Egypt

 

SUDAN TO EYGPT

 

11:00 am- We headed down to the port at Wadi Halfa. Something of an organised chaos. People everywhere, loading boxes, bags and luggage onto the ferry. Luckily Masar steered us through the crowds, finalizing the paperwork and getting the carnet de passage stamped, without him I think this would have taken an age.The queue at customs was frustratingly slow and though the officials barely gave us a second glance, other’s were given a thorough searching by officials, opening stuff out onto the floor, including one couple, who had several large packets of fish ripped open,Masar thought they would be searching for of gold, they just left the mess scattered about on the ground for the owners to clear up.

 

We locked our valubles into the back of the car, grabbing a rucksack and sleeping bags to take onboard with us,gave Masar the car key’s, so he could drive the Landy onto the barge a few days later.

 

Boarded around 3:00 pm, handing in our passports as we stepped on. Feeling slightly bereft without the car, we hoped it would make a pleasant change from road travel.

 

Masar introduced us to the captain, who for a small bribe, let us have a space on the bridge, giving us a little bit more room to manouvere, as the decks were packed. We spread out our sleeping bags to sit on, but had no shade to speak of and the sun was beating down on us. Our new friends Stefan and Maryse, had managed to secure a cabin, but the door had no lock, so a bit pointless really. We too had booked one, but it failed to materialise. Our bedroom, on the upper deck, however, was fine and they came and joined us for a while. Later on,when the sun went down and the wind picked up things got quite nippy . Stefan joked that they were off to the warmth of their cosy cabin and hot tub (I don’t think so), but kindly lent us his fluffy spider- man blanket to keep off the chill!

 

 

The boat left the port at 5:00 pm, every inch of space was taken up with bodies and their luggage, the ferry holds 500 passengers, but regularly exceeds this and has been known to cram in over 650, they are trying to put a stop to this, but it’s doubtful they ever will.

 

People were sleeping anywhere and everywhere from the lifeboats to the stairwells, making a trip to the loo very tricky indeed, guided only by the light of the moon and not wishing to stand on the sleeping bodies,only having to repeat the performance on the way back. That said one trip to the loo was enough !!

 

The night was quite eventful, no surprise there, it went from an hour or two of total peace, to sirens blaring, loud conversations, the re-arranging of bodies as prayer mats were laid out and mobile phones constantly ringing. The emergency siren went off twice, but no-one seemed to care about this ,we were so tired neither did we. Snuggled in our sleeping bags we gazed at the stars up above, about to doze off, the captain woke us up with a phone call from Kamal, our fixer on the Aswan side. He only wanted to confirm our meeting the next morning and make sure we had $15 each for visa’s.

 

I think we got a couples of hours sleep eventually that night and all things considered this wasn’t too bad, though we did feel a little bleary eyed,when the sun came up.

 

The morning passed and at 11:00 am we had arrived in Aswan. Still had to wait another 3 hours while Eygptian Immigration came on board to stamp over 500 passports.

 

When the doors did eventually open there was a huge surge of bodies all trying to get down the stairs at the same time with people, pushing and barging, fights and arguments breaking out, we got separated , but managed to find each other again when off the boat.

 

Faced with another huge queue on the Eygptian side, we decided to sit it out until it subsided and let everyone else go first

 

Thankfully Kamal saved the day, by turning up and leading us on through the X-ray machines, another couple of hours, we’d collected our passport’s and visa and were out of there.

 

With 18 hours actual sailing time, it took another 10 hours in total to embark and dis-embark in true African style, which seems crazy considering the relatively short distance travelled. This was one boat trip we wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

 

Together with Stefan and Maryse we shared a taxi into central Aswan, we stayed at The Kaylany Hotel, nice, clean and close to the waterfont and Souk.

 

 

The following day,Stefan and Maryse headed off to Abu Simbel, we were lazy and didn’t feel up to a 6 hour round trip in a hot bus, so took a taxi out of town for a few day’s while waiting for the car to arrive from Sudan.

 

Other overlanders had recommended “Eka dolli”- a small guesthouse, run by Khaled, the helpful owner, who doubles up as the excellent cook. Located in The Nubian village of Gharb Sahel we enjoyed a well earned rest.

 

We spent our time walking around the village, stopping to watch the local craftsmen at work, chatting to the locals, admiring their colourful houses and courtyards, which they are only too happy to show you. Had many interesting conversations with Khaled, he fed and watered us well!

 

On our return to town, Stefan told us the car would be yet another couple of day’s wait. This came as no great surprise, but was slightly annoying, as our boat from Israel is booked and dosen’t give us much time to explore many other points of interest in Eygpt.

 

 

Michael had a haircut……….. he’s been to barbers all over Africa, but nothing had prepared him for the scalping the Eygptian barber gave him.

 

 

(Michaels version of events)

 

It started off harmless enough, a nice short trim all over, but before I knew it I was into a whole new experience,the barber opened a drawer and produced a smallish pair of clippers and shoved them straight up my nose, as I was recovering, he leaned forward, dipped his hand in some brown goo and wiped it all over my face, at this point I decided to go with the flow as resistance seemed futile, with things happening too quickly to complain. As the stuff was smeared around and left to dry for a minute or two, he then rubbed it all off in a fairly vigorous fashion. Whilst I was still smarting from the face- pack removal, he took out a reel of cotton, twisted various strands together, rubbing and pushing the wad in and around my ears, removing hairs I didn’t even know existed. Eyes watering I gritted my teeth and hung on while he did the other ear, stiff upper lip and all that.

Relaxing at last thinking it was all over, I panicked when he reached for the cotton again, this time the target was my cheeks, temples and forehead and I think my eye-lids, but couldn’t tell because of the tears (seriously) He then proceeded to brandish various cut-throat razors, took off the barbers cape, yanked down my shirt collar and shaved my neck and half my back as far as I can work out. My head was then shoved in a basin, rinsed, then after a liberal dose of some foul smelling oil, I quickly got up and paid him, before he got hold of anything else and staggered to the hotel room ………….. where I got absolutely no sympathy.

 

Emma’s view being that women do this sort of thing all the time, my view is that anyone who does this willingly and pays for it needs pychiactric help!!

 

 

 

Wev’e seen plenty of soldiers and police on the streets, especially on the waterfront in Aswan. All heavily armed with machine guns, not to mention armoured cars, most vehicles appear to be spanking brand new, maybe they put them here for the tourists. The soldiers, who look extremely young, sit around smoking, but are always very polite, if rather intimidating as their weapons are usually pointing straight at you

 

One thing however is clear, everyone wev’e spoken to here is more than happy with what the army has done, they seem to want nothing more to do with Morsi or the Muslim brotherhood and all sector’s of society just want the new election’s out of the way so that they can move forward. The view on the ground, seems to be alot different than that portrayed by the media in the west, as is so often the case.

 

After several day’s in Aswan, we decided to go on a Felucca (cheap price!) This is a traditional wooden sailing boat. Stefan and Maryse, joined us. Abdullah was the captain, full of charm and wit. It was pleasant enough, we sailed around some small islands, until the sun-set . It wasn’t long before we had run out of wind, neccessitating a tow from a motor boat, which was quite amusing. Having disembarked, we were approached yet again by another guy selling Felucca trip (cheap price!)…… it’s something like a nervous tic when they see a tourist approaching! Can’t blame them as we only saw a handful of tourists in Aswan.

 

Got up early to collect the landy, apparently the barge had arrived. Suffice to say what was meant to take 2 hours took 6, before we got our passports, carnet, Eygptian number plates, car searched etc. We paid Kamal for his services, though somehow during these few hours he managed to break his arm ………dont even ask- !!

 

Because of the delay, we headed for Luxor on the supposedly quicker desert road, the two hour journey actually took four hours. Quite a lot of this was in the dark, as we’d forgotton about the time zone change. Driving in Africa after dark is not a good idea and this was no exception. The Eygptians don’t bother with lights, even if some of them clearly work, and normal overtaking is only allowed when a vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction at point blank range, when both parties switch on whatever lights they have, presumably to blind the opposition or to enable them to see the opposition. Thankfully there were no people, animals etc to contend with, which is normally the case.

 

Eventually we found our way through a myriad of tiny streets and alleys, the two Landy’s attracting a fair bit of attention and camped at AL Salam on the west bank of the Nile opposite the main city of Luxor.

 

After we had managed to squeeze both vehicles into the little courtyard, Ahmed, our host, found us some nice cold beer and rustled up an extremely yummy chicken tagine. Exhausted we all retired to bed.

 

Being in Luxor, we paid a visit to The Karnak Temples,hopped on a boat and went across the Nile.

 

This is reputedly the largest ancient religious sight in the world. It dates from as far back as several thousand years BC. A treasure trove of buildings, structures, columns, courtyards and Obelisks. ( Ems been reading too many guide books me thinks) There is also a sacred lake there. Quite incredible when you see the work involved. Very impressive, but quite hard to get your head around.

 

Jumped back in the boat and visited The Mummification Museum. A display of how the ancient Eygptians would mummify not only humans, but crocodiles, household pets and fish. All the exhibits are in mummified form, including the body of Masaharta, a high priest of Amun in Thebes in 1050 BC (see, I’ve done my research)

 

We had a fair ammount of hassle from the touts though, with many (mainly Russian) tourists about, this took the pressure off us somewhat. They dont takeĀ  no for an answer – michaels line was you pay me and i still wont take the things eventually usually got through

 

From Luxor we went across the desert to The Red Sea coast. We stayed in Hurghada, a tourist spot, souless, but with no tourists to speak of. The booking agent- namely me, eventually got us into a Russian hotspot – all other countries have banned flights it seems -, perfectly pleasant, but Russians indulging in some dreadful group singing went on for much of the evening. It’s definately over when the fat Russian sings!

 

Left the next day, we made good time so decided to carry on to the east side of Suez, so we could cross the Sinai Desert the next day, having been told this road was now open.

 

We only had one route on the sat-nav and that wasn’t too clear, so we did a few loops of Suez before ending up in the city centre itself, this was not our intention, as we knew there were lot’s of rallies planned in every city to mark the third anniversary of the revolution and also show support for General Al Sisi, to run for presidency.

 

Before we knew it we were heading the march, up the main street fronted by around fifty soldiers, who cleared the crowds, everyone was very excited as we were clearly foreigners and many, I think, assumed we were also showing support. So we had several youths, grown men etc hanging off the car and waving their flags. A brief moment of panic when someone let off some firecrackers right beside us, with me ducking! Thankfully all very good humoured in Suez, but unfortunately, we heard there were many deaths in and around Cairo that night.

 

Carried on through the Suez canal tunnel to the east side, which we discovered was just desert and military outposts. Headed 25 km south to another fairly run- down, but perfectly okay( by our standards) resort, again only a handful of people staying and these were Eygptians. Able to stay in 5 star resorts for next to nothing at the moment- wer’e not exactly complaining, but they are not really our cup of tea either, except for the hot showers and white fluffy towels, something of a treat after day’s in the desert!

 

Not hot enough to go snorkelling and with no time to spare we headed back up to the road that we’d been told was open, across the Sinai. Passed through a couple of sleepy checkpoints, but a further 30 km along the road we came across another checkpoint, with lot’s of lorries at a standstill, we were encouraged to jump to the front of the queue Eygptian style by some very loud and shouty men. The army had other plans though and we waited an hour, in total chaos and confusion, discovered they were searching each and every vehicle, presumably because of the trouble the previous night in Cairo.

 

The locals did give us a bit of priority and let us go to the front of the queue, but when it was our turn we were searched big time. With both of us told to get out of the car, eight or nine soldiers ransacked the car pulling everything out onto the road. They took a disliking to our compressor,( Michael had to demonstrate it wasn’t a bomb) They then siezed his wood axe, a small machete and best penknife, which they deemed a threat to the armed forces in the Sinai desert, as indeed was 1 bottle of beer and half a bottle of horrible Eygptian gin, which they smashed against a rock. After lots of arguments with various cocky young soldiers and a stroppy officer it was agreed they would return the axe and compressor, but not the other items, they also wouldn’t allow us to travel that route so we had no choice but to turn back.

 

Back-tracked and went through another three checkpoints at one junction alone, resorted to Eygptian tactics, namely shouting, Michael was losing it ….oh man. For the first time in nearly two years I felt close to tears.

 

This set the pattern for the day. We now had a 650 km detour around the Sinai peninsular. It’s a good job diesel is only 10p a litre!

 

Tanks, troop carriers, soldiers and BIG guns are everywhere you look, countless road-blocks on the way to the southern tip, Sharm el- sheik. On one occasion we were held for one hour with several other locals, before being told we could go and the “security” would follow. At another block a guy selling shaving kits attracted everyones attention so they abandoned their posts for twenty minutes while everyone haggled.

 

Summary 200 km -12 hours

 

Due to all the road-blocks, we had to drive in the dark (again) and didn’t arrive in Sharm el- sheik until late. Luckily our Swiss friends, who had already arrived, booked us somewhere to stay. We were absolutely knackered.

 

Early next morning, expecting more of the same,we continued towards Taba, thankfully only a few road-blocks and little hassle, the mountains were certainly impressive and the roads good, but with all the hundreds of half finished hotels and holiday complexes all along the Red Sea, it makes quite a depressing sight, both for now and in the future, if ever finished.

 

Thinking all was fine and dandy, we hit the sack at 10:00 pm at a rather sad, empty hotel, only to be awoken by several security guys and sniffer dog. We weren’t happy,as they wanted to search our car for bombs, but could and should have done so when we’d arrived if they were so worried, we’d arrived at lunchtime, so a little late to be searching for explosives which they always do at set times it seems – security is not Egypts strong point!!. We had no choice, other than stagger out to the car-park half asleep, unlocked the car where a fat German shepherd, had a little sniff but was too fat to hop on the tail gate or into the backseats, so everyone gave up and we went back to bed. (all a bit Alice in Wonderland really)

 

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