HELLO + WELCOME as we attempt to drive from Sydney to London, via Africa.
It’s Kirsty writing today about overlanding Egypt and seeing the ocean for the first time since South Africa.
While sweating buckets in Luxor and seeing more antiquities than either of us had the patience for, we spent our evenings with Jaane’ planning our routes off the continent.
:: Luxor pinpointed
You see, when we first entered Egypt we weren’t sure how we would actually leave. All we knew was that we would find a solution. Our dream had always been to cross Africa and so there was no way we were missing out on Egypt.
Traditionally, people who attempt a crossing of Africa have left via Libya to the West, or Jordan to the North East and then into Syria. Well, both of those options were off the table because of ongoing civil war. That left us two options.:
A. Leave on a ship departing Egypt headed to somewhere (anywhere!) in Europe. Most likely Turkey or Italy.
B. Drive the Sinai peninsula into Israel and leave on a ship to Italy. The peninsula is dangerous at the best of times but we were willing to spend one big day driving if it came to it. And at this stage, safety is a relative word.
Naturally, a few extra spanners were thrown into the works.
Spanner 1: Because of the turmoil in Egypt many shipping lines have been cancelled to/from Europe. Also, as we found out, Turkish people aren’t terribly fond of Egyptians and there was gossip of the Turkish leader wanting to shoot the Egyptian president out of the sky as he flew over his airspace uhh-huh. The last travellers we heard of getting out of Egypt on a ship was four months prior. We contacted their guy and we heard back from the shipping line that the route was now closed. Ohh, and by the way, the ship we were looking for wasn’t a ‘cruise’ (they’ve been cancelled years ago) but a trucking route.
Spanner 2: Israel and Gaza decided to start bombing the hell out of each other. It was the most intense period of the 2014 conflict. And the port we wanted to depart from was within the ‘inner circle’ of bombing.
Spanner 3: This was also the time that ISIS started splashing all over TV screens beheading foreign journalists.
See why we call this expedition a challenge, not a holiday?
That’s about the time I went into Nuclear Google Mode, which is much like normal Googling but with fiendish eyes and fingers that won’t stop pounding the keyboard until TheyGetAnAnswer. In practice this particular mode of Googling is well assisted with a stiff drink, but shut the front door there is no drinking to be had because you are in a country where people pretend not to drink. Agghh!!
Gareth called it ‘Well, container ships have got to be leaving the country right? So worst case scenario, we will just rock up at any port and start talkin’ to people and talk our way on board’
And to me, that’s the beauty of overlanding. Everything is figureoutable. Because it has to be.
:: Jumping in a local shuttle bus with Jaane’. All feeling very hot and very much alive
:: Roof top pozzie
:: The concrete jungle of Luxor, Egypt. And the view from where we stayed. It was here that we heard an incredibly loud and passionate call to prayer from the tens of surrounding mosques. Breathtaking stuff.
:: Heading out early from Luxor at sunrise
So, while we were wondering how we might leave the country we kept on travelling.
We played tag with the bikers as we headed towards the desert road that stretched out to the coast. It was fun to see them drive off in front off us – so intrepid and alone!
During our first stretch of driving through the country we weren’t stopped at all by police. This came as a surprise, as we’d heard a lot of horror stories where cops got people to pack and unpack their cars until they yielded and gave them a bribe to let them go. We were hoping our luck would continue.
The country’s road network is made up of police and army check points every ten or twenty kilometres. A checkpoint is basically a point in the road where sandbags are piled two-metres into the air, with three to ten guys carrying huge guns. Many checkpoints had metal spikes pulled across or old tar barrels that we needed to steer around. Most points also had a tower, with a removable ladder, where a bloke stood with an AK47 surveying the area. Sometimes the guy in the tower was actually a mannequin!
We noticed when they realised we were ‘whities’ they were more inclined to have a chat. Which was nice, but slow going and kept us wondering when the bribe thing was going to happen.
So we came up with the idea to hide as much of our general whiteness as possible We put the sun visors down and leant back. I kept covered up with headscarf etc. And it worked! We skipped past checkpoint after check point. Until one keen eyed policeman wearing a sharp white uniform yelled out to us as we had already driven passed. Unfortunately we stopped – partially in fear of being chased down by some of the gun wielding folk and partially because when someone says ‘Stop’ don’t we all have the same knee-jerk reaction?
Up came the fat police officer. Here we go, we thought.
At the same moment the bikers pulled up behind us. Double trouble!
After asking where we were going, we were told we needed a police escort to travel through the desert. The police man was outrageously polite and apologetic. Surely we are going to be asked for a little somethin-somethin for the escort, and NO WAY are we paying, we thought and agreed with Jaane’. We waited. And after thirty odd minutes, while the police tried to arrange a car or some fuel or something. Meanwhile letting every man and his donkey know that four whities were headed through the desert. The police couldn’t find an escort for us so they said “Ok, ok you can go” The four of us had our engines started before he could pause and off we went towards the desert.
Not a word of baksheesh or car searches. We would like to think we charmed them. But we left genuinely thinking they were just trying to look after their tourists and do their jobs.
:: Jaane’ and Troopy play tag team minus the police escort. This is just after we passed the 30-minute hold up at the checkpoint.
:: Long hot drives in Egypt. The curtains came in handy to block out the sun.
:: All smiles, between the yawns though
:: Sand. Sand. Sand. Blown tyre. Sand. Sand.
The desert drive towards the coast was flat and interspersed with stunning rock formations. We didn’t worry too much about the police escort. We felt better off without them, seeing as police themselves are a target. To put it simply: waiting 30 mins at that checkpoint was probably the most dangerous point of the whole day!
The road was isolated and after a few hours the road brought us to the Red Sea! Seeing the ocean for the first time since leaving South Africa, eight months ago, was emotional. And the blood was pumping to reach this milestone. Gareth and I have both grown up by the sea and there was something so special about coming out of the desert and seeing that bright blue on the horizon.
The road then followed the coast and we drove past hundreds of oil drilling sites. It’s so interesting to see where resources we all use come from.
:: We drove across the desert to the ocean. Do you SEE that horizon to the right?
:: A sight for sore eyes. Our first meeting of the ocean since South Africa.
:: Oil stations
:: And, interestingly, another form of energy generation :-O
The interest turned to disbelief as we drove past the resorts approaching Hurghada.
Stretching along the coast were monstrosities of hotels, casinos, shopping centres and derelict building sites. It was a hideous and somehow revolting display of tourism taking over a landscape. It looked as if a billion tourists had disappeared overnight and all construction had stopped. We stuck our noses into one of the resorts that were still operating. A buggy drove us from the car park to the foyer where there were hundreds of Russians and Europeans bathing in the large swimming pools. Yep, all taking a big bath together in chlorinated water while men rubbed their bulging bellies and women hiked up their bikini bottoms. This is what normal people do for a holiday?
:: The hideous resorts. It looked as if a billion tourists had disappeared overnight and all construction had stopped. Meanwhile no waste management was in place.
:: The coastal road faces the base of the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula and so we experienced a war-like military presence. This communications tower has it’s own boundary and military guards.
:: A closer look
:: Egyptians cool down in the sea
:: Say what?
And that’s a wrap.
Next up? We figure out how to get out of Egypt.
As alway, thanks for joining us guys. It’s great to have you along for the ride.
Leave us a comment in the section below. We’ll be listening!