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Sunday, 4 November 2012

Egypt


Day 1 – 19/10/12
The crossing into Egypt was as chaotic and bureaucratic as anticipated.
Immigration took only 5 minutes. They could not issue a visa there (apparently they did not have the facilities to accept money) so took an innovative step of giving us an entry stamp, but we will need to buy the visa on exit. To get the stamp we had to go through a dark and very dingy office complex to the departures hall. In this area, we also managed to change some money with the ‘changers” and buy an active SIM card.
After this, the post stopped for Friday prayers. Following a 20 min wait, we queued for a customs inspection. In typical Egyptian fashion, this involved many traffic lanes merging into a single lane, people pushing in etc. Fortunately a “facilitator” had decided we were his dinner ticket for the day and quietly attached himself to us. He directed the traffic to make sure we got into the queue. The customs inspection took some time. They hopped into the box and made a complete mess. They also opened most of our doors to have a look inside the cupboards. Then a lot of our bags had to be x-rayed. Avril was concerned with the security of our bags, as they exited the x-ray unit around a corner, so she kept a very keen eye on events.
The rest was very confusing. But it did involve handing over money at regular intervals. The carnet bloke was one of the most obese people Ray had seen and he proved to be a big delay in the process. Some of the offices were exceptionally hard to find in the dark rabbit warren office complex.
Anyway, after ~ 3 hours we had our carnet stamped, new number plates for the vehicle, insurance, a laminated Egyptian card with the vehicle registration details on it.
The facilitator was well worth the UK £ 20 we paid!!!
We then drove to Masa Matruth and arrived just at dark. We stayed at the Beau Site Hotel. Avril negotiated for us to get the residents rate – LE 377. It is a very nice hotel with BEER and a fine dinner (unfortunately Ray managed to get a very bad dose of diarrhoea from the dinner).

Ray driving; 370 km; 9 hrs; N 310 21’ 44.1’’ E 0270 13’ 16.06’’

Day 2 – 20/10/12
We drove straight to Cairo – and were pleasantly surprised at how smooth the traffic flowed. A number of the very bad intersections we remembered have been replaced by traffic lights etc.
Tony & Jo Pearce had kindly invited us to stay with them, which was fantastic. So we chatted with them and had a beer and a very delicious BBQ dinner.

Avril driving; 449 km; 5 hrs; N 290 57’ 23.5’’ E 0310 15’ 57.7’’

Day 3 – 21/10/12
Samir, our driver from when we lived in Cairo, had taken leave and rented a car so he could drive us around. Our 1st chore was to apply for Ethiopian Visas. The address on the internet was incorrect, so it took some  time to find the embassy. When we did, we were a bit late for a same day service.
We then went to the Australian embassy to get a letter for the Sudan visa. This involved us executing a “stat dec” absolving Australia of any involvement in assisting us if we had issues in Sudan. The letter basically said that as Australian Passport Holders, we were Australian citizens! We met one of the staff there, Christine, and had a good natter for a couple of hours.
We then caught up with Dr Mustafa, the BG doctor, had a chat and got his advice on some drugs. Then we went to the pharmacy to get dozycycline for Malaria and Ray’s statins for 5 months.
In the evening we caught up with Dave and Mary Simmonds. They had done the Sudan ferry and most of the route we will do, so we got their advice and GPS tracks etc.

Day 4 – 22/10/12
In the morning Ray took the car for a service. Then Samir drove him back to pick up Avril and to collect our Ethiopia visas at ~ 13:30. Then to the Sudan embassy. However, they only take passports between 09:00 and 13:00, so we missed the day’s window.
It seems to us that Cairo’s traffic is worse than ever and we spent ages in the car. In addition, the air pollution was worse than we remembered.

Day 5– 23/10/12
Another frustrating day. We arrived before the Sudan embassy opened, the doors opened at 09:00, but the staff did not attend until 09:30. TIA. Then, we were told (very rudely) that we could not pick up our passports until tomorrow. This seemed to be at the whim of the visa official. The USA passport holder behind us could collect his at the same day at 14:00, but was charged $150, not the $100 we were charged. There were a couple of Brits there as well, and they did not need Ethiopian visas nor a letter from their embassy.  TIA
Ray went back at 14:00 and managed to see the consular official and the visas were ready, but we can only collect tomorrow. Mmmm, this attitude may explain some of the issues in Sudan. TIA
Ray picked up the car, which seemed to have been given a very decent service. He also purchased a new tyre to replace the new BFGoodrich that had developed a bubble. Very unfortunately only a similar BFGoodrich was available. We will run on the Goodyear  and hope tha itt lasts and keep the new BFGoordich as a spare.
Avril went and visited some of her old stomping places – one of her many tennis clubs where the gatekeeper, the coaches and the ballboys recognised her after an absence of 5 years! Avril claimed that it was because she was a good player and a nice person, while Ray reckons it was because she was a good “tipper”!! Even the greengrocer and the flower-seller remembered her!
We had been investigating the ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa in Sudan. With the Eid period, unfortunately, they had decided not to run the ferry over the holiday period. However, there was an additional ferry on Thursday 1st November. We spoke to the famous/infamous Mr Salah (01283160926), who apparently now only does the people ferry. He told us that with the Thursday departure we needed to start the departure process very quickly on Tuesday. There was a suggestion that the vehicle ferry may depart on Tuesday. He gave us the number of Mr Rashaad (?) (01090772410) who apparently now organises the vehicle and cargo barge. We called him and spoke to him in both English and Arabic and confirmed that we had a place on the barge for the vehicle and would also be able to get tickets for the passenger ferry, also leaving on the same Thursday (Nov 1st). We felt quietly confident that things would work out.

Day 6– 24/10/12
Another day of chores. We picked up our passports complete with visas. Ray then went to get the new tyre fitted to the rim, only to find that they had put a 17” tyre in the car rather than the 16” Ray had pointed to. So, another trip into town. Lesson: not enough QA by Ray! The tyre was then put on the rim. Avril sorted out the clothes and cleaned the accommodation module. Then, chores finished, we relaxed.
Ray went for coffee with Nebil Younis, a colleague from BG days. After coffee, Nebil took Ray on a diesel/solar/naptha/gasoil hunting expedition. There is a major shortage of diesel in Egypt. Apparently, cash strapped, they have not paid for recent deliveries and so, the traders and banks have stopped delivering. This has meant that some of the foreign exchange earners e.g. tourism have suffered and some trips etc to Luxor have been cancelled. Folks do not seem to be happy at all with the new government here. Anyway, we found a place that was getting a delivery that night and resolved to go very early the next day.
Tony, Jo and family left for a trip to Singapore and Bangkok, so we were “home alone”. A huge thanks to them. It was very nice to have a luxury pad to return to after the day’s exploits.

Day 7– 25/10/12
It was the start of the Eid holiday and so the roads were not too busy. We returned to the previously identified service station and after queuing for 30 minutes managed to fill our tanks.
We then drove to Soma Bay, a Red Sea resort area south of Hurgada. There was a mess up with our booking and the reception staff decided that “giving attitude” was the way to resolve this. As you can imagine, this did not go down too well with Ray and he had a wee chat to the manager. A solution was found, but it did leave a sour taste. We found that the Sheraton at Soma Bay was OK, but as they charged us European type rates, it was poor value for money.
On the way we did manage to fill up with diesel once.
Then, we had a chance to relax, with a walk around the resort complex and along the beach.

Avril driving; 507 km; 6 hrs; N 260 50’ 46.8’’ E 0330 59’ 48.7’’

Day 8– 26/10/12
A relaxing day around the pool, reading and swimming. Dave and Mary Simmonds came to the hotel for a chat and a bit of lunch. On the return to their hotel, they reported that there was diesel back towards Hurgada, so Ray jumped in the car and made a successful dash to fill up the tanks.

Day 9– 27/10/12
We relaxed around the pool in the morning and in the afternoon drove to Luxor. There is no convey anymore, which makes the trip a little easier and more convenient. The drive is mainly through the desert to the Nile and then along a canal for ~ 60 km. The initial stages are along a wadi and are quite spectacular. The drive along the canal gives a good idea of the villages and farming in the Nile valley.  Again, the Eid holiday meant there was not a lot of traffic so we had an easy time.
We found the Rezeiky Camp quickly. On arrival we were informed that there was a group of children (turned out to be ~ 100+!) but the noise should stop at 21:00 or 22:00 latest. We met an American biker (Rob) and had a few cold beers. We then retired and waited for 21:00 or 22:00.

Ray driving; 429 km; 10 hrs; N 320 48’ 59.3’’ E 0120 22’ 42.6’’


Day 10– 28/10/12
As intimated, we had the night from hell. The children were continually excited/reved up by the organisers. Initially there was a band and later the organisers reverted to a loud hailer/bull horn to ensure maximum noise. The children were organised for games and this seemed to involve even more noise, yelling, stamping, clapping etc. At 23:00 Ray went to have a chat to management and though they sympathised, they did nothing. Then at 23:45, Rob, who had a room at the hotel also had words and successfully removed the loud hailer from the mix. After 00:00 most of the kids went to bed but some ~ 8 yo’s stayed up to 02:00 playing soccer. We will not even mention the chickens and dogs in the compound.
Anyway, having had no sleep and finding out the kids were there for a further couple of days, we managed to get a room in the Luxor Sheraton (but our points balance is now very low!!).

We went for a walk to Luxor temple and had a bite of lunch at a balcony overlooking the temple. We went for a walk along the Cornishe, but the experience was not very pleasant. Every 2 minutes you have to go through the ritual: “Hello. Where are you from? Welcome etc” then comes the inevitable: do you want a felucca, see my shop, horse carriage, taxi, clothes, scarf etc etc etc etc. So, instead of having a nice walk along the Nile, it became an ordeal to just get to a destination. We appreciate they are only trying to make a living and are always polite. It seems that tourist numbers are way down, so that may also give additional pressure. However, there is no recognition of the needs of the tourist, maybe they would just like a quiet stroll. The consequence of this is that most tourists stay in their hotels and are bussed to the sites. They do not want the hassle.

We had heard that some Naptha/diesel/solar/gasoil maybe available from a point under the bridge heading into town. So, we quickly scurried along and managed to get our tanked filled. This was “black market” fuel (from an ordinary pump etc). The cost was LE 1.50 v LE 1.1 normally. Still very cheap.
We then went to the Sheraton, which has been refurbished since last time we were here and sat around the pool sans children’s carnival for the afternoon. In the evening we went to the Karnak sound & light show. The show has changed since our last visit, but we still enjoyed being in the temple complex.

Rezeiky Camp is very basic. Given the African/Arab approach to ablutions, you can imagine the state of the facilities with so many kids. The owners were apologetic, but it would really take a lot to get us to go back.

Avril driving; 429 km; N 320 48’ 59.3’’ E 0120 22’ 42.6’’


Day 11– 29/10/12
We drove to Aswan. On the way, we visited the Edfu and Kom Ombo temples. We have been to both temples a few times before, but it was still great to wonder at the ancients, their religion and their buildings. The commercial activities, shops etc are kept outside the temple complex, so you can enjoy the temples without hassle. That said, the kids in the car parks are very persistent with their begging and demands – it seems the only way to get rid of them is to be rude from the beginning. It is a pity, but they are very persistent and take any sign of politeness as weakness and a reason to go in harder.
We managed to fill with fuel just before Aswan – a real bonus. Then we went on a recce to ensure we knew where the various offices we would need to visit to organise the car were located in Aswan and the port. We sent texts messages to Mr Salah and Mr Rashaad to let them know we had arrived.
We then went to Adam House, the only place to camp in Aswan. The facilities are very basic. The vehicles camp under some trees ~ 3 – 4 m from the road.
We met Anna (Swedish) and Brian (Zimbabwean) overlanders with a Landcruiser, Rob (RSAer) with a motor bike) and Diarmaid (Irish) and Hannah(Scottish)  who are cycling down the east side. It was wonderful to meet other folks on a similar journey.
They had been waiting variously for up to 2 weeks for the ferry, but had been told it would load the next day. So, we hurriedly packed bags for a few days in Aswan without the vehicle. This all seemed positive.

Ray driving; 429 km; 10 hrs; N 320 48’ 59.3’’ E 0120 22’ 42.6’’


Day 12– 30/10/12

As you can imagine camping close to the road meant only one thing, traffic noise. Apparently the village is “quiet” and “small”. The traffic was heavier than Bourke St on a Saturday night. Small must be a comparative term? In common with a lot of Egypt, there are also packs of feral dogs (though they seem to have had a culling in Cairo). The dog packs around Adam House looked to have taken up the wolf approach and howled/barked in competition most of the night. The 04:30 call to prayer came from at least 10 mosques in the area and was not the “normal” 5 – 10 minutes but went on for 30+ min.
Soooo, we did not get a lot of sleep.
We wanted to get to the port early and see what the administrative burden and procedures for the vehicle were. We asked at the gate and were told to chat to Mr Mahmoud Idries (01006845201). Mahmoud, an employee of Nile Valley Navigation Co arrived soon after and we chatted. He then went inside to see what the story was. In the meantime, we phoned Mr Salah and he said, we needed to talk to Mr Rashaad. So, when Mahmoud returned, we said we wanted to do this. This meant we needed to get a pass for Ray to enter the port and this involved a LE 10 bribe to the police at the gate – no option. Ray sat with Mr Rashaad for some time whilst they confirmed that Wadi Halfa could accept the vehicle barge and that there was space for our car, Brian’s vehicle and Rob’s motorbike.
Ray then went outside and chatted to the other travellers about the situation. The ferry would not load that day, but we needed to be there early the next day to complete procedures and load the vehicles. 100%.
Mahmoud also said that a fixer, Kamal would have to arrange to have the court clearance (to say we did not have any traffic infringements) done and have the traffic police come to the port to return our Egyptian car registration and number plates and to have the carnet signed. Also, having read other blogs, we were confident that we could complete the formalities ourselves. But, we did not want to rock the boat so went along with the fixer.
Brian was a little nervous as another fixer, Mohamed Abouda (01225111968) had tried to latch onto them and was now threating that if they did not use/pay him he would make sure their car did not make the barge. Nice!!
We spent the rest of the day doing internet ad having a few beers. 

Day 13– 31/10/12
With the noise, we had another poor night’s sleep. We got to the port early and Mahmoud came to look after us. A group of 3 Finish lads in a Landcruiser also show up. At 09:30 “our” fixer, Kamal showed up. He immediately came across as a buffoon (drunk or high on hasheesh!).  We all paid our LE 10 bribe to be allowed to enter the port.
Mahmoud took the drivers to purchase barge tickets for the vehicles. But, the men selling the tickets needed instructions from their boss, so we waited for him. This boss is a small, blind man who yells aggressively and a lot. After a shouting match between the blind man and Mahmoud, we were allowed to purchase tickets but a Sudanese man was “bumped” from the barge. After paying, we were very confident – given we had tickets, we were on the way.

The drivers returned to the vehicles and as we had barge tickets and port entry passes we were allowed to proceed through the gate. We stopped immediately after the entry gate for a customs inspection. Kamal instructed us to pay LE 40 to the customs official. Given he had pre-agreed this with the official, we had no real choice. The quid pro quo is that we were not searched. The customs man leered at Avril through the window and made some inappropriate comments. He moved onto Brian’s car and found an excuse to extract further funds (they had a fishing knife in their car!). He leered at Anna and again made some very inappropriate remarks and also invaded her personal space. Mmm, Ray thought any more of that and we would have had some very serious words.
We then proceeded to the customs area to get our carnets stamped. The Finish boys took the opportunity to race ahead of everyone (they were the 4th vehicle in line). They are the 1st Finish people we have met and this did not go down well. Ray told them their behaviour was inappropriate.
The Carnet stamping man, Mr Hamam (?) then said that the barges would not be loaded until tomorrow, so we had the option of leaving our cars there (LE 30) or coming back tomorrow and completing the paper work. Given we had our tickets, we were confident that tomorrow would be fine and so we all decided to camp another night.
Later that afternoon one of the group received a call from Mahmoud. There was a problem and he needed to see us. So we all gathered at 20:30 (Mahmoud managed to get lost on the way). The barge our vehicle was booked on also needed to have general cargo loaded. Customs had not cleared all the cargo and the Sudanese’s fixer who was to pay for the freight, buggered off for Eid and had not been seen and had not paid. The best guess was Saturday! This was a problem for us as we needed to take the passenger ferry the next day (Thursday) and this would have meant leaving our vehicles at Aswan with no guarantee when they would leave. We debated and argued and it was agreed we would see the port management in the morning to see if we could rent a separate barge or work out any other way to get an earlier departure.

Day 14– 1/11/12
Again another poor night’s sleep, with the added stress of not being certain about our vehicle.
We arrived at the port early and Ray and Rob went to see Mr Rashaad and his boss Mr Fouaad. Mahmoud did the talking, explaining that we could not wait until Saturday for our vehicles to leave and we were looking for a solution. The solution was that we could put our vehicles on another barge that was currently loaded with lentils. However, we needed to shift some of the bags of lentils to make space! We needed to organise some labour to shift the bags. This seemed like a good solution and was endorsed by Mr Rashaad and his boss. We later saw Mr Rashaad on the lentil barge looking over things.
Mahmoud went looking for the labour organiser and we purchased our passenger ferry tickets. To our joy, we had been honoured with 1st class tickets. This meant our own cabin rather than the deck with the great unwashed! We proceeded through the port gates and onto the carnet man, Mr Hamam. Kamal  insisted we pay Mr Hamam LE 50 to get the carnet signed. This time, Ray objected and Kamal remonstrated. But again, given the time pressure, we were left with little choice. It is clear that Kamal is the facilitator of bribes, so he ensures that we pay the bribes so he ingratiates himself to the officials and gets to continue the corruption.
We then drove to the vehicle loading area. As we had entered Egypt without a visa (no-one to take the fee at the border), Kamal then needed to get us a visa so we could exit. There are no facilities at the port, so he went to the airport, only to find that immigration there was closed (1pm on a workday!). So, he had to go way back into Aswan to get the visas. We had wanted to do this the day before, but Kamal insisted that it was easy and we could do it on the day of departure. Anyway, this was all sorted and we had our immigration exit stamp.
Then we waited and waited. Ray went to find Mahmoud. He was with Mr Fouaad, Mr Rashaad and the blind shouting man. It seemed then that we were to go back to the original barge, but that it would leave 13:00 Friday and arrive in Wadi Halfa 16:00 Saturday. Ray objected, saying how could we have any confidence in yet another arrangement.  All 3 men guaranteed the timing and called Mr Salah who also confirmed.
Ray: never before have I been so consistently and blatantly lied to. 1st we were meant to leave Tuesday, then 100% Wednesday, then 100% Thursday, then a promise for Friday – time will tell. It is clear that all the people we have been talking to have lied the whole way. This is exceptionally disappointing as we have not struck such systemic dishonesty anywhere else in Africa, or elsewhere for that matter.
What were we to do? Time had run out and we needed to load the cars and board the vehicle ferry.
Putting the cars on the barge involved lots of shouting and instructions from almost everyone in the area. The area available to turn onto the loading ramps was very tight and Ray decided the best way was to do a multi-point turn so that our vehicle was perpendicular to the barge rather than trying to turn onto the ramps. When Avril started her approach, there was again lots of shouting. Time for aggressive Ray. They could ALL shut up and we would do it the way described! Kamal insisted that he should drive the vehicle on. Yeah, not! So, with everyone watching, Avril completed the manoeuvre in immaculate style. The vehicle sat on top of one of the cargo hold covers!
Then, Kamal demanded his payment, the men who shifted the ramps demanded baksheesh, Mahmoud wanted a present. Kamal asked to borrow our phone to make a quick call and used most of the available credit.
The continual harassment did not stop until we were on board. The 1st class cabin was a filthy, disgusting, dingy “box” that smelt terribly. Avril identified the smell as mould and all this for A$150 – an absolute disgrace!! The toilets were almost unusable before we had even departed! We chatted to our fellow travellers, had a bite to eat, had our Sudanese visas stamped and went to bed.

Day 15– 2/11/12
We have been so sleep deprived that we slept very well. We drifted past Abu Simble and our final glimpse of Egypt.


Egypt Summary
Disappointingly, after DRC, we found Egypt to be the worst country of the trip so far. We had been warned that people had lost respect for the police but did not appreciate how this would translate into chaos on the roads. Drivers show no consideration for anyone else, drive on the wrong side of the road etc.
We found no one with a kind word for the new government. The lack of diesel being just one of the most obvious issues.
Aswan is without doubt the most corrupt border crossing we have been through (remember, Egypt is country no.33!). It is totally endemic and with everyone demanding bribes, it is hard to move unless you pay.
Most disturbing was the continual lying by the Nile Valley Navigation Co staff at all levels. Never before have we struck such aberrant behaviours. The road from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, complete with border crossing, was completed some time ago. There are 2 theories why it is not open; either the ferry company staff want to continue to get income or the new president wants to get credit for the construction. The blogs talk romantically of going through this ferry & barge ordeal as a rite of passage and that when they have gone, something great will be lost. Maybe for the masochists, but for Avril & Ray, we would much prefer a low stress road to Sudan.
For Egypt and their people, it would seem they have entered a downward spiral and it will be very tough for them to get out of it.

Aswan for Overlanders
In general we found Aswan port to be the most corrupt customs post of our journey.
The Nile Valley Navigation Company is the most incompetent, disorganised, dishonest and unethical organisation we have ever been involved in (and those who know Ray’s background will appreciate that this is quite a statement).
Mr Salah (01283160926) appears to now only handle the passenger ferry. He will refer you to Mr Rashaad for the vehicle barge. Mr Salah will only issue a passenger ticket when your vehicle is on the barge. This is easily done on the day of departure.
We only managed to get Mr Rashaad (01090772410) to answer his phone once (from Cairo to confirm a vehicle booking). Hence, it is a problem to contact him and make arrangements. In addition, his English is basic (but better than my non-existent Arabic!), so it is difficult to have a complex conversation.
The easy way would seem to be to contact Mr Mahmoud Idris (01006845201). He speaks good English and can make contact and organise for you to see Mr Rashaad. Getting to see the right person and confirming a booking and schedule are the biggest uncertainties.
To obtain a ticket for the barge requires the approval of the blind shouting man. We could not work out is position/role, but you need him to approve your vehicle ticket.

You do not need a fixer. The procedure is very straight forward (the blog “gapyear4x4” gives clear directions on all the steps, directions to offices etc):
·         Court  Clearance to confirm no traffic violations,
·         return the number plates, vehicle registration card/licence and pink copy of the vehicle ticket to the police
·         go to the port and clear customs
·         Drive down the road a bit and get the carnet stamped.
·         Proceed to a holding area
·         Load the vehicle

The fixer Kamal (01005322669) who assisted us is a buffoon. He facilitates/perpetuates the corrupt system of bribes with the Customs people.
The fixer Mohamed Abouda (01225111968) seems to be a very nasty piece of work. He tried threats, standover tactics, intimidation etc to try and extract funds from Brian & Anna. He lied to the bikers, Rob & Rick.

The main problems seem to be:
·         getting in touch with the right person to get barge space for a vehicle transfer
·         sorting out the schedule and accurate times/dates for the vehicle barge
·         The systemic customs corruption and the lies told by the Nile Valley Navigation Company staff regarding vehicle transfer.
A strong warning must be given about the Nile Valley Navigation Company people. Whilst you must deal with them, you cannot believe them. So, whilst they may give assurances, times, dates etc this should all be taken with a huge degree of scepticism. Sad, but true. 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Avril and Ray, Reading your Egypt blog from our home in Adelaide provides quite a contrast. You are seasoned travellers now! Surviving in very trying circumstances. I hope that there is some pleasure in all this. Facilitating seems to be the name of the game at the moment. We are well - Mervyn has had a successful knee replacement and recently i returned from walking the Camino in Spain with my son. So life goes on, not quite so exciting as yours! (Will you get to Zanzibar?) Best Regards Anne

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