this is the first bike ride where “Sweet Home Alabama” (Glenn’s favorite) was not the theme tune – Cockburns, “Birmingham Shadows” was the theme tune for sure. However I also need to also say thanks also for your French language skills, it made things a lot easier on many occasions. Also a special thanks to Nick Glenville and Willem van der Sanden at Maersk Logistics in Dakar and Nouakchott respectively and to the gang in the Damco air freight departments in Dakar and Amsterdam for getting the old girl back to Holland in good shape. Super job done at short notice.

I’ve found bike rides to be a great place to think, hours on the road with nothing but your thoughts enclosed within a helmet to keep you company, regardless of whether anyone is with you or not. Crossing the void that is the Sahara in such circumstances only sharpens the experience. There is a peace and tranquility about both the desert, and riding that I had not expected. It’s good for the soul …. well …. mine at least!

Time for a Pastis I think Share

Posted in 2011 | Amsterdam-Dakar | Leave a comment

Day 22 – Dakar, Senegal

Amsterdam|Dakar – Day 22 – Dakar, Senegal

September 23rd, 2011

Bike has to be left to the airport today but need to buy a baggy or two to put clothes in to take back on the flight. The rest I’ll leave in the panniers and ship. Head to shopping mall and purloin a couple of sports bags. Justyna needs one as well. She will fly up to Casablanca and pick up the stuff that we left with Amine and leave it in Dubai for me to pick up net time I’m there as she is moving to Poland in mid October. I, on the other hand, will fly direct back to Amsterdam on Air Maroc, which it turns out is way cheaper than flying only to Casablanca.

We head over to the Maersk airport office, just up the road. Much waiting around and a quick visit to the Senegalese customs. Head back to the hotel for lunch. I haven’t booked my flight back to Amsterdam as I can’t leave Senegal without the airway bill that says it’s being exported, i.e. proof that I didn’t sell the bike in Senegal. Ride the bike to the Air France/KLM Cargo area and disconnect the battery and watch as the guys empty the gas tank. The last of Justyna’s candies come in handy after a mouthful of gasoline apparently. But someone will likely be selling the 10 odd litters that came out of her. The dangerous cargo guy came and checked that the bike was electrically dead and gave her the ok to fly. Over the space of the next hour and a half the mlog guys constructed the crate for her which I wheeled her up on and then they put the framing around her. Finally a forklift came and took her away – I wasn’t allowed to follow. So strange – now we we’re no longer travellers, just tourists with no freedom or transport – completely weird to not have the old girl sitting outside the hotel!

We walked back to the hotel for some lunch and then back to the airport to pick up the paperwork which was finally complete around 4.30pm. We’re both now booked on early morning flights out to Casablanca/Amsterdam early tomorrow morning. So a quick taxi ride in the twilight into Dakar and hopped on the ferry to Isle Goree which Justyna wanted to see, followed by a light dinner, Yassa Chicken which was delicious for me, and back to a pastis at the hotel before turning in, and off course those end of ride/vacation blues.

 

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Day 21 –St Louis | Dakar

St Louis – Dakar

September 22nd, 2011
Not the earliest start, but brekkie of french pastries and coffee and orange juice (with bits) and get the bike packed. I can’t quite believe that we will finally actually make it to Dakar – the bike has not made any complaint in over 1000km and the engine is as sprightly as ever, in fact she seems keen to get there. Justyna has been in charge of packing for the last few days – finally worked out a system that involved less chefs and was more efficient. Head off south on the last leg after gassing up. Gas is European prices I notice in Senegal, €1.50/litre as opposed the the €1.00/litre in Morocco.

We cruise past lush tropical vegetation on a good road. Many towns and villages along the way. Stop for a break and are surrounded by kids. Justyna figured candy was better than handing out money and had several large bags to hand out along the way. At one point one of the mothers appears. We think she wants candy but end up realizing that she’s inviting us to lunch. We gratefully decline and head south.

By 4pm we’re in heavy traffic on the outskirts of Dakar. Alas there are no “Dakar” signposts that I could find to take the trophy picture with! We’re running late and finally make it to the Maersk Office around 4.30pm. Nick has airfreight quote and his guy says that the bike needs to be in bond by this time tomorrow in order to avoid customs problems. And he has his boys measure the bike so they can construct a packing crate for it. Super efficient.

After this, we take some pics in front of the office and head off to Cap Almadies, the most western point of the African contient to take some pictures and then try to find another Lonely Planet approved hotel nearby. Unfortunately the light is going when we finally reach the Cap though the early evening traffic. Take some pics, that are not great, and then head off to find hotel. Finally find it and check in. It’s the worst room on the whole trip. The power keeps going out, the aircon only blows hot air and mosquitos around the room, but it’s on the ocean with the sound of the breakers and there’s a restaurant. Check in and time to have a little celebration!

Order the usual end of ride pastis … and a nice bottle of champagne – over 6000km and the old bike made it with little other than a broken chain! She’s been past Dakar in a container ship twice, but it’s strange to remember riding along the road in Oude weltering exactly 3 weeks earlier on the way to this place – no airline ticket necessary! She is no longer just a machine, and I don’t think I could eve bear to be parted from her – way too many fond memories of exotic roads travelled. I think they’ll have to put the piston from this bike in my coffin! Once again she hasn’t left me hugely stranded on the side of the road and she’s got though it all. It’s also nice to share the celebration for as well. Unfortunately there were no oysters as per end of ride tradition with Glenn and Saija after the ride across America.

What a superb journey. Not sure how to top this one to be perfectly honest!

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Day 20 – Nouakchott | Saint Louis, Senegal

Nouakchott-Rosso Border Crossing

September 21st, 2011
Set out early after another brekkie of baguettes and croissants. In usual fashion there is little in the way of signposts to get out of the city. But thanks to the odd policeman we make it out. Long flat roads and in comparison to the north of Nouakchott it is quite heavily populated with many villages along the road. This off course makes it more problematic to recycle the lukewarm water from the top of the pannier that we’re going through to stay hydrated. But at least the temperature is not scorching, only mildly melting. It’s 200km to the border and we’ve got a fixer, Pape Fall, to meet us at the border as I understand that this border is a bit of a zoo and pretty chaotic. We also have to cross the Senegal river on a boat to reach the next country. Better than a minefield at least!

The road becomes quite bad, the worst I’ve seen, as they’ve been generally good up until this point. We finally get to Rosso on the border about lunchtime and meet Pape Fall, a large jolly Senegalese man who clearly takes his job seriously and has seen a few Maersk people though the border here. The paperwork and waiting begins. After much queuing and checking we have the paperwork sorted out but now we have to wait for the ferry. It’s supposed to leave at 3, but as 3pm rolls around there’s no sign of movement. Finally about 3.30pm I’m told to ride the bike through the water up onto the boat. OK. Looks like Justyna will have to wade across … but fortunately a Moroccan reefer truck driver gives her a dry ride onto the ferry – impressive. Turns out the ferry only runs a couple of times a day, but it’s the only way across if you have a vehicle. Most people seem to come across by Pirogue, all day long these large wooden canoe type boats float back and forward across the sluggish mud brown river ferrying people. One woman emerges drenched, apparently slipped off into the river during the disembarkation process. I decline to have the bike put on one, despite the offer of a good price!

Rosso – St Louis, Senegal

We finally reach the other side and are greeted by chaos. Pape navigates us though the confusion. There is even a pack of some 20 camels and a small herd of goats that is being customs cleared. This is certainly a place of extreme commerce. It reminds me of one of those bars on the dusty outer worlds in a star wars movie. Everything is for sale and tradeable. The only thing missing is Jabba the Hut!

Offers abound and one african guy can even speak fluent Polish and reasonable Dutch, it’s extraordinary.

We find out that we’re in but that the Customs will only grant the bike 48 hours in the country rather than the requested 10 days. So in theory I have to get the bike out of the country by Friday 4pm or I will have to go haggle with customs in Dakar, which could be quite a time waster. So I’m thinking option 1 but this, off course, limits time spent in Dakar.

We finally get though and settle accounts with Pape some 10km outside the town and head south. The landscape is now much more lush and green and sugar cane grows everywhere. It’s now about 5pm and the 1st 60km of the road is terrible, but after that it’s excellent. Decided that Saint Louis, the old capital of Senegal, will be the stop for the night as Dakar is just too far and don’t want to risk night driving on unfamiliar African roads, no matter how good they are.

We reach Saint Louis on the coast before dust and find a cheap Lonely Planet hotel on the island, which also, conveniently purports to have one of the best restaurants in Saint Louis. Which it does. several Pastis and a tasty stew later and it’s time for bed. The border took some 4 hours to cross. Tomorrow Dakar 🙂

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Day 19 – Nouakchott, Mauritania

September 20th, 2011
Today has officially been designated a recovery and administrative day ……… which means essentially that when I recover from my hangover I will do some admin and work out how to get me and the bike back to Holland! Ok, so that’s my excuse to loose a day on the road. Decide that everything will be done from Dakar and contact Nick Glenville at Maersk Logistics in Dakar. Decide that Chinese food is on the menu in Nouakchott tonight. And there is indeed a Chinese centre that serves Chinese workers that are in Nouakchott – usually telecoms guys. Unfortunately they only speak mandarin, not even French and while the food is excellent even asking for soy sauce proves to be a bit problematic.

Early to bed …. and yes, I may have had to have a recovery power nap in the afternoon, advancing years appear to be affecting my ability to recover from a night on the Scotch sauce.Share

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Day 18 – Nouakchott, Mauritania

September 19th, 2011
Today I have arranged to meet Willem van der Sanden from Maersk Logistics, and it’s a non road day. Hopefully there’s a Maersk fixer guy/agent down on the border with Senegal. I don’t have a Carnet de Passage for Senegal for the bike, which I’ve been told is not necessary anyway, But Justyna also doesn’t have a yellow fever vaccination card either, which we think is necessary to cross the border to Senegal.

Meet Willem for lunch at a nice establishment, which I also note sells beer, an interesting Islamic Republic they have here. Talk over the usual Maersk gossip and also at this point I’m realizing that will likely need to ship the bike back as I’m running out of time and new job in Turkey is starting in a couple of weeks. And frankly it just seems too far to do it all in reverse again to be honest. And I don’t fancy that head wind in Morocco and Mauritania for +1000km. Run some ideas past Willem and we agree to meet for dinner later on in the evening.

Head out to the main thing to see in Nouakchott – the Port de Peche – the old fishing port! The Pirogues and fishing boats have been bring fish onto these beaches, fresh from the Atlantic, for centuries. And little in the way they do it seems to have changed, with the potential exception of Yamaha outboard motors. Long, brightly painted boats are still launched from the beach and they bring their catch back to the beach where it is processed at the local fish market. A kind of African version of the great fish market in Billingsgate, London, and certainly going for just as long. I pass on buying some fish for the cook back at the auberge. You can buy your own fish and take it back to where you’re staying and they will prepare it for you for dinner – but we’re out with Willem tonight.

Head back to the hotel and investigate flights back to Casablanca and airfreighting the bike back, Willem has helpfully alerted the guys in Dakar for a quote as well. Come 8pm, WIllem is finished (Maersk 12 hour days as per usual) and he picks us up and we head to dinner. Nice French establishment, delicious food and far too many beers and we end up back at Willems super place in the north end of town. The night fades out from there as a bottle of excellent single malt and some rather nice cigars appeared …… although I have dim recollections of watching Dutch ballroom dancing championships at some point! Fade to black ……..

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Day 17 – Nouadhibou | Nouakchott, Mauritania

Nouadibou - Nouakchott, Mauritania

September 18th, 2011
Up early and more laughing cow cheese on baquettes for brekkie. The coffee is not as good here as in Morocco, all instant with hot milk. A few adjustments and pack the bike. Head off, but first need to find some gas money for the road as understand there are long distances between fill up points. I walk into a bank where a cashier who is passing large cubes of cash to a customer informs me that I cannot exchange money at this bank. He, less than helpfully, suggests trying a western union office down the street …. and he’s right! Funny banks they have here!

We head north up the peninsula to rejoin the main road south with a good 30km/h cross wind hampering progress. It’s 500km to Nouahchott and there’s not much in-between. Not even a town! The road here heads inland about 50km or so from the coast for most of the way. As we head inland the temperature climbs, and climbs, and climbs, until it’s at the point where you could cook a casserole! The digital air temp readout appears to be stuck at 51C. And worst off all, in our haste to leave Nouhadibou, we haven’t replaced the empty 1.5litre water bottles that are strapped onto the right hand pannier – which are usually at the temperature of warm tea!

50km, 100km, 150km, and no sign of habitation let alone the next gas station. A couple of breaks in the deadening heat are all we have. We’re almost 200km in from Nouhadibou with no sign of anything. Get back on the bike and 2 km up ahead is a gas station …. with …. no gas. But fortunately for us, fanta and lots of water which is much appreciated. Apparently 80km further on there is a gas station. We have plenty of gas so not worried. Riding along with the visor cracked open to hopefully dry some sweat off, it’s like someone pointing a hairdryer at your face, it is unbelievably hot!

We hit the next gas station and there’s a tea house and they’re selling baguettes and tea, so off course I prefer to go for a more balanced menu of chocolate chip cookies and fanta! Refuel, and we’re good until Nouakchott. Set off again in the oppressive heat. Mile after mile with stops for luke warm water and wiping the sweat off. After a couple of hours I reckon that we must be close to hitting those cool atlantic breezes again. But mile after unrelenting mile the heat just doesn’t seem to diminish. We pass a couple of photo opportunities but don’t stop. Everything is now simply just about getting out of this heat! The bike has also been having some issues keeping cool with engine temp rising to a max of 117C, a little warm for the old girl despite the fan being on, she crests a ridge and there’s another endless baking plain, and then moments later, we hit a wall of cold air, I start changing down the gears and coasting to a stop. We get off, I check the air temp, it’s fallen to 33C from 51C. Never has 33C felt so cool and welcoming. I check the max air temp, it showed 57C, so at one point we must have passed through a pocket of truly boiling air.

We’re only 60km out from our destination by this point and due to the motivation to get cool we’ve really been putting the miles behind us. We arrive into Nouakchott around 5.30pm and survey the bustling streets. There’s not much infrastructure but it’s very civilized by Nigerian standards and reminded me a little of Cotonou in Benin. Decide to rely on the great sage lonely planet again and after much directional impairment we finally find a cheap auberge for 12,000 Ougiya ((€35) which turns out to be just perfect after the roasting in the desert. “Climatisee?” (air conditioning) the French girl says … “Absolutely” says yer man!

Dinner at the auberge is excellent and we meet a Tunisian and Italian who are there for a UN project to put the entire judicial records of Mauritania into a searchable database – Danielo and Hassan. Very interesting conversation over dinner spanning aid, politics, Arab Spring, Africa etc. Crawl into bed exhausted but no longer dehydrated!

I should also note here that it was so hot that we didn’t take any pictures along the way …. !
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Day 16 – Nouadhibou, Mauritania

September 17th, 2011
The plan is to leave today for Nouakchott, however my contact, Willem van der Sanden is in Spain and not back until Sunday. So decided to explore Nouhadibou and have a non road day. I’m also a bit tired as we’ve covered some 1520km in the 3 days since leaving Agadir, better to take a break. Also understand that at Cap Blanc, just at the end of the peninsula that Nouhadibou is on, there are some of the last monk seals in the world, as well as an old ship graveyard there. So figure well spend the day and go and see them and a little of the area as well.

Take a walk up the main street of the town, it’s dusty and there’s not much infrastructure and has a very African feel. 80% of the faces now are black, but again Islamic culture predominates. We check out the market and take some pictures of a guy with an air rifle shooting a cigarette butt on a match stick on the pavement – entertainment opportunities are limited here. There’s a small crowd, including us, watching him and helping out. I’m the only one taking pictures however! There’s not much to the town, a small market and lots of stores and dusty streets, but there’s a sense that you can get pretty much anything that you need here. The South African biker even managed to get an M20 bolt for his front sprocket here I recalled.

Headed back to the hotel and jumped on the bike to head to Cap Blanc. Head past the iron ore loading port, which is the main reason the town exists. There’s a railway from here to Zouerat some 800km into the desert which serves the iron ore mine there. The trains that run on this railway are reputed to be some of the longest in the world – but there’s not much waiting to cross the lines in this part of the world! All the ore is brought out here to Nouhadibou where it is loaded on bulk ships to destinations around the world. There were a vast array of ships laying offshore during the time we were there, and the trains are indeed very long.

Cap Blanc is not signposted much, and it turns out that there’s 15km or so of off road piste to get there. Off course we have no luggage on the bike so shouldn’t be a big problem. However 2km in ….. and find myself horizontal on soft sand again albeit at very low speed so no injuries. However Justyna was not impressed with this and a bit spooked, time for a walk. However with a couple of fits and starts, and yours truly trying to learn how to handle soft sand (solo) we made it to Cap Blanc. The scenery is like being in a mad max movie, there’s an abandoned lighthouse, a large cargo ship washed up down below on the beach, hot sun and red sand. It’s like being in some post apocalyptic landscape. There’s a sign at the deserted entrance saying we’re supposed to pay 1200 Ougiya (about €5) for entrance to the “park”. But there is nobody around apart from some guys fishing below us on the beach by the bow of the grounded freighter – they turn out to be Chinese workers!!! (Or maybe the lost crew of the hulk washed up on the shore beside them!

Dismount and lock up the bike and decide to explore on foot. It’s hot! We wander over to the cliffs on the west side, there are two seemingly abandoned cows sitting in the sand chewing their cud, the place seems deserted. There are some buildings over on the western cliffs so we head over there. There’s a plaque on one – says it’s a visitors centre – and then an older guy appears from the depth of one of the buildings and we give him 2400 Ougiya. Although I wonder if the parks department will ever see any of it as there’s nothing in the way of tickets and nothing to prove who ever came or comes there. Still, I guess his family will have a little extra tonight!

He brings us over to the edge of the cliffs, over the rail and it’s a good 50m drop into the ocean. He starts whistling, although it’s pretty blowy so not sure who or what he’s whistling for. Then he points down to the waves, and there sure enough is a Monk Seal, just one, loafing around in the breakers. Monk seals are so-named because their coats supposedly resemble a monk’s robes. They were revered by the ancient Greeks, who believed that seeing a monk seal was a good omen. They featured in the writings of Homer and Aristotle, and were even depicted on one of the first coins ever produced, around 500 BC. Today, they are regarded as the world’s most endangered marine mammal. So I’m going with the good omen part and feeling confident that we’ll make Dakar 🙂

15km on dirt, rock and sand have Justyna nervous on the back (and closing eyes apparently) but we make back to the hotel without going horizontal again, although the bike doesn’t seem to mind it so much – she was, after allm built for this. And the tool tube I lovingly constructed, that Peter said would fall off, remains fixed solidly in place with 4 screw clamps despite being dumped several times in the sand!

Time for another beer and plate of fish at the Casa de Espania and off to bed! Nouakchott tomorrow.

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