HELLO + WELCOME as we drive from Sydney to London via Africa.
In this post I write about overlanding through Egypt in a time of crisis in the country. Since the revolution tourism revenue has fallen by 95% over the past 4 years. Tourism is becoming a four letter word to locals and the industry is desperate. Collapsing from AUD$460 million dollars in 2010 to approx. AUD$19million in 2014.
You can catch up on our last post here.
It’s Kirsty writing today.
Gareth and I spent a full day importing our Troopy into Egypt, once it arrived on a barge from Sudan.
After 7 hours of standing around in non-descript locations, waiting for officials to do their jobs, and putting all trust in our fixer overseeing our Arabic forms we were tired. And poor Gareth’s man flu had taken a grip. So much so, the next day not even even the fire bomb down the road or witnessing a shooting could get us going. We wanted to charge up before we headed off with that apprehensive pit in our stomachs.
When we started this expedition we both agreed that we never wanted to pay a bribe. The continent is flanked with a stereotype of corruption; we wanted to prove there is a different side to Africa with the right approach.
So far, so good. We hadn’t paid a cent. But we weren’t sure how our stance might go in Egypt as bribery is kind of how things get done. We had heard it’s as much part of the culture as haggling. And boy, these Egyptians can talk.
Before we had even rolled Troopy out the gates of the port the police had asked for a bribe. We deflected the situation easily but it left us wondering what we were going to encounter. Also, since the revolution police have become targets of local terrorists and protestors.
As travellers, that left us feeling pretty awful - to know in a tumultuous country you are better to get the hell away from authorities rather than sticking close.
So, we entered the country feeling well and truly on our own.
Early the next morning Gareth and I sped out of Aswan. Police waved to us goodbye. It’s something we haven’t mentioned yet, but everyone knew who we were in Egypt. From the officials to the touts. And we were constantly asked “Are you the Australians?” or “Are you the Germans?” It seemed like us and our German bikers mates, who we had crossed with from Sudan, were the only independent travellers in Egypt!
The country currently has designated tourist police in an effort to keep tourists safe and out of newspaper headlines. Rightly so, seeing as a foreigner was kidnapped in the area around the White Desert while we were waiting in Aswan. With that news came a change to our plans to steer away from the West and Libya. A real disappointment as we had always wanted to travel there.
Instead we followed the Nile northbound and witnessed a country in shocking decay. Piles of rubbish and rubble lined the road. Arriving in Luxor (home of lots of ancient Egyptian “stuff”) we felt like camping.
We found a camp outside the city and it was derelict. The owner rose from his sleep and welcomed us profusely. He had not had guests for over two months! And wanted to tell us all about the political situation of the country as we died in the 40 degree heat. Boy, these Egyptians can talk.
He asked something like $2.70 for the both of us to camp the night. The cheapest camp of our entire journey. The water in the amenities was off. Doors hung splayed. Anorexic chickens waddled around. He fetched us cold coca colas from down the road. He told us ”I will clean everything! When you have no-one here you get lazy. It’s very bad for you. I want to be busy”
He pottered around cleaning and asked if we had tape to fix his pipes “You have everything in this car!”
The car was still all barred up from when we had to hand over the keys in Sudan, so in the heat of the day we took the opportunity behind the camps fences to sort it out. It was a pretty miserable couple of hours, especially for poor sick Gareth who looked like he had just ran a marathon – covered in sweat and exhausted. But of course being him (read: amazing), still wanting to do all the heavy lifting and unscrewing.
That’s when we got a message from our German mates that they had arrived a hostel in the city – it was great, had cheap tours AND air-con! We paid our poor guy, but couldn’t bring ourselves to tell him we might not return in fear he might start crying. We were just venturing out to see our friends and find some food…
:: WORD. Sticker on Jaane’s bikes. A good reminder after a strange few days.
:: We drove along a road that ran parallel to the Nile. The entire way was lined with houses, humans, donkeys and rubble.
After a long days drive Jaan and Anne’ looked how we felt. Luckily we hadn’t looked in the mirror for weeks, as I’m sure we looked worse! Anne’, like Gareth, had picked up a flu from shifting from the air-conditioning to the heat. We gathered together some drugs and fake discount cards for a tourist day of ancient sightseeing in Luxor.
We saw what every other tourist sees. Karnak Temple, Medinat Habu, The Valley Of The Kings, Temple of Hatshepsut and Luxor Museum. Antiquities of this age are incredibly impressive and G and I had some fun picking out our favourite hieroglyphics. I loved the honeybee, which represented the King Of The North, and Gareth loved the blue and yellow painted night sky on the eaves of 2000 year old buildings.
Most sites were mostly empty and our guide told us “A few years ago there were so many tourists you would wait an hour just to get inside this tomb”
The most shocking sight of the day was white people! Even though tourism is down 95% we were shocked by the tourists that were there. We hadn’t really seen tourists for… 6months? In contrast with Egyptian women, the Russian women wore singlets and hot pants with their bum cheeks hanging out. The men fiddled with their hair full of gel and we were stunned by all the cologne that wafted past.
It was like they were aliens to us all, I’m pretty sure there were a few points where we were just staring with our mouths open at how clean and hot they were!
It was all a bit much seeing how tourists were posing for seductive selfies with pharaohs and generally being disgusting. It made me feel ill. We had all been removed from this ‘normality’ for so long. Thank goodness Janne’ was there to joke about it with! Otherwise we might have had to reach for our brown paper bags
Further along in the country we passed a couple wearing their pool gear crossing a main highway. Seemingly unaware that we had just passed women in hijabs and men with AK47s pointed out from sandbags.
As the four of us left the Valley Of The Kings a man looked Anne’ up and down in no attempt to hide he was sizing her up. He then did the same to me and said “How many camels?”… a few seconds later I realised what he meant and I said quietly to G “Wow, that’s a bit rude”. Between that and the sun smashing down at 40 degrees and hardly being able to breath because of his congestion THAT WAS IT. For the first time of the trip, Gareth had had enough and gave the guy What For!* And told him in no uncertain terms to learn some manners.
(*Thanks to Michael of OverlandWalkabout for the phrase ‘what for’ it really does sum it up so well)
:: Karnak Temple
:: Anne and I making fun, after being overwhelmed, of the tourimos
:: My favourite hieroglyphic, the honeybee
:: From Sydney Harbour Bridge to this!
:: “Man I love history” said no Kirsty, ever
:: Ancient stuff day. L > R: Anne, guide, tourismo, Jaan, Gareth
:: Tourismos for the day
:: We both loved seeing the areas of the temples where the paint was still evident
:: Temple of Hatshepsut. Imagine how hot you think ‘really damn hot is’… and triple it.
:: Valley Of The Kings, Luxor
:: Valley Of The Kings. We walked under ground into the tombs where the bright hieroglyphics lined the walls. No photos allowed.
:: Russian tourismo trying hotpants + Egyptian boy trying to fed his family
Rather than waltz around in hot pants we caught mini-buses and munched down on pizza (!) and $1.80 Koshari. A national Egyptian dish made up of dry pasta, chick peas, lentils and rice. That came with condiments wrapped in sandwich bags, of tomato sauce and lime. Everything always needed to be negotiated for. Even a bottle of water. But luckily that’s one of my skills in life so it wasn’t much of a big deal… but boy, these Egyptians can talk. Impressive stuff.
In Luxor, citizens incur a tax when they finish constructing their building. Therefore in a brilliant measure to flip the authorities the bird, the city is simply left half built. All roof tops are construction sites or rubbish tips or farmyards. No kidding on that last one, the building opposite us had a pen of goats and chickens seven floors up.
While in Luxor the town had serious power outages. Our $11 air-conditioned cement box - ahh I mean room – was like an oven. And in the wee hours of the morning it was pure torture. Especially for Gareth as he was so unwell. We felt like jumping in Troopy and driving out of town. Away from all the cement that had soaked up a days worth of heat.
And then Jaane text us “Come up to the roof it’s a few degrees cooler”…
:: Koshari for dinner, $1.80
:: Troopy and the bikes parked outside in the alley while we slept upstairs in our cement box. That’s the generator you see in the foreground as the power cuts were frequent.
Thanks for reading along guys. More to come soon.