HELLO + WELCOME as we drive from Sydney to London, across Africa!
It’s Kirsty writing today… as we have a crack at overlanding out of Africa.
And if you are new to our corner of the web, start here.
OK. Let’s go!
The day before our ship was due to arrive Gareth had an incredibly frustrating day.
Well we both did, but I wasn’t there to witness the first half.
I stayed in the ‘Piss room’ organising our visas for Turkey and vehicle third party insurance for Europe. Gareth went out on a man mission to the port and to random bureaucratic offices where only he was allowed because his name was on the papers.
G arrived back six-hours later dripping with sweat and covered in a fine layer of grime. He looked thoroughly exhausted.
:: Waiting for our ship to come into Port Said in Egypt
Apparently our Egyptian licence plates had a fine of USD$200 on them from May. Two entire months before we had entered the country.
Yet it had become our problem.
This is absolutely ridiculous.
The same day Eslam, our fixer, had also found a fine on his own vehicle. Strange timing wouldn’t you say?
We were buying none of it.
Not the fine.
Not the serendipitous timing of Eslam’s fine.
I was skeptical, G was less so.
Eslam reported to G, “The big boss says if you need it resolved immediately you should just pay it, because it could take a long time to figure out”. By not paying, our paperwork would not be in order and therefore the Department Of Immigration police clearance would not be released for us to leave on our ship – which was leaving the next day.
“If you don’t pay it, maybe you will miss your boat”, he said.
:: Hah! Look at how happy those Egyptian licence plate holders look. Little did we know they harboured fines from months before we arrived.
Edging closer + closer to getting out of Africa….
That morning G had also driven Troopy away to a holding shed at the port.
Before this we had all agreed we would keep the key; ensuring that no-one else would have access to the inside of our vehicle.
As it happened, the key had stayed with the keeper of the holding shed.
So there we were.
G exhausted after arriving back from hours of a hot, shitty morning.
And me, hearing all of this for the first time within the space of a few minutes.
G had had the time to process it all. He’s also one of the most calm characters you will ever meet.
But my blood had just begun to boil.
It’s a strange thing to use a fixer after so many months of negotiating bureaucracy by ourselves. If we could read and speak Arabic we would rather have been amongst it.
But the amalgamation of the heat, the stuffiness, the cement city, the women hidden away, the separation from Troopy, the feeling we were being lied to…. and paying for the privilege… felt awful.
To not be ‘actively involved’ and ‘aware’ of all the moving parts in the final two days was incredibly frustrating.
We got on the phone to Eslam and told him in no uncertain terms “There is NO WAY we are paying a fine that is recorded before we even arrived in the country”.
Egyptians are incredible communicators. They have the ability to talk in circles, increasingly raising their voices, reaching a point of total exasperation, until they brake into cackles or “Inshallah”. (Arabic for ‘if God wills it’).
And so we join in the game.
We tell him we think he is lying. Upping exasperation levels.
We tell him we are very disappointed. Upping volume levels.
And keep saying “There is NO WAY we are paying”. Over and over again.
We’ve crossed the length of Africa and haven’t paid a single bribe. It’s the height of ridiculousness to pay a fine incurred months before we got here! And we seriously don’t want to.
The money isn’t an issue, it’s an ethical thing.
He rambles something about paying just 1000 egyptian pounds instead. And then something about another method of clearing it. But he wants to try an easy way first.
Yadda, yadda, yadda…
And then we address the fact we don’t have the Troopy key. “I want to go there tomorrow and get the key Eslam, you promised us you would already have collected it”
“Ahh, err, they were closed. Yes, closed”, the lies flow freely.
In my journal that day I described… “Lies flow freely through these people like lifeblood, as does talking fast and around in circles hoping that you will forget your initial question. They speak over you when they want to have this affect as well. Particularly when they want to lie and pretend they are exasperated. They are the most amazing communicators”.
They have had 5000 years to perfect the art of haggling I suppose.
:: Even our phone speaks Arabic
The next day – the day we are supposed to be getting on the ship – we need to get everything sorted and fast!
We are both excited. It’s a big day. I keep refreshing the GPS tracker on our ship. I’m nervous it might suddenly disappear from screen.
Eslam is an hour late, annoyingly, seeing as we are expecting a battle against time to have the fine cleared before getting our passports stamped and onto the ferry.
We jump in a taxi and meet him at the police headquarters. He tells the taxi driver over a mobile phone where to take us. It costs $1.20 for a 20 minute cab ride!
The filthy police headquarters… an RTA equivalent? … is filled with men. Many smoke and many are obese. The thinner ones wear tight shirts that show their poky stomachs and love handles. They wear fake branded shoes. Cones instead of Converse. I say to G “It feels like we are sitting in one big ash tray”.
The bench I am perched on is covered with ash at the back, so I sit upright. The ground is scattered with litter and I see a man at the counter drop garbage at his own feet.
Eslam takes G’s passport and says “Five minutes, you wait and see”.
I guess that the whole process is starting again. This step will happen. And then we’ll speak to the big bosses. And then we’ll convince them we aren’t paying a cent. I glance at my watch – it’s 10am and 35 degrees.
But then… Eslam whizzes back with a piece of stamped paper in his hand! The fine has been cleared and everything is DONE.
What a turn around.
:: With the Troopy in a holding shed at the ports, our fixer Eslam drove us from office to office in Port Said.
Back to the hotel to rest. Or as Gareth and I like to say, ‘Get hori’ (as in, horizontal).
On the way Eslam asks for the rest of his payment. I reply “No.”, he replies “Hahah. You no trust me after days together. Ok…”
At 2pm we go to immigration to get our passports stamped out of the country. The ship hasn’t docked yet so the head guy ‘sights’ us and says he will hand back the passports to Eslam later.
We contemplate for a second that we are separated from our passports – but Africa has taught us to just trust the process. Things aren’t done the way we expect; they get done in their own way.
Now Eslam seems to be priming us for a tip! Talking in third person he enthusiastically chirps ‘Eslam has done very well. Eslam solves the problems. Hahaha. I remember I told you that I am with you from start to finish. I do not go until you are happy”
It’s pretty funny. And I decide I like the guy again. He’s just having a crack. And right now we are all high on elation that everything is working again.
Back to the hotel to shower and get hori. We grab a feed at a genius pasta shop. (You choose your spaghetti and then your sauce. It’s average as. But hey, they’re also having a crack!)
:: With everything working out we drift into one of the shops. Imports direct from China.
The ship is an unknown quantity. So we stock up on snacks and sea sickness tablets (for me). We have no idea what it will be like. Other than it is shipping trucks and we’ll be the only travellers onboard.
We soon find out… our ship just docked! Whoooohooo! We might just make it out of Africa after all.
:: Our ship on approach. But it takes quite a few hours for it to actually pull in.
:: Stalking the GPS tracker on our ship – until we see that it docks!
Thanks for joining us guys, it’s great to share our expedition with you.
Next post, we cross Africa!
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