In Transit

Tunisia was meant to be a transit country. Libya though was a tough nut to crack, and in the end I had to try another route, Syria being the 'best' of the options. I managed to reach Egypt from Tunisia in 8 days using the following route:

Day 1:
11pm - Board ferry in Tunis, bound for Palermo, Sicily [Grand Navi Veloci, 8 hours]. Deck class. Spend the night on the floor of the 'Starlight Lounge', the smell of smelly feet.

Day 2:
11am - We arrive in Palermo 3 hours late. Immigration procedures aboard the boat cause crowd problems. The helplessness of being stuck in a human mass with no escape.
12pm - Finally disembark. It is Sunday and everything is closed. The locals are gathered along the main street to watch the annual marathon and to stroll about under the pleasant weather. Being a Sunday there are no overnight buses to Bari. The only public transport is the train.
4pm - I board the train for Messina [Trenitalia, 3 hours]. It is crowded full of students. The train creeps along the dramatic coastline, but it is soon dark.
7pm - We arrive in Messina in the evening and I run to the ferry and just manage to board before it slips into the straits [Ferrovie dello Stato, 30 minutes]. We arrive in Villa San Giovanni on the Calabrian shore, where the bow of the boat opens up to reveal a train.
11pm - The inter-regional train from Villa San Giovanni to Paola is delayed.
12pm - The train arrives [Trenitalia, 3 hours].

Day 3:
3am - We arrive in Paola. The station seats are uncomfortable for sleeping and the park bench is cold and exposed. Wild dogs patrol the streets. The night passes sleeplessly.
5am - The train to Castiglione keeps changing platforms, although it does keep us passengers warm from the exercise in the dewy morning [Trenitalia, 6 hours]. The first train consists of 2 carriages passing through the countryside, stopping often. One section is taken by bus. We reach Taranto just before noon, an old industrial port with ships and cranes and grey air and orange sun.
2pm - The train for Bari departs with one change [Ferrovie Est Sud, 3 hours]. It winds through the low hills of Puglia, Trulli huts with their stone, conical roofs dotting the landscape. We reach Bari in the evening just after knock-off. It is pleasant, the old town is lit up, and a gentle breeze flutters in from the sea.
8pm - I board the ferry from Bari to Igoumenitsa, Greece [Superfast Ferries, 8 hours]. Deck class, but the ferry is cleaner than the Tunis ferry, there are less people, and there is a shower of which I take immediate advantage.

Day 4:
6am - We arrive in Igoumenitsa in the gloom. Disembarkation is painless. The high, grey hills surround the harbour, suffocating it in the half light. Even the only escape - the sea - is blockaded by tall islands.
8am - There are no trains here. I take the bus to Thessaloniki [KTEL, 7 hours]. It winds through the smoky, rust coloured hills for hours on end, but the road is wide and good. I remember thinking that there must be wolves in these hills. We pass by the turnoff for Meteora, to my regret.
3pm - We arrive in Thessaloniki, a busy port city. Big square buildings laid out in square city blocks. I wander the streets as the coach doesn't leave until 10pm.
10pm - The coach for Istanbul departs [??, 8 hours].

Day 5:
4am - We cross the border in the biting cold. Luckily there are duty free shops on both sides where we can shelter.
7am - Istanbul bus station: a big carpark surrounded by dozens of bus company offices. This makes looking for a bus to a particular place in Turkey a little difficult. Perhaps a dozen or so sleepy people, me included, are drifting around, stupefied.
8:30am - The coach for Ankara departs [Has, 8 hours].
4pm - We arrive in Ankara. I have time to wander into the center of the city, full of people leaving work, students, etc.
10pm - The coach for Antakya departs [Has, 8 hours]. There is some confusion as I get on the wrong coach.

Day 6:
9am - We arrive at the bus station in Antakya (aka Antioch). A large round building with numerous money changers loitering outside.
10am - The coach for Aleppo, Syria, departs [Has, 3 hours].
11am - At the border with Syria. I don't have a visa, and am ushered into a room with a desk, behind which sits a bald immigration officer, reclining in his chair. He points his chin in my direction: "Why do you want to enter Syria?" I answer as humbly and earnestly as I can: "I just want to transit to Jordan, I'm simply a tourist." He regards me and flips open a dog-eared scrap book. "Australia," he mutters, then looks up and smirks: "I'll give you 3 days. You must pay 100 Australian dollars, at the counter." There is no choice but to pay, and I'm through.
11:30am - Only half a dozen passengers are continuing through to Aleppo, and consequently our coach turns into a minivan. We speed off into the desert with a goat in the boot and us passengers surrounded by sacks of clothing.
1pm - We reach Aleppo. I stroll through the souks and the medina and up to the citadel. Life seems normal. There are no soldiers and no notable police presence. People are going about their business in the markets. Students are sitting in the parks, chatting and laughing. Couples stroll around the citadel, arm in arm.
10pm - The coach to Amman, Jordan departs [??, 6 hours]. It passes through Hama, Homs, and Deraa, all trouble spots in the current revolution. It is bitterly cold, and it is my sixth night without sleeping in a bed.

Day 7:
4am - We arrive at the Jordanian border. This time there are no duty free shops, and we shiver en masse in the freezing morning as the single customs officer goes through our bags one by one. I don't have a visa for Jordan either, and the interview in the immigration office is similarly frosty and formal. But this time I only pay $30AUD.
10am - We reach Amman and I find a bus to Petra [??, 3 hours].
8pm - After visiting Petra I find a hostel, and collapse onto the first bed in the room.

Day 8:
8am - I take the bus to Aqaba [??, 3 hours].
12pm - I arrive at the port for the 1pm ferry to Nuweiba, but it doesn't leave until 3pm. They say it's because they have to load the boat, but it is empty of passengers.
3pm - The boat slips the dock [AB Maritime, 3 hours] and sails steadily down the Gulf of Aqaba, the sands of Arabia to port and the red cliffs of the Sinai to starboard. It is peaceful, as the call to prayer comes across the tannoy. A solitary old man sits on his mat on the bow, staring into the spray, or the setting sun.
7pm - It is already dark, the lights of Nuweiba approach. Soon the details of the docks can be traced, and I go below deck to pack my bag and wait for docking.
8pm - Still waiting, and I go on deck to find out what's happening. We've run aground!! Nuweiba is 100m away, but the tug is straining in the opposite direction. I find out also that this boat is a slow replacement boat. The fast boat had burned down a week ago.
9pm - We dock and I step ashore onto Egypt.


Line 1 - Tunis to Palermo ferry; Across the Straits of Messina; Palermo. 
Line 2 - Paola train station; the Italian countryside; Taranto. 
Line 3 - Trulli; Bari; Greece. 
Line 4 - Thessaloniki; a Turkish coach; crossing the Bosphorus. 
Line 5 - Ankara; Aleppo bus station; Amman. 
Line 6 - Petra and Aaron's tomb; sailing down the Gulf of Aqaba; Nuweiba, Egypt.]

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