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1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

First the bad news: the Middle East has been far too easy on my digestive system and I unfortunately am unable at this moment to regale you all with the sweeping bowel sagas to which you've become accustomed. My sincerest apologies to all my coprophiliac readers. The good news, though, is that this is very likely the last journal entry that I'll be posting from the road so this page along with the final roundup page is all that's left for you to plough through, thanks be to Christ for that!

From Istanbul the trail led southwards to the site of ancient Olympos, famed in Turkey as a backpacker oasis because of its excellent Mediterranean beach, cheap treehouse accomodation, great food, atmospheric ruins, absence of fancy resorts and the site of the legendary Chimaera, a natural eternal flame that sprouts from a nearby hillside and which cannot be extinguished. I spent an enjoyable week here kicking back and living the good life. A hello to fellow Olympians: Stewart (did you know he's been to Africa), the Irish sirens Aoibheann and Aibhinn and world soggy biscuit doubles champions Alex and Ben.

I must confess that even before leaving Turkey the two years of sightseeing had taken its toll on me and I had entered that gee-whiz-not-another-awesome-"yawn"-sight mode. To be expected I guess. One tip: do not do as I did and travel the Middle East in high summer, it's damn hot!

On from Olympos the road brought me on July 23rd to Aleppo in Syria. Syria was very good, dirt cheap ("cheap countries rock!") with very friendly people and interesting archaeological sites. Highlights were the bazaar in Aleppo, filled with a vast array of Arabs dressed in all sorts of colourful clothes and where the narrow walkways are still travelled by men on donkey-back. The Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers is a young boy's dream and is very well preserved. Palmyra, the ruins of a famous Roman-era oasis city, is one of the world's great historical sites and is nicely situated in the middle of the desert. The capital Damascus, claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (since 5000 BC), has its fair share of spiffing Islamic monuments, oriental bazaars and atmospheric city streets as well as, most importantly, some incredible sweet shops!

Before heading south to Jordan I took a few days to have a look at Lebanon. The Lebanese are known to be excellent business people and it's obvious that there's a lot more wealth here than in Syria despite Lebanon still being controlled in many ways by the Syrian army. I was told by my old mates Brian and Terry (!) that free accomodation and food for years on end could be found in Beirut but unfortunately I was unable to locate same! Beirut is not a particularly interesting place to visit though the downtown area where pristine new office blocks mingle with bombed-out, bullet-ridden apartment buildings was worth a gawk. I spent a couple of days in Tripoli (not to be confused with the capital of Libya) and headed up into the hills to visit the picturesque Kadisha gorge and nice village of Bcharre, home of the excellent Gibran museum which houses many of the paintings and manuscripts of the author/artist Kahlil Gibran who was born here, best known for the book The Prophet.

The heat, humidity and my jaded traveller's mentality persuaded me to skip the rest of Lebanon's attractions such as the archaeological sites of Baalbek and Byblos and to head for Jerusalem where the summer temperatures are usually quite bearable. One day's travel took me to Damascus, another brought me to the capital of Jordan, Amman, and the next plonked me in Jerusalem in plenty of time to enjoy its highest temperatures in 35 years! It's been just an Energizer Bunny of a summer over here. I guess I should count my blessings, I might not be seeing the sun again for several months (years?!) when I get back to Ireland.

Normal Israeli visas are for 3 months but I was only granted a 2 week stay when I arrived on August 6th, probably due to having recently visited several of Israel's mortal enemies. I spent the entire fortnight in Jerusalem, making several day excursions from there, such as to Jericho, Bethleham and the Dead Sea (Meaney floats at last) which was a good laugh. Jerusalem is quite a fascinating place as you'd expect. Most of the ancient sites are found within the old, walled city which is divided in four quarters (Jewish, Christian, Armenian and the Muslim quarter where I stayed).

The old city is a maze of narrow walkways, very atmospheric, and, of course, thronged with a heady mixture of people from various creeds and cultures, many of whom are drawn here by Jerusalem's religious importance. I'm not sure which of the latter people scared me most when I was here, the ultra-orthodox Jews or the ultra-righteous born-again Christians. Believe it or not, but Christian pilgrims can often be seen here draggin big wooden crosses along Via Dolorosa, the route believed to have been followed by Jesus on the way to Golgotha. I'm not sure what the point of the exercise is but it does remind me of a good Jerusalem tip. The shop below the 8th station of the cross on Via Dolorosa sells good half-litre cans of Dutch beer for only three and a half shekels (one dollar) and, hey, if while you're there a dude hauling a big heavy crucifix goes by I'm sure he would greatly appreciate an offer to slake his thirst on some of your golden suds, God bless you dear heart!

The world's holiest Christian site is in Jerusalem of course but I confess to never knowing its name before, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is reputedly built on the site of the crucifixion and also contains the tomb where Christ was buried but just like historians are not sure when Christ was born (it was certainly not 1 AD) they are also unsure if the Holy Sepulchre is correctly located just as the real route of Via Dolorosa is uncertain. What is certain though is that these holy sites are zealously looked after by various orders of Christian clergy. Several different sects often share the administration of certain buildings in the spirit of brotherly love and cooperation that you'd expect from men of the cloth. If your eyebrows are raising at this moment then you won't be surprised at the story of the running skirmish that broke out in 1984 between the Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests that look after the church in Bethlehem where Christ was born. Tensions had always run high between the two orders due to the Greeeks habit of standing on an Armenian 'beam' when cleaning the church(!) and reached a height on Annual General Cleaning Day, 29th December 1984, when the holy men started beating the crap out of one another with staves and chains that they had concealed beneath their robes! Order was restored by the intervention of the Israeli army. And you thought only the Jews and Moslems in Israel had problems.

After Jerusalem I returned to the pleasant country of Jordan. The big attraction in Jordan is the ruins of Petra which, I'll have you know, is rated at the Middle East's most unmissable site. It is the ruined capital of the Nabataeans and is impressive not only for the elaborate buildings and tombs carved out of solid rock but also for the beautiful desert scenery in which the city is located. Those of you familiar with the final scene in Indian Jones and the Last Crusade will remember the Treasury building of Petra which resembles the facade of a Roman-style building carved into the rock of a cliff. I spent a couple of days exploring this remarkable site (hello to fellow explorer Fraser) before visiting Wadi Rum for some more spectacular desert scenery and onwards then via ferry to Egypt and the Sinai.

A pleasant week was spent in Dahab, a beach resort and backpacker oasis on the Red Sea, relaxing, reading etc. while all around me people were busy doing scuba diving courses. I reached Cairo last week and have since polished off the two major attractions here, the excellent Egyptian Museum and the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Pyramids were suitably impressive, 4,600 years old, the two largest built from 2.5 million blocks of limestone with each block averaging around 2.5 tonnes in weights. The Sphinx was smaller than I imagined it.

Cairo itself is a chaotic city but there are many fine buildings dotted around the place and it is altogether a better town that I expected although the air, said to be the equivalent of a 40 cigarette a day habit, is a bit over-polluted for my liking!@!

The Middle East has been pretty darn good overall though I wish I'd been travelling through at a more temperate time of the year. The people have been very friendly, I found it very safe (safer than the West certainly) and generally very cheap, in particular Iran, Syria and Egypt. I'll leave you now with only one more instalment left to come but it's going to be a cracker, revealing secrets such as my favourite country, best things I've seen and how to lose 25 pounds in weight without even trying! If there's anything special you'd like answered let me know ...

1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

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