Sunday 26th October

Tomorrow we’re all set to catch the ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, so it seems appropriate to look back over the last 4 weeks, and consider our time in Egypt.  It really has been a parson’s egg; for every thieving, conniving weasel who has tried to rip us off,

One of the less honest Egyptians.....

One of the less honest Egyptians.....

we have found someone else who has been kind, generous, and has gone out of their way to help us for no reward.  In Aswan and Luxor the continual, relentless ‘hello, where you from? come look in my shop, no hassle, just look no buy’  has made it really hard to relax and enjoy being here. The sad thing is that if you’re not continually cynical, the majority of Egyptians you encounter along the tourist trail will try and stiff you in some way or other.

There have been lots of good bits, and the sheer joy of realising that someone is helping you just because because they can has outweighed the disappointments.  I also think that my reluctance to unconditionally love Egypt is partially due to the fact that we have been here for a long time, nearly a month, and it’s easy to forget that we’ve spent a lot of time and effort crossing off most of the grotty admin jobs ahead of us such as visas etc.   

So a big thanks to the owner and staff of the Keylany Hotel here in Aswan who spend about 3 hours of their own time fixing an odd glitch with my laptop, and to Wael, who helped us out with the Nile Navigation Company, just because he could.

For those of you that are interested Sean & I marked our 12th un-niversary today!  Sean sneakily arranged a sunset Felluca trip, and a surprise bottle of red, both of which were very relaxing!  We’re both a bit amazed and delighted that we’ve made it this far, literally and metaphorically.

Tomorrow is another day and we’re really excited about the next phase of our Big African Adventure, Sudan is about as far off the beaten track as we’ve ever been and will mark a return to wild camping and exciting road surfaces.  We’ll be off radar until we reach Khartoum in about a week. 

In the meantime, a bit like the BBC test card, some random sights that have amused us:

Meals on wheels?

Meals on wheels?

Answers on a postcard please

Answers on a postcard please

No crunking in your pants perhaps?

And my kind of shop

There were plenty of louts in stock too

There were plenty of louts in stock too

So, tell him, is he brown yet??

So,you tell him, is he brown yet?

Advertisements

Newsflash!!!!

October 23, 2008

I have finally managed to upload the videos – go to the Bad Parking post to see the full extent of our humiliation.

Completely Karnakered

October 23, 2008

Forgot to mention that our first cultural was to the Luxor Museum, which was really interesting but I got distracted by a strange lady who we twice found with her head pressed on the exibits.  I suspect she was trying to commune with Isis, Goddess of Magic, or maybe she was just tired of hieroglyphs.  I can understand that.

Sunday 19th October

The sheer volume of tourists in Luxor is pretty extraordinary.  The cruise boats are moored 3 or 4 deep for about half a mile down the Corniche.  Imagine if the view from your cabin was the view of someone’s cabin!  Karnak was an eye opener, by 8.30 there were literally thousands of people throning around their respective tour guides.  Karnak was breathtaking, primarily because it is just so massive, and it has a lot of pillars.

Big pillars, big statues..

Big pillars, big statues..

Later we visit Luxor Temple, which is likewise heaving, but at dusk it is very evocative if you can try and imagine away everyone else.

Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple

Monday 20th October

Visiting the Valley of the Kings is virtually compulsory, but we were both a bit disappointed as the tombs that Sean wanted to see were all closed.  The Tombs of the Nobles however were much more interesting.  One tomb we visited had well preserved paintings depicting grapevines all over the ceiling and foot massage on the walls; the intention to let the good times continue to roll in the afterlife was very clear.

Thursday 23rd October

We’ve made it a bit further South to Aswan.  It is compulsory to travel from Luxor to Aswan in a police escorted convoy.  On Tuesday we were able, thanks to our new friend Wael, to join the back of the Italian Camper Van Convoy, who had their own police escort.  This meant that we were able to travel at a stately 80kph, as opposed to screaming along dodgy roads and being undertaken by psychotic taxi drivers at 120kph.  We were in the van of the convoy, which was great until they all pulled over to empty their toilets.

We stayed at ‘Adam’s Home’ camp for a couple of nights which is a Nubian house about 8km North of Aswan.  It’s a lovely location and I could see the Nile from my penthouse apartment, however there is little to amuse, so we decided to shift to an hotel in downtown Aswan this morning.  We completed our formalities with the Traffic Police today, having visited the ‘Court’ yesterday and got a stamp to prove that I have no outstanding warrants for my arrest.  That complete, we visited the Nile Navigation Company to arrange our onward transport to Sudan aboard the Aswan – Wadi Halfa ferry on Monday.   We had some very welcome help from Wael in locating both of these places, and securing cabins on the ferry.  Wael is an Egyptian tour leader, who befriended us and was very kind and generous with his time, so thank you very much Wael!

For any would-be overlanders reading this we found the legendary Mr Salah to be charm personified, and had a chat and a lovely cup of tea with him this morning, having secured our ‘First Class’ cabin (better dressed cockroaches), and a place on the barge for Elsie.  All for about EP3600, which wasn’t as scary as we expected.   Apparently last Monday some English guys had to charter an entire barge and it cost them EP19,000, but they were driving a Routemaster double decker bus.

The ferry with us on it leaves on Monday and arrives in Sudan a day later.  The barge with Elsie on it doesn’t arrive till Wednesday, so we have to ensure that we have everything we need with us, and keep our fingers crossed that Elsie arrives intacto.

The Nile here is lovely, and we will be taking the obligatory Felluca trip when we finally buckle to the touts

 

 

Thursday 16th October

This morning we head South passing through the Black Desert and then into the White Desert.  No prizes for imaginative naming around here.  The Black Desert does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s left overs from eroded mountains, and looks like hundreds of mini volcanoes.  It’s not especially appealing or photogenic, so we press on to its more glam neighbour, the White Desert.

 

 

 

Mmm, Mr Whippy anyone?

Mmm, Mr Whippy anyone?

In contrast (obviously) the White Desert is stunning.  We found ourselves surrounded by huge, blindingly white rocks, eroded into bizarre shapes by the constant wind.  We ventured a short distance off the road, and had a wander around.  Completely alone, we could have been on another planet. 

 

 

 

Elsie, Queen of the Desert

Elsie, Queen of the Desert

 

We planned to bush camp and tried to find a track, taking us away from the ‘Desert Safari’ tour groups.  This proved harder than we imagined and almost immediately we got bogged down.  Our 4×4 training had not included sand and boy, did we make that obvious!!  The waffle boards got their second outing, and Elsie was freed with minimum fuss.  We soon found a solid enough piste and about 2km from the road found the most perfect setting.

 

 

 

 

This is what we call exclusive!

This is what we call exclusive!

 

 

Setting up camp here and cooking a curry as the stars came out was heavenly.  Later, the moon appeared, waning, but still huge and bright orange as it rose up through the dust.  It was a perfect night. 

 

My top places to sleep ever in chronological order:

  • Bush camp in Selous, Tanzania
  • Glovers Reef, Belize
  • Ras Mohammed National Park, Sinai
  • White Desert, Egypt.
    Morning at the Hotel du Van

    Morning at the Hotel du Van

    Friday 17th October

 

 

 

 

Stayed overnight in Al Khargha, a pointless place, it’s only claim to fame was that it was once a place of banishment.  Our hotel was overpriced and notable only for the creepy little pervert who I caught looking through the bathroom window as I was getting into the shower.   

Saturday 18th October

We’re now safely ensconced in Rezieky Camp, Luxor where the 5.30 call to prayer is just kicking off.  They have all mod cons here such as a washing machine so we’re taking full advantage while we enjoy some cold ‘Luxor Classic’ beer. We can’t shake the Italian convoy of 14 camper vans though, and are thoroughly outnumbered.  They are all retirees, and have just hung out all their washing, so we’re surrounded by big flapping pants. 

Sean narrowly avoided squashing 3 eejitian teenagers who slid across the road in front of us on their motorbike.  The 2 that were able to legged it pursued by the police, whilst the other one lay in the road.  Fortunately it was right outside the hospital, so he’ll probably be OK.

There are 3 puppies here and we’ve named them Clarkson, May and Hamster.

Trout Pouts and Eejitians…

October 16, 2008

Sorry Chums, no pictures this time, I will insert them when I find an internet service not powered by hamsters…….

Saturday 4th Oct.

We left Alex behind with nary a backward glance and headed for Cairo with fluttering stomachs.  Mine was due to lingering Siwa Squirts, but Sean’s was surely the prospect of facing further Egyptian metropolis traffic carnage.  In spite of this a couple of hours later we approached the outskirts of Cairo.  After only a couple of stops for directions we’re heading the right way and lo and behold, the pyramids hove into view behind the crumbling apartment blocks. 

Pyramids through the murk

Pyramids through the murk

Finding the site was the easy part, over the next few days various embassies do their best to evade us.  Our first attempt coincided with the 6th October national holiday, when Egypt commemorates their short lived thrashing of Israel in 1973.  Move on people!! 

 

 

 

 

 

I also managed to inhale a good quantity of DEET insect repellent the previous evening and have come up in a blindingly itch rash, and a huge trout pout.  It’s a toss up between whether I look more like Pete Burns or Rio Ferdinand. Either way, not a good look.

The next day, when we do find Sudan, they tell us that we should have gone to Ethiopia first.  The Ethiopian Embassy has moved several times in recent years, and so it takes us 2 hot and very cross hours to find it.  By the time we get to Ethiopian Embassy, we submit out applications and are told to come back the next day.

On Day 3 of the great Visa hunt Ethiopia comes up with the goods almost straight away, but after a bit of faffing back at Sudan, we are told that we’ll have to pick our visas up on Sunday.  It’s now Wednesday.  We can’t stand another day in Cairo.  Frustrated & knackered we head to the Egyptian Museum for a bit of obligatory culture, before returning to the campsite, and later heading out for a splendid dinner at ‘Andreas’ which I am just a bit too tired to enjoy fully.

Thursday 9th October

Desperate for some pollution-free air we head for the Ras Mohammed National Park on the Sinai Peninsula.  On the way we stopped off briefly in Suez, to see if we could spot a ship coming through the canal, but failed.  Ras Mohammed is very close to Sharm el Sheik so we nip in quickly and buy some new footwear for Sean, his Nazareth Knockabouts having fallen to pieces in the Siwa Bad Parking debacle. 

We arrived at Ras Mohammed just before sunset, and experienced a slight delay whilst wrangling over ingress with the teenage national service security force.  It was worth it.  There is no one else here, we found a beach between low outcrops and struck camp, just us and the stars and the striped hyena (really a dog).

Oh we do like to be beside the sea side!

Oh we do like to be beside the sea side!

We have enjoyed awesome snorkelling here, the coral is beautiful, and literally yards off the beach.  In two days we’ve seen a huge Moray eel, a turtle, sting and spotted eagle rays and today we even found Nemo.

Before arrival of French & Austrian tour group

Before arrival of French & Austrian tour group

 
 
 

 

The only downside has been that our seclusion has been violated.  An Egyptian desert safari operator has set up camp around us, and groups of Austrian and French tourists have arrived.  They both seem quite bemused as to what we’re doing here, but it’s given us something funny to watch, and the Egyptians insist on feeding us by way of compensation. 

 

 

 

Monday 13th October

Back in Cairo, our 4th visit to the Sudanese Embassy proves only partially successful.  We are relieved of $200 and told to come back at 2pm tomorrow.  Crikey, I used the full range of my expletive vocabulary once safely out of earshot of the embassy. We were so disappointed to have to come back again. By way of compensation we took ourselves off for a good lunch.

The Eejitian I was referring to

The Eejitian I was referring to

I should have mentioned that before all this we visited the Pyramids. I am aware that I am a complete philistine, but I don’t feel that I gained much from it, everything was exactly what I had expected but smaller, which I think is the opposite reaction to most people.   The exception was the Solar Barque, a boat found buried outside Cheops’ pyramid, which I was largely unaware of before.

 

 

 

 

 

Seem familiar??

Seem familiar??

 

 

Sean said that 20 years ago the whole visiting the Pyramids experience was much more frenetic, and that by comparison they are now sanitised, as all the touts, camels and horses are kept largely away by the tourist police.

 

 

Things I like about Cairo: there are completely undeveloped lush green islands still in the middle of the Nile, and that the banks of the Nile are still green in most places. The call to prayer echoes over the city in a wall of sound as all the different mosques get into their groove.  The food is gorgeous; I could live off meze for a long time before I got bored (just as well…)  Horses look really big in comparison to all the tiny donkeys. Not even in Delhi would you find herds of goats & sheep on the main roads.  The Egyptians have been lovely people, and most have gone out of their way to help us for nothing, we have only had 2 requests for baksheesh, both of which were preposterous, and ignored.

 

Wednesday 15th October

 

Random thing I have noticed today: all the lightbulbs I have seen are the ‘eco’ ones. And this in a country where you can’t see for plastic bag litter and you can’t buy rechargeable batteries.

 

Stayed overnight in Bawiti, in Bahariyya oasis.  The only reason for stopping here was to use the internet, and there was no working internet anywhere in town.

Tunisia

In spite of some major dramas with Elsies tyres, we made good progress through Tunisia, heading out to the edge of the Sahara, where we bumped into our travelling companions for Libya, Adrian & Linda, before we set out on our own for our first taste of piste (unsurfaced road to you and me) from Ksar Ghilane to Tatouine.  Miles & miles of empty road, and more biblical landscapes.  The camel spotting novelty soon wore off.

There's another one!

There's another one!

 We had an overnight stop on the touristy island of Jerba. If you have multiple tattoos and like to chain smoke come to Jerba on holiday, you’ll feel right at home.

However the upside was that Paulo and Allesandra, our Italian fellow campers shared their red wine with us, and helped us change our first wheel of the trip, a consequence of the ongoing tyre saga… 

Libya

On 26th September, having met up as planned with Adrian & Linda at the border we met up with our guide, Bilal, who steered us through the Libyan border with consumate calm & professionalism.  Our plan was to drive over the top of Libya in 5 days, with a couple of stops to take in the Roman ruins at Sabratha and Leptis Magna.

Ruins at Sabratha ;-)

Ruins at Sabratha 😉

The Roman sites were extraordinary, just acres & acres of priceless stuff, just tumbled & piled up.  Leptis Magna was huge, and you really could picture all the toga wearers doing their thing.

Gorgon head

Gorgon head

Heading for Tolmeida on Sean’s birthday, Sunday 28th, it all went pear shaped for Adrian & Linda, when their car, which had had overheating problems in Tunisia, and had been smoking quite badly, gave up the ghost with suspected engine seizure.  We towed them for a few Km to the nearest small town, where Bilal went on the hunt for a flat bed truck.  It was a long, long wait and eventually they got the car onto a flat bed, and we all drove in Elsie to Benghazi, arriving at 2am, filthy and knackered. 

Sadly we had to leave Adrian & Linda in Benghazi, while we pressed on to the last stop in Libya, Tobruk.  Just after sunset we stopped at a checkpoint at At-Tmimi for Bilal to have a quick pray and break his fast as it’s Ramadan.  One of the guys from the checkpoint invited us to join them so we went inside to find this huge meal spread out on a blanket on the floor.  They were so friendly, and the food was delicious.  What really struck me was the ease with which these strangers offered hospitality to us and the other people there. 

Checkpoint feast

Checkpoint feast

Egypt

On the morning of the 30th September we said goodbye to Bilal, who had looked after us so well over the last few days, and our Libyan number plates & crossed over into Egypt.

Goodbye to Libya and Bilal

Goodbye to Libya and Bilal

We were both slightly anxious about our first major African border without adult supervision, but it all went swimmingly, if you like swimming through mazes in treacle.  After 2.5 hours of going from office to office, changing money, getting rubbings done of chassis number, carnet verification etc. we were through.

After overnighting in Marsa Matruh we headed back into the desert, to Siwa oasis, right on the edge of the Great Sand Sea.  Whilst having lunch we asked directions to the hotel we’d planned to stay in, and an english guy called Duncan who was sitting at the next table offered to take us there as he lived next door.  A decision I suspect he came to regret as the events of the next 24 hours unfolded…… 

The hotel was shut so Duncan & Penny very kindly offered us their garden to camp in which had the most awesome view of the dunes, and a pool.  We enjoyed a lovely evening with them, having beers on the roof of their villa in Siwa town, before heading to a party at a nearby hot spring.

After a quick swim the next morning we set off to get permission from the police to drive to the next oasis across piste on the edge of the desert.  A minor amount of Egyptian style faffing later and we were told to report to the police station at 7am the next day where we would find an armed Captain to escort us. 

We decided to go in search of a nearby hot spring to while away the afternoon.  This is where all our plans went out the window!  Sean was attempting to turn around, having decided the track was too narrow to continue.  The rest is probably best explained with visual aids…

Bad parking

Bad parking

After initial attempts at extraction failed, we retired to Duncan & Penny’s townhouse for a few beers before taking everyone out to dinner by way of apology.

The next day the professionals got involved and Elsie was extracted, undamaged & dignity almost intact.

Having given Elsie a good scrubbing we made tracks for Alexandria, which I can only describe using a range of fruity expletives, so I won’t bother.  The worst is yet to come however, as we’re now leaving for Cairo, something I’ve been dreading since we started planning this trip.  But we have to go there to get our Sudanese visas, so it’s time to bite the bullet.  Until next time, Amigos! XXXX