Road to Damascus in a $500 Ford Escort

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Simon Raven (L) and Chris Raven (R) on the Road to Damascus

In the summer of 2007, my brother and I drove from the UK to Damascus. Four years after our road trip, Syria was plunged into Civil War. Our hearts go out to all the men, women and children who have lost their lives and affected by this armed conflict, and to the beautiful people we met along the way.

Written by Chris Raven

I wake at sunrise outside of the gates to the Göreme Museum in Cappadocia. In the distance a hot air balloon slowly drifts above the strange volcanic mushroom-shaped rock formations named fairy chimneys. There is a roaring sound and then a bright glow of a flame, followed by another burst of hot air as it disappears over the horizon. Slipping on my sunglasses, I admire the holes dotted across the rocks where ancient civilizations have carved windows and doorways into these natural dwellings and Byzantines have made chapels with paintings during the spread of Early Christianity.

Si drives south to the town of Nevşehir in the heart of Cappadocia, and we follow fields of yellow sunflowers all the way to the agricultural city of Nigde. The windows are down and there is an open road in front of us as we cruise the High Taurus; a mountain range brimming with important chromium deposits and other minerals such as silver, copper, iron, lignite and zinc. We climb the breathtaking Kolsuz Pass in the Niğde Province at an altitude of 1,490 metres (4,890 ft), and slowly make our way down towards Adana that produces grapes, cotton, wheat and barley. From the Levant region up into Turkey, the farming revolution began here 8,000 years ago creating a hub where farmers are first thought to have spread into Europe. We arrive on the Mediterranean coast at the port town of İskenderun. There is not much to see so we park up overlooking the port. Si rummages through the trunk and fishes out a saucepan and the gas stove. We cook a tin of meatballs with spaghetti, and I take the opportunity to have a shave using the hot spaghetti water.

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Up the Etna

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The Raven brothers spark up their Rover 214 and head for Sicily in their quest to drive to the top of Mt Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

By Chris Raven

Sicily, the largest of the beautiful Italian islands, has a rich Phoenician and Arab ancestry and rivals Greece for ancient Greek architecture (The Valley of the Temples). It is famous for the Mafia (Cosa Nostra and the Coppola), tasty desserts (cassata), the Sonnet, sea monsters, Palermo’s Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele – the largest opera house in Italy, great street food (arancini – Sicilian rice balls with a choice of meat or bacon, new-wave of wine-growers, Archimedes ‘Eureka!’ and skiing down a volcano (Mt Etna).

Our Mission: To drive up Mt Etna on the island of Sicily to Refugio Sapienza, elevation 6,500 feet.

Vehicle: Rover 214 GSi, silver, bought for $500 in cash on eBay. Assembled at the Longbridge car plant in Birmingham, UK, in the year the Iraqi forces invaded and conquered Kuwait. Margaret Thatcher, the iron lady, resigned as UK Prime Minister. The movie Dances with Wolves with Kevin Costner was a big hit and Something Happened On The Way To Heaven by Phil Collins was blaring out of every Pioneer LP turntable/record player music station around the world. Yep, the car was born in the year 1990. OK, so it was a rather old (almost a classic) vehicle, with fake wooden upholstery and a well thought out coin tray for your loose change, genius idea. The seats are comfy, music comes out of the radio, it has an electric sunroof, electric windows, and the brakes work, which is important, the engine looks like a proper engine and all of the four wheels roll. What more do we need?

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Ravens on the Road: Overland Travel Adventure

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Simon Raven in Vladivostok. photo by Chris Raven

Four overland adventures across the USA, Russia, Black Sea & South America

Driving the Trans-Siberian

by Chris Raven & Simon Raven

Ever had the desire to jump in your car and keep driving; to wave goodbye to routine and commitment, to drive into the unknown hungry for adventure? Well, that is precisely what overland travel writers, Chris Raven and Simon Raven, decided to do whilst stacking boxes of frozen oven chips in a -30 degrees freezer. Not being petrol heads and having zero knowledge of the internal combustion engine, the brothers fired up their rusty Ford Sierra Sapphire and headed east. 

After clocking up over 11,000 miles, quite literally living in the car, they miraculously arrived in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok in Siberia on the Sea of Japan. What they had in fact done was to drive the entire length of the new Amur Highway before it was finished, which crosses Russia and the notorious Zilov Gap in a 6,200 mile swath of cracked tarmac and potholes. Along the way our trusty heroes drink vodka with Chechen criminals, escape highway robbery, trade banana flavoured condoms with Russian cops, meet the eccentric and plain weird at truck stops in darkest Siberia, endure torturous road conditions and have a race to the finish with the Germans. Surviving this insane journey by the skin of their teeth the brothers are forced to confront their worst fears in this toe-curling comedy of extreme road trip adventure.

Priding themselves in going it alone, Simon and Chris have been noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”.

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