The Boat & Israel
A small write-up of my experiences with Grimaldi Freights to Ashdod in Israel and the drive down through Israel.
I couldn't really post this earlier as Sudan is in a bit of a conflict with Israel. But now that I'm in Sudan, they can't stop me from entering after reading this post and possibly leading it back to me. So here it goes...
After a delay of three days, I finally got to board the 'Grand Ellade'. A ship that took both cargo and passengers. I stored the motorcycle and was shown my cabin. The atmosphere on board was interesting. At first I thought all of them were just extremely occupied with working and that they didn't have time to crack a joke here-and-there or even to make some conversation. I later found out that the crew just wasn't really friendly and that normally the Grimaldi fella's were better company (the other crews that is).
The 'Messman', or steward, invited me for diner that day and stated breakfast was at 7:30, lunch at 12:00 and diner at 18:00. I had diner the first night and fell asleep rather quickly after that. That night was spent still at Salerno port and we were off by breakfast. At sunset, we passed Sicily. It was a beautiful sunset, but I did some calculations based the on current speed and rough distance that came out to be closer to a week than 3 days. But, there was food, there was something to drink, and, time. Time to write, time to ease my mind and plan ahead for the upcoming countries.
There was one officer on the ship I had to deal with quite a bit in the beginning (he wanted my passport and some other details), he was pretty much always grumpy, no matter what I did. One of the first questions was if I could go to the motorcycle to fetch some stuff. He accepted this, but not very happily because someone (in this case himself) had to escort me while I was in the cargo bay. Slowly but surely it started daunting on me that apart from freedom of movement in the passenger area and getting some food, it was severely limited and I learned working on the bike was out of the question. Annoyed, I accepted.
There were two stops along the way, not Cyprus (which I thought), but Greece and Turkey. In Greece, I had to go through some customs inspections because of leaving the 'Shengen' area (Europe, basically). The ferry-line took me and I ended up having a chat with the driver. From our perspective in the Netherlands, Europe had to bail out Greece because they don't pay taxes. His view was a bit different as he thought he paid a lot of taxes, but the government didn't really spend it all that well and was very corrupt. The truth will probably lie in the middle, but he wasn't very happy. He continued to tell me that everyone drove like an idiot, because everyone had to buy their licence (pay off the instructor, basically), that made sense to me and when I asked him if he also paid of his instructor, he said off course, otherwise it would have taken forever.
The second to last day on the boat I got a bit bored and remembered my flask of whisky was still in the motorcycle. I thought maybe a little bit of Scottish goodness could help get the crew to warm up to me a little bit (the captain of the ship seemed like a really nice guy), so I went on a mission to get it. Grumpy guy said he would come back to me with when he could give me an escort (so, never). I waited for an hour or two before I ran into one of the other officers. This guy seemed a bit more friendly and helpful, but never at his own loss. Fortunately, he gave me the clear to just go to the bike. This meant going down through the decks with the elevator, pop into the engine room, go past the control room and into the spare parts room where my motorcycle was. The first bit went well, I even managed to get through the engine room. However, in the control room, I was met with 'the serious guy' (they all have pseudonyms since I don't know any of their names). He seemed to not be Italian but a bit further east, Turkish or maybe Armenian and he didn't give away any emotions. He looked at me with a look like, what do you want. I casually mention I'm just popping down through to see my bike. At that point in time the (I think) chief engineer starts yelling at me in Italian. I obviously don't understand and try to reason with serious guy, he tells me to go back up and while I walk away the chief engineer yells some more. I'm extremely annoyed at this point, slam the door and get back to my room. While I understood the confusion and I should have someone with me, yelling at customers seems like a bad practice to me. Fortunately, we picked up speed and it looked like we would hit Israel the next day.
Going through Israel was a risk as any evidence linking me to Israel in my passport would prevent me from entering the Sudan. For this specific reason, I got a second passport so that any stamps could go in there. I later found out Israel had some countermeasures of their own and just handed out tickets instead of stamping passports.
Upon entering (late in the evening), the immigration and security people came aboard the ship and did a thorough check on everyone. This was a really strange experience. There were three people, one woman, very friendly and meeting her proved to be of great help later on. Then there were two security officials. The first one I thought nothing off, the second one looked like a stereotypical mercenary from the movies, the only thing he was missing was an AK. The conversation was a bit odd. It was half interrogation and half pleasantries. They would ask me everything from what kind of work I would do, what my route would be, what my girlfriends name was etc. The way they asked their questions threw me off a little though as they would pick completely random subjects after one another and fire the questions in rapid order. I wasn't too sure what was happening or if I did 'well', but they took my passport with the rest of them and seemed to accept me into Israel. There was only one problem, customs was closed so I had to fetch the bike the next day. The captain gracefully allowed me to stay aboard one more night (for which I was really thankful, it was something he didn't have to do). They said customs would be on board next morning and their office opened at 0800, so I should be ready from then.
08:00 the next morning, ready as I'll ever be, I enjoy a cup of coffee and wait for the customs to arrive. 09:00, nothing. 10:00 still nothing. A bit later the captain comes to me and tells me to head out and go to the immigration office. So, I oblige. There was a mechanic downstairs who was kind enough to take me as the port is rather large. When arriving, I found Rachel (I learned later). The same woman that was aboard the ship the day before. She asked me what I was doing there and I told her. I wasn't supposed to be at immigration but at customs, but she made some phone calls and there was one place I needed to go first.
Allalouf was the partner company of the ferry line I was using and I needed some port papers to get the bike cleared. On the phone they said it was only 20 minutes of walking, but when I went outside Rachel followed me and told me she would take me as it would take way longer than 20 minutes. Going there meant going out of the port, which meant a security check (one of many that day). I, having given an optimistic outlook by the captains brevity, was fully motorcycle geared up. Which meant having boots, knee braces, impact vest and a heavy jacket and pants. After pretty much stripping of all things, I was left through. At Allalouf I was asked to pay 150 usd for the document, something that was completely new to me and the ferry line forgot to mention. Also something they wouldn't budge on. After paying, we left and headed back to the customs office (second security check). When we got there, we found out it had been relocated to be outside of the port, so back out we went (third security check). When we came there, I didn't have all the right paperwork on me, so we had to go back to the boat (fourth security check) and back (fifth security check). I spent the better part of 2 hours there as there was a problem. I did not take the bike off the vessel so technically it had never entered Israel. Then, the most unbureaucratic thing imaginable happened, they 'faked' the paperwork. Or well, Rachel got a bit verbal with some port officers and they did the paperwork. I think Rachel was under the impression that the bike was actually off the ship, but the customs officer knew it wasn't. This hurdle took a while, but it was fixed. I had my paperwork. Now all that was left was to go and pay, get the bike through security and on my way. So to the payment office we go (sixth security check). At that office, the lady finds out my bike was actually in the system as a car. Another problem. This was around five. As the ship was due to leave that evening, I was getting rather anxious. Fortunately, she fixed it. I paid and then I was told to go to another office (same building) to get clearance to take my bike out of the ports storage (where it was not as the bike was still on the vessel, but this was something only I knew by that time). I weaselled my way out of there stating I left something on the ship and I really needed to fetch it before it left. I used the spare key of my motorcycle (as the main one was confiscated by security the day before and I didn't give them both) and returned with the motorcycle and all my gear. The woman didn't really comprehend what had happened, but she requested the security escort out of the port anyway. They rocked up, I followed them to security where I had to unload the full bike. Everything went into an x-ray machine and they gave me the OK (completely missing my tool bag on the nav tower).
The last hurdle was getting the right gate to go out off. In the port there are around 15 exit gates that look like toll booths and we had to get the bike to the correct one. The security officer called another guy that was supposed to give the correct number. When he rocked up, we found out he left the keys to his office at home. After around 30minutes, he logged into another system and got the ticked printed. This marked the end to a gruesome and tiring 9 hour mission to get my bike into Israel. I'm insanely grateful to the lovely ladies at immigration and my own stupidity to stumble in there instead of the customs office. Otherwise I would not have been able to get it done the same day. As it was night, I decided to stay at a nearby hotel and douse myself in a bit of luxury to let the day sink in.
The next day, the mission was to get to Eilat, a city in the south eastern point of Israel. I was told by Rachel, who rode dirt bikes (as did about 5 other guys I spoke to) that there was a lot of off roading. I later learned that this was because riding a car on the road was expensive because one would have to get it licensed and get insurance. The Israeli-an people solved this issue by just not riding on the roads. As such, for basically every route anywhere, there was an offroad path going the same way. There were gravel and sand roads riding right next to the highway that even had paths into gas stations. This was awesome and after agreeing to do at least 100km's of asphalt, I went offroad and never looked back.
At around 5pm I arrived at the campsite. A beach south of Eilat and about 1km from the border with Egypt. You just put your tent on the beach and that's that, for free. I really liked having the camp up for the first time, even though I had a terrible night of sleep as the surface was uneven and people were arriving through the night. I did some shopping, cooked one of my freeze dried meals (which was actually quite ok) and decided to get Egypt the next day.