HELLO + WELCOME as always.
In this post we make it to the land of the pharaohs. Egypt!
It’s Gareth writing today.
Egypt had never been on my list of ‘must travel’ countries. Egypt didn’t excite me. Sure it has the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and lots of other historic attractions but that still didn’t do anything for me.
All I had in my mind was negative thoughts. I am not normally like that. So why was I thinking these thoughts? I had read that it was a filthy, stinky and an overpopulated country where you get hassled a lot by people trying to sell you stuff. A mate from work who has Egyptian heritage also visited a few years ago and he didn’t like it.
So why were we going? Because our goal was to cross the length of Africa – which included Egypt.
The back story:
In 2014 many people turned around at Kenya and we read of people calling it quits there.
We met a German couple in Malawi who told us in no uncertain terms that it is “Impossible to cross Africa at the moment. You can’t get the Ethiopian visa and Egypt is not safe” We then bumped into a Dutch couple who told us our Option B of crossing through Israel through the Sinai was, quote “IMPOSSIBLE” After questioning their logic and information sources we immediately distanced ourselves from all of them. We think that there is always an informed solution – - if you are willing to try.
On a few other occasions we had conversations with overlanders who asked us with worried faces “What’s your route North?” We always said we would be crossing through Egypt. We would get there and make a plan. Even if it took weeks. A few of those overlanders told us they were opting out through Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia. An interesting option, but not for us, because we wanted to cross the continent. We were head strong.
So regarding Egypt and its safety issues. There has been a revolution. We had been receiving daily security updates for 24 months in our inbox. We read up on the regional risks and made the decision. We were going to cross Africa and that meant we were going through Egypt. Full stop.
Kirst and I decided early on before we arrived that we were going to go into Egypt with open minds and a lot of patience.
It wasn’t long before I learned what the Egypt of today was like. We arrived in Aswan tired and hot after sailing up the Nile from Sudan. Not exactly excited to be here but happy to be back into a country where we could buy some decent food and drink a cold beer.
The process of getting ourselves off the ferry went smoothly. Our fixer Kamal was waving to us ‘dockside’ when we pulled in. We knew there was a lot of paperwork and things to organise but Kamal was right onto it from the start. He had us, the german bikers and a quietly spoken Sudanese man to sort out and get through customs. We waited a little bit for the first crush of peeps to disembark from the ferry. Everyone was rushing to get to the doors and the heat and humidity in the foyer area, mixed with the sweat and smell of too many humans, made it quite interesting.
We were off and after quick handshakes with Kamal we were led up the ramp to customs. Straight past the Nubians, Egyptians and Sudanese who rushed off before us and through the gates. It didn’t feel right but after a day and a half in transit I was happy to do it. We were seated outside the Customs office and told to wait while our passports were stamped.
:: No English printed paperwork in this office
It didn’t take long at all and soon us and the two German bikers, Irish, the Sudanse guy and Pornstache (a backpacker we also met on the ferry growing a packer ‘stache) were packed into Kamals ancient nine seater Peugeot 504 and driven to our hotels.
Kirsty and I wanted air con, a pool and a comfy bed in a nice room so went to a hotel overlooking the Nile. It was good but the beds were rock hard so we left the next day to a better hotel just up the road for just $50 bucks a night. Very happy to pay for it too. The Egyptian owner and staff treated us like royalty. We were told by numerous locals how business was slow so we were asked daily by the same felucca (a wooden boat with a sail) drivers if we were interested in a ride up the Nile.
:: Aswan was beautiful at sunset
We were expecting to wait a week for the barge with the Troopy on it and were looking forward to the rest. The weather was hot during the day and the nights were spent in air-con. Not being used to it after Sudan, I got the most terrible man flu on the second day and didn’t shake it the whole time we spent in Egypt.
The mornings were spent sleeping in and in the afternoons we would walk through the Bazaar (market area). Smelling spices and making friends with the local shop owners. The days were quiet. It was too hot for people to be out… well except for us. Some of the only tourists around. There were kids who were serving at counters and old Nubian men sitting around drinking tea quietly shuffling their worry beads through their hands. Egypt wasn’t that bad I began to think. We bought some perfumes off a friendly shop owner one evening and shared a tea with him.
On one stroll back to the hotel we looked around in a spice store at their wares. The old man out the front greeted us and asked where were we from. Australia we both said cheerily and he told us to sit down and drink tea with him. I said “I am sorry but I have just finished a tea with a friendly shop owner up the street”. “Ok no problem then you come back tomorrow”. I was beginning to like Egypt and its people.
:: Aswan boulevard. These streets were full of locals at night when the temperature dropped to mid thirties
:: These dudes fed us well. All brothers working in the same family shop. We ate some kind of chicken mix on a fresh roll and it was delicious.
:: Spice jars
:: This bloke mixed us up some perfumes and then shouted us a hot tea. Kirst has been devastated since her favourite perfume went our of production, so we recreated it here. I think we were in his shop for over an hour. Would you do that back home in Oz?
:: This old guy was just chillin out the front of his spice store when we passed by he greeted us and invited us to drink tea with him.
:: Beautiful smells. Beautiful colours. Loved the markets in Aswan.
We knew after seeing the BBC news the anniversary of the Tahirr Square massacre was on the 14th which was the next day. Our biker mates confirmed (they were told to stay indoors in case of any protesting) so we would also do the same. We woke on the 15th after hearing numerous gun shots close by and found that everything was still normal. Until we left the hotel that is.
Fifty metres down the road on our side we saw a huge gathering of men standing over the footpath. The friendly police checkpoint we passed a couple of times in the previous day had been firebombed… It was basically a car that was parked on the footpath where 4 to 5 cops would sit around all day drinking tea and smoking. We felt bad that some people living above had their entire apartments burnt out. People later told us (including the felucca driver Mohammed) that the police were in the car but were approached by some men and told to get out. They did so and the men torched it. No one was killed but it worried us a little. The mess was cleaned up and the checkpoint moved 25m up the street closer to our hotel. Shit! We didn’t want to be anywhere near the Police, they were being targeted.
We got a call that night from Kamal saying the barge will arrive the next day. We were both a bit like “Aaah bugger we were happy to wait in our fancy hotel for a few more days”.
Our fixer Kamal did his job well. He seemed to me to be a slimy, chain smoking beast of a man but he knew everyone and made things happen. He picked us up the next day on time and drove us across town. We stopped at a Police check point and he said “Traffic Police Station and check point. We come back here to get licence plate”
But first we were headed to the port to see how the Troopy had fared without us.
:: Kamal, the Sudanese guy, Anne, Jaan, me and Kirst (behind the cam) making our way down hoping that our cars and bikes were still in one piece
It was a quick process getting our rig off the barge and a fantastic relief to see the Troopy safe and sound. We helped the bikers steady themselves as they drove off the ramps to solid ground. Lastly, the Sudanese guy who was taking his Peugeot to Cairo had to get his car off. We ended up towing him over the ramps because he could not drive it.
:: Troopy came off first. Then it took some manoeuvring but Anne did a good job at riding her bike off the barge. She even got some air time!
Kamal told us to park the cars and bikes and he would take us to get the carnet stamped, Egyptian licence plates and insurance. Of course they were all in different locations across town so it took all day. We drove back to that traffic police check point. The bikers and us were told to follow him across the road while the Sudanese guy was told to stay and wait in the car. At the checkpoint prior the women were told “Women stay in car”. We didn’t like the seemingly racist way Kamal barked at this poor guy.
:: I was happy with Kamal’s work and stoked that our Troopy arrived safely from Sudan.
The back streets of Aswan were lined with rubbish, smelly and busy. Standing around out the front of the check point while Kamal went behind the police counter and started filling in our paper work for the cops, we just looked around watching the locals do their thing. I noticed men in plain clothes with guns on their hips. This guy specifically stood out with a pinkish red shirt on and styled hair. I haphazardly and un-excitedly said to Jaan and Kirst “It’s crazy how these dudes just walk around with guns slung on their hips” We started joking around “Yep, no big deal, just got a f!ing gun, a few metres away from those tourismos”…
Then suddenly a young man in a grey Jalabaya (traditional Muslim robe) bolted past the guy in the pink shirt. Immediately the guy in the pink shirt who we now ascertained was a coppa (police) drew his gun and began chase.
Fuck me the adrenalin began pumping and in those thirty seconds I was bracing myself to either grab Kirst and run, or push her to the ground and cover her from a bomb blast… I was fuckin’ terrified. Pink shirt copper got to the corner and took aim. Just out of site we immediately heard three gun shots… BANG! BANG! BANG!
I didn’t have time to think but was glad it wasn’t a suicide bomber. I turned to Kamal who was still behind the counter looking around non-excitedly and I said “Kamal, lets get the fuck outta here. Hurry up! We want to go. Now.” …No pictures taken
A lady in her fifties ran around the corner crying and whaling. People stopped and looked. Then people began moving around again. This all happened so quick that after what was only five or so minutes – everything was back to normal. A smart looking cop walked from back around where the bloke had just been shot with two shell casings in his hand showing them off. He proudly came over to us and posed with us for a few photos. It must have been one of those moments in life where an hour felt like ten minutes and ten minutes felt like an hour.
I wasn’t sure if I should smile in the photo? I asked the cop standing next to Kamal if he was dead? “No. Shot in liver. No problem” They told us that this man may have had something to do with the fire bombing on the Main Street of Aswan…Yeah right!
:: In shock, after witnessing a shooting. Smile and no smile.
:: In shock, after witnessing a shooting. Smile and no smile.
:: The shells. One still on the street, but no red tape sectioning off streets here.
Kamal told us to follow him around the corner to where the bloke had just been gunned down. No crime seen. No body. No police. Just people going about their day. The entrance to the Traffic Police Station was right out the front of where that guy had just been blown away… I couldn’t fuckin’ believe it… I still can’t.
We entered the cop shop and were told to wait in a small corner office…
TO BE CONTINUED…
Thanks as always for joining us in this adventure. It’s just a blog post but to us it was real life with real joy, and real fear. In the next post Gareth continues the story.