26 December 2009

GPS-less in the Middle East

Oh, how we love Sally, our voluble GPS, who has been guiding us through Africa with the help of Tracks4Africa, Garmin’s East Africa streetmaps and a useful Mac program for route planning called Roadtrip. With the help of Sally we have been able to cross deserts (although Anja and Jörg’s GPX tracks of the new Sudan roads helped a lot), been able to pinpoint those elusive ferry crossings in Kazangula, Dar Es Salaam and points North; and make sure that we always found a camp site every night, even in the wilds of Ethiopia (although for some reason it didn’t list Tim and Kim’s). But the further North we went the sparser T4A got and when we left Egypt, our GPSing finally stopped and we were officially back to paper maps. Unfortunately the Middle East is neither well mapped nor blessed with book stores where a lost traveller might pick up a route book, so we have mostly been relying on the US basemap Sally falls back on when she is as clueless as we are, and the - utterly unsuited to driving - town maps of various Lonely Planets and Rough Guides (the Bradt guides weren’t even in the running as navigation aides, as their maps seem to have been lovingly hand drawn by a casual visitor to the region without access to any of the freely available satellite imagery, i.e. Google maps). This has resulted in a lot of aimless driving round Arab city centres trying to establish where we are, where we are trying to get to and generally being aggravated with each other. Here is an example of our attempt to find the Baron Hotel in Aleppo:


As you can see we took a spiral approach to our destination, in fact we drove past the hotel a few times before we found it, despite asking a variety of extremely helpful but cartographically challenged pedestrians, peering at miniscule street signs in the dark and trying to divine the direction of North by trying to remember where the sun set an hour ago.

So now you know that GPSless driving in foreign countries can lead to frustration, arguments and eventually divorce. Don’t do it!

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