Temperature in shade: 48*C
The Pyramids at last!
Total KMS travelled so far: 26,328 (No change from the last post as Tin Can remains stuck on a barge in Wadi Halfa Sudan the last 5 days).
Allah u Akbar! We have arrived in the land of the Pharoes! Allah is indeed merciful! (We think, but time will tell)?
There was more than a little relief and celebration when Aswan dockside finally hove into sight on Thursday 9th August through the filthy glass of the porthole of the Nile Valley Company ferry cabin where we were again sheltering from the 45*C heat at 10.00am in the morning. A long night trying to sleep on the steel roof of the ship pushing away the arms and legs of 100 snoring Sudanese who seemed to have no trouble encroaching on one’s space was over! Fortunately our long established practice of not getting too excited about anything or letting one’s expectations rise too high paid off handsomely. (That way you don’t get too disappointed about anything).
Sleeping arrangements on the ferry!
Marianne getting a little tired of it…
1-½ hours later at 11.30 we finally disembarked the ferry after Egyptian police had checked to see whether Osama Bin Laden’s brother or 7th wife was with us or the other 500 travellers on the ship? Our passports were taken away by a guy in a grubby T-shirt and jeans whom we hoped was a policeman or Immigration officer? (At least he also had everybody else’s passports)? Then as we traipsed to an immigration hall, an argument ensued between a “fixer” named Kamahl who had got our name and description from somewhere and wanted our business and a fixer Mohammed Abouda whom Oasis suggested we deal with as they had found him reliable over 10 years.Mob: 01225111968. We would have to say that dealing with any of the fixers and officialdom in Egypt did not impress much.It would be hard to say whether Mohammed or Kamahl would be the better choice? (Not that we cared much- the price is much the same and none of these guys not the officials are your friends although they smile at you as they help you open your wallet).
Turned out after an hour in the immigration hall that there weren’t enough Visa stickers for the unprecedented and unexpected number of “farange” wanting to enter Egypt? (About 12 of us)! So the 8 visa stickers available were issued whilst someone had to be sent to the airport to collect more stickers. We all waited around in the heat of the hall (which should have had slowly circulating ceiling fans, but they were broken like just about everything else). We all waited for the next hour or so (as a had been arranged for all 12 to go the 20kms from the port to Aswan city). The 8 who already had their visas were getting more and more impatient. Mohammed Abouda explained to us the cost (EL 1,200 USD$200) of getting our vehicles off the barge when it hopefully arrived next week and through Egyptian Customs together with Egyptian number plates, Egyptian drivers licences, Egyptian insurance, Egyptian fire extinguishers and Egyptian hot air compulsorily issued. (Although, off course, we all already had all these items of a standard and quality seemingly adequate for every other country in Africa, but not Egypt)?
Waiting for visas at Aswan
Naturally nothing could be clearly itemized nor receipts issued, as this could change daily according to the USD/EGP/SDG and Bolivian Peso exchange rate fluctuations, the effects of Ramadan, the day of the week the ferry might arrive and the weather. (Incidentally, we are in fact in the month of Ramadan until 18th – and the impact this seems to have on anything working between 6.00 am in the morning when the faithful begin fasting and 6.30 in the evening when they are allowed to smoke and drink again is not to be underestimated. People are hungry, stressed, thirsty, nicotine deficient and unable to provide much, answer difficult questions or make decisions until at least the early evening).
Finally the visa stickers arrived and we all paid our $16 each for the $15 visas. (Don’t ask about the $1). With the boat docking at 10.00am we finally cleared Immigration and walked into the free and Islamic Republic of Egypt at 2.30pm.Off to Mohammed’s friend’s hotel, the Orchida St George, which looked OK for $27 and some found acceptable and stayed. However, we, Chris & Mia and some really nice Indian South African guys, Nebel & Raj who are traveling in a Toyota from Cape Town to Cairo, opted to go up market for more luxury and a big swimming pool and Nile view at The Isis Corniche Pyramisa for $60 pn. (Good value)! Ahh, the joys of a pool, air-conditioning and a toilet that actually flushes and a shower that works after 2 weeks of heat, gritty sand and nothing as you know it functioning in Sudan outside of Khartoum! A quick clean up and into the pool and some cold beers for the first time in 10 days! Bliss at first, we’re surely going to like this place, but……
The Nile at Aswan – view from the Isis Hotel
It soon became evident that evening that sunny Aswan is a “Touristy” place with many foreign visitors, particularly in the winter, ever since Agatha Christie wrote “Death on the Nile” at the Old Cataract Hotel here in the 1930’s. (Possibly even ever since Napoleon’s troops were here in the 18th Century shooting off the Sphinx’s nose)? The local traders and hustlers have had at least 100 years or more to develop their skills in how to help you spend your money! Every price is quoted at 3 to 15 times what it should be and until you know some of the real prices you will end up paying LE10 for a bottle of water which is worth LE3 and at least 3 times as much as you should for anything. No different really to most countries in your first two or three days, I suppose?
That being said, of course not all Egyptians are like that. We met a very honest and hospitable felluca ferry captain who took us for a lovely fellucca sail on the Nile one day and to a great swimming spot the next. No hassle and agreed prices and a good guy to talk to if you are looking for a felluca trip:
Stan being a bit hot and irritable the first night did not help the situation with a local 16 year old pickpocket who raced up just as I left an ATM machine, pushed some papyrus hieroglyphic paintings in my chest and had his hand on my wallet (fortunately chained to my belt) at the same time below the paper. Turned round and punched him as hard as I could in his stomach and he staggered off doubled over gasping something about “no good farange” whilst I looked to see if he was going to pull a knife and to check my escape routes?. (It should be noted this is not something I would normally do, but he was smaller than me and I was in a bad mood)!
The next 3 days were very hot but pleasant enough at the pool and taking a felucca ride in the evening along the Nile and eating at the very reasonable local restaurants. However, things got little more tense every day when the reply to the question of “when is that barge from Wadi Halfa with our vehicles going to arrive?” was met each day with “soon” or “tomorrow”. A phone call to the “fixer” in Sudan Mazar to question where it was met with “it’s gone, err going, will be going soon, it’s engine is broken, but do not worry”.
Fellucas at Aswan
Today, Monday and 5 days after we left Wadi Halfa on the ferry, and after some detective work, it turns out that they loaded the 7 vehicles onto a barge with the full knowledge of a non operational engine just to stop us complaining and to get rid of us on the ferry. Now another barge is to tow our one to Aswan and is supposed to have left early Monday with the expectation of arriving Aswan late Tuesday. Naturally too late to possibly clear the vehicles through Customs on Tuesday, but “do not worry, Wednesday afternoon you will have them, Inshalla”. In the meanwhile we wait. By the time we get our vehicles (if we do) on Wednesday, it will be two weeks after first rolling into Wadi Halfa to get them from Sudan to Egypt!
A link below to a blog of some friendly Roumanian motorcyclists whom we met long ago further south and who have now arrived back in Bucharest after an equally torrid time trying to ship from Port Said Egypt to Turkey on a RoRo ferry is illuminating. We have yet to experience this exit route from Egypt and look forward to it (not)! Amongst other things, that ferry apparently costs $500 from Turkey to Egypt, but we have been quoted $2,000 from Egypt to Turkey. Why? Other routes to Europe through Lebanon and Israel have unfortunately closed down two days ago with the trouble in Sinai and the Egyptian military sealing off the Sinai Peninsula. We continue to explore the possibility of driving through Libya and Tunisia to Italy- and this is looking promising, but the Libyan Embassy will not consider visas until Ramadan is over.
The Egyptians have had 3,000 years to perfect beauracracy, the system of baksheesh and the art of “why do today what can be put off until tomorrow”? They have about got it right….
Kms travelled so far: 28,738
We have made it! From Cape Town to Cairo at last! Nothing if not a challenge. Especially the last 3 or 4 thousand kms. But not yet the end of the trip. Libya (hopefully), Tunisia and then Europe awaits before we finally reach the UK.
The Pyramids at Giza Cairo finally reflected in Tin Can’s window
Well, things have improved somewhat as eventually the barge finally rolled in to Aswan on the Thursday morning – just before the end of Ramadan on the Friday when everything stops for 3 days! Some effort was made to get the Customs paperwork done and Egyptian number plates issued before the Ramadan weekend. Tin Can and the other vehicles finally drove out of the port mid afternoon after we waited around for 5 hours all morning. At least we were on the road again – a mere 2 weeks after first rolling into Wadi Halfa only 250kms south!
We and our Swedish friends immediately hit the road north up the Nile as we had all had enough of Aswan and spent the night at Idfu 112kms north and the site of a large ancient Phaoronic temple. Probably not such a good move late in the day as we struggled to find an hotel to stay in (only two hotels to choose from in town and no camping nor secure parking) and ended up paying LE200($33) for a rather basic room in the Hotel Aswan – and little sleep worrying about Tin Can sitting outside in a very wild and noisy street approaching the end of Ramadan celebrations! The thought of bullet holes in the Landie never mind stuff nicked off the roof made for a fitful night.
The Temple of Thebes Luxor
Next day on to Luxor where we met up with the Oasis truck and Romanians Martin & Camille as well as Aneke & Fabio again staying at the very nice Rezeiki Camp GPS N25*42”686’ E 32*38”928’
which has a pool, plenty of cold Stella beers at LE10 ($2.50), some shade and water to wash cars etc as well as being very close to Karnak temple. We also had an excellent Egyptian meal of Kofta, kebabs and salads prepared there for LE60 ($10). Stocking up with supplies at the very good and reasonably priced (for imported goods) Rajab Sons Supermarket GPS N25*41.623 E 32*38.408
added to our joys of again being in some form of virtual civilization. Two nights were spent at Rezeiki Camp and tours were made to the Valley of The Kings and the nearby Luxor Temple. (Which were very interesting and amazing how the 4,000 year old heiroglyphics and paintings can still look so fresh? Were it not for the touts and hasslers who can become tiresome together with the continued heat, our mood and views of Egypt were improving again after getting our vehicles back. As someone said: “I will be glad when I am again in a country were prices and services are set and I don’t have to argue and bargain for everything from a bottle of water to a guide”!
The road through the Western Desert
We decided to leave the Nile at Luxor and take the Western Desert route via the oases of El Kharga, Dakhla, Farafara and the White Desert to Cairo. Good choice as although this is a longer route of 1500 kms through very arid and remote desert regions, the Western Desert is a far better Egypt (in our view), the people welcoming and non intrusive and more than a few fascinating sights. The White Desert in particular is a spectacular area and wild camping near the chalk outcrops and formations in near total solitude (other than the desert foxes) has to rate in the top 5 of our African experiences. The oases named above are also remarkable “oases of green” in an otherwise arid landscape and are very lush and fertile with plenty of agriculture going on under irrigation from the underground springs. There are many springs,most rather hot and mineral rich water, but some cool and clear and a delight to swim in. (Which we did often).
The Oasis at Dakhla
Egypt also has something of a fuel crises going on in some areas at present (with long queues at service stations) and we ended up having to buy extra jerry cans of diesel of uncertain quality on the black market to be sure we had the range to make the Western Desert route of 1500kms. (Turned out unnecessary as we did get diesel along the way anyway, but you never know)? The good part of it all is that while Sudan’s fuel might have been cheap at 50c/litre, Egypt is even better at about 20c/litre! We almost went driving round the town a few times so we could enjoy the pleasure of filling up again!
Topping up Tin Can with black market diesel
We unfortunately took a wrong turn just after Luxor (due to the fact that Tracks for Africa GPS is pretty hopeless in Egypt – with many roads not shown- and Egyptian road sings are either non-existent or written in Arabic. We ended up in Ayut, still on the Nile and doing a 300km detour before heading South again and getting to El Kharga oasis late in the day – where the police insisted on escorting us the last 50kms or so and guiding us to the rather run down 1970’s era Oasis Hotel GPS N25*27.641 E30*32.934
where they insisted we stay (LE200/$33), rather than wildcamp in the dunes? This may possibly have been due to the fact that today was the day after Ramadan’s end and some happy locals were occasionally joyfully discharging their Kalashnikovs into the air in celebration? Didn’t seem any good reason to us?
A short 197km drive the next day to Dakhla Oasis (once again with the police on our tail the last 20kms) was easy and followed by a swim in Well No 6 N25*30.944 E28*57.935 whose warm, brown and ferrous waters are supposed to be good for the arthritis? Close by was a new lodge and camp site called Elias Camp GPS N25*31.034 E 28*57.417 run by a rather fascinating, but strict and eccentric Muslim named Nasser. Elias Camp’s big advantage is that it has a nice pool and rooftop terrace. Nasser showed us a very scenic 25km drive around Dakhla Oasis which passed a man made lake, interesting farms of date palms, olives and wheat and some old tombs of the long departed.
A bit brown but good water for the arthritis!
We enjoyed Dakhla perhaps best of the oases. It is quite a large cultivated area. El Farafra Oasis 304km on had little of interest other than a spring to swim in, but it’s “claim to fame” is being near the White Desert National Park which is truly spectacular! These chalk formations made up of tiny sea shells and carboniferous matter laid down when the area was warm and shallow sea about 1 million years ago are best described by the pictures. Our wild campsite next to an outcrop has to rate as one of the best campsite views ever (if a bit hot until the sun went down)? GPS N27*15.938 E28*11.731
The White Desert in our view beats all the Pyramids, temples and tourist hassle in Egypt and makes the whole effort of Egypt worthwhile.
A fantastic campsite in the White Desert
After another swim the next day in a lovely cool spring GPS N28*22.315 E28*54.405
at Bahariya Oasis 183km further on, a
Swimming in wells at Farafara
call to the Libyan embassy sounded promising as though visas were hopeful, provided we got letters off our own Australian and Swedish missions in Cairo to say they were OK with us going to Libya? So the decision was made to push on closer to Cairo in order to get to our embassies before weekend closing at 1.30pm Thursday. We spent the night camping out in a featureless desert landscape other than the fact that there were a lot of ancient petrified logs and pieces of wood around. Must have been a huge forest a million years ago? Some lights of oil rigs and wells were to be seen in the distance. The “woodpecker” like up and down rocking motion of the pumps providing the “good oil” for our cars is quite fascinating to watch.
Rolling into Cairo….
We rolled into Cairo at 9.30am (a good time to avoid the crazy traffic which is scary to behold never mind try and drive in) and found Salma Motel Camp N29*58.185 E31*10.464 with only nominal difficulty as it’s in T4A. (Rather run down and little shade but OK). A quick scrub up and into a taxi to the Australian and Swedish embassies to get the required letters for Libya followed. (We had to sign a statutory declaration saying it’s all on our head and pay LE300 ($50) each but got our letter straight away. The Swedes paid Krona 50 ($10) but have to come back on Sunday). We spent the next 3 days viewing the Pyramids at night, the huge and fascinating Egyptian Museum with all its treasures from Tutenkhamen’s tomb etc and walking around Tahrir Square and downtown Cairo (which is reminiscent of some European cities, but still very Arab in its nature – and with far too much rubbish lying around)?
The pyramid of Cheops
Tahrir Square was supposed to be a scene of more protests and demonstrations yesterday 24th August, but by all accounts was quiet and nothing happened? Certainly tourism is 50% of what it once was here before the revolution and all Egyptians we have met are desperate to tell us how safe and welcoming Egypt is. Which by and large, it seems to be – if only they would make things work a little quicker and with less “baksheesh” and hassle required? An interesting country, but far and away the most challenging of our trip so far.
Sunday 26th and the next embassy visits will see whether we go to Libya or not? If so it will be on to Alexandria, El Alamein and Mersa Matruh of WW11 fame and the coast road to Tunisia. If not, plan B or C ?….
The mosque in Port Faoud (across the Suez Canal from Port Said
Well, here we are in Port Said trying to catch a Russian ferry (the Nikolay Konsarev of Anrusstrans.com lines) to Mersin in Turkey rather than heading to Libya! As per usual, the ferry was supposed to leave last Saturday, but here, Thursday we are still waiting in a run down hotel for a call to say it’s going. At least we can see the ship here in port now, but it is apparently waiting for more cargo?
This has worked out by far a more expensive option than going through Libya/Tunisia regretfully. For those overlanders interested and following the details the costs of the Port Said /Mersin ferry (excluding of course accommodation costs and meals) have been:
USD$500 for the vehicle
USD$600 for 2 pax ($300 per passenger)
USD$125 agent fees (LE 750)To Naggar Shipping Agents
USD$333 (LE2,000) To fixer and customs arranger Mr Said. We have no idea
of the actual breakup re customs/traffic police/baksheesh
USD$ 50 (LE300) 3 days port storage costs for the vehicle at LE100/day
The offices of Naggar Shipping Agency are in the rear (5th floor) of the Redmar Shipping Co building GPS N31*15.642 E32*18.692 and the contact is Nabil Mob: 01001237988 or Mohammed Mob:01091665695.
Mr Said’s office are 500m down the street and his Mobile is 01008323655.
The guys at Naggar were polite and efficient enough, but overlanders trying to catch ferries are but a small annoyance in their overall business and the trouble is that while they say they will contact you to let you know what is going on, the don’t – and you constantly need to chase things up yourself.
Mr Said and his assistant Aseed were OK, friendly guys who managed customs affairs as quickly and efficiently as they could – and even gave us coffee and helped us purchase mangoes!
Doing da business in Mr Said’s office!
Things at the Libyan embassy did not work out as hoped. (Probably more as expected?). After getting up early at 5.30am and leaving our desert campsite to reach Cairo on the Thursday before 10.00am in order to go to the Australian Embassy before it closed for the weekend in order to get the letter of introduction. (This cost LE600 (USD$100) for 2 letters plus the 2 statutory declarations we had to sign that going to Libya was on our head). At least our embassy issued the letters in an hour, not like the Swedes who had to come back Sunday to pick up theirs?
Too late before the weekend to go to the Libyan embassy until it reopened Sunday so we sat around in Salma Motel Camping in Giza GPS N28*58.130 E31*10.370
(which is OK but little shade) and amused ourselves with the usual Cairo things of seeing the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza and walking around downtown Cairo and the Egyptian Museum with all Tutenkhamen’s treasures etc. (Worth a visit). Downtown Cairo is reminiscent of faded European cities and quite pleasant. Tahrir Square was quiet despite rumours of imminent protests.
Back on the Sunday to the Libyan embassy in Zamelek (behind the German embassy) and to wait in a noisy queue of hopefuls. A noisy protest of some sort with plenty of shouting and chanting and edgy police standing around was building outside, so when we finally got to the window about midday, we were told: ”too many problems today, come back tomorrow”. Also that we might have to get Tunisian entry visas before Libya would issue one to transit Libya? We made the immediate decision that this was all going to drag on too long and to head to Port Said and the Turkey ferry first thing the next morning? The money spent on the Australian letter of introduction would be blown, but so what?
Christer and Mia though went back the next day as Swedish nationals don’t need a Tunisian visa – only to be told again that : “Things are still uncertain in Libya? Come back next week”. They also spat the dummy and decided to head for Turkey instead!
Our summation is that Libya will probably soon issue transit visas in a week or two, but not just yet? Opinion from the several Libyans we spoke to in the queues is that Libya is welcoming and safe enough and they want tourists to return?
Traversing central Cairo in Tin Can early the following morning in building peak hour traffic without a properly functioning GPS (T4A mapping is hopeless here!), and more or less guessing our route north, was possibly enough to take another year off our lives, but we got to Port Said by 11.00am. and the offices of Naggar Shipping. We later checked into the Hotel De La Poste GPS N31*15.790 E32*18.613, which is not too bad if you need to spend several days (or weeks!) at LE110 ($19) per day- with large, airy rooms but old and run down.
Our hotel in Port Said (only kidding)!
Port Said at the entrance of the Suez Canal is not too bad a place. No tourists (and accompanying hassle), the people are welcoming and there are a few things to see. The Pizza Pino restaurant was a favorite! The town though has obviously seen better glory days when all the large ocean liners going up the Suez Canal used to stop here- and it would be nice if (like Cairo) so much rubbish and litter was not left lying around? Egypt could do with a lot more effort by the street cleaners!
Rubbish in Port Said streets
Hopefully the good Russian ship will sail one day before Xmas (we keep getting told “tomorrow”?) and the next post will be from Turkey and after we have probably kissed good European soil at last? (When we one day get back to Australia, we are indeed going to hug the ground, not just kiss it)!
The good ship Nikolay Konsarev lies in wait across the harbour but does not move nor load cargoe?
Egypt has been a fascinating country to visit, but far and away the most challenging and frustrating. There also seems to be a strong feeling amongst most of the local people we spoke to that things are getting worse despite the exit of Mubarak from the scene and that more change and unrest is surely on the way? Everyone hopes for better days (and the return of tourists) under new President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, but no-one seems too confident?
The fact from our point of view is that whilst we have spent nearly 30 days in the country, only about10 days has been actually on the road. The rest has been sitting around waiting for things to happen like ferries to arrive or custom clearances to take place. The other fact is that the cost of getting a vehicle in and out of Egypt with various charges, officialdom and “baksheesh” has been more than 3 times all the 16 other African countries put together! No wonder many overlanders from Europe try and avoid the place and try through Saudi Arabia (now closed) or ship to Sudan or Mombassa? The one good point is that driving is a pleasure with diesel at only 20c/litre!
In the meantime we continue to wait for Russian ships and get to know Port Said very well indeed….
More photos in the Gallery at: https://picasaweb.google.com/110392977689469430264/Egypt