The Cape to Cape expedition has now reached the half-way point. Having left Norway on 1 March, it arrived on the shores of the Red Sea on 13 April. While crossing Syria and Jordan, the team fell under the spell of these fascinating countries – but also into the traps of the desert.
The route through Turkey was just a foretaste of what was to come in Syria and Jordan for the Cape-to-Cape expedition. As the convoy entered the desert, numerous traps lay in wait for the expedition drivers who struggled to keep to their course.
Syria is the entry point to the Arab world. It is a mysterious country and the team met with many surprises: an official escort from the Protocol Department as they came into the country, a police escort around the town of Aleppo and along the road and an incredible number of official portraits of the Syrian President, Bachar el-Assad.
After Aleppo, Syria presented the opportunity to discover the art of driving on desert roads. It was not so much the temperature that surprised the drivers but the road surface: for hundreds of kilometres, the trucks drove over a laterite track covered in blocks of volcanic stone. This is a throw-back to earlier eruptions which created this lunar-type landscape. The architecture of the houses changed accordingly: dark stone buildings gradually replaced earthen dwellings. These stretches were also an opportunity to drive side-by-side, in particular to get away from the dust thrown up by the truck in front. There prevailed a great feeling of freedom and the drivers really had a good time.
But caution was needed… these desert crossings saw some spectacular Kerax take-offs! The desert hides traps that drivers do not see, even the most experienced amongst them. Because of the burning sunlight, the channels and dips in the road surface are sometimes concealed, making driving a tricky business.
Going from Syria into Jordan brought about another change in surroundings, as the aridity of Syria gave way to the green landscapes of Jordan - for in fact the region north of Amman is amazingly lush! Well controlled irrigation encourages agriculture in a number of places in this area where every piece of land that can be used for growing crops is exploited to the full. The climate was also surprisingly mild for this season of the year. The day to day experiences and encounters gave everyone the opportunity of forming their own opinion of this country. Then there was the descent towards the Dead Sea - inversely proportional to the rise in ambient temperature – and seemingly endless, which could have proved dangerous for machines and crew if the right gear was not selected and brakes were not used sparingly! Some drivers got into quite a sweat - both literally and figuratively!
When it comes to warmth, the welcome the team were given in Jordan was something none of them will ever forget. As in the Balkans and Turkey, the Kingdom of Jordan is one of the countries where the people showed the greatest enthusiasm as the caravan passed through. The sales event evening organised on the shores of the Dead Sea also made a powerful impression on Renault Trucks guests. Many questions were asked and a keen interest in the Cape to Cape adventure clearly shown.
The following night, on the approach to the historical site of Petra, the itinerary took the Cape to Cape drivers on a series of unbelievably narrow and tortuous roads. In just a few kilometres of hairpin bends, the vehicles climbed from 420 metres below sea level to almost 1,200 metres above!
The last night of the first half of the expedition was spent at a bivouac in the Wadi Rum desert. The caravan’s advance through the desert the next day was an event in itself, worthy of a Hollywood epic like the timeless Lawrence of Arabia as it stretched out in a straight line, surging from behind dunes or rocky outcrops in an environment of constantly changing colour. A final, spectacular flourish before boarding the ship for Djibouti. Cape to Cape leaves the Middle East with its bags full of memories (and quite a lot of sand).