Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - Egypt - added by Steve

I am now writing this many many months after we have returned from our travels. Our story needs to be finished, and I have been avoiding this for a while now. I think it's because I wasn't enamoured by Egypt, and I didn't want to finish the trip on a low point. However, needs must, and I need to say farewell to Africa, at least for this trip. Please forgive me if parts of this journal paint Egypt in a negative light. It is my intention only to write about our experiences, and rather unfortunately, our experiences in Egypt were often far from ideal.

We arrived in Aswan on the 11th March. That is, more than a week after we had expected to be arriving. The ferry to take both us and Songololo to Egypt had failed to arrive, and after a week of waiting in the desert in Sudan, we had been forced to leave Songololo behind. Our Sudanese visas had expired and had we stayed any longer in Sudan we'd have become fugitives in a country whose prisons we didn't care to explore!

We were greeted by two rather ominous signs. How true the first turned out to be!

A sign greeting tourists as they arrive at Customs and Immigration in Egypt.

A South African car, perhaps it's owner died of old age whilst waiting for the ferry to arrive?

We were assured Songololo would be a day behind, but, as seems to be the case over and over, the truth this was anything but! What was rather unfortunate was that every day we were told the same thing: "Tomorrow, Insh'Allah!", which meant we never took the opportunity to explore further afield than Aswan's immediate environs. Two weeks later, we realised holding onto hope was futile, and we should take advantage of our forced wait. If the truck arrived whilst we were away, so be it.

So we took an overnight trip to Abu Simbel. Abu Simbel is a temple which was saved from the rising waters of the Nile when Lake Nasser was created. Stone by stone it was moved to a location more than 100m higher than where it originally stood. It is, for me, the most beautiful of Egypt's monuments, save perhaps the pyramids at Giza.

It is not possible to drive oneself to Abu Simbel, apart from in a daily convoy through the desert. I'm not exactly sure of the reasons behind this, but apparently it is for our safety. Since Songololo was still stuck somewhere in Wadi Halfa, we had to take a bus. Not wanting to fork out the ludicrous amount quoted by tourist touts, we went to the local bus terminus and bought a ticket on a local bus. There are only a few tourists allowed on a local bus at any one time, something to do with the ratio of tourists to locals, and again, attempts to protect us from unseen lurking dangers. As it was there was only one other tourist who had the same idea, so off we went.

It was very frustrating when the bus turned off the main north-south road which led straight to the border, only a few kilometres further, to make its way to Abu Simbel. Seeing the perfect tar disappear over the horizon, and knowing that the border was right there, the road perfectly serviceable, and that only bureaucracy prevented us from using it to drive Songololo into Egypt ourselves was a bitter pill to swallow. Again I believe it's too dangerous for us to use the road, yet again we failed to see these lurking dangers anywhere around. 3 weeks we had been caught up waiting for the ferry to take us over Lake Nasser, and it would have taken us half a day to drive, on perfect tar roads. Oh well, TIA I guess!

Our bus pulled into Abu Simbel pretty late at night. We hunted around for a hotel, albeit with a tourist police companion, as yet again, it was deemed too dangerous for us to walk around alone. Our hotel found, we now wanted dinner. Again we were accompanied by the policeman to the main drag where all the local restaurants were. However, our return to the hotel after dinner was alone. I guess the dangerous criminals intent on harming tourists must knock off at the same time as the police do, so we didn't need an escort?

We were told that a huge number of tourist buses arrive en-masse mid morning in order to allow the tourists to get around the temple before the midday sun gets too hot. The advice was to wake up really early and get around before the hordes, so the next morning we woke up just after day break, getting to the temple as the gates opened. Our ticket price included an obligatory private guide, but when we told our guide we wanted to start the tour immediately, he replied that we could join a group tour with the 500-odd tourists who were due to arrive in about an hour! We didn't agree, pointing out the ticket was for a private guide and that the whole reason we came early was to beat the crowds. His response was to get angry at us for being so unreasonable, and then he just disappeared! We returned to the ticket office to find out if we could arrange for another guide to take us around, or if that wasn't possible, get a refund of the cost of the private guide. We were kindly offered a guide who could only speak Italian! There was no question of a refund, and this was our guide, there was no one else available. Since we couldn't understand a thing he was saying we told him not to bother with the tour and that we'd show ourselves around... but I don't think he understood what we were saying!

Nonetheless Abu Simbel was amazing, and remains a highlight of my time in Egypt. The scale of the temple and the quality of the sculpture are just awe-inspiring.


There is not much to do in Abu Simbel other than view the temple, so that afternoon we hopped back onto the bus back to Aswan.

Back in Aswan we met some Germans who were also waiting for the ferry to bring their car over from Sudan. They had been waiting a week, and during their daily enquiries at the ferry office, had just been told the ferry operator was refusing to bring the barge back from Sudan. Since it only had our two vehicles and two motorbikes on it, and there weren't enough people waiting on the Egyptian side for its return journey, he wanted to wait until more tourists arrived. With a monopoly an tourist transport between Sudan and Egypt, he knew he had us over a barrel. When we argued that we'd paid an extortionate fee of US$500 to transport our truck, and we now wanted it transported, he told us to just wait. There was nothing we could do! This whole border debacle had cost us 3 weeks up to this point, and my sense of humour was failing on an astronomical level!

Then the Germans had an ingenious plan! They phoned the ferry guy using our phone and pretended to be a Swedish contingent of 10 vehicles, making their way to South Africa for the FIFA world cup. They were in Cairo and had a choice of either going via Jeddah to Port Sudan, or via Aswan to Wadi Halfa. Could the ferry man organise a barge for them immediately, as they were in a rush because of the world cup? If he couldn't, then they would go via Jeddah. No doubt the ferry owner saw a prime chance to extort some more money from tourists… so of course he could arrange a barge for them, it would be ready and waiting for them when they arrived! Would you believe it, the very next day the barge arrived with Songololo on it!

It still took 3 days of bureaucracy and red tape to clear customs. We had to have a special policeman take pencil rubbings of our chassis and engine numbers, we had to rent Egyptian number plates (naturally we had to pay a deposit, which we were assured we would receive back when we returned the plates, and naturally, no-one had ever heard about this when we came to leave Egypt, and no deposit was returned), we had to buy road tax, insurance for a year (the shortest period for which we can get insurance), and several other necessary fees which I lost track of and have no idea what they were for. It seems in bureaucracy, streamlined processes left Egypt around about the same time Tutankhamun did.

But, we had Songololo back, and we were able to continue! You can imagine our joy when we left Aswan heading north!

Our first stop was Luxor, where we visited the Valley of the Kings and Karnak Temple, the largest temple in the world. The scale of the ancient Egyptians' temples is just awe-inspiring, and makes one's mind boggle pondering how the work was carried out so many millennia ago.

After Luxor we turned into the desert, heading for the White Desert. The Sahara is vast, and we did a lot of driving. En-route we spent one night near a hot spring that bubbles up out of the desert sands. Sitting at night, just the two of us, with the hot water bubbling up around us like a jacuzzi, sipping a glass of wine while the stars shone bright in the sky above, the memory of our ferry crossing chaos seemed a world away!

A few days later we made it to the White Desert. This is an area of desert known for its strange chalk outcroppings which have been shaped by winds blowing the desert sands. The shapes are quite surreal, and driving through the desert surrounded by these bizarre shapes was an awesome experience.

Our next stop was Cairo, which was as chaotic and noisy as we had been told it would be. We stayed in a very dodgy campsite which was mosquito infested and had no facilities to speak of. We were the only tourists there, and it was quite dire, so we didn't stay long at all.

We spent just enough time to make a trip to the pyramids at Giza, which are just incredible. The enormous scale is mind-boggling!

Rox had dreamt of riding a camel next to the pyramids, like the explorers of old, so we found a camel tout (not a difficult feat at all, there are thousands of them!) and arranged a tour. I wanted to get a particular angle so that I could get a nice photo of the three pyramids, without the city in the background. We told the guide exactly where we wanted to go, and settled on a price.

Once on the camels, of course the games had to start! Firstly the guy said we had to pay double because his friend was coming along too. We laughed, thanked him for the offer, but declined, saying we only wanted one guide. He wasn't very happy with this, but eventually accepted that we only needed one. So his friend stayed behind and we set off. Soon we realised we weren't going anywhere near where we'd agreed to go. When we asked where we were going, he said he didn't want to go there, it was too far. I protested, reminding him that he'd agreed to take us where we'd asked to, and that we were paying him to do just that! No, not possible, it was too late and the pyramid enclosure was closing, so he couldn't take us there anyway. My sense of humour was failing rapidly, and we decided that we weren't going to be taken advantage of like this. We told him to stop and we wouldn't do the tour. He looked surprised! When I told him he shouldn't have to agreed to take us on a route which he had no intention of taking us on, he seemed genuinely confused. It was ridiculous!

It was a pity we couldn't do the camel ride, but we were able to walk all around the pyramids and the Sphinx and the whole complex, which was an incredible experience.

The following day we caught the underground into the centre of Cairo for a visit to the Egyptian Museum. There is an incredible array of Egyptian antiquities, and by the end of the day we were quite museumed out! We made our way into a fairly fancy ex-pat part of Cairo and treated ourselves to a nice meal at a fancy restaurant, a splurge which took the edge off the travel weariness Egypt had bludgeoned into us!

The next day we high-tailed it out of Cairo and headed into the Sinai, destination Dahab, in search of some serious chill time on the beach before we left Africa behind. Rox's mum flew in to join us for a few days, and we spent an amazing time snorkelling in the Red Sea, lounging in the bohemian beach-side restaurants and just generally de-stressing from our time in the rest of Egypt.

After a week we made our way up to the ferry to take us out of Egypt and into Jordan. I won't lie, it was with some joy we left Egypt behind us. The country itself is beautiful, but the never-ending hassle meted out by money-hungry locals looking to extract as much cash as they can from tourists, no matter how obvious the con or how tired of it the tourists become, had left us jaded to say the least. The bureaucratic red-tape and extortionate fees were a bitter pill to swallow, and rather unfortunately, it is one of the few countries I have ever been to which I can say I have little desire to go back to. Sad, but true!


1 .
Indra - 19 Sep 2016, 11:17
2 .
afdsa - 23 Sep 2016, 18:46

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